Been There, Done That: Thanksgiving in Marrakech

When I think of my prime vacation destinations, Morocco sure wasn’t one of them. My wife has always wanted to go, though, and a group of our friends joined in on her enthusiasm. She told me one of the main goals of this vacation was shopping, another one of my least favorite things to do.

With much reluctance, I began saving money in our travel account to pay for our plane ride and hotel bill. We started putting money away early this year, so the bill didn’t really affect us.

But now that I’m back, I can say with full confidence that I had a great time. If you want a different experience than one you’d find in the local area, go ahead and start your paperwork to go to Africa.

Plane Ride In
We booked a Ryan Air flight a little later in the day – I think we left around 3 p.m. or so. Normally, I’m on the first flight out of Frankfurt-Hahn, so being able to sleep in and finish packing in the morning was a nice surprise.

This was our first time traveling via airplane with our 7-month-old, so we were a little anxious. I walked into the airport holding a diaper bag, two carry-on luggage bags, a car seat and bulky jackets. But thank goodness the people at the airport were genuinely kind to us and treated us with a little more compassion than usual at the check-in counter and through the security line.

Arrival

Marrakech Airport

Courtesy Photo


We arrived at the airport in Marrakech a little late and we needed to get a taxi to our all-inclusive hotel, the Riu Tikida Garden. My group had read about taxis directly outside the airport being a little expensive, so we walked a little ways out to get another taxi provider. The cost to the hotel was decent, about $25, but this is where it gets interesting.

There were a total of six people in my group, plus my baby. Consequently, we had to take two taxis. The cab drivers began loading our luggage into the trunks, and our guy grabbed the car seat and started shoving it in the trunk! We stopped him, put the car seat in the back of the cab, but apparently he was in a hurry. He started driving away before we had our seatbelts on or even had my son in the seat.

Simply put, the taxi rides were pretty wild. If you go, be prepared for broken seatbelts and fast-paced driving through crowded city streets. Blind merging, you betcha.

The Souks, or markets
Our first full day in Marrakech was spent meandering through the twisty-turny, winding souks, or markets. We wanted to see what strange or interesting items the old-town had to offer – and we saw more than we expected.

Marrakech Souk

It was a little overwhelming. The souks stretch for miles, with different sections of covered or open-air areas. Spices, lamps, woodwork, art, snake charmers, leather, scarves, trinkets, meats, metals. You name it, we saw it. The shop owners were pretty savvy at getting your attention, too.

“My friend, my friend,” they would say. “Looking is for free. Come, see, buy!”

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Haggle, haggle, haggle. It was tiring after a while seeing the same items in 100 different shops. Also, some of the starting prices seemed excessively high, as in $120 for a single Pashmina. Still, it felt dirty lowballing like I did. They’d ask for 300 Dirham (about $33) and I’d counter with 70 Dirham (about $8).

“My friend, be serious when you haggle,” a shopowner said. “Let us not waste our time, huh?”

“I am serious,” I replied, feeling bad. “This artwork isn’t that important to me, I’ll just find another one somewhere else. Let’s go. No, no, it’s okay. Thank you, thank … will you do 100 Dirham?”

We settled for 150 Dirham. Not bad.

Walking Around Town
After the marketplace, we needed a break from the crowds and noises. Smells, too. We walked along one of the main streets toward the central garden, but we had to cross a few intersections to get there, which proved to be an event in its own right.

Traffic

There were bikes and mopeds everywhere! The exhaust had that same oily, smoky smell that you’d get from two-cycle engines, like a chainsaw or weedeater. They’d dart in and out of the automobile traffic like professional stuntmen.

We eventually entered the gardens and sat on a stone bench for about a half hour. It was relaxing to finally get off my feet and just take in the green scenery, which was impressive for being located in the middle of the city.

Gardens

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Hotel Bound
At this point, our group was about ready to go back to the hotel, shower and eat some dinner. That reminds me, let’s talk about the resort for a little bit.

Since it was all inclusive, we could eat and drink all we wanted. The breakfast and dinner times had buffet options, and there was a snack-food bar between those meal times. However, I’m not sure about some of the food … it tasted pretty good, but sometimes you’d get duds. Super runny mashed potatoes, the occasional stale bread and repetitive food choices.

Also, if you’re one to enjoy an adult beverage, the serving glasses were pretty small. You could order as many as you’d like, so it didn’t matter too much. I could finish a glass of beer in two gulps.

One Last Trip to the Souks
We had another day to burn, so we returned to the souks. Except this time, my wife wanted to get a henna tattoo. We had read about a certain tea shop that also doubled as a henna parlor, so the search began. Quite honestly, I’m surprised we found it in the maze of stores.

I ordered a spearmint tea and watched an older Moroccan woman “tattoo” my wife’s forearm, all freehand. The design was intricate, and the finished product was exceptional. With proper care, these things can last for a couple of weeks.

Henna Tattoo

The Big Sendoff Huzzah
On our last day, we booked another late flight into Germany. So, that meant we had another full morning to do anything we hadn’t yet accomplished … CAMEL RIDES!

Camels!

Seriously, we went to the front desk of the resort and asked if they booked camel rides, which they totally did, for 250 Dirham per person (about $28.) The package included a one and a half hour camel ride and a halfway stop for tea.

I had never ridden a camel before, so this will be a memory I’ll keep forever. Especially since they gave us turbans to wear before we saddled up.

Camel Rides!

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I was tickled to death.

Anyway, we rode the camels for about an hour, got rained on and then stopped for tea. It was a welcome break – I didn’t realize how much of your lower back you use to stabilize yourself on top of a camel. Whew.

Going Home
We had just enough time once we got back to the hotel to check out and catch a taxi to the airport. I didn’t have time to shower and I had packed really light on clothing… so I may have smelled a little like a camel. Yeah, it wasn’t too offensive to me, just a little musky.

I apologize now to the people I sat next to on the plane. It happens, you know?

Our flight was delayed a bit, and it took longer than expected to get back to Frankfurt-Hahn. It was nearly 1:30 a.m. when I finally rolled into my driveway. I couldn’t wait to put the baby to sleep and catch some shut-eye myself.

When I finally drifted off, I thought of how lucky I am to be stationed in Germany. It really is the gateway to Europe (and Africa), and I’m thankful to have a good group of friends to travel around with. Plus, I’ll be able to tell my son that he spent his first Thanksgiving in Morocco, which is pretty sweet.

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