Our agents travel to some pretty awesome destinations. When they return, our excitement to hear about their adventures is almost as great as their excitement is to share them. In ON LOCATION, they talk about the little nuances that make each place special. From Peru to South Africa, Switzerland, and Croatia, experience a fantastic second-hand journey and maybe take away some travel inspiration while you’re at it.
Danene is charmed by filigree lanterns and venomous cobras
Morocco sounds quite different from the usual places we visit.
I originally wanted to go because of how unique it sounded, but I wasn’t prepared for how really different is. Honestly, out of everywhere I’ve been, Morocco is the most exotic. Most of the places I visit, there is always some level of familiarity. For example, everyone will be wearing shirts, pants, and socks, you know, very Western clothing styles. They sometimes wear western styles in Morocco, but since it is a Muslim country, the vast majority of women are covered and the men wear Djellaba, which are longer, loose fitting robes with hoods. It really gives you the feeling of being elsewhere. The clothes aren’t the only thing that sets it apart though. It’s hard to explain. There is just something magical about it.
What was the Muslim influence like?
Mosques are everywhere, some you can enter and some you can’t. There is also a call to prayer five times a day. Every time I hear it, I’m mesmerized. I was told that Morocco (could be just Marrakesh) is one of the few Muslim countries left that do the call to prayer live. Men, called muezzins, will be called on to go into towers called minarets and chant for the whole city to hear. It is a very coveted calling to have. Most countries these days have it prerecorded then broadcast it.
What would you say is the big thing to see?
Jemaa el-Fnaa, for sure. It is a square and market place/souk filled with small shops in Marrakesh’s medina quarter, which is the old city. It is a huge area with countless shop owners selling herbs, spices, clothing, shoes, rugs and lanterns. There are also women doing henna tattoos, tarot card readings, and of course, the snake charmers.
Wait, hold up. Snake charming is an actual thing?
Real cobra snake charmers!
And no one…died?
Everything went fine. The snakes were so calm, but I tried not to get too close, because I wasn’t sure what would happen if I did. They are covered up with a basket after their “show.” They also took snakes, not cobras, and wrapped them around my neck.
Did you get a henna tattoo or a tarot reading?
I did get a henna tattoo, but tarot cards scare me.
Cards scare you, but not life threatening cobras...
I don’t want to know that maybe I’m going to die next year or something like that. I’d rather my life be a secret. You could tell me all you want that it’s not real, but it would be real to me. I’d believe it!
Would you say the souks were more for the locals or the tourists?
Some places are more tourist centric. The areas that sold spices, candy, and things you wouldn’t take home with you necessarily, those are areas where you see the locals buying ingredients for their evening meal. The varieties of spices were so colorful. They also use a lot of honey in their sweets, so there would be swarms of bees circling the candy like crazy.
For tourists, there are shop owners selling handmade goods, and like anywhere, you can also find the super cheap things that are made in China.
What else can you do in the city besides visiting the souks?
Well, I would HIGHLY suggest a cooking class. They cook in a tajine, which is a cone-shaped ceramic cooker with a base and a lid. Everyone is given their own cooking area, ingredients, sink etc. During the class, the instructor describes a dishes’ cultural relevance, because as we all know, food is important to any culture. You then all come together as a group to eat. Bread and beverages are supplied and everyone digs in. I made a lemon chicken that was very tasty!
The Majorelle Garden is another popular attraction. It was created by a French artist, Jacques Majorelle, in the 1920s and was later owned by fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent until his death in 2008. It is filled with succulents and other unique plants that thrive in the desert. I’ve also heard great things about the Saadian Tombs, but that is for my next visit.
Tell me more about the food.
Dates are a big thing in Morocco. When I arrived, they gave me sweet milk and dates. I’m not a fan of milk usually, but this was really good. It was probably all the sugar they add to it.
Like I said, tajine cooking is their primary form of cooking, so we had beef, lamb, and chicken that were often paired with fruits like plums, lemons, and apricots. Couscous is their national dish so I ate that a lot. Bread is also important. Often it’s big, round-shapped bread similar in looks to naan. Dessert was usually a massive tray of fruit: strawberries, oranges, bananas, a lot more than one or two people could eat in a single sitting.
Did you have to do a currency exchange?
Nope, they take the American dollar however, it’s wise to have several dirham in your wallet, just to be safe.
Sounds like they make it easy to visit, where did you stay?
La Mamounia. It is such a luxurious property. The exterior backyard has clay tennis courts, pools, and lots of palm trees, but the best thing is how authentic it is. You know how some hotels can look the same across all countries? Like they have recognizable branding, so you know you’re staying at a Hilton or Westin wherever you are? Well La Mamounia was very Moroccan. From its aesthetics and architecture, there is no mistaking you are in Morocco when you stay there. The hotel does a wonderful job of integrating its guests into the Moroccan culture.
How were the people?
Very lovely. I had a guide assist me with a matter who went far and beyond what he was required to do. I tried to tip him, because he deserved it and that’s what we do in the west, but he told me, “I didn’t do it to get a tip,” and I feel he really meant it. Well, I tipped him anyway, but that is a specific example of how pleasant people are. No one in the markets tried to get in your face and pressure you to buy things either.
The city can get really busy, so if you are traveling along the tight alleys within the medina, you need to stay far to the right and hug the walls. There are lots of donkeys and mopeds on those streets which can get crazy but it’s definitely the good kind of crazy. You just need to be aware, like any city.
Bring home anything fun?
The coolest thing I got from Marrakesh was a lantern. On my first trip I bought my parents a silver lantern with a filigree design that projects onto the walls when lit. It was a little pricey though, so I decided to get a cheaper one for myself. My guide kept trying to convince me not to buy the cheap one as it was apparently made from tuna cans. Well, I didn’t listen, and went ahead and bought one, which I ended up tossing a few months later. I couldn’t even open it! It wasn’t electric like the one I had given my parents either. I had to put in a tea candle. It was definitely one of my biggest regrets. So the second time I visited, the first thing I did was grab my guide, drag him to the souks, and buy an absolutely gorgeous lantern!