Medina Madness- A Story Set in Marrakesh, Morocco

Marrakesh in August is unbearably hot. The air in the Medina is so thick it is vital to find a peaceful escape to appreciate this enchanting landlocked Moroccan city.
sitting in the shade of Jardin de Majorelle.  The bright, cheerful garden in Marrakectah, Morocco and the home Yves St. Laurent
Jardin de Majorelle

Time and time again, taxi drivers have been the most frustrating facet of overseas travel for me. You are tired and vulnerable, you want to get to your destination, take a shower and have a meal. You haven’t settled into the culture, the language, the layout of the city, you haven’t even figured out the exchange rate yet and some of these deplorable humans are your first impression of a place. They take advantage of your exhaustion and insecurity. They will gouge and overcharge, take you to the wrong location, “Welcome to…, how may we f*ck you today?” 

Before arriving in Marrakech and I had reached out to my pre-booked hostel and asked the expected rate from the train station to their location. This is a good trick to have up your sleeve, when arriving in a new city, although it doesn’t always work when arbitration goes hand in hand with services rendered. Confidently, I walked out of the train station and approached the taxi stand knowing I would be paying — roughly 35 dirhams, about $3 to get to my hostel. They knew the address and had no issue driving me there for 100 dirhams. Thus beginning the negotiation.

Negotiating was not and still is not one of my strengths – in fact I really hate it. “The price is 35 now let’s put on the meter and go.” Back and forth, back, and forth, I was finally ripped off at the hefty price of 70- dirham, double what it should have cost me, and fed up and travel weary I succumbed, “Just take me to my Riad.”

Now this driver knew exactly where I wanted to go before getting into the car. Avoiding the additional stress of navigating one of the most tourist targeted areas in the city, I wanted to be driven as close to my hostel as possible in the back of the medina. In his attempt to drop me off in the center of the busiest square in Marrakech it led to yet another argument.

Overlooking the narrow streets of the Medina at night
A quiet night

“We agreed on the price and the location – for 70 dirham take me where I want to go – you are overcharging me, the least you can do is work for it.” More back and forth about small streets and blah blah blah, he finally started driving again, and I felt like we had a better rapport now.

I keep a map function running on my phone when in a taxi, they may know the city, but I don’t know them. He drove to my pin and parked the taxi, popped the trunk, got out, left the driver’s door open and hoisted my heavy backpack from the boot of the car and passing it onto me. I strapped it on and handed him 100 Dirham. He pockets it. I ask for my change – he says no.

Enough is enough. I told him he messed with the wrong tourist. I squeezed myself into the driver’s seat of his car anchored with the extra weight of my extra backpack and declared “You can have your car when I have my cash.” He was on fire and I lost my cool, throwing a series of expletives from the driver’s seat.

This 30 dirham was starting to stir up a lot of attention. A large crowd of young boys leaning against a wall started coming towards the car and screaming “yella, yella” at me. He clenched his grubby hands onto the money and I pulled it from his fat fingers “Fuck you very much, asshole!” 

Shaking with frustration and hate, I determinedly stamped off in a direction, I could only hope my Riad was in. I needed to get away from this driver, and now this posse of creepy kids on my heels taunting me. There have been a handful of times where I have felt threatened when travelling and this was one of them – being shanked by a 10-year-old with nothing to lose.

This stands out as one of my epic travel fails and unfortunately similar issues with taxi drivers would happen in Tanzania, Zambia, and India. I could have handled it differently, but it is the principle of the matter — you cannot let everyone take advantage of you.

Ducking into a small merchant stand, I swiftly surveyed his stock before checking my maps and trying to catch my cool. I was holding back tears, but the merchant had no sympathy as I had entered with no intention of buying.

I found Rodamon Riad, rang the doorbell, and it felt like stepping into the land of serenity. The fear of getting stabbed by one of these little fuckers slipped away as I passed through the heavy carved door into a bright refuge surrounding a clean tiled wading pool. The problems beyond those walls were tomorrow’s. This Riad was my sanctuary, my salvation from the chaos of the medina. I shared the female dorm and each time another single girl walked in, she had the same panic ridden face I’m sure I had. I would tell each of them the same thing, “Take a few minutes, wash your face, call your person, and then you can offload whatever horror story you have, and we’ll explore together.”

Every road in Morocco led me back to Marrakech. I stayed at Rodamon Riad Hostel on four separate occasions during that month of August. Each time I came back to Marrakech it got easier. Some of the most fascinating and intriguing places are the most hectic. Moments I simply could not capture in a photo whether it be just a flash or I was too afraid of my camera getting lifted. The old medinas have their small, winding passages with the low hanging canopies, the bright colored textiles, lanterns, and clothing for sale. The pungent smells of cinnamon, clove and cumin as well as sweat, iron-y blood from butchered animals, cigarettes, leather, and garbage roasting under the tarped roofs. The alleys swollen with people. Four men and a goat piled deep on a scooter swerving past, donkeys laden with merch sulking through the crowded paths, nervous tourists trying to get a deal, men hollering “Christina, Christina” to every white girl — all of us apparently look like Christina Aguilera.

The medina vendors in the morning before the crowds
The Medina on a quiet morning

Much like my Riad, the Jardin de Majorelle sets a dazzling scene. It is one of the prettiest gardens I have been to and a must see in Marrakech. Built in the 1930s and renovated in the ‘80s, it is the preserved home and botanical gardens of Yves St. Laurent, about 15 minutes from the medina in Marrakech. Bright, cheerful clay pots and a house painted in the signature cobalt blue, oranges, and yellows, surrounded by large cactus, palms, and bamboo. To feel balanced in any city, I often seek refuge in a green space and this one is spectacular. Unfortunately escaping the madness, the parasitic attention and scamming as a tourist, you swap it for inconsiderate privileged tourists. It is not a “secret undiscovered gem of Marrakech,” it is flourishing tourist site. Thrice, I was asked to move so someone could do a selfie shoot where I was sitting and on one occasion, two girls asked if they could borrow my friends hat as a prop. Go there for your Insta feed, but drop any expectation of tranquility.

The fascination and beauty of Marrakech comes at a price. It frays your patience and your civility. You need an anchor and an escape. Hopefully, you find this peace lounging in an elegant tiled pool with high walls and loads of sunlight. Take Marrakech with small bites and chew it slowly. As a girl, I felt it was easier to explore with friends, even better when those friends were men, and better yet when those men were Moroccan. Salaam alaykumpeace be upon you in a place like this.

Lesson learned: Keep cool and do what Taylor does and “Shake It Off.”

3 Responses

  1. Our travels to Marrakech touched my soul. Waking to the calls for morning prayer throughout the city, spending time in the markets, observing a man driving a motor bike with open crates of eggs stacked higher than his head. It was wondrous, sensual, and delightful. I came prepared for the taxi negotiation but had to pay more than proper but less than he wanted from the airport to our hotel. I learned in China how to negotiate and had no problem managing that portion of our visit. One man even told my husband that he had a “Bedouin wife!” Enjoy your travels!

    1. Thanks Joni! Lovely to meet you. The man in China had a Bedouin wife? I absolutely agree Morocco is magical. This was my first country in Africa and Marrakech was a shock to my senses over 4 years ago. I would love to go back and see how I would experience it again, I think i would have far different expectations. Safe travels to Germany! Thanks for reading!

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