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Sunday, 12 March 2017

Marrakesh, Morocco

I've made a promise that this year, 2017 and the first year of my thirties, will be packed with travel and adventure. Next up I have Rome, California, New York and Cyprus on the list, but Morocco was an absolute delight to kick-start the year with.

Day one - #hennagate2017
I hate flying. I'll start with this because it's Very Important. I also hate the idea of taking sedatives, so I usually opt for a breakfast of red wine. You do get some funny looks on flights when you ask for 2 bottles of red wine at 6.30am but whatever. After sobbing uncontrollably at The Theory of Everything I passed out for a solid hour and a half and woke up with no flying anxiety - winner.

We arrived in Marrakesh around 11am and were driven to our riad - Riad Dar Aicha - and greeted by our wonderful host Khalid. March is pre-season and the deals are excellent - we hired an entire Riad for the three nights at £30 each. After having a lengthy nap (2am wake-ups, flight anxiety and red wine do not really bode well) we ventured into the dusty, winding Medina and souks to find the main square.

The main square is the bustling beating heart of Marrakesh in all of its dusty, bright and noisy glory. Whilst idly wandering around a random woman suddenly grabbed my hand and squirted henna on it. I tried to pull my hand away but she was already doing her design so I let her get on with - even though I am not a fan of henna. She wanted 400d for the privilege (around £40) and I refused but because she had done it, I had to give her something. She refused 100d so I gave her 200d - the equivalent of £20. For something I didn't even want. I kept my hands firmly in my pockets over the course of the next few days. Lesson 1: stay away from the henna women, and if you want henna - or anything - you need to negotiate a price before. This especially applies to taxis. 

Day two - shopping
We ventured into the souks and square again for a spot of retail therapy. There's a colourful array of everything to buy - bowls, mirrors, leather goods, spices to name a few. It's incredibly overwhelming at first because everyone wants your attention and will call out anything to get it. Lesson 2: learn simple Arabic terms to get people to leave you alone. "Saffi" works a treat - it translates to "enough!" - just avoid eye contact and walk past. This takes a lot of effort because in the western world it can be misconstrued as rude, but you wouldn't be able to walk 5 meters in 3 hours if you acknowledge everyone who attempts to stop you.

I ended up buying lots of jewelry, spices, a gorgeous leather satchel, paintings and bowls. Bartering is key. It's something I'm personally uncomfortable with doing but they expect it and always mark up their items. For example, the leather satchel was presented to me at £120 and I got it down to £35. It's a lengthy, uncomfortable process (I think I was bartering with him for a good 30 minutes) but it's worth it in the end.

After a long, hot and dusty day navigating the markets, we went back to our riad and changed and headed to trendy NOMAD for dinner on the rooftops, with tremendous views of the majestic sunset and Atlas Mountains.

I strongly recommend the melt-in-your-mouth courgette and feta fritters. This place is a little more expensive than your standard Marrakesh street food stalls but it made a nice break from the relentless amount of tagine on offer.

Afterwards we wandered to La Marrakchi, one of a select few places that serves alcohol. 5 cocktails, shisha, beating drums and a belly dance later we stumbled back to our riad with the drums still ringing in our ears. Not before I stroked a street donkey and cried over two stray kittens. As you do.

Day three - the hammam
We wanted to try a traditional hammam and Khalid drove us to a sister riad - Riad Al Jazira - which offered a hammam spa.

A traditional Moroccan hammam is central to Moroccan culture. Consisting of a standard steam room, everyone (seperated by sex) lounges around and socialises in the nude and gets their fellow hammam-goers to scrub them. It's a very social affair with many members of the community spending hours every week in there.

The spa hammam was obviously more expensive (300d / £28) compared to 10d / 85p) but it was an incredible experience. We were unsure about being completely naked therefore erred on the side of caution and just wore underwear (it was only us in there for the treatment). We didn't need to as the woman who would be scrubbing us within an inch of our lives took our underwear from us and got to work.

We sat in the steam for ten minutes before she cleared one seating area and got us to lie on it one-by-one. Now, my friends and I are very close. We either live, or have lived together for a couple of years and we're all completely comfortable with being naked around one another, but there's something slightly uncomfortable about having every single inch of you scrubbed and exfoliated (and I mean every. single. inch. I've never had my butt crack exfoliated before...) whilst your three best friends look on. The best thing to do in that situation is close your eyes and enjoy it. The woman who was scrubbing us was a slight, small woman with the upper body strength of an ox. The amount of dead skin which came from us was quite disgusting but we all glowed for hours afterwards.

After the scrub, she covered us in black lava scrub, and then threw buckets of water over us, followed by an olive skin treatment. And then she stood us all up and threw more water over us. We then grabbed our robes and retired to the sun room with a pot of mint tea waiting for us. Moroccans love their mint tea by the way - and now so do I!

Later in the evening we found out our flight the following morning had been cancelled due to Air Traffic Control strikes in France (oh, what a shame.../sarcasm) so we stayed for a further 3 nights and booked a Sahara adventure - read about it here.

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