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Culture Shock in Marrakech


Marrakech started out as a joke. The idea was born out of a light conversation along the lines of, "I mean we'll already be in Spain, we could fly down to Morocco?" And it turned in to, "This flight has the shortest layover in Casa Blanca before we fly in to Marrakech, let's book it now." Thus, after leaving Spain we were headed across the Strait of Gibraltar to a new country in a new continent.

I don't know how to appropriately describe my first day in Morocco without emphasizing the cold hard fact that no matter how prepared you think you are for something, you can't fully prepare for everything.

Saying that Morocco felt like Mars sounds so cliché, I know. But upon walking out of the airport, we were greeted by

dusty rose-colored desert sand and an eerie orange sky. After having had cell service all summer long with Sprint's surprisingly decent international plan, I was out of cell service range. Couple that with the fact that Isabel no longer had a phone, we truly were off the grid. Every car in the parking lot was straight out of the '80s or '90s and we hailed a taxi without seat belts, which we were grossly overcharged for.

You couldn't pay me to drive in Marrakech.There are no lanes and no lights. Cars crowd the streets, tailing each other leaving mere centimeters in between. Families of five or six are crammed onto a single moped, with women using one arm to clutch their husband who's driving and the other to hold on to as many children as possible. I didn't see a single speed limit sign. It's madness.

Marrakech is famous for its maze-like old medina (marketplace) with an infinite number of souks. Within the medina are hundreds of old, court-yarded Moroccan mansions that have been converted in to riads. Essentially, Moroccan bed and breakfasts.

Not knowing much about anything, we booked a riad in the heart of the medina. This equated to a problem, that we didn't think to consider. Our taxi could only get us so close to the walled medina, before we had to hoof it the rest of the way to our riad. Conveniently, there were several young me with wheelbarrows hanging out at the entrance of the medina. They graciously offered to carry our suitcases. We were too eager to be temporarily rid of our cumulative 150 pounds worth of luggage.

We were guided though what seemed like an excessive amount of winding through narrow walkways, and felt eyes from every direction. Being watched like that was disquieting, so was feeling lost in the entanglement of alleys. When we finally arrived at our riad, harassment ensued. We were legitimately harassed by these aggressive men who wanted our money, and didn't think what we had already tipped them was sufficient. It was honestly terrifying. Our riad manager was watched the whole scene unravel with no intent to stop it.

Once we were finally rid of our tormentors, we felt awaked and uncomfortable in our riad. We discovered that we were the only two people staying in the entire place.

It may not sound as overwhelming as it all felt. But put yourself in the shoes of two petit, travel-weary girls who had just come from being coddled by Europe all summer, to what felt like a hostile alien planet. That's how Morocco felt.

Enough was enough, we were near tears and too scared to leave our room. You know something's amiss when I willingly skip a meal. We laid in bed and called our dads, trying to devise a plan. (Yes, I admit it. I had one moment of weakness all summer where I broke down and truly NEEDED my dad.)

By morning, we were itching to get out of there. We hauled our own cumbersome luggage as fast as we could out of the medina and to a taxi. We raced to the 5-Star hotel, we'd booked overnight, (because apparently luxury hotels in Morocco cost the same as staying in a Best Western in the U.S.) the Savoy le Grand Hotel.

The Savoy is probably the nicest bed I'll ever sleep in. The monolithic resort has nearly 400 rooms and a facade resembling the palace of Agrabah. The lobby is tasteful and elegant with tiled floors and resolute pillars made from crystalline marble. The furniture is comfortable, the pools are grand, our bedroom is bigger than Sylviane's entire apartment. Not to mention that it has two plush King-sized beds. There is also daily Moroccan mint tea service with Samir.

I have to say Marrakech kicked our asses hard on that first day. And though I'd like the authentic experience of staying in a in a riad next time I visit Marrakech, I am happy to sleep somewhere I feel safe and comfortable, where there are people who are employed solely to help rookies like me navigate this strange city. And somewhere that's right next to a grocery store, because I am not paying $25 every morning for a continental breakfast.