Late last year I spent a week in Marrakech for work. Like usual with work trips, I saw very little other than the inside of the hotel, the inside of the conference center, and various taxis and airports along the way.
Luckily, because it was Morocco, the hotel, the conference center and the various taxis and airports along the way were actually pretty cool. I stayed in a riad – which is a big old house that has been renovated into a boutique homestay-slash-hotel. It was lovely and open, with beautiful ornate architecture, creaky wooden doors, and decorative glass windows and tiling. But, it was winter in the desert, and it turns out old, creaky, open houses are not the most comfortable places to be when the sun goes down. Although our rooms had heat, they did not have internet. And although the shared spaces had internet, they had no heat, leading to many nights and early mornings huddled up in sweaters trying to get our work done, basically in an open courtyard in the desert. The conference center itself was a tent city – also in the desert – so the days were excruciatingly hot, but you had to dress warm enough to survive after dark. It was a challenge.
Since I was arriving for a work event, I had brought some booth materials and giveaways, including a few hundred USBs and copies of a recent publication. Well, Morocco did not like this. I was detained at customs for several hours while they sifted through all my luggage and passed me between various officials trying to decide what to do with my materials (and me, presumably). At least I wasn’t the only one – many other arrivals were having the same thing happen to them. After counting every USB individually and photocopying pretty much everything I had with me, they stuck it all into a holding room until a higher power decided what to do, and they let me go with a random phone number scribbled on a piece of paper and a vague promise that someone would contact me in the next few days.
The next morning, I arrived on site at the event and found out that an error had been made with my pass, and I couldn’t enter the venue until the following day. Again, I was (kindly) detained and had all my papers and passport and everything checked while I was trapped in a no-man’s land of not being able to enter the venue but not being able to go anywhere else. Eventually strings were pulled and I managed to get my pass several hours later.
After that long day, back at the riad, I realised that I couldn’t find my travel wallet. The last time I could recall having it was that morning at the venue. Despite some panicked phone calls to colleagues who checked with security and lost & found, no one could find it. The only place I could have lost it was somewhere on the way home – like in the taxi, for example. Well, fudge.
In the meantime, customs guy emailed me to say that I could go pick up my materials ASAP by bringing back the random paper and my identification. All of which was in the back of a taxi somewhere in Marrakech. Fudge.
But, dear readers, this is where things finally turned around. When we had arrived home in that taxi, I had a stroke of genius and asked the driver for his mobile number – so we could call him directly and get a ride whenever we needed it over the week. Can you imagine, what are the chances that I happened to get the number of the one random guy who would soon be in possession of all of my paperwork and cash?
It turned out that he was absolutely lovely, and brought back my wallet completely unharmed – albeit after a minor traffic jam delay during which I called him about 100 times and stood out in the street for an hour in a panic – but he was very nice about the whole thing and I cheered loudly and hugged him and I might have accidentally agreed to marry him. But he did drop us off at the market for free after that.
And the next day I got my stuff from customs without further incident. Later that week, we made reservations at one of the higher-rated restaurants in the area and were looking forward to a great meal. The place was hidden away in the bowels of the souks, down a series of side streets, each darker and more convoluted than the last. Eventually a guy met us with a hand-held lantern to escort us the rest of the way. This was shaping up to be good.
But then we went in and the hostess could not find a record of our reservation. Turns out someone else took it and didn’t write it down in the right place, so essentially there was no room for us. This led to some yelling between the hostess and the owner while they tried to figure out what to do with us. Eventually they added some extra chairs to a table – basically putting us in the hallway, but we went for it anyway. Then the staff yelling continued. Literally – these people were just screaming at each other and following each other around the restaurant to continue the argument. It was the most bizarre thing ever. This all would have been worth it if the food was as good as expected, but it. was. not. I had some kind of meatball dish that was literally just meatballs in tomato sauce, but so salty it was nearly inedible. And to top it off, the place did not serve alcohol, so we couldn’t even drown our sorrows in a nice bottle of wine.
Our last evening of the event was another exciting restaurant meal, where we went to a posh place boasting “authentic” belly dancing shows in the evening. We actually went because the food was amazing (and it was), but ended up staying for the show. If by “belly dancing” you mean what was essentially “strippers”, then I guess it was authentic? These gals were pretty much giving lap dances to various gentlemen in the crowd, and were being compensated with cash stuffed into their minimal clothing. But it was to vaguely arabic sounding music, so I guess it was legitimate, right?
To cap off our exciting week, I booked us on a day tour of the nearby Atlas mountains, where we stopped at a berber market, a ladies’ argan oil cooperative, rode camels, and had lunch in what was quite possibly the most beautiful lunch spot I’ve ever seen.
All in all, I kind of loved it and would go back to Morocco in a heartbeat. Except I think me and my USBs are probably on a list somewhere.