How to Survive a Week in Morocco: the Things I Wish I’d Been Told Before Takeoff, Part 1

Myself and my partner at the time booked a trip to Marrakesh a few years ago. I was supremely excited about the whole thing-as a person with North African roots, this was the first time I would be even close to my mother’s Tunisian culture. I was excited about everything: the colorful markets, the warmth of the locals, the food of course. But nothing could prepare me for what was perhaps the most challenging week of my life as a traveller. I thought I knew what could happen when you went abroad, but these events were nothing like what I experienced during that time.

It started before we even arrived on-site. Given that my partner looked nothing like his passport picture, he was given all sorts of trouble upon landing. To be fair, he had since lost nearly fifty pounds and grown out his hair into an alternative style. So when he went up to the counter to receive his stamp and was instead presented with a scowl and a statement of skepticism, I should have known that this was an omen for what was to come.

How to Survive a Week in Morocco: the Things I Wish I’d Been Told Before Takeoff, Part 1

We’d then located a taxi, who then told us that he couldn’t take us straight to our riad (a sort of hotel style exclusive to North Africa where all the rooms are built around a courtyard). This was a nightmare already given that we’d stupidly elected not to purchase SIM cards for the trip. We were then deposited at the Big Square in Marrakesh, then left to our own devices to locate our accommodations for the week. Great, we thought. We were right in the middle of the souk district, where chaos and haggling reigned. We’d have many an adventure in that souk, but that will come later. Finally some kid saw us looking lost and offered to help. It was true that our appearances made us stick out like sore thumbs, and wandering around in circles really didn’t help. I had a feeling this was a bad idea, but we were desperate. How else would we possibly find our hotel in this mess?

How to Survive a Week in Morocco: the Things I Wish I’d Been Told Before Takeoff, Part 1

So the kid took us around the souk, giving us the grand tour within the winding alleys. But eventually he deposited us at the entrance of the hotel and demanded a tip. Not wanting a fight, my partner obliged and we went inside. We later found out that it was two rights and a left to get to the Big Square from the riad. Our room was marginal at best, but for the price we paid it seemed about right. We reminded ourselves that we weren’t in Morocco to hang out in a hotel but to enjoy what the country had to offer, and so we went out and enjoyed our first day in the city.

A pleasant enough time wandering around left us hungry and looking for local food. I was prepared to try our chances at the tiny stands in the souk, but my partner, being the least adventurous of the two of us, insisted we stick to a tourist trap. So we walked around that part of the city being mobbed by restauranteurs trying to entice us into their restaurants, an overwhelming experience on the best of days. My partner, fed up with people mobbing us, decided to get back at them. And so, being quite strong at the time, he lifted the smallest of the men by the armpits, quietly said “boo” and set him down a few feet away. Eyes wide open, none of the restauranteurs bothered us for the remainder of the evening. But the worst was yet to come.