Thoughts from a Riad

Written by on August 3, 2010 in 30 Life Crisis, Africa, Blog, Morocco, Reviews, Travel - 17 Comments

An excerpt from the Journal of D:
22/6/10, Tuesday, 9:00 p.m.

I keep losing track of what day it is.

San Ambrosio was hardly a month ago, and yet it seems like an eternity. I’m sitting tonight on Riad Medina Azahara’s rooftop terrace in Marrekesh, listening to Moroccan music, mixed with the music of snake charmers in the square which occasionally wafts over to me in the night breeze, mixed with the calls to prayer from the mosques tucked into squares, alleys and elsewhere in the medina.

The peachy pink clay walls of the city blend nearly perfectly with the 9 p.m. Moroccan sunset.

Lights twinkle in their pretty metal casings in the open air of the rectangle windows. And, outside the walls of my riad oasis, a world spins, hectically, chaotically … a carnival-like atmosphere overflows through the narrow streets, the twisting turns, the massive square of Marrakesh’s medina.

Souks snake down nearly every winding road from the main square where the madness begins, down covered paths, in tiny corners, in courtyards. Walking from the square through the souks and the terracota-colored brick paths of the medina is an intense experience. Sensory overload. You are smacked with culture, with people, with life, everywhere you turn. Tagine, cigarettes, donkey crap and diesel permeate the air, snaking into your nostrils and mixing into something fierce.

You cannot escape any little part of what makes Marrakesh’s medina unique.

It’s the devout, face-veiled Muslim women perched on a tiny plastic stool every few steps in the square yelling “Hello, Hola, Bonjour, please, come here,” attempting to grab your hand and lure you into a henna tattoo you didn’t really want but now have ink on your skin, so you must pay.

It’s the monkeys on short chains clamped at their neck with a leather collar. You’d love to take a photo with them, but know just to have the cute little fellow placed on your shoulders costs more than anyone should ever pay for a three-second experience.

It’s the 20 million fresh-squeezed orange juice carts in rows lined up and down the square, each vendor calling to you to entice you to please come to their stand and spend your 3dh for the sweet nectar (and it is gooooood).

It’s even the poisonous snake charmers, enticing cobras to bop and weave their shiny bodies to music which immediately takes you back to a time when you believed in genies.

Then, in the souks, it’s completely different. It’s life or death/spend or don’t spend battles. First, there is the issue of money. These souk owners, they can smell fresh money, they know when you have even 1dh to spend, and they come after you fast and furious to make sure that 1dh goes in their pocket and not the souk next to them. It’s a little spark in the eye that says “I’m going to get the best deal ever known to man for that pair of harem pants.” Yeah, they know that’s what you think and they beckon you, “please miss” to you, “just come see … it’s free.”

You can then make the oh-so crucial decision — to spend or not to spend. Not spending? Thinking you are crafty, you claim to speak only Icelandic. But, surprise, surprise, they are the only person in Morocco who happens to have studied that language. You scurry by once they start breaking out Icelandic. Spending averted. OR, and this is where it turns for the worst, you stop. You look. Then, you are a goner.

The Moroccoan, oooh, they are a cunning, charismatic people. “Where are you from? America. Ahhh. American and Morocco. We are together. I love America. We love America. One-thousand welcomes. I give you good, good price.” Then, you are walking out with a carpet. Where the hell did that one come from?

More importantly, there is the issue of life or death. The medina roads are narrow. Souk displays, vendors and people compete for space, leaving barely the middle of the road free. And, the two- and three-wheel motorized and unmotorized modes of transportation compete for that precious free space in the middle. The bikes. The bikes with motors. The motor bikes. The wheelbarrow carts toted by old men carrying fresh bread and fruit deliveries to the tiny stores. There are the donkeys loaded down with goods and strapped to a massive cart.

In a split second, you have to read incoming drivers/riders eyes to see which way they will veer, decide your fate/game step and avoid getting bumped, bruised or even worse, hit. Avoiding the traffic from behind is another challenge. My toes have come dangerously close to being smooshed.

Once you get out of the souks and down the side streets to the riad, the people trying to get money off of you start to emerge. They can be standing on the street, waiting for goners like you, or talking with friends. Suddenly, it’s “Do you need a hotel? I can take you to one. You have a hotel, where are you going? Here, I can show you where to go. No guide. No guide.” Then, when they follow you to the place you knew how to get to, they hold out their hand for the few feet they “walked” you from the corner to the door and demand money.

There’s also the boys who have just hit puberty, lurking under the arched doorways, leaning against a wall, trying to sell you hash, hash oil or whatever.

“You want hash, I give you good deal.” Even saying no with a shake of your head, a brush of your hand, doesn’t phase them. “It’s good.” Eventually, they either give up or find someone else who can be their victim.

But, then there’s the riad. The anti-medina. The terracotta walls that give way to blue and white and green and yellow tiled floors, a plunge pool, banana and hibiscus trees, lounges scattered about. There, you unwind. Refresh. Sit on the roof top terrace and enjoy the desert breeze. It takes a few minutes in the riad to remind you of the electricity pulsing only feet away, in the streets of the medina. The circus of attractions to take over your thoughts and senses. A few minutes in the riad reminds you of the high you get from being out there, among all of the people, the souks and gives you just enough of a respite to enable you to get back up and do it all over again.

About the Author

Diana Edelman is a travel writer and expat currently residing in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She is a former career breaker and long term solo traveler. Today, she helps promote responsible elephant tourism and is the co-founder of #RTTC, a weekly chat on Twitter focusing on responsible tourism. When she isn’t writing, Diana handles the PR and social media for Save Elephant Foundation, which runs the popular Elephant Nature Park. Her writing as appeared in About.com, Thought Catalog, The Huffington Post, Matador Network, Travel + Escape, Luna Luna, Vegas Seven, World Nomads, Viator, CheapOair, OneTravel and more.

17 Comments on " Thoughts from a Riad "

  1. Suzy August 7, 2010 at 4:02 pm · Reply

    You have painted quite the vivid image of traveling through Marrekesh. Sounds like an energy that almost annoys you and delights the senses at the same time.

    • The Adventures of D August 8, 2010 at 5:47 pm · Reply

      Precisely, Suzy! I LOVED it but at the same time, I always was “on,” which got a bit tiring. But, at the end of the day, Marrekesh was absolutely amazing and unlike any other place I have ever been in my life. Thanks for reading the piece and for stumbling :)

  2. Andi August 10, 2010 at 6:13 pm · Reply

    What a beautiful description of Morocco!!! It brought me back there instantly! :)

    • The Adventures of D August 11, 2010 at 6:44 am · Reply

      Andi, thank you so much for the note. Re-reading it brings me back there, too.

  3. Dylan August 10, 2010 at 6:49 pm · Reply

    Oh Riad Medina Azahara, some sweet and crazy memories I have of that riad. I have a love/hate relationship with Morocco as well. I find many aspects of Marrakech pretty immoral, animal cruelty for instance – how they’d cut off the tails of the Barbary monkeys and keep them in shoe-box-sized cages, how they’d forcefully remove the fangs of snakes. All the hassling was rather irritating to begin with but I’m pretty used to it now. Though being regularly ‘Japan-ed’ and ‘Konichiwa-ed’ (I’m ethnically Chinese) isn’t exactly kind to the ear, especially when they tend to say it in a ‘you’re a stupid, lucrative gringo’ kind of way.
    But hey, that’s only a small bunch of bad eggs in a country I’m deeply in love with. I adore the food, and still trying to replicate them at home. Some of my best experiences with people whilst travelling I’ve had are with friendly, hospitable Moroccans.
    And to spot a linguistics genius you’ll find plenty at Djemaa el-Fna at the night food market – we’ve even run into a young bloke who can speak a considerable amount of Cymru (welsh language). Weird.

    • The Adventures of D August 11, 2010 at 6:44 am · Reply

      Morocco really is an amazing country … just exhausting! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. We share the same sentiments. I keep reminding myself — I MUST find the recipe for Moroccan salad dressing. It is fantastic.

  4. Emily August 12, 2010 at 1:58 pm · Reply

    Wonderful post! I love how you describe this all so vividly–this is definitely how I imagined Marrakech! I almost went to Marrakech in February but we ended up deciding to go to Istanbul instead. The market experiences sound really similar to me! They all speak tons of languages and are so pushy and abrasive while sometimes charming at the same time.

    My step-brother was just in Marrakech and posted a few pics on Facebook of him with those monkeys you referenced. They are so cute, but they look so sad and defeated….I feel so bad for them stuck on chained leashes!

    • The Adventures of D August 16, 2010 at 2:02 pm · Reply

      Yeah, Marrakesh is not a shining example for the treatment of animals, but it is still a phenomenal city! Def worth a visit. Istanbul is a tamer version! Let me know when you go … I can give you some names of places to stay, etc. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Louise September 12, 2010 at 5:51 am · Reply

    I love your blog! Morocco is fantastic, it can be exhausting and exasperating but it’s so fascinating and so varied… In May this year, my boyfriend and I rented a car in Fez and drove down to Merzouga, then the Todra and Dades valleys, Ait Benhaddou, Essaouira and Marrakech – probably the best holiday ever! Although every place had its special charm, I think I liked the Dades valley the best, Ain Benhaddou at sunset is also magical, and Essaouira is very nice as well, much more laid back than Marrakech. I very much recommend exploring those areas more if you didn´t go there!
    We hope to be heading to Croatia in June next year for another road trip, so I really enjoyed that part of your blog as well. Now I’m looking forward to reading the Spain part as we live in Madrid, and the Turkey part since I worked with hotels there for three years and love Istanbul! Please keep travelling and writing, this is possibly the best travel blog I’ve found online ever.

    • The Adventures of D September 12, 2010 at 10:52 am · Reply

      Louise, thank you so much for the kind words. How did you come across my blog? Your trip sounds fantastic! And I love that you live in Madrid. It is one of my favorite places in the world. I am back in Croatia right now, so there is more to come! Enjoy reading and if you have any questions as you plan your Croatia trip, feel free to message me! :)

      • Louise September 12, 2010 at 1:54 pm · Reply

        Thanks a lot! :) I found your blog through the Lonely Planet website, as I’m currently doing what I tend to do while planning a trip to somewhere new: read everything I can find about the destination obsessively! If I can’t travel enough in real life, at least I can do it vicariously while waiting for the real thing! ;)

        Madrid is cool, after 9 years here it’s “just home” and I guess I don’t appreciate it enough anymore… It’s strange to think how exotic it seemed when I moved here as a 19-year-old, straight out of high school! I’m originally from Copenhagen, Denmark. Do let me know if you come back here on one of your trips!

  6. Dalene January 24, 2012 at 8:40 am · Reply

    Ack! Just reading your post made me want to go to a hamman immediately (didn’t you always just want to have a shower after being out on the streets? To get the diesel fumes and other pollutants OFF?)

    Really lovely post – so much vivid description!!

    • Diana January 24, 2012 at 4:25 pm · Reply

      I did! I stayed at my riad a lot of the time … it was a bit too overwhelming for me to go out into the streets more than once or twice a day.

  7. Anita Mac February 21, 2013 at 11:57 am · Reply

    Oh man…not helping my wanderlust! My biggest regret is skipping out on Morocco when I went around the world. It had been in the plan, but got cut out last minute. Have been dreaming of going ever since! Even without a picture, your words inspire! Can’t wait to wander a riad myself. So enchanting!

    • Diana February 28, 2013 at 3:34 am · Reply

      Aww, thank you so much for the sweet words!! It is enchanting … and overwhelming!!

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