Bonjour, Morocco!

Marrakech is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I love the contrast of the walls of the old city, the modern satellite dishes and the motorbikes.

I imagined when I finally started a blog that I would have plenty of time to write, post, keep up with social media and be a rock star blogger in general.  But... I have this "real job," this business that I run, and Q1 this year, it was all I could do to keep up with that.  I traveled pretty frequently for work, which left me exhausted. I also battled a 6-week-long coughing/flu thing that I thought I had beat at the end of week 2 but then it flattened me again at week 3 and I didn't feel human till what felt like aeons later.  

In January, I did travel to Utah and a ton of National Parks, and I still plan to write those posts, and share those photos, but since I've just come back from Morocco, I thought we'd skip Utah in favor of a few posts about my first trip to Africa.  An acquaintance of mine told me that "Morocco was Africa for beginners."  Excellent.  I qualify, having never before traveled to the continent.  Her other advice was to stay at La Mamounia, the world renowned fancypants luxury hotel in Marrakech (or Marrakesh, you choose).  I didn't.  

What I did do was stay at a lovely, slightly off-the-beaten path hotel called Riad Al Badia.  I say off-the-beaten path because I wouldn't be able to find it again if you dropped me off two blocks away.  If you plan to go to Marrakech, book a few nights there.  They'll pick you up at the airport.  They'll sit you down with mint tea and pastries (which you just might eat, even if you do have Celiac Disease, and shouldn't).  They'll book a private tour guide for you.  They'll serve you a delicious breakfast with home made yogurt, fresh squeezed orange juice, jams, butter, breads and pot after pot of coffee with steamed milk, or your tea of choice. They'll cook you dinner too, just reserve in advance - and be hungry.

Two Moroccan men, one in a traditional djellaba (gel-ah-bah), the other in westernized clothing, both a common sight.

I arrived Madrid with no problems, had a 4 hour layover and then flew to and arrived Marrakech, also with no problems.  It was hot, sticky and crowded, just as you'd imagine it would be in Marrakech.  I headed to the bathroom as soon as I got off the plane and since I had no change, I got no toilet paper.   It's a bit of a trick, since the MAD - Moroccan Dirham - is a closed currency.  You can't really get any before you travel.  I used a currency exchange in Madrid, but got a completely ridiculous exchange rate, and was left with only fresh, crisp 200 dirham notes.  Everyone who needed to get 20 dirham from me - like the woman at the toilet controlling the TP roll - got nothing.  After my drip-dry trip to the loo, I was in a line of what I'm going to call roughly a zillion other passengers in the customs queue. It was sort of a pushy-shovey line, and being jet-lagged, thirsty and sweaty, none of us were having much fun.  Ninety or so minutes later, I made it to the Arrivals Hall, grabbed my bag (hallelujah, it made it!) and found my driver.

Morrocan rooftop terraces are popular places for cafes.  There really aren't any "backyards" or gardens so rooftop terraces and inner courtyards are welcome respites from the crowds in Marrakech.

I'd scheduled a tour guide to take me around Marrakech at 3PM, which should have given me 30 minutes to wash my face, change my clothes and head out slightly refreshed.  My plan was to just keep going, for as long as I could, in order to conquer jet lag and sync myself immediately with the time zone, which is 7 hours ahead of Chicago.  My plan, ultimately, worked well,  I slept like a baby the whole time I was away.  Unfortunately, because of the crazy cusoms queue, I was late arriving to the hotel, and my guide Aziz, was already waiting for me.

More on Aziz and my first tour with him tomorrow...