Photos here: Marrakech
Why Morocco? Well, I've never been there, and had a hankering for seeing North Africa. Most of the Middle East is currently not safe for traveling, so Morocco was a nice compromise. I knew very little about the country, but my research indicated that Casablanca was uninteresting, while Marrakech was the cultural and tourist hub of the country.
I thought I would spend four nights here, and then move on to the Moroccan sea village of Essaouira for several more days. In between, I would do a trip of the Western Atlas mountains, which separate "habitable" Morocco on one side and the Sahara desert on the other. I briefly considered doing a camel trip or a desert soujourn, but the reviews were fairly bad.
I booked the Riad Badi guest house, which is run by a delightful French couple. Christian and Isabelle take pains to make their guests comfortable, and to inform them about navigating the city. I recommend this hotel most strongly.
I spent the days in Marrakech doing the touristy things, such as seeing the ruins, the mosque exteriors (non-Islam people are not allowed in), roaming the souks (shopping areas), visiting the gardens, and the like. I also took a lot a pictures of storks, as they dominate the city's roofline for some reason. As a pure tourist attraction, the city is so-so. Not bad, but not outstanding. When compared to say, Istanbul, Marrakech comes across as a serond tier experience.
Moroccans are also not the easiest people in the world. They are aggressive, and their cultural norms are so different than ours. They also kept insisting speaking a few words of Japanese to me, even though they clearly had no idea what they were saying, confusing "ohayo gozaimasu" (Good Morning) for example with "sayonara" (Goodbye). I have no idea why they mistakenly took me for a Japanese. I told them I was from Costa Rica.
By the end of my trip, I resorted to inventing my own language to counteract this. In Arabic, hello is "As-salam alaykom." I started responding to their Japanese hellos with "Similac Akeem Oulajawon", mixing the name of a baby formula with the former NBA super star. I thought if I spoke with enough of an accent I sounded vaguely Arabic of some sort. Indeed, every person thought I was trying to speak Arabic and would respond in a flurry of gutteral speech in trying to strike up a conversation (usually in an attempt to sell me something). So I tried saying "Osama Bin Laden Hussein Obama", and got the same excited happy response. Even when I went with "Malcolm X in the Middle", the sales chatter only increased as they assumed they could finally speak to me. Ahhh, crazy Moroccans.
With a couple of notable exceptions, the food was also not to my liking. I can't figure out why the food in the region isn't more spicy, as I equate "hot" areas with spicy food (because of the historical need to cover up the taste of spoiling food).
Still, on balance, I was glad I came to Marrakech. I doubt that I will ever return, but it was a unique experience and I learned a lot as well. And spending the evenings watching the sun set from the Kosybar with a cold cocktail was actually a lot of fun.
Photos here: Marrakech