Lost In Marrakech (Part 1)

I’m a planner by nature. I take comfort in making order of chaos. I like everything to be clear cut, my mind doesn’t take kindly to the ambiguous and the grey areas in life.

As hard as I’ve tried to keep order in my life, it feels like it’s all falling apart. Work has become an unbearable mess. Constant chaos stirred by my boss, whose bi-polar mood swings keep everyone on edge, has created a workplace that seems to operate on a dysfunctional energy. Sitting in the airport in Kuwait I can feel all the neurons in my mind working on hyper drive. Thinking of what’s wrong in my life, what’s wrong at work and feeling like a dark cloud is swallowing me up whole.

It’s been almost a year and half since I took a vacation and I needed it badly. Vacations are my escape from my reality and the only way I’m able to relieve the pressure that seems to build up inside of me. Yet sitting in the airport I’m not sure it will work this time. I’ve never been this unhappy or anxious before. I just feel hopeless and lost.

I hear the announcement for the departure of my flight. Catching a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror I tell myself: “Its gonna be OK”.  

“Liar”,  I think back to myself as I leave for the boarding gate.

Arriving into Marrakech, after the chaos I experienced in getting my connecting flight in Casablanca, I’m pleasantly surprised by how orderly the airport is here. After collecting my backpack I go outside to find my transport to the Riad (hotel) that I booked in the Medina (city). Looking around I didn’t see my name on any of the placards held by drivers waiting at the arrival gate. So I throw myself down on the nearest chair and wait. Thirty minutes later and several (unanswered) calls to the Riad I’m frustrated and angry. This isn’t how I wanted my vacation to start!

I go outside to get a cab to the Riad. How hard can it possibly be? I find a cab show him the address and he nods his head and waves me into the car. As we’re driving I’m struck by how tired and dirty the city looks. I knew Morocco wasn’t a rich country, but I wasn’t prepared for the city’s grittiness. The streets are chaotic, the city landscape had a orangey hue and a cacophony of people, children and sometimes animals zip by my face as I look out of the cab at the passing city.

Turning a corner, I’m surprised with the view of man riding a motorcycle with his large dog (a rottweiler) sitting in front of him like a human with his butt on the chair and his paws on the handles. He nimbly maneuvers his bike through the traffic with a practiced ease, he turns left and I watch him and his dog as they disappear from my view. I’m in awe of what I just saw.

I sit back in the cab and close my eyes for a couple of minutes only to be jolted awake as the cab suddenly stops.

Looking around I don’t see the Riad as I turn to the driver he motions forward “No car! You walk!”.


Shocked, I see that the road narrows into a path through a street market. I start to argue with the driver. He insists that’s as far as he goes and demands his fare.

“[Swearing] How do I get to the Riad from here?”. Again he points to the market, saying “There!”. After ejecting me from the cab, I stand alone in a street market in Marrakesh wondering what I’ve gotten myself into.

Looking around, my anxiety and paranoia set in. How the hell did I end up in middle of Medina with no clue of where to go. I could feel the circuits in mind overload. With no other option I start walking down the street. I’m sure I had the dazed look of a lost tourist. Fresh bait.

I don’t get far before I’m surrounded by teenagers jostling for my attention, asking if I’m lost and need directions. Overwhelmed I try to solider on, trying to figure out how to get to the hotel alone. I don’t get far before realizing I need help.

Looking around I ask in Arabic “Do you know where Riad ZamZam is?”

“Yes, Yes” they all scream. “I show you”. I point to one of them – “Ok you show me”. The boy is happy to be picked as others shout they will show me the way.

As I follow him (and four or five other kids who insist on tagging along) my unease is amplified. These streets are a maze, we don’t get too far in before I realize there’s no way I can make it back to the main street. With a deep sense of helplessness, I realize I’m completely at the mercy of these kids. We walk for what feels like an eternity, continuously turning on street corners. I’m disoriented and I start to notice the locals we pass are looking at me with amused stares.

My mind is racing as I think I’ve made a terrible mistake. I can’t believe I paid all this money to stay in an area that literally looks like a war zone. I take a breathe and calm my nerves. I always do this. I’m well practiced at assuming the worst. It’s hard but I’m able to reign in these absurd thoughts.

Finally we get to the riad. One look at the entrance all hope I had left of salvaging this vacation evaporates. The signage for the hotel is literally “Riad ZamZam” spray painted on a pink wall. The entrance is nothing more than a small alley way with a big wooden door at its end. As I ring the bell, I’m thinking:

“Tripadvisor lied! How can this place be so highly rated? This is were people get murdered!”

I ring the bell again and wait.

The door opens, I’m shocked by what’s revealed. As broken and run down as the area we’re in, the insides of the Riad is a oasis of calm and beauty. A young man stands at the door, in front of a beautiful and well decorated foyer. His name is Faisal and I ask him if he could pay the kids, as I don’t have Moroccan currency on me.

“Of course” he answers.

I walk into the Riad totally dumb founded. My mind is frozen unable to compute the extreme shift of environments. As the door closes behind me the noise of the street disappears and I’m enveloped by the warmth of the space. I feel like I walked into the palace of a maharajah.

It’s so beautiful. The hallway is lit by a series of silver shades punctured with holes that shine circular lights into the space, giving it a cosmic glow. At the end of the hall is a small reflection pool and on its right is a tranquil courtyard flooded with natural light. A single large palm tree rises through the open space. Looking up, I watch the palm tree sway in the warm summer breeze against the clear blue sky.

This feels like a dream.

Sitting in the courtyard, relieved, I start to unwind as they serve me sweet Moroccan mint tea. Maybe this won’t be a bad vacation after all. Maybe (just maybe) this will be an experience I need to have.


You can continue reading my adventure in Morocco in Part 2 of this series. Also below is video from my trip. NOT high quality but worth viewing.