Saturday, May 28, 2016

Vicarious Tourism: Marrakech

Marrakech was actually a work trip, and it's a pretty amazing destination as work trips go. I was accompanying the Ambassador to the Africa Think Tank Conference to get a sense of how thought leaders across the continent are looking at a variety of economic issues. I learned a lot. And before and after and between conference events I had some time to experience the city, which I had been wanting to visit for ages and ages and ages but had never quite managed to make it happen.

There's a lot to like about Marrakech. History, great food, lots of charming twisty alleyways to wander around in. Gorgeous palaces, vibrant markets, hidden art galleries, beautiful walled gardens. Many many cups of mint tea. And shopping of course. leather, metalwork, wood inlay, clothes, shoes, jewelry, baskets, rugs, whatever your heart desires.

But all in all I can't say I had the greatest time. In fact, the longer I stayed the less I liked it. All the wonderful parts coexist with a million tiny little hassles: getting lost when trying to find someplace specific; constantly being hollered at to visit shops and having restaurant menus shoved in your face when you're walking around minding your own business; bargaining for everything, which takes so much time and always makes me feel like I'm overpaying (I'm a terrible haggler); blatant scamming attempts; and, as a single woman, the endless catcalls and occasional groping. None of this was unexpected and no single incident was a big deal in itself, but the accumulation really wears on you after a while to the point where the fun stuff isn't fun enough to make up for it. A wretched airport security experience on the way out was the last straw; as my flight took off I was hating Morocco and swore I'd never go back.

After a little time and distance I have moderated that opinion somewhat. I am glad I went, on the whole, and there are still a lot of things I want to see and do in other parts of the country. But I definitely won't go alone again, and I will plan more down time to make up for the unusually high annoyance factor. Clearly I needed it.

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