• Laura

Au Revoir Marrakech and a Desert Compromise (Weeks 25-26, March 18 and 25, 2019)

Updated: Apr 7, 2019

The moon setting over the Agafay rock desert

Our Marrakech chapter is coming to a close. As we geared up to leave Rome back in November, I realized that it had knocked a few other cities aside to make my most-time-spent-in list. Well now Marrakech tops Rome! It seems so unlikely and yet it is perfectly true.

It’s been grounding to spend so much time in one place, but it’s also been frustrating at times. There is a ton to see and do in Marrakech, but almost no infrastructure for children. No playgrounds and the parks are gardens. No sidewalks in the medina so no toddling or strollering.

I still maintain this is a wonderful place to visit with a small child, particularly one with a curious and outgoing personality. WP is greeted like a princess in every shop and restaurant and by half of all passersby. However eight weeks with no play spaces has tested my limits and found them.

If we were on our own there’s no end to the cafes and terraces we would meander to for tea and reading. We would spend long days gallery hopping in Gueliz. I would be neither frustrated nor bored. Instead, as we head into our last week I am tired of pretending that the large paved area in front of the Koutoubia Mosque counts as a play space because it’s well-maintained and there are pigeons to chase. I look sadly on as WP uses the sofa in our riad as a jungle gym. I am sad because the floors are concrete and so I must look on from two feet away, leaping distance.

The garden outside Koutoubia Mosque. The giant concrete pavilion of pigeons is on the other side.

I dream of Spain. Playgrounds, music classes, and speaking the language. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to not speak French. It’s perfectly easy to get around and get done everything you need to in a day with English. But English is really just used for basic commercial transactions with tourists here. Moroccans speak Arabic and French.

The other day our neighbors were sitting on their front step holding a tiny kitten the neighborhood cat had just birthed. WP was fascinated. We stopped and she pet the kitten. The women tried speaking to me in Arabic and French, and I was helpless. This was an opportunity to get to know our neighbors, and I couldn’t.

Despite the frustrations, we’ve still had some memorable experiences the last couple weeks. Mike’s mother came to visit while I was traveling for work and we overlapped for a couple days when I was back. Then my parents came. When they were here we went to the Agafay rock desert outside Marrakech.

For weeks Mike and I had been plotting how to get to the dune desert, the Sahara, for a few nights. I’d seen a couple babies in the Moroccan Sahara on Instagram and so it seemed possible. Yet all the research we did and all the people we asked turned up only two options depending on where in the desert you wanted to go: take a flight then a three hour drive, or drive ten hours.

There didn’t seem to be a way to avoid splitting the travel into two days (four days roundtrip) unless we wanted to self-destruct on the way. Finally I asked our friend Mohammed for his real-talk advice. “Do not go,” he said. “It is too much for Mina.”

Too much for Mina means too much for me, I can tell you that much. So we opted to skip the sand dunes on this trip. While I still see the Sahara in my future one day, it became clear that this was unquestionably the right decision.

Our consolation trip was an overnight to a fancy eco-lodge an hour outside Marrakech with my parents. It was truly lovely, but I was most looking forward to our camel ride out into the rock desert. We decided to go at 5pm to try to avoid peak sun.

Hah! I had WP in the carrier in front of me on the camel. She was supposed to wear her hat. She refused to wear her hat. I wasn’t sure how she’d handle staying still for an hour, so at the last minute I grabbed her favorite swaddle and an Elmo doll. She disliked staying still so the camel man gave her his stick to play with.

Now I am on a swaying camel trying to hold Elmo, keep her hat on her head, shield her from the sun with the swaddle, and avoid being whacked in the face with the camel man’s stick. I am sure there was scenery around but I didn’t particularly see it. After 15 minutes I piped up from the back camel that I did not believe there was any way I was going to make it one hour.

My mother, who tried everything to avoid this camel ride but finally agreed to come, immediately agreed that one hour was a terrible idea. As the French speaker, she explained to the camel man that we needed a “midi” ride. And so after five more minutes, we turned back.

Are we having fun yet?

I was so relieved to get off that camel and very happy to have a cold mojito to seal the experience, and all I could think was that if we’d done ten hours in the car to ride camels through a landscape I did not see because I was trying to keep my daughter from frying her face off, I would be in a very different mood.

And so this week follows two successful parental visits, and we’re now wrapping up. We must start packing, start the ritual of leaving behind the things that have served us well but are no longer needed, and hoping that keeps us under the luggage weight limits or that they take pity on us because -- look at this cute baby!

We have one more week after this in Morocco -- we head to Asilah to relax by the beach, and to Tangier, which I hear will ease our cultural transition to Europe, Spain in particular. So, one more post from Morocco and then Spain here we come!

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