Our second full day in Marrakech brought with it some of the most stunningly beautiful travel experiences of my life. Waaaaay back in my younger years, (I thought this would be funnier because I was joking about how long ago it was, but... it actually was a pretty long time ago, so it's mostly just sad...) I made a 30 Before 30 list that comprised an assortment of goals of varying degrees of achievability. (I should probably change the name of that list now that I am, um, more than 30.) One of the items on that list was to overcome my gut-level terror of heights and ride in a hot air balloon. When I started researching activities in Marrakech, a hot air balloon company listing immediately leapt out at me. Upon reading the reviews I was able to ascertain that there have been no horrible Hindenberg level catastrophes, and many people who also possessed a fear of heights described an incredibly transcendent experience.
So, we woke up at oh dark thirty and trudged outside to meet the driver arranged by Marrakech by Air, the ballooning company we booked through. We picked up another couple from their hotel and then began our drive out into the desert to our launch location. The drive actually ended up being the most terrifying part of our journey as our driver was BATSHIT INSANE, but in a weirdly lovable way. When we arrived at the launch point, we joined up with another ballooning company Ciel d'Afrique. I don't know if maybe in the high season they do separate balloons, but if you're agonizing over which company to use don't worry too much since they seem to use the same balloons and pilots. We stood outside waiting for the balloon to be ready, and it was MUCH colder than we had anticipated and packed for. One of the drivers took pity on our shivering souls and invited us to sit in his car with the heater running until launch time.
We had just enough time to thaw out, and snap a few pictures of the sun beginning to spill over the mountains before it was time to climb into the basket and take off. There was one moment of shuddering fear as the balloonists untied the ropes and let go of the basket, then suddenly we were drifting gracefully into the air and it felt completely natural and perfect. We went up high enough to get a stunning view over the Atlas mountains and Berber villages for our glorious, magical hour-long ride.
When we landed, there was a traditional Moroccan breakfast set up under the tents and we enjoyed some time chatting with our fellow passengers, one of whom was a gentleman who runs a bucket list themed travel company out of California and was researching packages to offer his clients. What a life! From there, it was back into the cars for a somewhat less terrifying ride back into Marrakech where we met up with some delightful dromedaries.
The most alarming part of our dromedary (not camel--they have two humps!) ride was the mount and dismount. The handlers would have the animals kneel down then help you onto the saddle, but it's a rollicking ride as they stand back up. We did a 15-20 minute dromedary ride through a palm grove near one of the Morrocan princes' houses, then were driven back to our pick up point.
Since we had such an early start, it was still just barely lunch time. Brittany was feeling a little bit of Africa belly, so we decided to slow things down and go hang out in a Starbucks in the newer part of town for a couple of hours and the people watching was absolutely delightful. After our break, we went to the Jardin Majorelle where we enjoyed the peace and quite outside the craziness of the medina.
Then it was back into the fray as we battled the taxi drivers for something incrementally cheaper than an astronomical tourist rate, and rode back to the Djema el Fnaa (I honestly cannot figure out how to properly spell this, there are about fourteen different options according to Professor Google) the bustling square in the center of town. We wandered around taking in all of the vendors, the storytellers, the snake charmers, the monkey handlers, the acrobats, and searching for a good spot to park ourselves for the evening. We found a cafe overlooking the square and after a little bit of patience got a table at the edge where we could watch all of the activity from the relative quietness of our retreat.
After we'd had enough of that show, we went back to our riad to drop off all that we'd acquired throughout the day, then went in search of the highly recommended Le Salama, which did not disappoint. We had a mouthwateringly delicious dinner, my favorite part of which were these delightful meatballs in a tomato sauce with an egg cooked in the center. Then finished up with this sweet little chocolate mousse fez.
The next morning we did a farewell tour of the city, wandering around the medina in search of last minute souvenirs and breakfast, then it was time to say goodbye to Marrakech. We were definitely ready to go, and I felt like two days was plenty of time for us to experience the city and get a feel for the culture, the people and the cuisine. That said, it was an incredible two days, and we made memories on that trip that will be emblazoned in my mind forever. Traveling as two women, we ran into our fair share of misogyny and aggression, but we also met so many people who were so incredibly kind and helpful and I can honestly say that I never felt unsafe. It was beautiful in such an unexpected way, and yet it still managed to meet all of my expectations.
May we meet again someday, Morocco, In šāʾ Allāh.