Marrakech Moments - Traveling to Morocco in Uncertain Times

 

Le Jardin Secret - right in the middle of the medina - usually packed with hundreds of tourists - we were the only visitors that afternoon...

In December 2020 my husband and I went on a buying trip to Morocco, unsure of what to expect from a world upended. After many long months of total lockdown, Morocco cautiously opened up last autumn.  Our friends and business partners were truly desperate for business - so we carefully planned a pared back trip.

Morocco is one of the countries we visit that truly requires an in person visit.  We work with more than 25 small artisans and antique dealers, many of whom we have had the pleasure of partnering with for decades.  The days are long ones, where we walk miles criss crossing the city to visit our ironworkers, the zellij factory, flea markets, basement antique hordes, rug dealers, and ceramics workshops.  

 I realized I never wrote a blog post about our Morocco travels in 2020, and as I start to plan our 2021 trip, it's looking like it may resemble last year's trip all too well...

SO here is a little round up of our December trip, which I am taking notes on for when we return!  The container from this visit literally JUST ARRIVED!  It took months to coordinate the manufacture and logistics of this shipment amid material shortages, lockdowns, and the international scarcity of containers for shipping.  It is so good to see all the Moroccan treasures again - and it's making me so excited to go back!  

We started off the last trip with two rounds of Covid tests - we wanted to be absolutely sure we were negative before travel.  Due to Morocco’s COVID restrictions, the negative test was required to enter Morocco at the time - and of course we didn't want to risk the health of our friends in Marrakech - or of anyone we would come into contact with. We donned our masks and wore them every moment of our trip.  This year with our vaccination cards we technically don't need the negative tests, but will of course get them anyway considering the new variants, and the health and safety of our friends.

The empty medina of Marrakech

  Social distancing, in a normal year, is terribly difficult in the usually bustling medina of Marrakech - but in 2020 it was tragically easy.  Once crowded lanes that barely allowed inches of movement during peak hours were reduced to cavernously empty, echoing halls.  Where throngs of tourists, local commuters, donkey carts piled high with rugs, dangerously swerving motorbikes, and tour groups led by flag waving guides would be, was silence, and a ramshackle beauty laid bare by the lack of crowds.    

The Semmarine - the usually packed main street of the medina in Marrakech

Most hotels were still shuttered and the popular déjeuner spots like Café des Epices and Le Jardin were still waiting to reopen for lack of clientele. 

We were able, fortunately, to reach most of our vendors, and were so thankful to see them again and hear how they'd been weathering the difficult times.    

Our wonderful zellij workshop was finishing making tables for a new Spanish home store chain that had reopened and was happy to have another big project to tackle with our new orders.  They had survived the lockdown relatively well.

 

At our zellij workshop

We made a huge list of tables tops and fountains and hammered out a few new designs that we now have on the floor.

Zellij fountains

The vast majority of our vendors reported long months of no business.  Networks were called upon, family, friends and neighbors helping each other through the empty, endless time of no work.  

Stock was varied - some of our wholesale vendors had goods, piles of unsold things that had been sitting since the shutdown the previous spring.   Others that specialize in things usually brought across the southern border with Mauritania - from Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast, were totally empty of inventory.  A few of our contacts had fled the city and gone back to their villages to wait it all out.   

 

Wild and wonderful Marrakech shopping

The flea markets of Bab el Khemis were a little busier.  Some expats and riad owners had stayed throughout the long summer closures, or had just returned once the airports reopened.  Those with means to work on their homes were busy with renovations - and architectural salvage like the old riad doors and windows we buy for TDL were a hot item.

Le chat 

Berber doors

Fortunately for us, the new French owners of one of our favorite riads, Riad Camilia, had stayed in Marrakech all through the long city closure.  We were their only guests since March.  We ended up having lovely long chats over wine about the state of affairs in the city, and how strange it all had been for them.  

The lovely roof of Riad Camilia

Riad Camilia 

We managed to cobble together a fantastic container - and were especially happy to find so many incredible ceramics and pottery pieces.  

Hand painted and carved Safi ceramics
A few of our vendors worked through the closures by attempting to bolster their online presence.  I now have regular chats with so many of our textile and rug dealers in Morocco and beyond; shopping continues year round thanks to new found internet fluency among dealers that had never bothered with it before. 
Fortunately a few restaurants were starting to open back up and we managed to eat a couple of meals out of the riad.  This was my first time at Les Jardins du Lotus  - and it will definitely be on my Gueliz lunch spot list for future trips - especially when we hopefully won't be one of the only people there.

Les Jardins du Lotus restaurant

On our last day, once we had finished the container shopping, we took a road trip to Oualidia - a three hour drive from Marrakech.  Oudlidia is a seaside town that is famous for oysters and surfing - December during Covid of course was not the optimal time to visit - but we absolutely loved the vibe and will definitely return on future trips.

We were able to check out the very posh resort La Sultana right on the lagoon.  It is a sand-castle-like mirage on a gorgeous piece of property with towering trees and cactus.  We stayed on the property the whole day we were visiting and enjoyed an incredible meal of fresh fish.  We were the only people there other than the staff.  Beautiful but heartbreaking. 

La Sultana Oudlidia

The lagoon side restaurant at La Sultana.
Magical treehouse-like guest suite on our tour of La Sultana.
The grounds and spa on our tour of the property of La Sulatna. 
Our container arrived eight months after our trip - definitely a record for how long shipments can take - but that is the normal we are dealing with as importers these days.  We are so thankful to have it at all!  
Towering Majorelle blue doors inspired by Essouraria provide backdrop for a bright combination of ikat and suzani pillows and a zellij tile table. 

 Looking back at our trip and these treasures we managed to bring back - I truly can't wait to get back and place new orders with our long standing vendors.

Tamegroute pottery and a hand painted zouaq wedding chest.

Early morning our last day in Marrakech on our way to get a Covid test for entering New York City on the way back home to AZ.  The Koutoubia at sunrise is a sight to behold.  

 Please let us know if there is anything from beautiful Morocco that you are longing for as we plan our next trip!  Come see us at TDL for all the treasures from our recent container and take a peek online at the Moroccan goods we have on our website!  

1 comment

Fantastic blog post!

Douglas August 20, 2021
  • Page 1 of 1

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published