With just a few hours to go before the government announces the next stage of our lockdown and we may start to deconfine here in Morocco, I’m reflecting on the nearly three months spent in a strict quarantine.
Morocco began shutting down its borders while we were on a Tasting Marrakech food tour on 12 March 2020. It started with closing the maritime borders to Spain. And within no time at all, national and international flights were halted and only repatriation flights remained. Seeing the trails left behind by the airplanes became a rare sight in a city that typically welcomes several flights per day.
I decided to stay put in Marrakech rather than hopping on one of the Government of Canada organized flights back in March. I spoke about this decision in the Globe and Mail, but it was a tough decision as my Dad continued to undergo cancer treatment and I am working on reversing a diabetes diagnosis that puts me in the high-risk category. We later found out that the airports would remain closed until 30 May and then the announcement came that the borders remain closed until at least 15 June.
So I settled in and wandered out when I needed to. With deserted streets and a fear of catching the virus present, I did one big shop every 10 days and only ventured to the corner store when absolutely necessary.
I spent hours sitting on my terrace, waving to my neighbours on their balconies nearby as they too stepped out for a bit of fresh air. Marrakech is a city fuelled by tourism and with the borders closed and with the restrictions in place, things were, and continue to be, hard for people working in the industry and the small businesses I care about. I decided early on to make daily efforts to help those I could.
FaceTime with friends both around the world and in Marrakech in between Zoom conferences and webinars became the norm. To keep myself sane, I also wrote and recorded a PR course I was invited to teach online. Given the slow internet connections, it’s still in the coming soon phase (I’m learning to accept that which I cannot control).
With limitations on movement to control the spread, I stuck to my neighbourhood. Protectorate-era villas, fabulous street food and restaurants serving cuisine from around the world, streets lined with fragrant orange trees, an art-deco cinema and contemporary art galleries, little cafes and juice bars, markets filled with fresh produce, corner magazine shops and an independent bookshop, and little bakeries for fresh bread and treats make Gueliz my favourite Marrakech neighbourhood. Thankfully the jacaranda trees bloomed and we had amazing sunsets to watch while everything else was basically at a standstill. I think it goes without saying that I’m so looking forward to the day when the small businesses that make this neighbourhood so vibrant can safely reopen.
An afternoon sandstorm followed by the most amazing sunset added some excitement (and extra cleaning) to lockdown days!
But with less pedestrian traffic, fewer parked cars, and absolutely no cafes sprawling beneath the arcades, I rediscovered the streets of Gueliz and the little businesses past and present tucked away as I occasionally wandered out to do my errands. That is, once I finally had my official documentation to present at the various police checks around town.
Throughout it all, I missed the bustle of the city. Although I must say that I did love soaking up the silence before sunset as the birds swooped through the skies before the call to prayer sounded out and the noise from any street traffic ceased (the initial lockdown came with a curfew between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.).
As I ventured down Avenue Mohamed V, the city’s main drag, to Maroc Telecom on the edge of the cyber park one morning, I was able to view Marrakech in all its beauty. Given the restrictions, I could not enter the glorious gardens on the edge of the old city. (If you’re planning a trip to Marrakech, add this to your list – fewer crowds than other attractions, fragrant gardens and quiet spots from the bustling city make this a top pick).
As I waited my turn, sat on the edge of the garden, I longed for the buzz around town I know and love. I missed stopping for a coffee at a local cafe or an avocado milkshake at my favourite juice bar. I missed meeting friends at one of our favourite restaurants and whiling away the hours, talking non-sense (and not so much non-sense on occasion). I missed cultural events, gallery exhibitions and watching a film at my local 1930s cinema on weekends.
The artisans who humbly craft goods by hand, I missed them as a I spent more time at home where 95 per cent of my furnishings are made in Morocco. My on-going meetings with PR clients to discuss strategy and messaging by video call, just weren’t the same. Despite being in contact regularly, I missed the @tasting_marrakech team and the stallholders terribly and sharing our love of our town with guests on our food tours (and let’s be honest, the street food as well). I miss travel consulting for various clients as the lockdown continues. I miss the bustling streets and sidewalks. I miss slowing down to take a break in one of the gorgeous gardens.
As we await the next government announcement, I’m hopeful we’ll be back out there soon. And that tourism will pick up when the time is right and it’s safe to do so!
In the meantime, I have released 33 podcast episodes of Why Morocco to provide travel inspiration and they’re all available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and acast. You can also follow me on Instagram at @mandyinmorocco or @tasting_marrakech.
To support Why Morocco, please consider buying me a coffee nouss nouss. Or hit reply and let me know how you’ve spent your lockdown!