Working out how to do some working out in Marrakech
When I visit new countries I try and find a local gym. Not only is it good to try and keep some sort of mental/physical routine going when you are on the road, but gyms are a great way to get a glimpse into the local community.
Some interesting ones I have found have been on the island of Nusa Lembongan off the coast of Bali, Indonesia, as well as a ridiculously makeshift open-air one in Bangkok, Thailand. I’m not looking for a fancy one in a hotel or resort, as these are just like the modern ones we have at home. I always look for one that locals go to – and because of the countries I’m usually in, that means the gyms are usually pretty crappy. Stuff falling to bits and funny posters on the wall. That’s what makes them fun.
My last crappy gym was in Marrakech, Morocco. Morocco is the most Westernised country in North Africa but saying that poverty levels are much higher than neighbouring Europe. Because of that, hygiene standards are poor especially regarding food. I was lucky I actually got to a gym in Marrakech at all, as about six hours after my workout I was struck down with acute food poisoning and could barely walk. 10 hours straight of throwing up. Watch yourself with the food over there, seriously!
Trying to find anything in Marrakech is a pain. Maps are essentially useless in the old town, and when you ask for directions the person expects money which is kind of annoying. I had heard of a local gym not to far from the place I was staying but of course I couldn’t find it, so I purposely just stood there looking lost. Wouldn’t you know it, a guy approached me within 15 seconds (as I knew he would) and asked me what I was looking for. Asking for help in Morocco is similar to a private investigator trying to get information out of a criminal in some cheesy 80s movie. The person initially knows nothing but then when you flash the cash – LOW AND BEHOLD – they suddenly remember everything. “Ahhh, GYM! Yes I know gym I know gym this way this way.” So off we went, sidestepping past mules hauling carts and old men hobbling about. It was a hot day, about 35 degrees, but I was pretty sure there wouldn’t be aircon where we were going.
We arrived at an old building with a huge sundamaged picture of a bodybuilder plastered on the outside and load of arabic writing. I approached the guys inside and they initially didn’t wanna let me in but they discussed it amongst themselves and told me I could pay a one-off fee of 25 dirham (£1.70) for a session. I knew that it cost Moroccan guys 100 dirham (£6.75) to use this gym for the entire month so tried to bargain down. They weren’t having any of it, and I even tried to call their bluff by walking away but no luck. So I said sod it and paid up. By this stage I was curious how the inside looked anyway.
Inside a fan was blowing and a few big Moroccan guys were working out. Some pretty strange and intense looks when I walked in let me tell you. I smiled at the guys but then I think that just weirded them out even further and the looks got worse. Not wanting to get stabbed I stopped giving the impression I was hitting on them and checked out the gym. As usual, lots of funny posters on the wall including an Arnie one with more arabic. The equipment was pretty good actually and didn’t fall apart when you touched it. The Moroccan guys were also pretty friendly in the end and once again I was glad I checked out a gym in the local area of town. At one point some reggae-dub-techno track came on the stereo and a few guys started dancing. One big Moroccan guy was in the corner eating a chicken. And then there was me sitting there in a pair of fluorescent shorts and a cut-off NOFX tshirt. Odd afternoon.
As with all places, once you know where it is it’s easy to find. Finding this gym for the first time, however, can be tricky. It’s about 15 minutes walk from Jemaa el-Fnaa but the best reference point I think is the Maison de la Photographie which is about three minutes round the corner. (If you can even get yourself to the Photography Museum and ask someone it’ll only cost you about 10 dirham to be taken there.) Good luck!