Trip Start Sep 16, 2006
Trip End Sep 16, 2007

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Marakesh, Morocco.

Well, here are some words that come to mind... more details to come later, as we are still trying to formulate how we feel and process the experience

overwhelming, colorful, spinning, razzle-dazzling, forced henna tattooing, snake oiling, loudspeaker blaring, praying, little truck driving, moped-ing, opium tea drinking, bird pecking, guides guides guides guiding, desert expeditions camel going, fast!!!, dripping, oily bread eating, piles of spices scenting, piles of dry fruit beckoning, piles of fabric sewing, piles of sock wearing, automatic moving, not-very-relaxing, watch yer back-ing, don't stop unless you are sitting, don't make eye contact feeling, Arabic Darija speaking, swarms of travel belt tourist watching, shopping, scouring, lurking, smoking, fuming, disapproving, wandering, gardening, street mazing, 'hey, come here-ing', madame-ing, rip off-ing, delicious food eating, locals smiling, curious making, coconut macaroon-ing, eating eating eating, taxi shuttle-ing, 'do you need help-ing', street crossing, always watching...

Marakesh is really insane and great, and a little bit much at times, but we loved it!!! A really solid experience.


The Train Trip...

the trains from Tangier carry baggage only once a day and our bikes needed to be checked as baggage. after agreeing to the idea that our bikes would be in the baggage car we had begun our 15 hour trip to marrakech.

the train station was totally new, a few days in operation and the guys working it were irritatingly 'by the books'. because of this we couldn't wait on the platform with our bikes. we sat and waited; kurt cleaned his bike, lucie styled out her favorite hat, and i read. later we spent some good time chatting with the baggage manager - nice guy, we had tea and coffee with him, he was happy to speak english with us and we got some useful morocco information from him.

the train came and embarrassingly we had first class tickets which put us in a little room with 6 individual seats, possible air conditioning, and no leg room. the room was full and super uncomfortable because of the lack of leg room. second class has similar room compartments but no divided seating, it's more of a bench and looks more relaxed and roomy, but depending on how full the train is you might not get a seat. well, and then the agony of the night-time train ride set in. trying to sleep was hard but it was a good choice in such a cramped situation.

somewhere near casablanca a rowdy boy and his friend walked past our compartment. he saw we had water and asked for some- kinda in the way one asks for a cigarette when trying to talk to some honey. he swigs and screams 'YEAH! black metal!' -he'd noticed kurt's tattoos. then he starts naming off all the metal bands he knows. after finding out we're coming from california he starts naming all the cities he knows in california including santa barbara, and some rather obscure towns. it was really funny because of his thick accent. he starts walking away and then stops and starts excitedly screaming all the states he knows. a call and response started state for state. it turns out he watches a lot of u.s. t.v. and was full of pop star recognition including j-lo's booty.

we got to casablanca and unloaded and re-secured our bikes in the baggage room until our connecting train boarded at 5 am, some 6 hours later. everyone was super nice and helpful, bikes are an easy thing to connect about and chit-chat. i found out that a bathroom attendant is someone to expect and tip in big cities, although at first i thought it was creepy to have a male bathroom security guard.

so we waited another 5 hours, but in the cold train station. taxi drivers waiting for the potential passengers kept us up with their stares, smoking, and loud talking. we fell asleep painfully balled together on hard metal bench seats and were woken up at 2am. the cleaning crew had paused while hosing the tiled floor in front of us. sleepy eyed we grabbed our things and waited as 3 people squeegeed a large train station's floor.

the train transfer was a hustle and a bustle, lots of people heading to marrakech. the sun came out and we began seeing our first real glimpses of southern morocco. red rolling hills, dry land, heaps of trash, small dirty modern towns, dirt roads. these are the plains of phosphate mines.

heavy eyed, we arrived in marrakech.

we rode into town, direction- AWAY from the fancy hotel district towards the medina, or center (which we feared because of the medina experience in Tangier). we stopped at the first hotel and it was a keeper! the neighborhood was the koutoubia -named for the large mosque, a good landmark- surrounded by parks and gardens that make a nice retreat from all the action. the medina of marrakech is amazing... cluttered, dusty, bustling, donkeys, mopeds!, bikes, cars, little trucks, carts, people. it's really great!!! tons of shopping, eating, and sipping drinks goes on as people go about their day and the tourists stumble around. we walked into the souks, which are the artisan stalls. the abundance of goods is unbelievable. socks! hats! scarfs! sweaters! robes! pants! counterfeit brand name clothing galore! (Calvein Kleiney). kurt haggled for pants- his shorts had to go! it was necessary, as the "you're wearing underwear" jokes had to be put to an end. so a nice 'classical' pair of slacks which in tangier would sell for 70 dhiram -7 euros- were now being offered for 350 dhiram. ah the haggle, yes, first the seller bids offensively high and the buyer bids offensively low and the game is on. back and forth biding - make sure the price you want is at least 4 or 5 bid increments away from the price you initially bid- along with sharp glares, pacing, a possible 'okay i'm really leaving this time', 'no!' 'final price'. we were all shocked. kurt, an inexperienced and shy haggler, made the mistake of stating his 'final' price first, oooooo- leaving him stuck to 'haggle'. he basically just repeated his 'final' price to the confused haggle pro, looking real uneasy and shy. the game of ping pong requires two players and kurt was a stone wall, not reciprocating. in the end, the pants were won, though haggling leaves one feeling uneasy, uncomfortable, and unwanted- you almost wanna leave as soon as you win your item, like leaving a friend in the middle of a fight.

funny experiences....

later in the days, kurt also had another funny experience when he decided to get a haircut at a traditional, old school barber shop. we were all excited! we went to a small, dusty, Muslim barber shop manned by a man blasting Islamic prayer tapes so loudly it didn't even matter that there was a language barrier. There was a lot of bass! the old man, who was in his late 70's and had the onset of parkinson's with extremely shakey hands, proceeded to give Kurt the most spunky, almost 'punky' haircut- it was amazing. the job was finished by his son, who didn't trust his father to do the straight razor cut portion of the procedure, which included lighting the razor tool on fire for a minute and carving a very signature 'M' on the back of Kurt's neck! (his specialty apparently). Amazing the panic this induced in Kurt, who thought the cut was getting too stylish and fussy, and he wanted OUT, now... But alas, the barber(s) had backup in the form of giggling men onlookers, and wouldn't stop 'the procedure' until he was happy with it. Kurt looked reeeeeally anxious to leave, and started motioning the inetrnational signs for 'it's done, it's good, please stop'- which marked the end of 'the procedure' which has become known as 'Kurt's Moroccan haircut experience'...

Lucie had a few funny experiences, one being when a speeding moped ran over her foot so fast it didn't even register. The other being a fully veiled woman approached her pretty directly, asked her a question, and upon pausing, grabbed at Lucie's hand (which was in her pockets), and tried jabbing it with what at first glance appeared to be a needle- and later turned out to be a tattoo gun. Nevertheless, a panic struck Lucie as she recoiled from her lady attacker.

Also, while pretending to be interested in (let's be honest here) ugly, traditional, Berber style hats (yes, you see them in every 'global exchange' type store)- in order to attmpt to support the local women, Anna was kicked by a drunken man, who was the hat ladies' pimp we suspect, who had come to tell them to pack up and leave the square, carrying a boombox radio, wearing heavy eye make up (the type that only fully veiled women wear, which made us wonder if he pretends to be a fully veiled woman by day in order to 'work' the tourists). he fell near Anna, kicked her, and that was that. Then, when we refused to pay 30 dollars per hat (advertised at a sad one dollar just a few feet away) we declined the sale, and as we walked away a plastic milk crate flew by us, kicked by the angry hat seller lady.

A guy tried to get us to go on an embarrasing camel outback caravan turist trip, which requires that you be a) a white tourist and b) be willing to 'go native' and wear a turban and ride a fucking camel in an oasis. it's humiliating and quite terrible and lots of people apparently do it.

Anna successfully ping-pong bargained a pair of fluffy socks in the likeness of basketball high top sneakers called 'shoots'; a perfect transaction. See attached photos!

We watched what locals ordered for food outside in the hoods, and learned all the yummy non-touristy recipes are really tastier!! We also learned that in the main square, there is a food racket- a real food mafia!!!! It is too traumatizing to explain, but let it be said that they practice a thing that involves bringing you many little dishes of little things that seem too silly to charge for, and you assume they are included in whatever you ordered; they also employ con-men waiters, usually at least 8 wait on you, rotating and constantly bringing more and more- til you get the bill, at which point if you contest the ridiculous tally the backup mafia is called in. scary! sometimes they even bring in lady mafia associates from out of the maze of snake charmers and opium peddlers of said square (really shady) because they can touch you as opposed to the men who have a hands-off policy towzards dissatisfied guests. BUT, they might be drunk pimps under there, carruing boom boxes- you just don't know, it's all really complicated!

Silly rants and observations

Don't wear shorts if you are a guy- akin to wearing underwear outside and is offensive.

Don't show torso if you are a man, this is grounds for getting spit on!

Don't touch a lady, don't hug and don't kidd in public. I mean, kiss. PDA is not OK, it is scandalous and very very inappropriate. Only tourists do this.

Ladies- no armpits, collarbones or legs!! Or backs, well, basically faces are risque but accepted as ok, and so are hands.

NO touching or using the left hand, ever-- that is the poo scooper.

Have some soap or wipes handy. Wash your hands a lot, always before eating!

Avoid eye contact with men lest you be a whore (or a chump in the case of men).

Bring your own TP with you outside.

Watch out for the chicken beaks and body parts on and in the streets.

Look both ways at least three times before ever, EVER crossing any round-about or street.

Be prepared for black lung, dustyness and smog abound.

No carry out- drink from glasses and create little waste here!

Aim carefully in the hole toilets, lest your bum get back splashed!

Mopeds, bikes, pedestrians and cars collide frequently- please don't expect traffic rules or anyone to stop or ask for insurance information.

Prepare your thick skin!

Learn to politely say some key phrases to avoid being hassled by tour guides and rude men who think western women are prostitutes- they would never approach and talk to a Muslim woman in public unless they knew her. the men will back down when faced directly and told 'no', as the concept of shame is a huge thing in this culture.

Learn some phrases for conducting your shopping needs- it's helpful in getting a fair price and appreciated because it shows you are trying.

eat at the local places off the main touristy squares- it'd usually better, delicious, and serves the locals rather than the food mafia.

we have some more observations, and some more serious ones too, but this is it for now...

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bedam on

ping pong haggling
perfect interpretation of this common practice. you got my heart going as i was reliving some of my own experiences. kurts hair cut story, anna's socks and your writing is wonderful! you just can't get these unique happenings by sitting on the couch at home.

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