One too many days in Marrakesh

Trip Start Oct 07, 2012
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Trip End May 18, 2013


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Flag of Morocco  ,
Saturday, October 20, 2012

The original posting and comments can be found here.
 

October 20- 22, 2012

As before, Eric will provide the main narration with Sam’s comments interjected in italics.

Marrakesh- Day 1


 We woke up in the morning to another bread, coffee, and tea breakfast.  From there we gathered up our items, said goodbye to our American friends, and started to make our way out the door.  When we were about to leave, the hostel tour manager gave Sam a gift.$(KGrHqJ,!q!E-w+GYe,MBPzUzK)htQ~~60_1 He grabbed it off one of the shelves where it sat as decoration and just handed it to us, very nice gesture, but it was quite random.  We had no idea what it was or how to use it. Here is a picture of a similar item. (Note: we saw one of these later in a gift shop in Turkey and asked about it, apparently it’s for sprinkling liquids, in Turkey they use it for rose water to freshen a room.)






This taxi ride to the train station ended up being relatively uneventful, except for about the near 20 accidents that we got into.  Moroccans are crazy drivers.  They make New York City cab drivers look like amateurs.  They do drive tiny little cars which makes it easier to weave in and out of traffic.  It seems like there are zero rules on the road and as long as you don’t get into an accident or kill anyone you are okay.  This doesn’t really bother me, I tend to find some humor in it, but Sam with her uneasy stomach doesn’t necessarily enjoy these rides.We hopped aboard the train to enjoy our first class seating.  Unfortunately, this isn’t like riding first class on the Acela train or on an airplane.  There are six seats per seating area, with two rows of three seats facing one another.  There are no plugs to charge your electronics and these trains don’t have Wi-Fi.  These trains do not have air conditioning, which is a big problem for me.  I tend to be miserable on these trains, primarily due to my body temperature.  Also, there is not a ton of storage space, so it can make it difficult for everyone in there to store their luggage.  I typically try to sprint to my train car as soon as possible, so we can throw our stuff on the train, before other people sitting near us get on.View from the Fes to Marrakesh train, MoroccoIt was a long train ride from Fes to Marrakesh, roughly eight hours. I would say that the train ride was rather uneventful, minus meeting a couple of American students.  The girl was from LSU and the guy was from UNC Asheville, both of whom were studying abroad in Morocco, as they were majoring in Arabic.  This was helpful on the train ride, as they could explain what the train conductors and locals were saying.  After discussing LSU and my past trip there with her, she started to give us some insight into Morocco, specifically Marrakesh.  She gave us a lot of tips, including places to visit or avoid, how to handle pushy Moroccans, and even put us in touch with people if we wanted to stay in Morocco for the feast, including her roommate in Meknes, a small town near Fes. We didn’t end up staying for the feast by the way.

 Marrakesh and Fes are extremely different.  In Fes, at least the parts that we experienced and read about, was very stuck in traditional ways.  Marrakesh, is set-up as a complete tourist trap and seems to be slowly transitioning into modern times.  I think calling it a “tourist trap” is a bit of a harsh statement, as the city wasn’t exactly built for the tourists, though because of the huge tourist boom there in the past few decades, many locals have found themselves earning their entire living off of the money tourists bring, and therefore there is an overabundance of western style restaurants, hotels, souvenir/junk shops and pushy taxi drivers.  The differences were apparent just from walking out of the train station, where the area was bustling with hotels, shops, etc.  It is a popular place while the train station in Fes doesn’t have a whole lot going on and is very quiet.

 Our first of many negotiations took place in our first cab ride, and this was really my mistake.  A cab driver pulled up and told us a price of 20 dirham.  I said okay and we started to put our stuff in the cab.  We got in the cab and Sam asked for him to turn on the meter (since we went through all of this in Fes already and I wasn't ready to repeat it). After a little bit of yelling he finally put on the meter. But only after scolding us for being "not good" by accepting one price then demanding the meterDjemaa El-Fna, MarrakeshOur cab ride ending up being about 15 dirham with the tip included, so we saved 5 dirham, (less than a dollar) by making him turn on the meter. The cab dropped us off as close as cars can go to the main square, and from there we walked to the hostel which required us first to go through the main square of Marrakesh, which is called "Djemaa El-Fna". It was about 7:00-7:30pm at this point in time, so it was dark outside and the lights were on.  There were thousands of people, many of which were Moroccans looking to sell you something.  The main pedestrian way leading to the square and the square itself had everything from restaurants to snake charmers. It was quite a sensory overload. We walked through the square, down some sketchy alleys, and went to the hostel that had been recommended to us by the Americans we had just met in Fes. Good thing they gave us very specific turn by turn directions, consisting of counting archways and doors as we weaved around unlit and dirty alleys, and warned us of the sketchy factor. We knew we were in the right place when we saw a few other white backpackers handing off some change to a few Moroccan kids who had them them this far. Inside the hostel the main riad (courtyard) was crowded and buzzing. Ali the manager greeted us, directed us to sit down, and promptly brought us mint tea and sheesha. (Disclamier: my mother would like me to clarify for anyone wondering- the typical eastern culture of smoking sheesha (aka: hookah, water pipes or hubbly-bubbly) is merely a water pipe with which to smoke tobacco. Eric and I have enjoyed many a sheesha during our travels, all of which only consisted of tobacco.) Turns out this hostel was full, but the apparently Ali could find us a room in the “other building”.  In the meantime we started talking to a couple of Dutch guys that were staying at the hostel.  I had not shaved since about a week before we left, so I was at about 3-4 weeks of no shaving at this point.  As you can see from the pictures while my beard wasn’t that great, it was working hard to look good. One of the Dutch guys had a long beard, similar to Opie from Sons of Anarchy, for anyone who might get that reference.  I had been weighing shaving my beard, but after speaking with him he motivated me to keep growing the beard.  During our conversation we told him where we were from and he had actually done a semester in Boston several years back.  He was ranting and raving about how much he loved the Boston area, reminiscing about Harvard Square and Tommy Doyle’s, and how learning the art of the keg stand “changed his life”. I am glad that he learned something while over in America.
Hookah at the Marrakesh Riad Rouge Hostel 












When we were done with our tea we were ushered to the "other building", which really was an entirely different hostel, but owned by the same family, by Mohammad, who would end up being the manager on-call and all around go-to guy for anything at all we needed. On our way out we noticed that at the top of the alley a few teenager boys were waiting to "guide" backpackers down this sketchy alley to the hostel, which was a smart move on their part. Orginal hostel was full, so we were ushered to a partner hostel: Nari NariOur new place was only a few minutes’ walk from our original hostel, and was called Nari Nari. We were finally led to our other hostel, which had more of a romantic type of feel to it.  Upon entering, there were rose petals on the stairs, candles lit everywhere, and Whitney Houston playing.  I’m not going to lie and say that I didn’t like the Whitney Houston music, but the other stuff was a little awkward.  Lo and behold, once we walk in who do we see, but the blondies that we had met in Spain then saw again in Fes. Small backpacking world! Once again we were offered mint tea, and after we were finished we returned to the main square to eat a late dinner. At this point we were starving because it was 9:00pm and we had only had the Fes hostel breakfast (bread/crepes and jam/butter) then gross sandwich on the train.




  
Dinner at a food tent in Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakesh
While there are restaurants all over the place, in the heart of the main square there are tons of temporary tents set-up, which are like-make shift restaurants, or food stalls.  They are not up during the day time, only at night.  These are set-up as tourist traps, but that did not deter us.  We did a lap or two around, with the food stall owners and workers trying hard to get us to come in.  We heard everything from someone calling me Slim Shady (not sure why he compared me to Eminem), guys singing US songs, people claiming they taught Jamie Oliver how to cook, to people flat out trying to grab my arm and drag me to their restaurant. One tent even burst into a well-rehearsed serenade, but no matter who was talking to us, they all spoke perfect English. After walking around we went back to the first place we saw to eat Our first Marrakesh dinner: Couscous with lambsome lamb and couscous, which was delicious.  At this point in time we were both wiped out, so we saw a couple of people playing music in the square for a few minutes, and went back to our hostel. Though we enjoyed hearing the locals making music, whenever I brought my camera up to take pictures someone would appear out of nowhere holding out a hat that I was expected to put money in. I guess anyone can enjoy the music if you are a local.  

Local music night scene in Djemaa el-Fna 
Marrakesh- Day 2

 Our second day in Marrakesh started off with the standard Moroccan breakfast provided by our hostel.  The night before we had stayed in a cramped dorm room, Nari Nari courtyard, getting directions from our go-to guy Mohammadbut in the morning the room with the double bed was open, so we moved up to the terrace floor for our very own bedroom and bathroom.After getting ready to go we were off to explore Marrakesh.  We used our Lonely Planet as our guide, to hit up many of the main spots.  The first stop was pretty close to our hostel, the Palais Bahia, which was cool to see and very colorful. Palais Bahia is a palace turned museum built in the late 1800s Palais Bahia, Marrakeshfor the Grand VizierThe interior is huge and sprawling with beautiful courtyards and amazing colorful walls and floors. It was very crowded, which made it a little more difficult to take pictures.  This was like the number one spot for tour groups to hit up, as there were tons of groups being led around.  After dodging through the tourists, we finally made our way out of there.





Mellah (the old Jewish quarter) spice market, Marrakesh
Directly across the street was the Mellah, the old Jewish neighborhood, which is now considered the "spice market", which is something you must go to in Marrakesh.  It smells wonderful in there, and they have spices for everything.  There are your normal cooking spices, then some interesting items such as the “Moroccan Viagra.”  And no, I did not buy any of it for all of you who are curious.  We eventually walked into one store, where the guy gave us the tourist song and dance.  He showed us all the different spices, explained what they were for, and of course gave us the price.  If you are looking for some natural ways to cure ailments such as allergies, sore necks, etc., this is a cool place to check out.  We ended up getting Sam a perfume type of bar, that looks like soap.  It is made of a wax type of material, and it smells really good.

 
View of Djemaa El-Fna from rooftop of Cafe de France, MarrakeshNext on the agenda was to check out the main square during the day time.  It was a Sunday afternoon, but the difference was staggering.  You didn’t get harassed every second, only maybe every 5-10 seconds.  All of the restaurant tents that we visited on our first night were down, and didn’t go up again until sunset.  We went to the top of a restaurant to get a different view of Marrakesh, which was nice to see.  It was a beautiful, sunny day, with the temperature probably in the upper 70’s, low 80’s.  Especially from this vantage point I think I was able to get my daily dose of Vitamin D.

 
Marrakesh snake charmersAfter coming down we walked around the main square up to some snake charmers.  As you can see from the pictures, we got pictures with a snake around our necks, and a cobra snake close to us.  I was definitely ready to pee my pants I was so nervous.  I had to chip in a few more Dirham to the guy to take our picture, but it wouldn’t have been a trip to Morocco withoutMarrakesh snake charmers seeing some snake charmers.  The snake charmers are almost as clever and skilled as our carpet salesman. As soon as you even glance at their snakes they are all over you, grabbing your hand to pull you over, taking your camera to document for you, draping a snake around your neck and sticking a fez on your head. It all happened lightning fast, before we could even refuse they had snakes draped on us and around us. But like Eric said, it wouldn’t be a Moroccan experience without engaging with some snake charmers.Falling for the Marrakesh snake-charmers tourist trap
Unfortunately, our next experience didn't go quite as well. Right when we left the snake charmers, one of the henna ladies came up to Sam to stencil some art on her hand. She basically saw some sucker tourists getting pulled into the snake charmer trap, so as we departed the snake charmers she was waiting for us, and grabbed my head to lead me over to her henna stool (these are not proper henna stores, just people sitting on plastic stools in the middle of the square). We both said no, but as she started applying henna she told us not to worry, it was free, she would give me a sample now so I would want to come back later. Djemaa El-Fna, Marrakesh Unfortunately, she wouldn't let go and continued her design, making it bigger and bigger. By the time she was done we figured we could give her a bit of tip for her work, but at that point she turned nasty. She demanded 350 dirham, which we both balked at because first of all, she had said it would be free.  Second of all, for roughly 350 dirham, I think we can buy a house in Morocco.  We started walking away and she started chasing us down and yelling at us.  Sam started giving her attitude back, which made it interesting.  We had also just gone to the ATM, so I didn’t have any small bills. When it was all said and done we gave her 150 dirham, which is roughly eighteen dollarsI thought this was way too much, and I was trying to get Eric to just walk away from her and ignore her completely, but she was yelling and making a scene, and of course when she caught a glimpse of the wallet full of bills fresh from the ATM she said something along the lines of “see, you have so much!” as if that entitled her to cheat us.  

A bit of a rant against the scammers: I get so angry about scammers who prey on tourists. 150 Dh is about $18. It will not break the bank. It’s just that she tricked me and took advantage of me, and ultimately made me resent her. There's so much to love and appreciate about Morocco, I don’t want one bad experience to cloud my entire experience of the country. So I'm angry that she has tainted my impression of their culture, and that she will continue to do so to many other tourists. Why does she treat me like she’s entitled to my money? I understand that they have fewer opportunities and a lower standard of living compared to the est, and they tend to see us westerners as rich (and I suppose by their standards we are), but no one forced her to sit around in the main square, with dozens of other Moroccan women, waiting for a tourist to
ask her for a henna art.

The way to make ourselves feel better after an experience like this was to eat some food.  We went to a restaurant recommended by our Dutch buddies and other hostel workers.  We crushed some more couscous, which ended up being cheap, and pretty good. While we were eating we watched as the food stall vendors started dragging out their carts from storage to set up for the nightly food festival.  Food stalls coming out to set up for the evening in Djemaa El-Fna, MarrakeshWe stopped at an orange juice stand on the way back to our hostel. While I was drinking my OJ yet another henna woman approached me asking if I wanted henna. I was still pissed at the last henna later so I glared at her and said no. She saw the henna on my hand and said "oh, you already have... how much you pay?" and I grumbled "too much". She sighed and imitated the grab-hand-and-draw tactic that was pulled on me as if to ask if that was what happened. When I said yes she just sighed sympathetically and patted my hand and walked away with no further questions or harrassment. In a tiny way, this interaction made me feel a bit better... it showed me that at least not all Moroccan/henna ladies are nasty people with cheap tricks.One of the many fresh orange juice food stall in Djemaa El-Fna










 
 
Enjoying tea before our Moroccan bath-spa date
Our afternoon plans were made with help of our hostel manager Mohammad. He had set us up with an appointment at one of the many hammams in town. A hammam is a bath and massage spa place.  While it is a public bath, you are not bathing with others.  Think of it as you start off with a steam bath, then you take a bath with someone pouring water over you, then you get a massage. The bathing aspect is usually in a steam room and the attendant goes through a various soaping, scrubs and rinses. I felt like I was a little baby getting a bath in a sink, or some bed-ridden person in a hospital getting bathed by the nurse. This may sound a little weird, but this is a common thing in Morocco.  It is also something that all the tourists we met were taking advantage of.  imagegenSam and I were in getting a bath and massage together, and the entire experience was extremely relaxing.  I think the bath part was a little weird, as I didn't fully know what to expect, but the massage part was great.  Sam loves massages, while I typically don’t enjoy them, but this massage was great.




 After the hammam, we went back to the main square to get a little food, as I wanted to watch the Pats-Jets game. We walked back through all the restaurant tents, and once again we heard all sorts of creative strategies for getting our attention. Most of them even remembered us. We heard an impressive amount of English, including American slang, as well as Moroccans doing their best Boston accent when we told them we were from Massachusetts.  Like most people we meet, they think everyone from Massachusetts talks like the characters in movies like “The Town,” do. I think at least 90% of all the English the guys at these restaurant tents View of Djamaa El-Fna at night from Cafe de Franceknow comes from American movies and music.  After walking around a little bit, we ended up going back to the guys who sang to us the night before.  They remember who we were, which I think is due to my crazy Ali Baba beard.  The food was okay, nothing really to write home about.  The annoying part came when I was trying to get the bill, as I wanted to make it back to the hostel to watch the Pats game.  I don’t know if our waiter couldn’t figure out the bill or what the deal was, but he took forever and dragging his feet so I was getting pretty angry.  After about a 10 minute delay, I paid the bill and we took off.

Nothing can be easy, so when we got back to the hostel the internet wasn't working.  I scrambled to grab our laptop and iPad, so we could head on over to the partner hostel. The one we went to originally. Once we were there, it was a completely different scene than it was on Saturday night.  There was no one around, we essentially had the common area to ourselves, which was nice when watching the Pats game.  We enjoyed some Moroccan whiskey, Sam took care of her pictures, while I sweated out the Pats win.  After that we did the five minute walk home and went to sleep.Unfortunately my stomach wasn’t feeling so great that evening, and the Moroccan food must have caught up with me because I did not sleep well for all the bathroom visits required to get through the night (sorry for the TMI). Eric’s stomach was doing great either, but it certainly wasn’t as bad as mine.

 Marrakesh- Day 3


Sam and I woke up much later than we had originally wanted. Due to our rough night sleeping through food poisoning/stomach bug/too-much-Moroccan-food symptoms. After sleeping in, we decided to do a cooking class through our hostel.  Since the Moroccan food was getting the best of us, so we thought cooking our own Morocco cooking class: Picking out lunch ingredients in the Marrakesh marketfood would be much easier on us.  We met up with Mohammed, our hostel manager, and went out in the market to purchase all of the necessary items. In this case the "market" refers to guys with piles of produce set up along the town alleyways.  Along the way we picked up normal items, such as bread, potatoes, and vegetables.  The chicken though was quite the experience as we got to see the whole process of how they killed the chicken.  For those of you that may get grossed out, I recommend that you skip over my next paragraph.

 
Selecting the chickenThe process started off with the butcher grabbing a group of chicken and tying their feet Weighing the birdstogether.  Once they were all tied together, you could see the look of terror in their eyes, as they knew what was coming next.  The butcher would then cut their throats, which led to a lot of blood coming out at once. There was blood all over the floor that he only occasionally rinsed away with a bucket of water. Throat is slicedNext, the dead/dying chickens were dunked in hot water. (Like a deep fryer.) I couldn’t see everything, but I imagine it’s similar to when you dunk a lobster in the hot water, and you see it fighting for their life.  From the hot water, they were pulled out and handed over to another guy, who then put them into a machine head first, which would then pluck all of their feathers. The next part involved the chicken then being handed back to the butcher, who would cut off the excess pieces.  I don’t know if it Chickens coming out of the fryeris the most sanitary process you will ever see, but it worked out well.  We got our chicken, and then headed back to the spice market with Mohammed to purchase the necessary Moroccan spices. I was mortified as you can imagine.
 Morocco cooking class: Chicken shopping 
 

Marrakesh pharmacy

Mohammed actually took us to the government run spice facility, which was a legit store, as opposed to a little stand in a market.  This truly had anything you wanted, and we heard the stories again about the different items.  Of course it wouldn’t be a trip to a store like this without buying some things, so we purchased some spices for our meal, along with some item to sniff to clear up your sinuses.  As an added bonus, we were “given” some free lip stick.  I am not sure it was a gift as much as a thank you for being a sucker tourist.


 



Finally, it was back to the hostel to cook everything up.  

Moroccan cooking class with MohammadWhile Sam and I participated in the cooking, we were definitely not the lead chefs.  Mohammed and his cousin were leading the charge, while we assisted with things such as peeling potatoes, cutting onions, etc.  I am an amateur when it comes to cutting onions, among other Moroccan cooking class- slicing the onionscooking skills.  My eyes were tearing up and I am pretty sure I was full on crying for about 10 minutes.  Either we were in the way, or they wanted us to relax, but Mohammed and his cousin told us to go relax, while they finished up cooking. Mind you they signed us up for a "cooking class" but then essentially kicked us out of the kitchen. After another 45 minutes or so, it was time to eat.  There was so much food we couldn’t even begin to eat it all.  We wrapped the majority of it up to eat later, and/or the next day. The results of our "cooking class" were" Tajine (Moroccan stew cooked in conical earthware with chicken, potato and vegetables) and Kefta (meatballs in a rich spiced tomato sauce). 286-001Terrace turtle feast on our cooking class scrapsSidenote: while we were waiting for our meal we took a snooze upstairs on the terrace (where our room was), and the terrace turtles were given the tomato scrapes for snacks:


 
 
Jardin Marjorelle, MarrakeshTo walk off our lunch, we went to Jardin Majorelle, a kind of botanical garden, which was located in the “Ville Nouvelle” area of Marrakesh. This area of town seemed 100% designed for tourists with money.  We were staying in more of the backpacker type of area, where this area was designed for the older tourist with money to stay.  While this particular garden wasn’t necessarily big, it was later in the day without a lot of tourists, so it was easy to check out the different types of plants, and animals.  It was a very nice and relaxing place to be, as a great change of pace from the main square in Marrakesh. The garden used to belong to painter Jacques Marjorelle, then was bought later by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner and opened to the public. Yves Saint Laurent even had his ashes spread across the park when he died in 2008. The plants and trees are impressive, but what I liked most was the electric colors, especially the blues, with all the fountains and pathways that made it a nice escape from hectic Marrakesh. 

 
 
326Instead of taking a taxi back, we decided to walk around and got a little lost.  Along the way we saw a little makeshift farm where a guy was selling a ton of sheep for the feast a few days later.  We were able to finally figure out where we were when we got to the main shopping square.  We had stumbled through the main Stroll through the Ville Nouvelle section of Marrakesh at duskcenter of the “Ville Nouvelle” section of town, which of course would host a McDonald’s. After grabbing a coffee from McDonald’s, we walked back through the main square to our hostel.  As our luck would have it, the internet would still not be working so we had to relocate for an hour or so to catch up on emails, upload pictures, and to let me check on my fantasy football teams.  From there it was time to turn in before our hiking trip the next day. 





 Check out our full Marrakesh Picasso photo album.
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