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                              MOROCCO, MARRAKESH

MARRAKESH

On the Marrakesh Express

October 8, 2009

We boarded the train to Marrakesh, somewhat enchanted to take a trip on the Marrakesh Express, made famous by Cosby, Still Nash & Young. We paid a little extra for "First Class" which meant we had comfortable seats in a semi private compartment. For the most part we had the seats to ourselves and a window each. The electric train passed through flat country with brown stubble fields, sheppards strolling behind flocks of sheep. Hobbled cows and caftan-cloaked herders tending their goats. Camels foraging with horses. Everywhere donkeys pulling a cart or packing a farmer.

At the train crossings it was not unusual to see the horse drawn carts aside a Mercedes (the most common type of automobile in Morocco) waiting for the train to pass.

Everywhere there was garbage, fields of it. Plastic bits and pieces, bottles and containers that would last for centuries. It is a shame that plastic could not be banned from third world countries as people just won't deal with their garbage and actually turn a blind eye to the rubble.

Women covered with colorful headscarves and kaftans, carrying babies, rode by on donkeys. Fields of prickly pear cactus fences formed the dual purpose of keeping the livestock contained as well as providing the fruit to be sold at the market. Pastures of greens, likely mint and cilantro, for the markets that are chock-a-block full to supply locals for mint tea.

Lining the tracks, scavengers in their make shift slum houses, built of plastic, cardboard, crumbling cement and corrugated metal. Astoundingly atop the flat roofs held down by boulders was almost always a sat dish!

Approaching the numerous train stations along the way,  tents with squatters living among the garbage and litter, reminding us of the extreme poverty that Morocco endures. Town consisted packed crumbling stained apartment complexes 4-5 stories high.

After 4 hours, we reached the train station where there were touts all over us trying to arrange a taxi for us. But we politely said "No thanks" and headed across the street where we hired a taxi for less than half what the touts were demanding.

Djemaa el-Fna

We were dropped off in the chaotic and hectic main Square. Horse drawn carriages lined the cobblestone entrance. We ventured into the bustling touristy area full of lively energy and touts fighting over the attentions of the tourists.

Beautiful pebbled mosaics underfoot contribute to the sensation that the plaza is a big outdoor room.

 

 

Snake Charmers

During the day the big main square is alive with performers playing music and dancing, men playing games, women spread out on a mat on the cobblestone, selling whatever they can.

 

A truly great public place, we marvelled at the Snake Charmers with their cobras,

Unfortunately we found the snake charmers a commercial touristy venue. You had to negotiate how much you were willing to pay to take a photo before the "charmer" would put his lips to the flute. Then it was obvious that the snake was totally disinterested, probably as a result of "performing" day in day out in the intense heat of the sun when it would have preferred to have been sleeping under a rock somewhere. It was usually the result of the noise from a shaking tambourine that would finally arouse the snake.

Travelling Dentists
with their table full of teeth (You choose which teeth you want),


Women in pantaloons and shawls spread out on the grey stone ground, selling bath mitts, baskets, baked goods, whatever they could. Henna Painters would rush up and grab your arm as you exclaimed no, NO... but the paint was applied so quickly you couldn't retrieve your arm in time for them to demand 50 Euros for their work!

Monkeys on leashes, strolling Berber Musicians, Dancers....a great sense of life!

Laid out on the rough ground were mats selling trinkets, like the camels pictured left.

 

           
   
Selling dried fruit and nuts   Freshly squeezed orange juice   Moroccan carpets   The Colorful Water Man
 

Riads

After our walk around the town's main square it was time to hunt down our Riad. Riads are the common form of accommodation in Morocco, traditional homes having been converted to guesthouses. ‘Riad’ means ‘garden’. The concept of a Riad is that of a family house which is completely closed to the outside world complete with its internal courtyard and garden in the center, a water fountain and individual bedrooms with common living rooms shared by the whole extended family.

We had a general idea of where the rooms were but all the narrow streets looked identical and of course there are no street signs. We just wandered around passing many nondescript doorways that offered accommodation until we found ours, Hotel Central Palace.

Our room was basic but had the necessities and was only 25 Euros including breakfast. Our ground floor room looked out into the courtyard, decorated with potted plants and Moroccan carpets.

Night time Food stalls

After settling in to the riad, we ventured back out to the Square. At night the venues change and the Square becomes alive with a whole new ambience. Row upon row of eateries are magically set up offering Moroccan food. Unless you are hungry it's best to stay away from the area because you will have 20 guys converge on you trying to drag you off in different directions to eat at their booth.


Oct 9

Even early in the day there was lots of activity in the streets. The narrow roads were given up to bicycles, horses and donkeys pulling carts, many piled unbelievably high with goods.

Being Muslim, the majority of women wore head scarves and tunics, some older women being fully covered in burkes and veils.
But you could see that the younger generation of girls are being influenced by the western tourists and have succumbed to leaving their heads uncovered. Most men still wear the long caftans (jallabas) with pointy hood and fez.

'Mazing Medina

We walked through the main entrance to the Medina (walled city) called BabBou Jelouid, built in 1913. The Medina is the heart of the city, where the life is, a meeting place for people, a great sense of culture. The vast area of criss-crossed narrow alleys, sometimes connected with tunnels were chock a block full of souks  offered everything imaginable (and lots that wasn't).

The bright colors of the shops with their cramped sections of  various inimitable items could have kept us busy all day. Shops of copper and silver here, shops of trinkets and shawls there, colourful ceramics and then shoes and slippers, t-shirts, jewelry from coral, shells, stones and amber. Many bazaars that one could rummage through piles of dusty antiques to find hidden treasures buried beneath mounds of kettles, knives, mirrors, pipes and baskets, old muskets, carved boars tusks, containers that once carried gunpowder, bone and bronze water flasks, inlaid boxes, brassware.

Around each corner, new sights and smells. The pungent odour of turmeric, garlic, and cumin wafting from the open bins of spices.

And soaps of various beckoning fragrances like jasmine & lavender.

At one of the spice stall where I was purchasing saffron (very expensive here), Gord was asked if he would like to purchase some curry...a special deal by the square meter! The seller invited Gord to his house in the hills to inspect the curry. It took Gord a while to figure out that curry was code for kif!

Scarved women in shawls carried trays of bread dough for baking in wood-fired ovens. Outdoor street stalls sold almond-filled pastries or flatbreads; among them kids played soccer in narrow cobblestone alleys. The air was vibrant with the sounds of chatter. Although Morocco is supposedly French, we mostly heard Arabic spoken, along with the traditional Berber.

The Moroccan men all have the habit of continuous scratching and "adjusting" their crotch. And it seems they are constantly picking their noses! We came to accept this practice except when they always wanted to shake your hand! And you see women spitting in the street. We certainly are not used to these customs but it is their way of life and is perfectly normal behaviour to them.


The touts were relentless and the pressure to buy was ruthless. If you dared to look interested in an item, even with a quick glance, the shopkeeper would be all over you. We had one young boy chase us all over the Medina for several hours "Mister, just give me a number." We politely told him NO THANKS NOT INTERESTED but every time we would emerge from another shop, there he was waiting to pounce!

And if you looked the least bit lost, faux guides would offer to take you around "to practice their English only" but before long you would be scuttled into "an uncle's" or "brother's" or "father's" shop for "the best price."

 

Our visit to Marrakesh did not do much to improve our attitude towards the Arabs. We were constantly hassled and, under the pretence of wanting to be your friend, they have countless schemes to extract money from gullible visitors. It is easy to get lost in the Kasbahs and souks of Marrakesh and that's when they strike. They wouldn't help without their hand out for "baksheesh" (money).

We asked one young boy which way to BabBou Jelouid and he motioned "Come I show" so we followed him about 20 meters along the passageway until it rounded a bend and with one hand he pointed a head and the other hand was outstretched "Please, for my family." He couldn't have walked 15 paces and he wanted money!!!!

And it seemed that most of the touts, many teenage boys, all seemed to have cut faces, marked by slashes or bruises. This reason for this characteristic became apparent as we witness a number of street fights during our 4 day stay in Marrakesh and again in Fes. I think the Moroccan Muslim race is fairly violent in nature and disposition.


Moroccan Carpets

The meticulously crafted Moroccan carpets draped the walls of the streets like flags. The carpets are truly beautiful and I ventured into a Carpet shop and was immediately told to "sit, would you like tea." No Thanks I replied, just looking. Suddenly "Which color you want?" "You buy this one, good price." The man started to hurriedly unroll the carpets, stacks of them and they fell in layers at my feet before I could protest. All colors, patterns, styles, prayer rugs, kilims, runners, all beautiful and all very expensive. I explained that we lived on a boat with no floor area for such beautiful carpets but he insisted he would deliver anywhere in the world. It was hard to escape the clutches of that guy!

The Tannery

We followed donkeys laden with raw sheep, cow and camel hides to The tannery. It was very stinky and so we were given mint to stuff up our noses! Pigeon poo is used to soften the leather, and then cow's urine to color it. Big vats of smelly brown stuff cover the yard amidst hides being set out to dry, then beaten to softness.

 

Morocco is known for its soft leather and sell shoes, purses, cushions, etc.


The Bahia Palace, built in the late 19th century, is a superb example of Moroccan-Islamic architecture. The layout of the complex, with its courtyards and mazes of rooms, is typical of the style. The palace has been well restored and maintained, and its gorgeous tiles and carvings are quite impressive.

The intricate decor, beautiful tile work and inlaid mosaics were breathtaking. The doorways and window shutters were works of art! Outside was a courtyard garden with fountains and tropical plants.

Spice Market

We were enticed into the Spice Market, supposedly only open the one day of the week (another ploy for extraction of money). We did take the opportunity to sit and drink tea with a young man in a little shop of potents and spices with "magical powers."

 

 

Gord inhales the scent of a spice
that will clear his sinus' and give him a feeling of well being!

I got some sticky white goop dabbed onto my face with the promise it would make me look younger

Did it work?

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