A Travellerspoint blog

Morocco

Marrakesh Revisited (2)

Medina & Souks

sunny 35 °C

Riads in Morocco are private houses converted in hostels, there is an inner patio with a fountain, Muslims must wash their hands and feet before entering their house and this ritual is observed before praying five times a day. These houses have a ground floor and then two or three floors more with small rooms. Houses are narrow and so are the streets, which lead from one lybrinth to another. Streets are also very narrow with high walls on both sides and in many streets it is not advisable to venture after seven O'clock in the evening.

Riad Dar Badra is situated in the old town, ten minutes walk from the famous Koutoubia Masque and Place Djamaa El Fna and the Souks, markets which are full ofsmall shops sitting cheek by jowl, full of hundreds of different articles, perfumes, spices, jewelry, clay pots, carpets, lamp shades, clay pots and ceramics and many more things. Haggling goes on all the time, the shopkeepers block your way, shake your hand and literally force you to enter into their small shops to have a look around. It can be a hassle if you do not have the patience. And even if you buy something, you will never know if you paid the right price or not. I bought a straw hat, the vender wanted 150DH, I offered 20DH and he accepted with such alacrity that I knew I could have paid even less. And indeed, a few hundred meters further in the market I found the same hats selling for 10DH.

We wanted to go on a day excursion to the waterfalls, the tourist office Rep wanted 300DH pp, and before I could start bargaining, he himself was willing to accept 200DH. Another thing to remember is to keep small change handy, coins of 5 &10DH, notes of 20DH. Otherwise you will get nasty surprise of not getting any change. If you have to pay 3DH for a glass of fresh orange juice in Jemma El Fna, don’t pay with a 50 or 20DH note. In Morocco there are four prices for everything, one for the locals, another for people from the north (Tangier and Casablanca since they have more money) yet another for the foreigners living in the country and non-resident Moroccans who come to visit, and the fourth for tourists. So a watermelon which may be only 0.60DH a kilo, could cost upto 2.50DH to a tourist. I bought a kilo of fresh oranges for 0.66DH a kilo for which the vender demanded 20DH a kilo. So bargain over everything, whether you want to buy or not, but not over a glass of fresh orange juice. It cost only 3DH for god sake.

For Muslims September is the holy Ramadan during which they must keep fast during the day, they have to eat before sunrise and again after sunset. Because of this the opening and closing hours of many places of interest were changed.

There is a hop on and hop off tourist bus service (130DH pp) but if you are a good walker, many places are within walking distance and you can enjoy the atmosphere of narrow streets, the Kasbah and Souks too. Or you can hire a horse carriage and do the sightseeing at a trot, observing the motorcycle and taxi drivers committing kamikaze through the chaotic city traffic or see men urinating against the city walls. Sounds and smells of El Maghreb.

In the last five-six years Marrakech has seen a remarkable urban development, modern houses outside the city walls, new shopping center on Avenue Mohammed V with the inevitable McDonalds and KFC, wide and shady Avenue Mohammed VI with four & five star hotel complexes. The city has extended a lot with the affluence of tourist revenues.

Tomorrow I am leaving for Mexico with my son Alex, so I will continue writing from there about Marrakech and Essaouira which we also visited.

Posted by The Islander 03:20 Archived in Morocco Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

Marrakesh Revisited

Morocco and Medinas

sunny 38 °C

My wife and myself went to Marrakesh. The weather in Germany in the present month of September was getting cold, our old bones were yearning for sun and sea, some good food and rest. We searched the internet for some interesting place to go to, we wanted to go to Palma de Majorca but the hotels were full, Ibiza was the same and the flights were expensive. We contemplated on Cyprus and Fuerteventura. All inclusive trips were either for three days or seven days, and we had twelve days. So surfing the web, I stumbled upon Ryan Air's offer to Marrakesh.

The flight cost nothing but the taxes, luggage charges, credit card fee (20 euro for each person using the same credit card at the same time. Daylight robbery) came to 104.00 euro return. Although we lived in Malaga (Spain) for more than 20 years and Morrocco was just a hop over the water, my wife never wanted to visit it. She has something against the Muslim countries. But this time she was willing to go. The reason was warm weather and some rest, she read and re-read other bloggers' views and was satisfied that it will be alright to go. So we went and enjoyed it thoroughly.

The flight from Dusseldorf took three and half hours, with two hour difference in time, we were there in late afternoon (17 hrs local time) in bright sunshine, hot and dry, which lifted our sagging spirits. The airport is new, small but clean and we went through immigration without any hassle. The old city centre is barely ten minutes drive by car and we were dropped at the door of the Riad (hostel) Dar Badra by 17.30hrs. We had booked accomodation in this Riad on the internet, it had very favourable reviews by visitors who had stayed there. The rate for a double room en-suite was 35 euro per night (breakfast included) and it consisted of a sitting area, another room with a double bed and seperate bathroom. A very well decorated clean room. We stayed there three days.

On our arrival, we were greeted by the owner Dominique, an engaging & charming french woman who has been living there for more than five years. She speaks English and her maid Fatima speaks Spanish. Dominique welcomed us and we sat down in the inner patio and Fatima brought us hot mint tea, typical Morracan drink. Aromatic and refreshing. My wife has an affinity with strangers and in no time, all three women were engaged in friendly talk as if they already knew each other.

Posted by The Islander 12:21 Archived in Morocco Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

Marrakesh (Morocco) V

The Legend of Al Maghrab

sunny 40 °C

Summer 1967

Late that evening, after we had a delicious dinner of CousCous and lamb curry, hummus and kebabs, Nan bread with Harisa (chilli paste), olives and Dates, drank many glasses of hot fresh mint tea, we met a Veterinary doctor and a man called Moussa. I do not remember if his name was Ahmed or Mohamed, every body called him Moussa. He was a Tuareg, originally from Mali but was settled in Morocco and knew everything about camels and their transportation. He was a tall and thin man, with a narrow pointed nose, deep set eyes and a cruel mouth, I remember it well. With his white robe and a long blue tunic on top, with a white turban on his head, he looked clumsy.

When I was young, I had read many books about adventures of soldiers of fortune, convicts and con men, who had joined the Foreign Legions to seek fame and fortune. When I went to live in the Canary Islands, I gave myself the nom de plume Tuareg. I was very fascinated about the stories of Tuareg warriors fighting the French colonial masters and French Foreign Legion which was garrisoned in Algeria. And their caravans journeying from Morocco to the legendary and mysterious town of Timbuktu.
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This meeting was arranged by my friend Hugo who knew many people in Marrakesh. After a long talk, much of it in Arabic which I could not understand, it was settled that Moussa will, on the next day, travel with us to a settlement on the outskirts of Marrakesh, where he had arranged for the Vet to examine the camels which were to be bought and brought to Casablanca. I promised to arrange for the payment with my businessman in the Canary Islands.

Early on the morning of the next day, we started towards the town settlement to view the camels. We were on the outskirts of the city, outside the city walls and going back towards Casablanca. The Tuareg Moussa took us to a place called Palmeraie, which we had seen while coming in to Marrakesh. Moussa told us that this place was the original settlement of the city, where there were more than 140,000 Date Palm trees and with a large Oasis. He told us that there was a legend that at night, Yusef Ben Tashfin, the founder of Marrakesh and his warriors, used to rest in this Oasis which was not populated with many palm trees. But the warriors used to eat the dates which they brought from other oasis's and they would dig holes in the earth with their spears and bury the date bones, which after a time germinated in Date Palm trees, thus creating the settlement with thousands of Palm trees.

Every village, town and city needs a legend, in Pune (India) there used to be a Temple of Hanuman (The Monkey God) and in its courtyard there was an ancient Banyan tree with a large girth. This tree was hundreds of years old and from its base to the top, there were literally millions of iron nails hammered in its trunk. And the tree was alive, green. The popular legend was that every night, Hanuman patrolled the city, and nailed the evil spirits to the tree trunk, which would otherwise scare the devotees of the temple.

As we neared the village, a languor settled over me, I was sweating a lot and my stomach was bothering me. Soon we reached the house of the man whom we had come to see, and before Hugo had switched off the motor, the wide metal door in the mud wall of the house opened and a swarthy Arab stepped outside, shook hands with everybody and invited us in. We entered a large cool room, more like a covered veranda, and settled down on thick carpets and pillow-cushions. Soon two young girls brought us hot mint tea, goat cheese, dates and fresh baked Nan bread.

By now I was not feeling well at all and would have declined to eat anything except to drink tea, but the Arab customs of hospitality obliged me to partake of food. The cheese was so smelly that I felt sick and ran outside in the courtyard and vomited. Our host immediately called some one and from behind the house, from another quarter, his wife and young daughter emerged, took me by the arm and led me to a tap in the corner of the yard. I wet my head and washed my face and arms, but the sweat just poured down my body and I was extremely hot, feeling feverish and uncomfortable.

Presently we left this place and after walking ten minutes, came to another large mud house. The stench of camels hovered over the place and the air was full of foul smell, which the camels emit while chewing their cud. I felt terrible and refused to enter the house. Every body else entered, and later when the Vet had inspected the camels which were for sale, the deal was struck, they came back and we started for Casablanca. The return journey was a torture and when we reached our hotel, I fell totally sick. The doctor who came to examine me told me that I had some virus in my stomach which could have been caused by drinking bad water or some bad food.

I sent a telegram to the businessman in the Canary Islands, told him to send details for finalizing the sale, and by next day had a reply in which he detailed about the shipment from Casablanca harbor. He also instructed me to buy 600 water jars to be sent to El Aaiun. I was flabbergasted. Now I told my friend Eric to take charge and with the help of Hugo to arrange for the completion of job at hand. I was feeling retched and wanted to go back to the Canary Islands.

Some time later, I learnt that camels arrived safely at their destination but all 600 water jars were broken on the way.

Posted by The Islander 11:33 Archived in Morocco Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

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