Saturday, December 26, 2009


After an 18 hour journey from Palma to Madrid and then Marrakesh, my friend Ian and I arrived at the Morocco airport completely exhausted, but excited for the next four days here.  Although the first day was filled with a bunch of highs and lows, even the lows were worth the laughs that would inevitably ensue after we realized that we had just been scammed.   Many times Morocco can feel like an overwhelming place, not just because the streets are filled with people who aggressively try to sell you everything from excursions to spices, but because the colors, sights, smells, and noise can be a sensory overload for non-natives.   Luckily for us we had no lack of “friends” who were willing to show us around or give us the very very very best price.  From the moment we got out of the cab there were at least 3 people who approached us and asked us where we were going.  The lack of road signs in Morocco forced us to ask one man for directions to our hotel, and in typical Moroccan fashion, rather than telling us how to get there he gladly offered to show us the way.  As we followed this man through narrow streets and corridors, he asked several other Moroccans if we were going in the right direction, which leads me to believe that there is no way in hell and Ian and I would have found the place ourselves.  Although having a guide can be extremely helpful at times, it always comes at a cost depending on how far they walked with you and how much information they gave you along the way (expected tips can range from 10-20 dirham, which is roughly equivalent to 1-2 euros or 1.5-3 dollars).  And if you give them anything less than that, rather than a “thank you friend, welcome to Marrakesh!!” the person will look at you like you just put pooh in there hands and say “What is this?? This is nothing, this is nothing!”

While constantly being haggled for money can grow extremely tiring, bargaining here is truly an art that seems to be taught from birth.  There are countless children that walk around the Big Square at all hours of the day trying to aggressively sell tourists packs of napkins.  It really brakes your heart to see little girls and boys who can’t be over the age of four, follow you around as they rub there stomachs and put there hand up to there mouth, letting you know that your purchase can help to take away there hunger.  But as a tourist, there are only so many packs of napkins that you can buy, and while it is difficult, you quickly learn to say, “No merci” and keep on walking.  Equally amazing is the number of languages most Moroccans know.  For example, when you pass a store they will probably first yell at you in French, since French and Arabic are Morocco’s national languages, then if you don’t answer they will ask you “English, Spanish, German??” so they know how to continue their sales pitch.  While I thought I was a pretty good bargainer before I came to Morocco, I’m so happy that I came here with Ian because his four months living in Tanzania has come in handy.  Yesterday during an intense negotiation for slippers, the shopkeeper, who repeatedly said “ohh come on friend, you’re killing me, you have to offer more than that…” paid Ian one of the best compliments when they finally settled on a price and called him a Berber man, referring to a local Moroccan tribe.

There were times, however, that our street smarts completely went to shit.  During our first day here Ian and I were strolling through the Big Square, which is a huge open market filled with countless vendors and performers, when a man with a rhesus monkey came up to me and put the monkey on my shoulder.  Because the monkey was so freakin adorable I didn’t resist at first and before I knew it I had two monkeys bouncing on my shoulders and eating my hair.  Ian took some pictures and then they put the monkeys on Ian even though he repeatedly said that he didn’t want them.  As Ian was dealing with the monkeys, a Moroccan lady took my hand and started doing henna on it.  She said, “Oh this is free, it is for good luck.”  I told her thank you but I really didn’t have any money to pay her, and she repeated, “ohh don’t worry it is for good luck.”  As she intricately hennaed both sides of my hand I began to wonder if all this work was really for free, so I told her three times that I can only pay her 10 dirham ($1.50).  When Ian finally got free from the monkey men (after paying them 100 dirham ($15) for unwillingly being harassed by monkeys), he sat down next to me and some other lady took his arm and started putting henna on him as well.  Ian of course freaked out and said “No, no, no, I don’t want that,” but unless you actually get up and walk away, a “no” here has absolutely zero significance.  When our tattoos were finished I reached into my wallet and gave the lady the 100 dirham that I promised, and the lady started screaming at me and said “What? You owe me 450 dirham ($68 dollars)!”  I honestly couldn’t believe it and I reminded the lady that I said I would only pay 10 dirham; she just shook her head, called me a liar, and insisted that she never heard that.  To make a long story short, Ian and I really learned a valuable lesson during our first day in Morocco, and even though we got jipped out of $15 for monkeys and another $30 for our “free for good luck” henna tattoos, we had a really good laugh about it all, especially since Ian still is walking around with a bad-ass scorpion on his wrist.

Although there are so many things that make Marrakech worth a visit, one of the top attractions has to be the food.  From the dessert-like green tea that is served with every meal from breakfast to dinner to the assortment of freshly squeezed juices, the drinks alone can make you fall in love with Morocco (not to mention that each will probably only run you about 30 cents).  Other highlights are the tagine, which is a stew cooked in individual clay pots, couscous, marinated olives, dried fruits, and these macaroon cookies that Ian and I absolutely fell in love with.

Ian and I were lucky to find such a nice and cheap hotel that was right by Djemaa el Fna (aka The Big Square), which is the heart of Marrakesh.  While you can easily spend hours just walking through the Big Square and being mesmerized by the snake charmers, dancers, piles of colorful spices, and shops filled with beautiful Moroccan slippers and handcrafted goods, Ian and I made it a point to venture to some landmarks, such as the Royal Palace, the Saadian Tombs, and the Majorelle Gardin.  We even experienced a hammam, which is a public bathhouse that people go to scrub down together at least once a week.  Public hammams are segregated by sex and they are basically huge tiled rooms where you fill up buckets and buckets of water to lather up, have someone scrub all of the dead skin off your body, and then pour at least pour at least ten buckets of water over you.  For tourists there are options to go to spa-like hammams that are offered at many hotels and come with massages and facials, but Ian and I went for the traditional experience at a local bath house.  Even though it was definitely awkward at first, being the only non-Moroccans in the place, they surprisingly weren’t shy when it came time to rub us down with a rough mitt.  I honestly didn’t think human skin could take so much abuse, but as a watched rolls and rolls of dirty dead skin slide down my legs I felt confident that this stuff needed to be removed from my body.

On our fourth and final day in Morocco, Ian and I agreed that we needed a break from the hustle and bustle of Marrakesh, so we took a bus two hours outside of the city into the Atlas Mountains to a town called Demnate.  Using Lonely Planet Morocco as a guide, we went on a 6 mile hike up the mountain in search of a giant gorge with a natural bridge that links the two sides.  Since Lonely Planet described the site as something straight out of a Lord of the Rings movie, we had a feeling that the long trek would be worth it.  Thankfully we weren't disappointed.

Smiling faces on day 1!

Our room...small but clean and with its own bathroom, quite luxurious for us!

The Big Square at night

Rows and rows of vendors selling freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juice, dried fruit, and nuts.

Stations for food...there's no escaping the waiters in the white jackets, they will solicit you from meters away. 

One of the many entrances into the souks (maze of small shops)

Inside the souks

This is the dude that called Ian a "Berber Man"...he told us to look after his shop as he went to get more slippers for if he didn't have enough of a selection in the shop already.  And I know what you're thinking, but it was actually Ian who bought 4 pairs of slippers, I only bought one :)

This guy made everything that was in his shop out of a special type of wood that can only be found in Morocco.  Watching him work was amazing, he would use his toes to hold a little knife as he carved even the smallest details into pieces of wood.  With this technique he made everything from chess pieces to serving platters.

Inside the Morocco Museum

Inside an art exhibit in the Royal Ian and I come in pocket size for easy traveling!

The Tombs, and the man who lead us there and yelled at us when we have him "only" 10 durham as a tip.
Ian using Lonely Planet as a bible

 Dying fabric

Fabric drying

And the end product.

 The Majorelle Gardin
more garden...


tomato salad (for lack of a better name)

These "pancakes" are really popular for breakfast, but to me they are more like Indian naan (bread) than pancakes.  They are usually served with honey.

I was addicted to the dried figs.

This is what they monkeys looked like when they were first thrown on my shoulders...

This is what they looked like a minute later.

Me getting scammed by the henna lady.  I said one euro!!!


The beginning of our hike in Demnate

We made it to the natural bridge!

Im the little black dot in the second picture. This is when we were going into the cave.

This is taken from inside of the cave.  It looks like Africa right!?!