Marrakech, Morocco - Day 1

Monday, April 20, 2009

A brutal start in a Geneva hostel and a CrazyJet flight found us in Marrakech at 8.30am - Mind is now suitably blown. Its everything I was and wasn't expecting, plus some. Its been a full assault on the senses. We've only been here less than 12hours, but it feels like a week!


Our taxi drive from the airport was a brilliant introduction to the pace and style of life in Marrakech. Firstly we attempted to negotiate a rate for our trip. Several taxi drivers confirmed that 150 dirham was the going rate, despite the lonely planet suggesting we shouldn't pay no more than 80 dirham. Lonely Planet also suggest the taxis would have meters, which they didn't. None of the drivers were prepared to budge on price, but were quite keen to load our luggage into their vehicle. At one stage, two different drivers were attempting to load our luggage into separate vehicles. Finally giving in, we loaded up and headed towards the Medina.

Lane markings on the road are obviously purely decorative, as our driver proceeded to perform some classic Colin McCrae maneuvers whilst simultaneously teaching us some Arabic. The only thing slowing him down was Dani's bag flopping around in the front seat. During the trip, we made sure that the agreed price was 150 dirham, which really didn't stop him asking us for 180 dirham when it came time to pay. We gave him 150 with a small tip and walked away.

The Medina of Marrakech is a spectacle not to be missed.

We've spent the day wandering the streets of the Medina. Although they're not really 'streets', more just a labrinthine maze of alleyways lined with shops, selling everything and anything. Its dirty, smelly, dark and there's stray animals everywhere. Its very easy to become disoriented and lost. I've taken to walking with a compass, and while it does help with orientation, its still a maze.

Swarming Souqs

Somewhere in the labrinth Medina

At one stage we were so helplessly lost, I asked a group of kids where the main square is - "Ou est le Djeema el Fna?", they responded ethusiastically by all pointing in different directions - Medina kids have a reputation for misleading tourists - We laughed and walked away to hear them berating each other for missing out on a tourist pulling out his wallet.


We'd been well schooled in avoiding 'faux-guides' and various rip off acts, but nothing can really prepare you for the constant hassle you get walking the Medina. Most shops will have someone outside trying to coax tourists inside. Many of them speak several languages, others not so much. Often they'll use the only English they know. "Yes" or "Hey" or "Hello" followed by frantic waving and something in Arabic.

We've become pretty efficient and giving a firm "Non, merci" and walking, but sometime no just isn't enough. As soon as you pull your map out to check onward directions, there's someone at your shoulder offering help (at a price). In the main square - the Djeema el Fna - there are various tourist attracting acts. Snake charmers and Henna tattoos are the most common them. We saw one tourist getting hassled for taking a photo of a snake charmer and not tipping for it. Several snake charmers came out and tried to rub snakes on my face. Why would I want to rub a snake on my face?! I'm sure it feels amazing, but no thanks. Unfortunately most of the acts are appalling displays of animal cruelty - Monkeys on chains, lizards on ropes, snakes getting honked at by some dude with an oboe. I pity those poor snakes.

Dried fruit stalls

This afternoon we attempted to find a Mosque renowned for its intricate ceiling. On the way we were (lost) sidetracked by an area of the Medina known for Tannery. Along the way we met a chap who worked in the tanneries and talked to us in broken English along the way. Although wary that he was just after some cash, we kept our distance. He ended up introducing us to the "keeper" of the tannery, who showed us the intricacies of the tanning process. Some poor chap scrubs the hell out of it first, then they use Lime to remove whatever fluff the animal in question possesed. Then they cover it in pigeon shit (sic). The ammonia makes the leather soft. I lost track of what happens after that.

The Tannery

The site itself looks like a graveyard where an alien ship crash landed, added a few chickens and then skinned a bunch of livestock and spread it around. The keeper gave Dani and I both a handful of mint leaves to use as a "gas mask", in-case the smell became too much.

After our short tour of the tanning site we were suitably passed on to a shop owner who sold the end product. In the Medina, everyone is involved in making money out of tourists.

The shop owner proceeded to effectively befriend us by offering us mint tea. By this stage we were aware we weren't escaping without shelling out some cash. After trying to sell us some cushions and then carpets, and after us telling him we couldn't buy anything, he let us go but asked us to give his boy something. I gave him 5 dirham for making us the tea, and he gave me a well rehearsed look of "You have got to be kidding". Glad to have escaped, we then ran into the "keeper" who also asked for some money for the tour.

Its a well oiled machine, and I'm sure tourists of lesser willpower must leave with a negative bank balance.

Fortunately our 'riad' style hostel is a beacon of peace. Once inside its giant brass studded door, all the noise and hassle of the medina just fade away. So far our favourite place to visit is the fresh orange juice carts in the Djeema el Fna. For 3 dirham you receive a glass of freshly squeezed sweet sweet OJ. Magic.

I can't beleive I just wrote that much about a 12hour period. Oh and one more thing - Dani deserves a medal for her efforts to keep walking past the stalls of beautiful jewellery, rugs, ceramics, clothing... it's just as well our bags are packed to the seams, or we'd be taking half of Marrakech home with us.


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