I’m not even sure where to start. I guess I’ll start by saying that we have our VISA’s. Thankfully, because we worked with the Spanish Consulate in Chicago, we didn’t have to personally make an appearance to actually get the Visa (unlike our California friends)… but were, instead, able to FedEx our passports over, have the Visa installed and then FedEx’d back to us… and then this past weekend had to actually leave Spain to a non-EU country to activate the VISA upon reentry. Sooo… we went to Marrakech, Morocco.
It’s amazing being so close to so much! Just a short 2 hour flight on Vueling from Barcelona to AFRICA!!!! I did as much homework as I could before heading to Marrakech. I expected that this trip might be like the trip Doug and I took to Turkey in May. Which for us isn’t becoming so unusual in terms of shock factor. But from a 13 year old and a 10 year old perspective, I was mildly concerned. The kids have been lots of places, but none like Marrakech. So I started reading as many books as I could about what to expect. And what to do. I also downloaded a nice book to read called, “In Arabian Nights” written by Tahir Shah. A wonderful book that weaves stories told to him by Moroccan story-tellers for generations… many of which I have heard in my childhood… and all with life lessons/messages. It’s pretty amazing… and really highlights the importance of storytelling and storytelling in the Moroccan culture.
Anyway, because of the book, I thought it would be brilliant to download 1001 Arabian Nights by Sir Richard Burton and listen aloud with the kids… the sad part.. I downloaded it and began listening to it with Owen.. only to discover that it really is bit a juicy for a 10 year old boy.. as I also later learned in my book by Tahir Shah. Anyway, I’m certain for those who are planning on going to Morocco, you may find something a bit more kid friendly like Aladdin… for the kids…
Anyway, here’s what I know and learned. The main market in Marrakech is in a walled part of the city (which is called a Medina). The Medina has something like 19 gates (called Babs) that lead in to the area. Within the Medina is the big market that gets a lot of publicity (Djemaa al Fna). Towering over this Square is the Koutoubia Mosque.. which gets it’s name from the Arabic word, koutoub which means book because there was once a large booksellers market nearby. Anyway, the Mosque has a tall tower that towers over everything.. in fact, no buildings are taller than the tower of the mosque. And several times a day, you can hear the “call to prayer” coming from the tower. And you’ll see people all over with their rugs, bending down to pray or heading to a nearby mosque to pray. (BTW at night is when the market comes to life. Between 12N and 3P… people suggest relaxing at your hotel or wherever you are staying. Visit the tanneries and the places where you can see the people dying the cloth in the AM as the smells are too pungent later in the day. Sadly we didn’t see this..:(( and we didn’t realize you should visit the market until later in the day. Actually in the evening people dine in the square at the many, many food stands.
Anyway, inside the medina and off of the square are souks… these are stalls as you would see in a market. Except for here, it’s a crazy labyrinth of stalls.. such that if you don’t hire a guide, you will likely get lost…
There are also riad’s. These are homes with an internal garden. There are riad’s all over. But you would never know. Because it is customary to not have anything that shows wealth outside of your home. So every door is beautiful and simple and understated in it’s own way.. but once you enter.. it’s magical.
Outside of the Medina are lots of hotels and an area of the city that kind of has more of a European feel. It’s called Gueliz. We spent our final night here and had a nice dinner at a restaurant called El Postre.
And on the other side of the Medina is where we stayed… in the area known as the Palmerie. And we loved it!!!! We had to get a ride in to “town”… it wasn’t really walkable, but we had a totally different experience than the big hotels or the the Riad’s even. We stayed at a place called Dar-Ayniwen. It was a private residence turned in to a place to stay. Gorgeous gardens, a beautiful pool, 8 or so bedrooms.. its own Spa/Hammam, and completely personalized service. They had people to tend to anything you needed… including mint tea delivered in the evening (and upon arrival)… morning breakfast by the pool or on our porch… any spa treatments.. things for the kids in the pool… etc. Stephane’s family owns the place and if you read up on it on TripAdvisor you will see that they get A+++++ from anyone who has stayed there because of their amazing service. And Aziz, the concierge, was awesome!
Ok… so the Dar Ayniwen was about 15 minutes from town and in what felt like vacant desert. We rode camels from our hotel for an hour (30 minutes probably would have been perfect) in the same desert. It felt a bit like Arizona… with some man-made dunes for the people who might 4-wheel it through there… it was fun… but I have to say, given more time, I would have loved to have actually ridden the camels in the desert and spent a night in the sand dunes on the other side of the Atlas Mountains. We will be back!!
Anyway, here are my impressions… the smells are amazing… the sounds are amazing… the people are amazing. The main market in the Medina is overwhelmingly distracting. People playing lulling the cobra’s. People wandering around with their monkeys. Women ready to paint henna tattoos on your hands.. fresh squeezed orange juice… dancers… musicians.. etc. And in and around this are people buzzing by on dilapidated mopeds… sometimes carrying families of 5… horse drawn carriages with people like us… tourists… there’s an undulating beat that sounds like something you’d hear in Romancing the Stone… it’s a photographer’s dream. Amazing and distracting and overwhelming… and… exhausting. The people there, if you even remotely point your camera in their direction, want money… I had one guy accuse me of photographing him (which I wasn’t… I was photographing the family of 5 on the moped)… and when I showed him… he pointed to a corner of his outfit and in the far right corner of my photo… and demanded money. This was a bit tiring. I had women come up and start painting my hand with henna… even though I didn’t want it (at least not that way).. .kind of like the guys in Shanghai who squirt shoe polish onto your shoes when you haven’t asked for it! Even if you photograph items in the souks, they wanted money. So for this reason, hire a guide.. they don’t pounce on you as much… as he can help you navigate through it all. He will, however, take you to his favorite places… as we found ourselves buying carpets… even after we told him not to take us to a rug souk. But we need rugs here… so it was ok.
The kids had snakes draped around their necks. The cobras swayed to the music while what appeared to chipmunks ran in and around the cobras… and pet monkeys were poised and ready to rid your hair of anything… we especially loved the monkeys.. but struggled with our animal loving instincts and the handling of the monkey’s by their owners. We also wondered why the snakes were so docile… only to be shown that their teeth and venom had been removed… and in some cases, their mouths sewn shut. So I’m not sure how I feel about any of it honestly. In the past, there was a skill in working with the snakes, I’m not so sure how much that exists now. Anyway, the currency in Morocco is DH. 100 DH is essentially 10 euros. And that’s what the monkey guy wanted for pictures… To give you perspective our camel ride for an hour was 450 DH… and our spa treatment was 600 DH. The place where we stayed provided all transportation to and from the airport in to town and back, etc. And that was a part of our room. :) Click untitled-1022a for some footage of the monkeys..
We also rode the horse and buggy… which again, I had a hard time with as the traffic is horrendous and I felt sick about the horses navigating through the fumes and craziness of the traffic! But an hour long ride on that was 180 DH.
We spent 3 full days in Marrakesh. I would have loved to have seen Fez… and visited the Atlas Mountains. For those who love hiking.. there are a lot great trips in and through the mountains. I know when we return we will do something like that along with a stay in the desert. The people in Marrakesh speak English (they know just enough to get by with tourists) and French.. and, of course, Arabic.