May 3, 2013
Note: This entry is a bit on the longer side as this morning I started out in Spain and before I knew it, I was in Africa! So here I am, writing from Marrakesh, Morocco for the next few days.
I ended up sleeping in much later than I intended to today. This overseas jet lag thing can be such a nuisance, especially since you want to explore everything. However, lack of sleep = lack of energy and sometimes you just get off track. Regardless, we had a flight to catch to Morocco so it’s not like we could have done tons. M took me on another little tour of Madrid. We bought snacks from a shop called Mallorca to eat in a park. By the way, they package the “to-go” food in pretty, red wrapping and tie it with white string. Not quite sure why Chick-fil-A or McDonald’s doesn’t do this…
We ended up having a little picnic in Reitro Park, taking pictures, saw the Crystal Palace, walked around for a bit and attempted to do a mini-photoshoot. M will probably hate me for saying this but when we bought dessert she kept raving about the jelly in one of them and how it was the best part…blah…blah…blah…As soon as she bit into it, all the jelly squirted out on to her pants. Ha! It was one of the funniest things I’ve seen. Even better, we didn’t bring any utensils or napkins. I’ll let you guys decided what she did.
While sitting on a bright, green grassy knoll in front of a pond, it finally hit me that the Spanish don’t work. Here we are in the middle of the day on a Friday afternoon, and half of Madrid is out at the park – having a picnic, rowing a boat, sunbathing, taking selfies and aimlessly walking around. Yes, today was a holiday but I came to find out that they do this all the time. You would never think that this country is in an economic crisis based on the way these people approach everyday life and ultimately they really don’t care. This is how way of life has always been and this is the way they want to continue to live. I don’t really know if this is in fact a good thing or one that needs to slowly start to change. Anyways, that’s a topic for another discussion.
After walking around for a bit, it was time to head back so we could get to Morocco!
One: Morocco was everything I expected…from the air. All you could see were red clay buildings, sand and mountain-side. Never having gotten off an airplane on a runway before was kind of fun. Also, you know you are in a small city when there are only three gates for planes to pull up into, leading in and out of the airport.
Two: Being in a developing country like Morocco is surreal. Yes, I’ve been to India (that was almost 20 years ago) and I’ve seen movies and heard people talk about going to countries like this but honestly, you don’t know what to expect until you’re actually in it. Everything is so hectic but at the same time it’s an organized-chaos – taxis beeping, cars honking, scooters and bikes weaving through traffic, no traffic lights, hot air, people, donkeys, noise, dust – everywhere. There you are trying to figure out what the F is going on and get suckered into expensive cab rides while at the same time trying to understand what anyone is even saying because you don’t speak French nor Arabic – it’s fabulous!
Let’s just say the initial few hours were not as easy as we had though. First of all, we got suckered into an expensive cab ride – 200 dirham (about $23); we found out later, it should have only been about 50dh ($6). Fine…lesson learned.
Second, we had a hell of a time trying to find our riad. As soon as we got out of the taxi, we came face to face with a trio of boys – they were speaking a mixture of Arabic, English, French and something else…oh yes, “we’re going to get these tourists”. The later, of which I’ll explain in a bit. Having the completely-and-utterly-lost-tourist-look on our faces, we followed these boys as they conversed with us, expressed their love for Shah Rukh-Khan movies, steered us through winding derbs and houses that all looked the same and finally brought us…somewhere. Ok, so this was not our riad and we knew it. We expressed this concern to the boys, thinking they had our best interests at heart. However, they insisted that our riad was still a 10 minute walk, it was late and we should just stay at the one they brought us to.
Why? Why? WHY would we do that when we clearly know this is not ours and we already have a place booked? LUCKILY, a man standing nearby heard this confusion and asked if one of us was Menka and brought us to the right riad. Which by the way, turned out to be a whole FIVE steps away from the one the trio brought us to. Sneaky little kids! Who then insisted we pay them 500 dh ($50) for bringing us to the riad…which might I add was wrong to begin with. (As I’ve found out later on, I think there was some sort of relationship between the boys and the owner’s of the other riad. In the end, if the boys bring business, both parties get some money out of it). Being cheated with the cab ride – fine. Being cheated by these boys – no.
Aziz, the guy who found us/housekeeper of the riad, took us into the house and showed us around. Words cannot describe this place. It’s about 4 – 5 floors, white walls, small spa, little nooks, beautiful Moroccan lighting fixtures…everything about this place is a little mansion. It’s definitely going to be hard to leave this one behind. After taking a short breather, we got some tips for Aziz and set out for Jemaa el-Fnaa (The Big Square) or local gathering area of Marrakesh.
I am at a loss of words. As soon as you walk into the square all you can smell is horses, then all you see is smoke and shops, hear music and see a huge gathering of people. I mean huge. There are vendors and street shops, mini-food booths set up that sell dates, juices, mint tea…meat…meat…meat…and more…meat! Just guess what we ended up eating? Yeah…not just any kind of meat…a complete mix of meat. Plus, it’s uncooked and sitting right out in front of you (before they cook it of course) so you can actually see what you’re going to eat before you eat it. Along with lamb, pork, sausage, chicken and bread, I’m pretty sure I ate something questionable…I’m hoping it’s goat. Then we had the most amazing mint tea I have ever had. One of the vendors and lined up glasses and glasses full of fresh mint leaves, large cubes of sucre (sugar) that were ready to go once the hot tea was poured in. It was delicious! Oh, the best part about these booths, you don’t get napkins because you know…napkins take up space. Instead you reach right above your head and tear off a piece of paper from a notepad. Voila! The Moroccans know how to utilize space and are efficient!
Then we decided to walk around the area. The Souks were closed but we visited the open shops. I’m not going to lie, I was a bit overwhelmed by the aggressiveness of the locals. Just the slightest glimpse at their products and they are ALL over you insisting that you buy something from them. I mean I really don’t need Calvin Klein underwear nor do I want henna on my hands (and no it does not bring good luck). This “product-pushing” as I’ll call it for now, not only is for the adults but kids as well. We ended up needing a pack of tissues that a little girl name Farah was selling (P started having allergies) so at least we helped. Now when I say these vendors are selling anything…I mean anything. Underwear, CK tops, sunglasses, remote control toys, little light things that you throw in the sky that make noise, kaftans, jewelery, plastic robot dogs with drums, orange juice, CDs, snails that you can just suck on and leave the shell behind. Luckily I wasn’t into a snail-y mood so we quickly passed by them, but name it…they sold it.
As much as I hate to say this, especially since I came in wanting to be extremely open-minded, is that you have to be careful with the locals here. At first you want to make conversation with them, because they are so friendly to you but I would have to say 8 times out of 10, it’s a catch and ultimately they want you to buy something. As mean as it is, walking away or ignoring them is the best. However, I do have to say that we’ve met a few people who were genuinely nice to us – the guy who explained the process of making mint tea, where to go in Morocco, a taxi driver who kindly got out of the car to see if/when a pharmacy would be open and the keeper of our riad, Aziz. Moroccans are overall very friendly but you just have to be cautious.
My first day in Marrakesh has been nothing if not interesting and eye-opening. I am extremely fascinated by this environment, the people, the culture and their way of life. As sad as this is, I’ve never really been exposed to this before and I am so glad that I did come as I think there is going to be quite a bit that I learn from here.
I’m really hoping that I catch some great pictures during the day tomorrow. Thought, I’ve heard to be careful about photography as well. So let’s see what we come across! But for now, bed time. Aziz will be here in 4 hours to make us breakfast and teach M and I how to make mint tea!