May 4, 2013
All right so today started off to another sloooooow start. After unwillingly dragging myself out of bed (I’m pretty sure this laziness has to do with the beauty of this riad – it just makes me feel like I’m in a dream), Aziz had breakfast ready for us. There was parata (fried, flat bread) with two different types of jam, fresh squeezed orange juice, bread, butter and mint tea. In fact, M and I now know how to make it using black tea, fresh mint leaves, hot water and sugar. Let’s see how this works when I make it state side.
Our adventure first started off with a trip to the royal tombs. Pretty freakin’ creepy if you ask me but definitely an architecturally pretty place to be buried in…if you are into that kind of thing. Then we decided to meander through the streets looking for the Palais de la Bahia. Unsuccessful. After seeing signs for the palace written on different walls (no actual signs) and a little boy trying to help us (who we had to shoo away after telling him we had no money), we were completely lost. In fact, we were so lost that when we finally got into a cab we were actually about 15 minutes on the other side away from the palace. Note to self: the Lonely Planet map for Marrakesh is completely and utterly useless.
The palace is stunning on the inside. With tall, white walls, bright blue Moroccan or gold trim, large wooden doors and beautiful tile and ceiling work – I can only imagine how long it took to build and paint this piece by piece. It’s definitely worth a visit if you are ever down there. Then we decided it was time to enter the real souks. Whoa! Like really…whoa! The experience is unreal. There are thousands and thousands of shops filled with clothes, shoes, bags, metal-works, lamps, tea pots, necklaces, scarves, kurtas, blankets, pillows, shawls, ceramic pots, plates, dishes, cups, spices, food, olives – SO much stuff. It is both overwhelming and amazing at the same time. The best part is that it’s a maze. Each turn you take, corner you pass, street you walk down is going to take you in a different direction. The key though is to just let it happen – we just kept walking, took photos and let every second of being in the souks soak in.
I mentioned in a previous post, the aggressiveness of Moroccans when it comes to selling you something, what I didn’t notice until today was what they say to get you to their shops. First, there’s Shah Rukh Khan. Yes, that is what I said. This guy is so popular here that if you are Indian, he is your key. Walking through the souks all we could hear to get our attention was “India!” “India!” “India!” or “Aap Kaisa Hai?” or “Shah Rukh Khan!” Yeah, he’s pretty awesome but it’s not good enough for me come to your shop. I kept wondering if they yell out things like “Brad Pitt!” or “Angelina Jolie!” when Americans walk by.
I think one of my favorites was when a guy was trying to get us to come to his restaurant. Instead of “Please come to my café.” It was more like, “Thank you for your smile.”… followed us around for a bit…”I’m appreciative of your necklace.”…some more following around…”Do you like to take pretty picture?”…hmmm why yes, I do…”Great! Come to my café, you can sit on the rooftop and take as many pictures as you want – you can see everything and eat.” Wow…just wow…that’s some mad selling there. Now is this the type of service you’ll get anywhere else – of course not; seems like there are parts of the world that need a huge lesson on customer service/selling. Moroccans are definitely very friendly people but as rude as it sounds, there are times that ignoring them, not making eye contact and saying “no” forcefully are required. Otherwise you’ll be talked to death, bargained to death and sometimes you can make them a bit upset if you show mild interest and then decide not to buy anything. Definitely bargain though, if you don’t – it’ll be considered weird. Also, don’t necessarily take directions from little children or kids or look at signs printed on walls – they will all lead you in the wrong direction. It’s a game (just like what the boys did to us on the first day when we tried to find our riad) – they take you through all these roundabouts only to end up in the wrong direction and then you’re forced to pay. Another lesson learned.
Now, the only thing that finally got us out of the souks is that we were hungry. We ended up going to a beautiful but pretty touristy restaurant (found on Trip Advisor) called Pero Nero. It was a mix of Moroccan/Italian food. It was really good plus they serve alcohol there – something we didn’t find much of anywhere in the city. My cousin ate pigeon which I had to stop at. I could do the goat, the lamb and some questionable meat but the pigeon…no…just no. I was good with my shrimp pasta. Then we headed to the New City, which of course is the more modern, recently built part of Marrakesh. Before getting there, we had someone from the restaurant escort us to a parked taxi. Of course, the standard questions of “Do you like Bush or Obama?” “What part of America are you from?” and my favorite “Texas! Wow…are you cowboys – do your ride horses?” Then the inevitable horse-riding gesture. Love that question.
As soon as you step out into the New City also known as Guéliz, it’s like you are no longer in Marrakesh. There are beautiful hotels, bars, women in scantily-dressed clothing yet still looking completely fashionable, guys that look like they just walked off a Gucci or Armani runway, modern shops and structures, etc. We walked into one hotel/bar (honestly, I can’t remember the name of it) seeking out drinks and belly dancers. (My cousin and I are a bit obsessed with them). We ordered something “Moroccan”, enjoyed a short-show (turns out belly dancing isn’t as big in Morocco as you would think) and hung out for a bit before calling it a night.
Though Guéliz is more tourist-friendly, I do have to say that I get a more fulfilling experience by being in the old part of Marrakesh. I enjoy people-watching, seeing how locals live day to day, how they work, act and the beautiful things they sell. The culture in that area is something you lose in the new part and for me that’s what I wanted from this trip. To experience something I’ve never seen before. Plus, I can’t wait to get back to the souks and do some real shopping.
Tomorrow: an early-early morning tour of Morocco with a guide!
Note: Some images were taken by my cousin, Menka.