May 5, 2013
Today started off early with a tour led by our guide Abdul. Let’s just say the first two hours, all the Moroccan food I had been eating was finally catching up to me. After 4 Tums and a shot of Emetrol…I was finally able to regain some strength.
The tour started off in the village that our riad was in, our guide actually grew up quite close to it. He took us to the oldest building in Marrakesh, which turned out to be a fountain that people still get water from along with the local markets filled with veggies, meat, seafood and clothes. He told us that there are supermarkets that have been built but the villagers prefer these street carts, only having to walk a couple of derbs (streets) away from their homes – it’s easy, cheap and most comfortable for them. He even took us to the preschool he attended – which still had chalkboards in it!
Abdul informed us that the city is divided up into hundreds of little sections. Each section has its own mosque, bread baker, hammam spa, and school. He told us that every morning hundreds of women in these small neighborhoods make dough and roll it out into flat, round bread. They then take them to a tiny little man (mind you this is the one we went to) who bakes the bread in this huge furnace. He then remembers exactly who gave him the bread and they come back and get it from him and he makes his living this way. The man Abdul brought us to was the sweetest thing I had ever seen. He was kind enough to let us take pictures, pulled chairs up for us and just let us watch while he did his thing.
We then ventured into the souks where the locals dry leather, find metal, work with cast iron, sew, mend, dye, mold, cut, etc. All these pieces turn into shoes, purses, bags, light fixtures, pouches, tagines, kurtas, belts, ceramics….name it…they make it. Though, if you do come across this area, I advise not to take pictures of them doing this as it does upset them.
As Abdul took us through the tour, he informed us about three very important facts about the architectural structure of the city:
1. Why do all the houses look the same from the outside?
2. Why the streets are so narrow.
3. Why are the houses numbered the way they are?
1. Moroccans are extremely private people and it turns out that all the different classes (upper, middle and lower) live amongst each other (it’s always been done this way and they continue to do so). They are not ostentatious people and really value their privacy, therefore they keep everything enclosed and hidden from the outside world. Hence, the reason all the houses kind of look the same from the outside. However, if you were to go inside some of these houses – they are absolutely gorgeous. You would never think it based on what you’ve seen on the outside. The saying “never judge a book by its cover” kept coming to my mind when the guide was talking about it. I found it to be quite fascinating – it’s their way of life and one that has to be respected.
2. The streets are so narrow and the walls high, as it keeps the sunlight out making it cooler in these areas and much more comfortable for them to walk through. According to Abdul, Morocco experiences 319 days of sun a year. (Not hot at all).
3. Each village/section has its own subset of homes, divided in a specific way. When you walk onto a derb the first house on the right is number 1 (even if it’s further down from the first house on the left). The first house on the left is actually the last house in that set. Therefore, before you even start walking through the derb you know how many houses are on it without actually having to walk through it all. So if you’re looking for number 45 and the first door you see on your left is number 54, you know you’re not on the right street. Smart thinking.
Abdul continued to take us through some more of the beautiful, colorful souks then showed us a vendor that made the best lamb tagine. There are quite a few places that have these deep holes dug into the ground, which turns out to be a furnace for cooking up to 40 lambs! They then take them out, one by one with a curved metal rod and turn the cooked meat into a soupy tagine mixed with carrots, potatoes and onions that all melt in your mouth.
We then went back to Jemaa el-Fnaa (Big Square) and noticed how different it looked during the day with snake charmers, monkey “enthusiasts”, henna artists, orange juice and date stands, etc. It was blazing hot so we didn’t stand around for too long but noticed that it’s just people trying/entertaining to making money from tourists. You do have to a bit careful as they tend to let the snakes roam (awesome) or follow you around with animals/reptiles. If you’re into it…cool. If you’re not…run. We then ended up at beautiful riad/café where we sipped on cold ginger/cucumber juice and Nespresso coffee with milk. After trying to put some food down we headed to our hammam appointments. (Now, if you’re reading this and don’t know what a hammam is – Google it). If this is not the most relaxing thing I’ve ever done, I don’t know what is. After a good scrub down/massage you feel like jelly. Perfect for when you’ve been walking around nonstop for 4 days. Also if you go, don’t be shy.
Unfortunately, that relaxation was cut short when we returned to our riad only to find out that the neighborhood was furious with us for having taking pictures the day before from the rooftop. Turns out they thought we were taking pictures of them but in reality it was just of the sunset. Aziz has tried to calm them down but now we’re feeling really bad and not quite sure what to do. Hopefully, it’s been lulled over but again but it’s another aspect of their privacy that slipped our minds. We definitely need to be careful on our last couple of days here.
After some down time we headed out to dinner at Portofino (not good at all). Then walked around the main square, went back to the first mint tea place, where the guy who worked there recognized us from a couple days back. Note: napkins are never found here, only paper. Which mind you don’t work as well but instead of taking up table space with a cute holder, you just grab them from a notebook over your head. Convenience my friend. Our waiter was so sweet and offered to put paper around our cups to keep it from burning our fingers. Moroccan people are extremely friendly and definitely want to make sure you have a good, enjoyable time. Yes, there are those that are constantly trying to sell you something but for the most part there are also some that just want to put a smile on your face. After a bit of shopping and finally getting a tea pot bargained down for M to a good price – “democratic price” might I add, we headed out.
Now this has to be one of my favorite moments of this trip. On the way out of Big Square we saw a little cutie trying to sell us something. We’ve found that the hardest thing to do in Morocco is to tell children “no”. They follow you, intending to help but really some of them just do it for money. It definitely doesn’t feel good to say “no” but sometimes you have to or they just don’t go away. However, this little boy knew “no” was “no” and walked away from us playing with his toys. M went up to a man nearby (most likely his Dad) selling different nuts and dates and I didn’t think much because she enjoys eating different types of food and I figured she wanted some. She asked the little boy which kind was his favorite, he pointed to something that looked like sunflower seeds and for 20 dirham she bought them. She handed them straight to the little boy and said it was for him. The look on his face was priceless especially when he started eating them by the handful. It has to go down as one of the most selfless gestures I’ve ever seen. If only there were more people like her.
Tomorrow is our last day in Morocco. I am sad to leave this country as it has completely opened my eyes to another world, life and outlook. I don’t think I will ever forget what I’ve seen here – the people, their kindness, their “selling” techniques, the food, their lives, these villages…I could go on but it’s bed time and my eyes cannot stay open.
Tomorrow – Jardin Majorelle, last-minute shopping in the souks and then back to España!