My Morocco Expedition
Thursday 3/6/2014 5pm Western European Time Zone
Misconceptions abound. I’m writing this while sitting in the second class car of the train that’s bound towards Station Voyeux downtown Casablanca. Sure it smells a little bit like cat urine, but then again I did see what appeared to be a stray kitten roaming around just inside la gare.
I honestly did not put a lot of planning into this vacation, but that seems to be a recurring habit that I should probably start breaking, but so far it’s turned out quite well for me.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Groupon? Well Zozi.com is the exact same thing except that it focuses on vacations. The deals vary in terms of how good they actually are, but every once in a while they have a site-wide 25% off coupon. When that happens the Dutchman in me finds it very hard to resist purchasing. Such was the case the day after Christmas…over the past few years, I’ve grown a list of about 10 friends that have said things like “I’d love to start travelling more, let me know the next time you’re going to somewhere cool!” The way that usually works is I send a note to 10 people and get 10 responses back that start “That looks awesome, but (insert excuse about the lack of time, money or both).” This time, though, a friend from college told me “Let’s go!” So we found something that sounded fun (I’ve always wanted to ride a camel), and booked it even though I’ve been running extremely low on funds lately with my most recent renovation project.
One myth I’d like to dispel is that traveling has to be expensive…I love deals, and try to get a high amount of value out of anything I do. This whole trip (including food and airfare came in under $2k (not including the $400 that was stolen). Hopefully you’ll ask to be added to my travel list and decide that you too want to make an investment in experiences that enrich your life!
I looked at airfare to Morocco after considering this trip; it was just under $1000, so I decided to set up a Kayak alert and monitor it. I ended up pulling the trigger about a month before my departure date. I arrived Thursday at 3:30pm (we’re 5 hours ahead of EST).
Expenses for transit:
- 6 something in USD at the Detroit airport for soup du jour (vegetable…it was tasty and I didn’t know if they were going to provide dinner on the flight) and an apple.
- 40 dirham for a second class train ticket from the airport to Casa voyeux.
- I exchanged 419 USD for $3000 dirhams….my hotel (which I booked 1 day before coming) is in Casablanca and runs $340 dirham a day plus $8 EUR in tourism tax.
The train seems to run on the hour every hour for most of the day. On my flight out of Detroit I sat next to a man that also happened to be travelling to Morocco. He was a contractor for the Embassy here. Originally from Stuttgart, Germany, he had been in the States to visit his daughter and granddaughter. We found mutual ground because he had spent 3 months in Thailand a number of years back, and thought that my plans to take a 6 month sabbatical there were spot on; I could tell it was a while ago because he said that when he went a family of two adults and one child could survive on $250 USD/month. That’s a bit underpriced from what I’ve heard in my research.
On my next flight from Paris to Casablanca, I sat in-between two Moroccans. The first laughed when I pronounced it Morocco and told me that it was ‘Maroc’ with an emphasis on the French accent. His name was Mohammad and he lived in Houston studying to go into the oil and gas industry. He had been in the US for 5 years and had a US passport. The second young man was from DC (Maryland because it’s cheaper) and was studying Chemistry. Both were headed home to visit family for a few weeks. It was amazing that this young man new English, Arabic, Spanish, and French. He said that most Moroccans know Arabic and then in the north they know Spanish and in the south they know French as a second language. French is the second official language which is nice because that means I can at least get an idea of what things are with my very rudimentary knowledge of French.
Right before I left I downloaded a few different tour guides for the area. Ironically even in Frommer’s 6 week itinerary Casablanca isn’t listed as one of the stops…and here I’m going to spend 2 days there waiting for my tour. Part of me is thinking about trying to find a way down to the Sahara so I can go on a camel ride. I guess I’ll explore tonight and see what might make sense for tomorrow. The tour kicks off Friday, and my friend is joining me then.
My new Moroccan friends laughed when I was surprised that as we descended there were verdant rolling hills. I was expecting a sparse barren desert: not green hills. Regardless it’s a welcome respite from the brutal winter that Michigan has had this year.
Hopefully I won’t miss my stop and can find my hotel successfully!
Phew, I made it to day 3 and I’m still alive! I’m writing this now from a 4 star hotel in the middle of Casablanca’s Hospitality Quarter, and it’s a welcome relief. I just got done taking a wonderfully relaxing bath in a very luxurious bathroom.
Without going into the details (frankly because I don’t want to share them), I was robbed yesterday. The young Moroccan was an experienced con man, and I now am out half of my spending money that I brought ($400). After canceling the two credit cards that were in my wallet and ordering a new driver’s license, I spent the rest of the day relaxing because I didn’t feel too much like doing anything outside of my hotel room! I don’t think you should really be worried…I wasn’t doing the smartest thing when it happened.
But, I truly believe that the quality of one’s life and the happiness derived is much more a function of how one reacts to events as opposed to what actually happens. So I’m interpreting this experience as a $400 lesson on being careful in foreign countries and moving on.
My early morning was spent roaming around the medina which is the central market where locals go to peddle their wares. You can get just about anything there. I was just walking the streets taking some photos when this older guy approached me. He was the first (but certainly not the last) who started the same conversation: “Where are you from?”
“Oh the United States! Where?”
“Oh Michigan, I have a (insert some distant relative) from (insert random state). It is very good.”
“I’m not a tour guide, I’m just a friend; I don’t want any money. You hear about the Berbers?”
“What about them?” I reply as I go on clicking pictures.
“Oh they are in town today and have a big sale today. Come I show you; right in here.”
“Okay” I cautiously say as I follow him inside a dark building and other men get up behind me and follow us down. Had I had the experience of being robbed earlier I surely wouldn’t have been so cavalier as to walk around with thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment. But alas, nothing bad happened in the medina or any of those shops.
Here’s how it works: there are herders on the street. Their “job” is to convert a cold contact into a warm contact. Do some small talk, establish a bit of trust, and then lead them to a store. If anyone that they lead their purchases something, they receive a commission. I didn’t really feel like I was being led anywhere…I chose the direction, so I’m guessing that either these guys have a really big network, or more likely it’s just a tacit agreement that anyone bringing a store business should receive a cut. I respect what these people do, even if I don’t really care for the tactic. Selling is hard, and these guys cut their teeth on it every day.
Next the carpet dealer tells the story of the Berbers. How they’ve been exploited in the past, and how they’re very poor. Then they take you to a large, opulent showroom where you’re offered mint green tea. Really, deconstructing how these guys operate is better than taking a marketing course on how to sell. At this point I’ve been warmed up to at least being friendly with these people and they’ve given me a small token gift which primes me to reciprocate. Then they start asking which one is your favorite. If you say that you’re not really interested then they ask you your favorite color. The whole point is that they keep you talking. Another great question is “If you were going to buy one which size would you want.” This is a trick question because the only right answer is “I don’t want to buy one.”
They’ll then ask you your best price. “Maybe we can’t agree, maybe we’re too far apart in prize, but what is the most you’d be willing to pay for this one?” Of course, the “one” is the size you said you would want if you were going to buy one and it’s your favorite color. What could it possibly hurt to throw out a lowball price? Of course, whatever price you throw out will only call them to gasp and act like you’ve just insulted them…and after they offered you the complimentary green mint tea!? The audacity! I recognized the trick questions though, and so didn’t give them a chance to do that. I used the limited authority gambit and explained that I couldn’t make a decision today because I was going on a tour on Saturday, but would be back the following week if he could give me his card.
I went to two different carpet stores and quickly grew tired of this experience after taking a few pictures as we were talking.
Today my friend arrives and then this evening we join the rest of the group for the start of our tour. I’m very happy to have someone I trust joining me on this tour. 3rd world countries are not exactly North America or Europe :/
One other thing I that I’ve been thinking about again is the idea of overlaying the physical world with the digital world. This already happens today with Google maps. Before I left my budget class hotel, I put the address of my much nicer digs into Google Maps on my phone. Even when it wasn’t connected to the Internet the GPS know where I am on the map which is apparently cached on my phone. So even though I got lost once, when I looked at my map I could see exactly where I was supposed to be. Obviously the possibilities are much more expansive if connected to the Internet. Already the physical world can be controlled by things in the virtual world. Using the app with Nest you can change the temperature of your house. Imagine if we took this farther. Why can’t we wrap the physical earth with digital elements? Things that are either hidden or stored in physical locations could be immensely valuable.
Wow what a whirlwind experience this has been so far! My friend arrived late this afternoon and it was quite refreshing to have someone familiar to talk (English) with. We spent the afternoon catching up, and then met up with the rest of our tour group at 7pm in the lobby for a quick orientation. There were 5 of us there and then 4 others were going to be joining us the next morning since they had a late evening flight.
We all jumped on our tour bus and were driven back over to the medina area where I had stayed the night before. Of course, it’s much more fun and a lot less awkward to go to dinner as a group. They had a special going for 160 Dirhams which I went with. The exchange rate is somewhere around 7.9 Dirhams for 1 USD. This included a delicious Moroccan soup, a lamb tangine, and then Moroccan cookies which turned out to be those things that come in tins at cookies…they tasted like they might have been leftovers from last Christmas too. The restaurant was extremely elaborate. The table was a bit low, but that seems to be a cultural norm here in Morocco.
The next morning we had to be in the lobby at 8:30 to begin the first real day of our tour. We got a wakeup call at 7:30, grabbed a delicious breakfast from a lavish setting in the hotel, and after putting our bags in the back of our van, departed for the United Nations Square. There we were introduced to the water sellers who dress in very colorful costumes and will pose for pictures for a few dirhams. There were also a ton of pigeons gathered in the square across the street since people feed them.
From there we drove to the 7th largest Mosque in the world the Mosque of Hassan II. Coincidentally it’s the only mosque in the entire country that non-Muslims are allowed to enter. This enormous structure took over 5 years to build and over $500 million Euro was spent in the construction. You’re not allowed to wear shoes into the mosque, so they provide little plastic bags to hold onto them when you enter. The ceiling of the 37k square foot structure opens and takes just 5 minutes to completely retract! It’s the mosque that issues the calls to prayer for the Muslims each day. The mosque cost 120 dirham to tour.
After viewing the main prayer room we were taken downstairs to view the woman’s Hammam. This is a large circular body of water where the followers can come to wash up. Often times a massage is also included in a visit to a Hammam. Later this week we’ll get to experience this for ourselves when we visit a private one.
That was about all there was to see in Casablanca.
From there we left for the Royal Palace in the country’s capital city of Rabat. Ahmed warned us that taking pictures of soldiers or police was not allowed. Of course, I got in trouble because I accidentally took a picture of someone I wasn’t supposed to. The soldier came over and said a few things to our guide and then I had to show him my camera and he had to watch as I deleted the one image that had him in it. Apparently in order to get an official picture I would need to have written permission from the countries board of communication and board of public relations.
Tuesday, March 11, 9:13am
From there we went over to the ruins of the oldest ruins in Rabat. There were cats everywhere which wasn’t unique to just this city. It’s all of Morocco because in Islamic religion cats are sacred animals. This means that while nobody owns the cats everybody takes care of them. We also went through one of the medinas which was a curvy maze of streets. Stephen and I got lost once, but once it came to a dead end we retraced our steps and Ahmed was there waiting for us. I paid $5 dirham for fresh squeezed orange juice. The guy had all kinds of peeled oranges lying in a stack and then all of the peels decorated his cart. Part of the reason I bought the drink was so that when I asked if I could take a picture he would let me! Pleasantly, though, it was the best orange juice I’ve ever tasted! All the orange juice that I’ve encountered so far here has been freshly squeezed. I don’t think that they even sell pre-squeezed in the stores which I think it awesome! He served me in a glass cup, so after drinking it I returned it to him. Since it was just a cart vendor I’m a little bit worried about just how he goes about cleaning the glasses in-between customers. :/
We then hunkered down in our car for a 2.5 hour trip to the beautiful city of Fes. There was an optional dinner show for 300 dirham. Originally I thought everyone was going to go, but it ended up just being Rose, Stephen, and myself. We arrived to this rather stark looking alleyway and Ahmed led us up to what seemed like a regular restaurant. Instead, though, it was the most opulent place I’ve ever seen! Every flat surface was hand tiled with small, intricately carved pieces. Then the ceiling had amazingly complex plaster work the likes of which I’ve never seen before. And the railing where all wood which had been hand carved (not lathed) to form these gorgeous mosaics. The show was quite interesting; it was a mix of singers, belly dancers, magicians, and singers. The food was quite good. In particular the chicken pastille. It was a main course, but it could basically serve as dessert. It’s like a deep friend pie with chicken, honey, and other deliciousness baked inside. I almost wish I had had a scoop of ice cream to put on top. There was also a traditional Moroccan “salad” which is this large spread of toppings (olives, beans, potatoes, cabbage, chili, etc. with bread. The next course was a HUGE bowl of fruit. There were oranges, bananas, apples. The oranges are the absolute best oranges that I’ve ever had in my life (are you starting to sense a pattern?). It’s probably because most oranges that I buy in the store were picked before they were rip and then “ripened” on the boast on the way over. These oranges were likely picked fresh. Ahmed said that oranges here cost about 4 dirhams for a kilo. The last course was the national drink of morocco: mint green tea. It too was delicious and a perfect ending to the meal. Except that it wasn’t the ending. At the very end they brought out this combination crumpet/cookie thing that was delicious. 3 hours after arriving, we headed home for the night completely satiated and completely exhausted.
The next morning we woke early and headed back to Fes near the place that the three of us had eaten at the day before. We went to this overlook that allowed us to see the entire city. After pictures we were dropped off right near the Fez medina. We walked the streets and Ahmed pointed out where the Jews have their shops. The big difference is that the Jewish people have open street front stores on the lower level and then their living quarters up above. Ahmed explained that one of the reasons why the inside of Moroccan homes and businesses are beautiful and the outside is stark is to help handle the income disparity. If you’re wealthy and you neighbor is poor then you should help him. But if you can’t then the best thing to do is to hide your wealth.
I changed my last $200 at a local bank, and then we walked down to the Fez Medina which was a very crazy place! Ahmed told us that if we got lost the best thing to do was to just stay right where we were and he’d either find us or we’d have to go out to the exit and take a taxi back to the hotel. The alleys were extremely circuitous and got extremely narrow and dark in someplace. One of our group bought a crumpet and shared with everyone. There was honey drizzled on top and it was quite delicious. We were ushered into one of the side alleyways and these massive wooden doors were opened. This turned out to be a place of study for people in the surrounding area to come and study. In the market there were all kinds of amazing things. Donkeys or carts were used to haul things through the marketplace and they would shout “Berack berack!” which means “Watch out!” in Arabic? Or “Attention!” for the tourists. There were preserved meats which is meat packed in extremely salty butter which means it doesn’t need refrigeration. There were tons of vegetables and fruits including people with carts full of oranges with little scales.
One really interesting feature were community ovens. The average Moroccan eats 3.5 loaves of bread per day. Their sugar intake is also really high. But they don’t have ovens in their homes; instead they bring their loaves to a community oven which is fired with wood where it is baked for around 30 centimes per loaf. If you waited there for a few minutes you would see someone come with big plate full of dough that had been fashioned into a loaf and then they pass them off on large trays to the guy working the community oven.
We then went to a garment shop where they explained how they create scarves and other robes and such. They have huge looms where they weave together wool, cactus thread, and silk. He called me up and showed me how to tie a turban… He did this for a few other people and then invited us all to go upstairs to see everything else. We all played dress up and have a group photo where we all look very Arabian. I ended up buying this beautiful red scarf that was a blend of cactus and wool. I had him take me again step by step how to fold it into a turban because I want to wear it today on our camel ride in the desert. They asked 250 dirhams, and after a bit of haggling we agreed on 150.
Next Ahmed guided us to a local tannery. They pass out mint on your way up. The reason became evident as we ascended…pigeon poop is used in the tanning process because it has an acidity to it that’s necessary for their process. They take the hides and then color them in large vats of color. Indigo for blue, saffron for yellow, etc. He led us around the shop and there were tons of amazing pieces. I really just needed a wallet though because mine had been stolen. They wanted 200 dirham for that. We ended up agreeing on 10.
Next we went through the metal work area…the copper and brass along with silver is gorgeous and amazingly intricate. From there we went home, took a nap, and then walked over to a local supermarket to buy food for our journey tomorrow since we would spend most of the day in the car.
I just finished this up as we’re still driving. We recently stopped though as there were monkeys roaming the side of the street .Ahmed said the reason they’re there is to get food from tourists, so of course our group had to feed them a bunch of crap (mainly chips). There were small ones and large ones. Some were really cute and others were not at all. That said it was still a very cool experience!
Today was a LONG day of driving. We left at 7:30 this morning and drove basically straight through with a few bathroom breaks and a lunch stop. Even the lunch place that we stopped at (basically a large rest stop with a dining pavilion) was lavishly crafted with complex plaster ceilings and amazing tile work. We drove to and through the Atlas Mountains. This gorgeous landscape was quite impressive. We went from lush green cities to barren lands inhabited by nomads back to river valleys that essentially served as oases where whole town popped up.
We made it to our hotel by mid-afternoon and only had about 20 minutes to unpack and assemble again to head out to the dunes of Merzouga. It was a 45 minutes 4×4 ride with a brief stop for visiting a local nomadic settlement. They showed us the entire complex and then invited us in for mint green tea. We then continued on.
As soon as we got there, I hoped out and was ecstatic because I saw camels! I’ve been really excited for a chance to ride camels and this was it! I’m sure I looked a bit funny because I had all my camera gear on: DSLR, GoPro strapped to my chest, and my tripod and camera bag hanging down. I was the first one they selected to get on the camel (probably because in back is the best spot for a photographer). My camel was the meanest of them all! He was NOT happy about being pressed into service, but I got on, leaned back and then the Shepherd said a few magic words, patted him and he got up with me on it. I didn’t fall off, but it was quite the experience. The camels where all tied to each other so after I was up, the rest of our party (9 of us) proceeded to mount their trusty steeds. The guide then took the lead rein and started walking us up into the dunes on the edge of the Sahara desert.
It was about a 30 minute walk and the camels were swaying back and forth; there were a few times where I was a bit worried that my camel was going to slip as he stepped quite close to the edge of the dunes…enough to cause a mini avalanche several times. After about 30 minutes, they had all the camels sit down and then we jumped off. Everyone else’s’ camels were calm, but mine about tried to bit off the guides hand. I asked if I could pet him and he said “Any camel except for this one!” while he pointed towards mine!
We spent 30-45 minutes taking pictures and exploring the sand dunes. The sun and clouds were amazing, and I can’t wait to see how the pictures and GoPro turned out! We then jumped back on and retraced our steps back. A little dog from another group joined us, and I named him Jack (to go along with Rose and our titanic theme). 4×4=300 dirhams. Camel ride=150 dirhams. Lunch was about 10 dirhams for the sandwich and then free fruit from breakfast.\
We then were whisked off to a little hole in the wall…but the food was fantastic. We had a Moroccan vegetable “pizza-like” creation. All of the vegetables where inside what could most easily be described as a gigantic pita bread We then had 2 different tangines. There was a chicken, potato, and pea one which was good. But the one with dates, almonds, raisins, apricots, and chicken was my favorite. We talked about how good the chicken was and decided it was because these truly were free range chickens grown without GMOs or in horrible conditions. The meal was 80 dirhams. A normal 10% tip for Morocco would’ve made it 88, but we all rounded up to 90 because it was so good!
We got back to the hotel late where I was able to start cleaning my camera from all the sand in the desert. Heading to bed shortly, and then another long drive tomorrow morning!
Yesterday was another long drive. We went through this extremely narrow gorge where there was a town built along a river way. We had lunch in the upper level or a “restaurant”. They opened up because Ahmed called in our order ahead of time and they had it ready when we got there. I got a Berber omelet which is cooked in a tangine pot and made with lots of vegetables. We also stopped at a small town for a bathroom break and a quick look at a few souvenirs. We have a few people on the trip that just don’t seem to understand how to barter properly. They’ll either say the maximum price that they’re willing to offer and then not budge which doesn’t allow the salesman to win. Or they’ll throw out a price and then finally get the person down to that first price and then say that they’re not interested. When that happens I’m actually embarrassed to be around as I feel quite badly for the person that was trying to sell something it just doesn’t seem fair or very nice to me. I’ve questioned the practice but didn’t persuade them to change their practices.
Right before our hotel stop last night we stopped at a studio in Ourzazate. Apparently this is the Hollywood of Morocco. The hotel was nicer than the previous few night, so hopefully that means it’s back on an upswing. Moving back into larger cities and more popular tourist destinations should improve the quality of the hotel.
The sun was setting just as we were checking in. The power was off for some reason and came back on right as we got to our room. The view from our window was overlooking this gorgeous vista and the sun shone brightly through the clouds. I took a few shots of the scene and then started transferring over files from my memory cards to my computer. I’ve already taken about 24 GB worth of photos, and I expect that I’ll fill a few more cards up yet before leaving. With my GoPro video files my computer only has another 11 GB free, so I’ll have to start limiting what I shoot!
We started to notice an older population of tourists. You may have heard about the popular tour company Contiki which is designed for people 18-32. From what I’ve heard it’s a lot of college kids that like to get completely wasted and just bus around to the most popular photo stops and then move on without any in depth exploration. Regardless, someone in our group said that the nursing home on wheels should be called Antiqiki which I found to be quite funny. It makes sense: after their kids have grown, their careers have ended, and they’re ready for retirement they want to travel. I just don’t want to have to wait until I’m 65 to start exploring this planet. I’ve been reading this book on the bioethics of trans-humanism and one thing they mentioned that resonated with me was that the certainly of our eventual death is a great prioritizer. There are only so many projects one can take on in one’s life, and we each get to choose how we spend our roughly 85 years on this planet. I want to head Sheryl Crowes advice and Soak up the Sun 😉
We ate at this small corner restaurant just down from the hotel. I had the chicken tangine which was a delicious free range chicken with lemon cooked in a handmade clay pot. To cut down on washing it’s a common practice to serve the meal in the plates/dishes that it was cooked in. This makes perfect sense to me, and I learned my lesson after touching the side of the clay pot with my hand and getting charcoal dust all over :/
I think my tangine cost about 40 dirham (I took a pic of the receipt so I can check), and then we split large water bottles so another 3 dirham for that. But the restaurant was quite nice in my opinion. A quaint ambiance with some high end elements like a burning candle and linen tablecloths and napkins. Not bad for $7 USD.
I’m struggling with the same dissonance I felt in Fiji; I feel selfish or maybe a bit greedy by having so much and so many native Moroccans have so little. It makes me want to redouble my efforts to live a minimalist life with less stuff.
This morning we got a bright and early start and went to Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou. This is the set of many popular movies and TV shows including Gladiator, The Mummy, and Game of Thrones. We weaved our way through the steps and shops and got to watch a really cool artistic process. They would paint with a sugar and then they would heat the other side with propane. The sugar would crystallize and the image that they had painted would emerge. As they were burning it the aroma smelled decidedly like a roasted marshmallow!
From there we took off back over the Atlas Mountains. I was early to the bus today to get a front seat and that has helped my stomach handle this drive much better than the first time. One our way through we stopped at few high photo stops to look out over the snow covered mountains. I had two snowballs thrown at me, so after quickly snapping a few shots I jumped back in the van. We continued until we got to this woman’s cooperative where they processed Argon nuts to get Argon oil. They gave us a quick demonstration. It’s a hard process where each nut is chipped open with a rock by hand. They then extract the nut and then grind it until they get this nutty oil. They had samples: the plain Argon oil (which was even USDA certified organic according to their signage!), honey made from bees that had pollinated Argon trees, and then Almoo which is honey mixed with Argon oil and almond paste. Ahmed warned us not to eat too much of this because he said that it’s Moroccan Viagra! Of the three, the honey was my favorite. The Argon oil can also be used as a cosmetic treatment. They had lotions and Chap Stick and all kinds of other derivatives.
We ate next door. I had eaten an apple and a bunch of peanuts earlier so wasn’t very hungry. I just ordered vegetable soup. While the soup was quite bland they also brought out bread with argon oil and Almoo for dipping. I ignored Ahmed’s warning and dove right in without any of the rumored fluctuations of my libido.
In about 15 minute we should be arriving at our hotel in Marrakech which we’ll be staying at for two nights. We have free time tonight to explore the square and the downtown area. Ahmed has been promising me that there will be Pastille available for purchases here, so I’m excited to taste it again! Tangine’s are good (they’re like a thick stew), but I’ve already had quite a bit of Tangine in my time here. I can’t wait! Marrakech seems to be the destination city in Morocco.
Wow! Marrakesh is an amazing maze of markets! Ahmed led us through the different areas, but I have no idea how he didn’t get lost! He explained that the better deals and higher quality goods were located away from the main square. He explained how to get back to the different places, but I don’t think anyone really remembered how to do that.
The main square was packed with water sellers, snake charmers, and men with monkeys. There were also street vendors who apparently arrive every evening at 4pm and setup as well as dancers, singers, entertainers, and Henna tattoo artists. Also I found it a bit odd and funny that the carts of juice sellers were all lined up together and each sold exactly the same thing. To differentiate themselves, they’d lock eye contact with you and then try to do something funny. Many people employed these techniques. One guy just started repeating “Viagra” over and over. I think this is because people quickly become desensitized to the sellers and try to avoid all eye contact and choose not to engage because then they know that they’ll follow them through the streets and won’t stop until they make a sale.
We ate at one of the food booths: number 55 to be exact. The food was really cheap and pretty good. I got my Pastille which was much cheaper in terms of price and quality. Ahmed said that one of the reasons was that it was made with coconut instead of almonds because it’s so much cheaper. I can’t wait to try cooking my very own. He surprised Stacey with a cake at the end which was a really nice touch that he certainly didn’t have to do. We then walked through one of the side streets where he introduced to what one person in our group the “French version of Julia Childs”. She’s was so much fun, we just had to imitate her. They showed us the Hamam and the massage areas. There was a 2 hour deal for $300 dirhams ($38 USD). Most of our group booked one on the spot. The guys at 1pm the next morning and the girls at 6pm.
Let me tell you about that experience! We confirmed with Ahmed what we were supposed to bring with us: nothing he assured us. They provide a disposable pair of underwear, water sandals, and a towel. So that’s exactly what I showed up with: nothing. As it turns out, they don’t give you the disposable “underwear” (in quotes because they were more like waterproof oversized boxers than underwear) until after the scrub which means that they had me strip and go in with just a towel. As soon as I walked into the room they grabbed my towel and told me to lay down. I slushed through the water which was probably an inch or so thick on the ground. After I laid down on this stone table with a rubber mat on it, they proceeded to use a pan to throw water on me. The whole room was like a curved sauna. Both the air and the water were nice and warm. Then they took this black soap and started scrubbing it on with an exfoliating glove. Then they would leave for 10 minutes or so, come back in, wash us off, and then flip us over and repeat the process again.
After this was complete we were ushered back into the original changing room where we put the underwear on and then followed them to their massage chamber. The masseuse spent an inordinate of time on feet, but overall it was a very relaxing way to end the week.
After we were done we were all greasy with argon oily. We wandered the markets for a bit and happened to run into more people from our group. One of them had bought two huge rugs for upwards of $500. Probably a good deal even though I didn’t get a chance to see the rugs. We all walked through the maze together and followed one color of signs out to the main square. Two of the girls and then Stephen and I ate for a second time at the same food stall as the evening before. Moroccan soup for 5 dirham is hard to beat!
After that we decided to head back to the hotel. We were again a victim of a reverse discrimination scam. Ahmed said that we’d be able to take a taxi back to the hotel for a maximum of 20 dirham at night. We tried two cabs and both started us at 50 dirham. The first refused to turn on the meter as did the second which I believe is illegal but they all do it. We eventually got him down to 30 dirham, but not without a lot of back and forth.
We also went through a few mausoleums and old palaces. One interesting fact I learned is that in Islam stained glass is okay but figures in the glass are forbidden. I also learned more about where the whole polygamy thing came from. In Islam it’s okay for a man to have up to 4 wives, but a wife can only have one husband. But there are conditions. In order to get another wife, all the current wives must agree. Ahmed told one story about a man who wanted to get a second wife; he was browsing a bookstore and came across a book called “Polygamy for Dummies”. He bought it and put it on the dining room table for his wife to discover, read, and hopefully get excited about the idea. He came home that evening and the book was still there with a knife lying on top of it!
The reason this was allowed was because of the wars that the men would go off and fight in would leave a lot of widows at home. Since it is the man’s responsibility in Islam to completely provide for the woman, this wasn’t a good situation. So now it was possible for a man to take care of the widows. That said, it is expected that financially each wife be treated exactly the same. As you might expect this is very difficult to do. Ahmed said that only about 1-2% of Muslim men have more than 1 wife, so it’s more of an archaic relic from a time when the situation needed a solution for a given problem than a current practice that regularly occurs.
Our last day in Marrakech ended around noon and Ahmed left us to return to his family. I knew that I wanted to experience the monkeys in the square, so we went out that way in search of them. We found them soon enough and I gave away my GoPro, iPhone, and big camera to my friends and asked them to shoot away while I got the monkey put on me. I made the mistake of trying to grab on and got pinched by the monkey. The handler told me not to touch him and then walked him on my shoulder and then up on my head. I later had the fact that the monkey had dripped his sticky gelatinous treat that he was eating and I looked like Mary from “There’s Something About Mary”.
I also checked out the snake charmers and cobras which were pretty cool. I didn’t want one around my neck though.
One other thing we discovered on our bus ride back to the Casablanca airport: we suspect that the reason that our passports were all stamped at the “end” was because they read from right to left in Arabic. So to them, they were stamping our passports at the beginning.
As I’ve been people watching in the airport, I saw this really old Muslim couple get up and hold hands as they went up to the counter. They were really cute together, and it makes me really want to find my perfect match to grow old with. One of the many things I like about travel is that the more I explore the world the more I discover that people are more alike than different. Cultures are different, but people are the same. Everyone loves and love makes the world go around.
I’m spending the night in the airport because I don’t feel like navigating the city again and my flight leaves at 7:30 tomorrow morning, so I’d only be sleeping for a few hours and then need to find my way back. Overall I had a pretty awesome trip to Morocco. I spoke with the others in the group and most people agreed that the camel trek was probably their favorite experience.
Northern Africa is so diverse. It does have some deserts, but it also has thriving cities, snow-covered mountains, and lush greenery.