Saturday, July 12, 2008

Morocco: Day Two: Welcome to the Dark Continent

07:44 Morocco Time

Five hours and 50 minutes into the flight, after a wait of about an hour from when we pushed back from the gate until we took off. We're 47 minutes and 339 miles from Casablanca. The kids have slept most of the time, other than the two meals. I've slept off and on while it was dark out.

We landed on time, disembarked onto the tarmac, and took a bus to immigration and customs. Those were no problem at all. We got our passports stamped, and headed into the concourse. Our friend Fatima Fedda (the mother of Rania, a former student of Jennifer's) was there waiting for us. We walked to the parking lot in the very comfortable 21C (70F) air where Hicham's (Rania's dad, Fatima F's husband) sister Jalila met us with her car. They were driving us to Marrakesh!

The four of us crammed into the back seat of the Alfa Romeo for the 90 minute drive. I was in and out of sleep, but woke up for Jalila's speeding ticket. She was able to pay the cop ~$5 to get out of it. Bribery works very economically in this case.

Just outside Marrakesh we stopped at a chain restaurant called Kanroo,
featuring traditional "Oriental Cuisine" which here means middle-eastern, bearing in mind we're not in the middle east. The food was great. We had tabbouleh, Moroccan baba ghanouj, Moroccan salad (mixed greens with cucumbers and mint) and some kebab-wraps of kefta - spiced ground meat grilled on a skewer. It was pretty filling, as we had eaten a fair amount on the plane already, and weren't overly hungry.

From there we drove through downtown Marrakesh, stopping near Djemaa el Fna, جامع الفناء ,the giant plaza/market that's a thousand years old. Take the time to follow that link. It does a much better job at describing the place.

Traffic is crazy, like a lot of the places I wouldn't want to drive in. This one filled with cars, buses, mopeds, horse-drawn carriages, and donkey carts, all with kind of an anything goes approach to traffic rules.

We walked with our stuff to our hotel on the periphery of the plaza. This one was pricey, so we looked around for another. The second one was cheaper and had a pool, but was booked up. The kids really wanted a pool. Fatima and Jalila found us another one, a riad called "Riad Hamza" a few minutes away.

(that's the main entrance on the left)

This one was perfect. We got a second-floor (third, in the US) room that opened onto an open-air atrium. The room was simple, clean, had its own bath with a western toilet, had a double bed, a TV, mini fridge, and air conditioning, and included breakfast for ~$70 a night. The staff brought up two big cushions and sheets and pillows to make kid beds.

We got checked in, had a rest, then headed out, stopping first at an ATM to get some money. We got out 1000 MAD (Moroccan Dirham), about $137 ($1 = 7.3 MAD) We saw more of the market and the souks around the area. We pissed off a snake charmer for not having enough cash to give him (he wanted paper money, the smallest of which is 20 dirham, we offered coins, the largest of which was 10 dirham) for letting us take pictures with the snakes.

We later got a "tour" of a tannery, including a high-pressure sales pitch at the end.
When we left without buying anything, they tried to make us pay 50MAD each for the privilege. We gave them a couple of dirham and left them to pretend to be mad. So far, her in Marrakesh at least, its like almost no one is helpful to you out of the goodness of their heart.

Out of our wad of dirham, we had made several purchases. We bought a few 1.5 liter bottles of water. Like in Europe, the drinks aren't cold, but cool. A bottle of water costs 6 dirham, or about 82¢. Even though this is a hotter part of the country, the temperature so far hasn't gone above 90F, and it's almost chilly at night, probably due to the low humidity.

We went back to the room to rest, then went out for dinner. At night, the Djemaa el Fna fills with food vendors, in addtion to the fresh citrus juice vendors, snake charmers, monkey handlers, henna artists, and various other sales people. At each food stall there's at least one "hawker" who probably speaks your language and makes a great effort to recruit you to his restaurant. After stiff-arming a few of these, we settled on one. We each had bread, olives, salad, and chicken, lamb, kefta, and veggie kebabs, and another bottle of actually cold water, all for about $38 (280 dirham).

We went looking for the dessert pastry cart that rolled past us a few times during dinner, then mysteriously disappeared when we needed him. We got some more fresh citrus juices from one of the many juice carts. Just in the first day we bought several glasses of orange juice, one pamplemousse (grapefruit) and one citron (lemon). The orange juice is only 10 dirham, and excellent.

We went back to the riad around 23:30, stopping to buy six 1.5 liter bottles of water for the fridge, and a liter of Schweppes Citron (my new favorite soda). I bathed, and washed the clothes I wore that day. It was hard to fall asleep due to the fact that it only felt like 7 pm, plus we had several naps since leaving New York. The A/C, set at 21C worked great though.


SEO said...

Very nice pictures! There are a lot of things to do in Marrakech! People are very funny and the food (i'm italian, so i understand of food :) was great ;)!

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