Published: December 17th 2007December 9th 2007
our first day here
Well, here we are again, traveling through another country. We arrived in Marrakech on the 9th of December, with a Ryanair flight for only £37 return which was incredible!
The tittle of this page comes from a comment that a Touareg person told me, they called Marrakech "L'arnaquech" in the far south of the country, as people are constantly trying to rip off the tourists.
Passing though the borders was allright, quick enough except for the fact that there was no one there to mention that we had to fill up a certain border form before getting to our turn at passing it, but once we found out we managed not to loose our space on the queue to get through. My HIV drugs were not questioned, and we just got on with it.
As ever, there were the taxi drivers trying to rip us off, saying that from the airport there is no use of meter to drive into town, asking us excesively high prices to go down. Instead we took the bus which brought us right down into the centre of the old town for £1, we were dropped of besides the Koutoubia minaret. It was
soooo warm, we were over dressed, not having expected for it to be this warm, it was 5 degress in London and about 25degrees centigrades in the sun here.
Straight away the hackers were onto us, offering cheap hotel rooms, but we had already selected one from our small Marrakech lonely planet guide, so we just asked for directions as it should not be far from the Minaret.
People seemed rather friendly, and hackers only bothered us for short spaces, rather acceptingly giving up at the second : "No thank you!", which again was not expected after my previous experience in Tangiers (Northern Morroco), soon we found ourselves on Rue Riad Zitoun el-Kedim, a small side road off the already very busy Jamaa El Fna Square.
The hotel we wanted from the guide was fully booked so we had to look elsewhere, but a guy soon enough found us and offered his services, we were brought to another Riad, on the same alley, but off another little one, it was called Riad Zalina, and although rather expensive for our budget, at 500dhr (£1= 14,5dirham, or 10 euro= 100Dirhams) but we just wanted to find our way, so
decided to take it as it was pretty, of easy access and looked clean and safe.
After getting into lighter clothing, we set off to discover the city and find a different Riad,one that is mentioned on the Lonely Planet guide and that Michael was keen on staying at, we walked into Jamaa el-Fna, and into the fruit selllers which regrettably to me only sold citrus fruits, after our experience of Istanbul where we were having buckets off pomegranate juice squeezed in the same way as oranges...(Pomegranate has much more quantites of antioxidants and vitamins than oranges, its one of the new "super foods"), so that was a disapointment, and also one really has to negotiate with the vendors the price in advance, as they have a price marked of 3D. for a glass and then try to charge you 10D. typical of tourist destinations everywhere...
We ventured for little while into the northern souks, which were heaving with tourist, so we decided to get out and try and find this other hotel(riad) to stay at from the guide, (Nejma Lounge), this became a rather difficult task, we walk for hours, and we were being sent back and
forth and tried to be guided by guys who wanted money to show us around so we had to make our way, rather blindly. this led us into local markets were few fewer if any tourist were to be seen, just following the map of the lonely planet towards the Bab Doukala (bab is the word for gate), as the old town is surrounded by these gates with different names, which seems an easier way to find places.
We finally found the Riad due to the name of the local mosque "El Haj" to which is built close to, there we asked a young fellow which led us straigth there...funnily we had passed the area several times when looking for it.
The place is gorgeous, but more expensive still that our one now, although much better quality, decor and atmosphere, with a splash pool to bathe in and a roof balcony to relax and have breakfast from, but too expensive for us...(one wonders what lonely planet means with budget prices, as they still are rather high compared to what most backpackers can afford?).The smells of food vendors on the streets, watching locals eat was making us really hungry.
We walked back thought a shorter way, as by now I am finding myself able to find my bearings, we found a little shop that sold nice looking different tagines, (they have an apetite for offal such as liver, guts and feet in their food) and by now we were ravenous, after some delicious smells along the way, we had a bean tagine and a chicken and olives one, rather yummy! we ate sitting on the side of the road.
We made our way back to the Jemaa to our riad, were Mickey went for a sleep whilst I made my way into a religious hammam off one of the mosques we came across, were I was greeted very friendily and offered instruction in how to follow procedures like the locals, this costs me in total around 15 dirham, whilst a touristy one is at least 50D and not necesarily the same kind of experience.
I bathed and relaxed, spoke to a few guys, making sure to keep respectul manners towards what is done in hammams, avoiding full nakedness, and avoiding mixing my water with theirs. On the way back I watched how the market el Jamaa
Michael loves the garden, he wants soemthing similar, but I guess Yves Saint-Laurant won't be designing it for us....!
el-Fna was beeing turned from a fruit selling market with buskers to a giant openair restaurant with hundreds of stalls being built! amazing that they do that every single day!
I went back to the hotel after an hour and a half and woke Michael up to go and have dinner, we asked at reception about any tours to go into the desert or into the Atlas mountains, so we were brought next door to a man asking for exorbitant prices to take us 4 days and show us everything, staying in hotels, with locals and in tents in the desert, but doing crazy amounts of driving, we got a sense of the type of journeys available and kind of made our mind up that it was much too expensive and we will look up other people for the same thing.
We walked around the market and had a look at the street buskers, musicians, snake charmers, charlatans and the huge amount of locals that walk around, the Jamaa has a big screen standing on one side, from which some musicians and singers are performing and latter in the evening a film was played, this is part of
the Marrakech international Cinema Festival, and also the reason for so many locals to be filling the square, which made it even livelier.
The ambience is absolutely fantastic, welcoming and fun, the men are absolutely gorgeous, and all of the restaurant staff try to incite us to eat at their stall, we wondered around to see the selection of foods on offer, the smells are great, but to me rather dissapointingly, I realised that most stalls sell the same food, as I was expecting a wide variety of food.
There is one side on which there are a group of snail sellers, then on another side sweat tea with pastries made of fruit pastes, then all the other ones had in all about 4 different main dishes: either goats head, with the brains, eyes and other bits being eaten by locals, others selling mainly grilled shish meats, either lamb, mince meat or chicken, or the typical coucous or tagines, others mainly selling fried fish.
So we settled for couscous, breathing in this wonderful atmosphere, the loud music, the people asking you for money in all corners, the smells of food, we also had some snails, which were
not really to my taste, the place is really as magical as one is told or seen on travel programs.
We made sure that we ordered exactly what we wanted and nothing else as to avoid being charged more, which worked well, then we walked around some more and made our way back, as we had been up since 3am and really needed to have a good sleep.
Next day we had breakfast on our roof terrace of the ryad at 25dirhams, nice french baguete with butter and jam, we then wondered around south of our road, we decided that we would rent a car instead of taking a tour, so we asked a guy who brought us somewhere to get one but it seemed dodgy, so we left and went onto the internet and found again through lonely planet a good tour organisation that also rents cars (Imzi tours) so we called them and asked if we could come latter to organise it, and contiued sight seeing in town.
We wondered along the Palais Badii which was covered in stalks nesting on its walls, we had to constantly avoid people just following us to offer themselves
as guides and telling them constantly that we didnt want to be accomanied and we would not pay, still some were very insistant, and me too soft, and they followed us and brought us round the Mellah area and the Berrima (Jewish and Berber areas) we then walked around the Royal Palace and set off to find the Menera Gardens, but we seemed to be sent left and right, in any direction and never found them...we walked for miles in the heavy heat! exhaustingly so.
I was apalled by the view of a middle class american lady who was wondering around the area in a singlet, showing her shoulders up to the sun and having NO RESPECT for the local culture! I just cannot understand how people can travel and not be aware of do's and Dont's!!! really gets me furious!
We ended up walking along the Kasbah area, where again few tourist were seen and were the street food market showed us the beautiful vegetables and fresh meat that this people eat, but also the poverty that there is. We headed back to the Jamaa passing the garden of Princess Lalla Hasna besides the Koubala, wee a
variety of different birds were flying around and singing from branches. we ate at a restaurant on the side of the Jemaa el-Fna and went for another rest, for Mickey whilst I returned to a different Hamam.
The warmth of this city, kindness of the people, the beautiful architechture of many buildings even if much is in a state of decay, the views of the Atlas mountains as a back drop are really awe inspeiring, really a very special place to visit.
This one was much cleaner but less friendly and a gorgeous muscled arab got upset, as some drops of my clean water fell into his bucket, and he said it was infecting his water that he is using for prayer! it is clean water, but I guess because carried by me it must be unholy!!!
We went into the new city in the afternoon, were we settled a deal for a car to pick up in the morning, we set off to discover this part of the city. It feels very western, it could be a French city, with its Mc Donalds and the caffees with people looking at people pass by, with the difference
that there is no alcohol beeing drunk but coffee or tea instead.
We went into the tourism office, were there is a public toilet, I was feeling a bit faint so needed the loo, where a local made a pass at me, he touched me up when washing my hands, this unsettled me even more and worried me as I know homosexuality is a problem in this country! I was scared this could get me into trouble!!! when I walked out, I mentioned the situation to Mickey and we walked off to find the Jardins Majorelle.
These gardens, which have been redecorated by Yves Saint Lauraint, were a must see! during this walk the man from the toilet followed us and this got me really nervous!Michael thought it amusing initailly but as he continued to follow us it became a little unsettling.
Thankfully the gardens are a paying place and by entering we lost the man! this is a beautiful garden, with a variety of birds nesting here, like an Oasis of tranquility amongst the hassled of the busy new city and the traffic. The displays of plants and cacti, in combination with strong colours and modern Islamic art made it really a wonderful experience and really worth the trek.
From there we made our way back with a long walk, but run out of water, I was starting to dehydrate badly, (as a result of my HIV pills I need to hydrate even more than usual) suddenly felt really faint, so we entered a bar which actually happened to sell alcohol, so we had a couple of beers and water, here again whilst Mickey was in the toilet, an arab young man approached me for sex but I said no thank you, we drunk our tea and left by little taxi (there are two tyes and the small ones are cheaper by metre or one can arrange a price from departure, but sometimes other people join into the ride along the way).
It was dark by now, the Fna was in full dinner action and totally packed with people, we had dinner in a close by restaurant on the square, close to our road and with a non-smoking space on the first floor with a great view of the place. We had another good meal of Tagine and salad with morrocan whiskey (mint tea, although because it is winter the mint is not as good so they often absynte herb instead!).
The cinema festival was in full action, we went to a colonial type bar were they sold alcohol so we had a beer, walked back, I left Michael to go to bed and I stayed wondering on the Fna, within 3 minutes a young man approached me asking me with a breath of alcohol, if I minded if he spoke to me, which followed by an apology for being a bit drunk, but he explained that he needed a bit of alcohol (in spite of being muslim) to approach men on the Fna, as it is the only place he, as a poor person and homosexual, could approach men to try to get sex!!!
We spoke for a few minutes, the guy was very pleasant and friendly, we were joined by a friend of his, he explained things about living homosexuality in Morroco, not being easy, I made him aware that I was not going to have sex with him but was charmed by his approach and after talking to them both for half an hour, I left them to go to bed, Michael was still awake so I told him what had happened...strange that I got so many sexual approaches within just arriving in this city???
Tomorrow we're off to discover other areas of the country. We like this city, it is very charming, the touts as everywhere can be a pain, but at least they dont insist for long, the food is good, the ambience fantastic and we feel very safe, men are really gorgeous, and as you may have noticed, there is quiet a bit of interests for these two gay men in Marrakech!but we're not here for that! So tomorrow we'll find new adventures out fo the city!