Bargain anyone?

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Africa » Morocco » Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz » Marrakech
October 6th 2007
Published: December 1st 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

Until this point we had been in Tanzania where we were completely taken care of and London which was essentially like being back home. Sure they talk funny but at least we could understand them! Just kidding British friends! Entering Morocco was a bit like running into a cultural brick wall! The minute we walked out of the airport we were surrounded by AT LEAST 10 taxi drivers yelling prices at us in a currency that we hadn’t even bothered to convert yet! Luckily there was another tourist there to save our butts and told us that it would be best to take the bus!

We stayed in Marrakech for most of our time in Morocco. Marrakech is known for its huge market of everything from fresh squeezed orange juice to televisions! My dad and sister had been there before and suggested that we first head to a restaurant overlooking the market just to observe for a little while. The big tented area is where they have food but there are buildings and buildings full of small shops and alleyways. When walking down those for the first time we tried to stay in the center and not stare into one single shop too long. If you show interest, it is much harder to get away and once you are IN a shop, forget about it! They are just excellent salesmen and have you buying something without even realizing it! Yuri did end up buying a belt and it was a very pleasant (LONG) experience. You see it is considered rude not to bargain with them. They start with one price and then you come back with 1/3 or ½ and go from there. We probably went back and forth with belt guy 10 times and we ended up paying just over half. Not bad for our first go!

The next day it was my turn to buy a scarf! I really would prefer just knowing the price and paying it but it is all part of the experience! Again we walked in the center for a long time until I decided on what looked like the best scarf shop! Which one, which color, how many…….. AHHHH!!! Yuri got the laid back, older salesman for his belt. I got the 12 year old kid that had learned the ways of his elders VERY early in life and was already quite good at his job. This kid was a riot! I didn't know whether to be irritated with him or laugh at him! His favorite saying was "what is your best price, final price". I would tell him and he would say "no, no, what is your best price, final price!" I went for 1/3 of his original price and it was a tough sell for ½ (I had to walk away like when buying a car) but we finally came to a compromise! It was actually quite fun so I did the same thing for a shirt I really wanted the next day. Although I think I really pissed that guy off and he did NOT want to sell me the shirt but he did anyway!

As we were walking towards the market on our first night, we heard this really loud siren noise. If I didn't know better I would have thought that it was a city warning to take cover because we were about to get bombed or something. It was THAT loud. Luckily it was simply coming from the mosque and I THINK (for those of you who know more about this event, forgive me if I am wrong) that it was to signify the sunset. After sunset Marrakech completely DIED for one hour. Everyone gathered in shops or restaurants and no work was done while they enjoyed eating after not being able to since sunrise! This basically took place between 6 and 7 when we were there. On the first night we sat down to dinner at 6:15 and no one came to our table until 7! We were very confused (because we didn't completely understand Ramadan yet) until two British ladies explained what was happening! Anyhow, it was really cool to see all of this in action!

Our second night at the market was a "fun" filled one! I wanted a henna tatoo on my foot so we went to one of the ladies to ask how much it would be. My plan was to go back and get it after dinner. She handed me the book of all of her designs and I as I mentioned before, once there is something in your hand it is much harder to get away without buying something! I managed to give the book back and get a price idea but as we were walking away she grabbed my hand and said "a special gift from me before you go". Before I could do anything about it she was squirting the lovely orange stuff onto my hand! When she was done we started to walk away again because after all, it was a special gift right! Oh NO! She started yelling at me about how she had to feed herself and her children and that I needed to give her some money. I handed her a coin but she didn't think that was enough and handed it back to me! I was SOOO mad. Yuri finally just handed her some money and we walked away. The best part was that as we were walking away she asked me if I was still going to come back to get my foot done! HA! From there we went to this great restaurant over looking the square again. About 10 minutes after we sat down the biggest rain storm I have ever seen started! The canopy above us became this giant bowl of water and was going to break at any moment! We went to the back of the restaurant to wait it out. Well I guess the waiters decided that a rain storm was their que to shut the restaurant down! We left to go find another one and must have just had a giant sign on our head that said "yes we are hungry tourists, please screw us!" A man approached us and asked if we wanted to try a really good restaurant. Our initial reaction was no, but then he GOT us. "We have beer and wine"! We hadn't had a beer in several days due to the religous festivities in the area it is not easy to find! Don't get me wrong, we didn't NEED a beer, it just sounded really nice right about then! He walked us down a few roads and alley ways and straight into a restaurant that didn't even have a sign. We were so stupid that we didn't even look at the menu before we sat down. We literally ended up paying for that mistake in the end! It was over twice as much as we would have paid at any other restaurant there! I should give the place some credit though, it was actually a fairly nice restaurant with a great guitar man! However, the best part about the whole experience was my new friend Beet Sauce! He was a gray cat that was wandering around the restaurant and under tables. I put a bread offering under the table for him but he wasn't interested. He did, however, enjoy the bread after I had dipped it in the beet sauce left over from my salad! Yuri was NOT happy with me as this was not teaching Beet Sauce very good manners but I was enjoying myself for the first time that evening! Sure enough we watched Beet Sauce walk over to another table and put his paws on the girls chair! She jumped as if he were a rat! He just ran (:

We spent our third day riding animals that SHOULD NOT be ridden! Our journey over the high Atlas Mountains started at 7 am in a small van with 6 British people. The views were incredible and so were the traditional Berber houses. The Berber people are the local people of the Atlas Mountains. On our way down the other side we stopped at one of the biggest Kasbah’s in Morocco. However, there was a river between us and the kasbah! This is where the most ingenious tourist trap comes into play! We are standing on the shore and all of a sudden A LOT of men come riding up on horses and donkeys wanting to take us the ten feet across! We initially refused because we thought it was so ridiculous but it then turned into refusal because we felt sorry for the animals! However, being stubborn is not always what it is cracked up to be! We walked across barefoot, but we were then left with muddy feet. Back in the shoes they went anyway! The kasbah was really cool but I still don’t understand how they are able to build something out of clay that does not fall apart when it rains! You could actually see rocks, sticks etc.. in the walls!

On the way back across the river I just walked right through it in my shoes! Keens are the greatest shoes on earth. Seriously, if you need to do a lot of walking anytime soon (or river crossing) look into them! Yuri wasn’t so lucky though and had to fight his hiking boots!

After a stop in Quazarete (spelling?) for lunch we made it to our final destination….the camels! They were all set up and waiting for us on the side of the road. Yuri and I both had our huge backpacks with us and the camel dudes, for lack of a better term, took one look at them and said no way, too big! We were only allowed a small bag so we grabbed our tooth brushes and that’s about it! As one British guy was getting on his camel, the camel freaked out and started running away. The guy fell off and his backpack got stepped on by the camel. You could see the foot print in his dented, metal water bottle!! Another guy had a camel that just plain refused to get up! He was making this god awful noise as the camel guide was pulling on his rope. He finally gave up, took his saddle off and went to the camel storage area to get a new one! It was only when the new one was saddled up and ready to go that the other one finally got up and walked HIMSELF back to the camel storage. He was no dummy! He knew that if he just refused to get up they would go get another dumb camel to haul the tourists into the desert! Our camels did not put up a fight thank goodness!

They lined us all up with one camel connected to the other and we headed for camp! I would say that it became painfully apparent that these animals are not supposed to be ridden after about 30 minutes. Lucky for us, the guides wanted to stop after the sun went down to have something to eat. They had some dates from the Palm groves (a common food in Marrakech) and offered all of us some. It was another hour to the camp after that! None of us had any idea what “camp” would look like. To be honest I envisioned us having our own nice little tent and there would be a big tent where we would all eat together. Wow, was I wrong! There were two big tents made out of large pieces of cloth that we ALL stayed in together!!! There was already a group of 7 French people on one side of our tent when we got there. Dinner was around a table on the floor of the tent and was very good. It was a vegetable and chicken tandori with bread. We each got a fork and just dug in! During dinner we sat on cushions that would later become our pillows for sleeping! Yuri and I later had a good laugh about the butt pillows turning into head pillows! After dinner we were invited to the other tent to listen to some traditional music. They had a few drums but other random objects were also used including a gas can. It was great music with a wonderful beat and good singing. The stars that evening were unbelievably gorgeous. It was AWESOME to sit on the cold sand and look up at the zillions of stars!

Our beds consisted of a 3 inch foam mat, a big wooly blanket and those lovely cushions that I spoke of earlier! All three items had enough sand in and on them to make a small beach! None of this bothered me, but the blankets did have a smell to them that was eerily similar to that of a camel! I was wondering if they just removed the blankets from the camel's saddles and brought them in for us to use! Of course they didn't but they certainly smelled like it. So, Yuri had a plan! His goal was to not let any of the items actually touch his skin. He laid down on the mattress face up and put his hands in his jacket pockets so not even THEY would touch the blanket. He looked like a mummy and that is how we wanted it! Funny guy! The good news is that the blankets were nice and warm and we sure needed it out there. It gets COLD at night in the desert!

We woke up at 6 am just before the sunrise. We had a baguette, butter, jam and tea breakfast waiting for us just outside of our tent! The bathroom was the sand dune of your choosing so we selected one as far away as possible! We could see remnants of the hay meals that the camels had received the night before and that made us happy. They also got to take their saddles off for the evening! The sunrise was amazing but the intense heat that came with it was not! All was good in the desert until we got back on our camels. EVERY one of us groaned as our butt and inner thigh muscles remembered what it is like to ride a camel. The 2 hour ride back to the camel hub was a long one! At one point my camel's rope fell off of the camel in front of her and she just stopped in the middle of the road. I had to yell ahead to tell the camel guide!

The ride back to Marrakech was a very long one that day. Several of us, including myself, had "camel rash" (as we named it) on our legs. We were all wearing pants but I guess it was the movement against their oh so soft hair that did it! You will be pleased to know that it went away quickly! That night back in Marrakech we treated ourselves to a very nice hotel near the square for a whopping $40 a night!

On our last day we had to check out at noon and our flight didn't leave until 7 pm so we headed to an outside cafe for a pizza lunch! Little did we know that we were in for a "show" as well! As usual there were many people approaching us offering us everything from a shoe cleaning (we were wearing sandals) to umbrellas. There were also some acrobats doing tricks in the streets and then wanting some payment from thsoe who watched! Anyhow, the woman at the table next to us called the waiter over and reported that a young boy had just run by, drank her tea, and then set the glass back down. He walked away and returned with a basket of bread!! She explained again that it was her tea, not her bread! He again left and this time came back with tea! I didn't see him, but he must have also asked her which boy it was because he then proceeded over to a group of boys and started hitting one over the head with his serving tray. The kid was yelling and screaming and trying to get away. The waiter got a few good wacks in before he walked back over to us and gave us our bill! And on that note, we headed to the airport early!


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