Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Magical Marrakech, Morocco

Arriving in Marrakech at 9pm and the 20 minute taxi ride to our hotel is the first taste of a few things we can expect over the next few days. First of all the airline has lost my luggage, the cab driver has charged us 250 dirims which is 25 Euro for the trip to our hotel which we discover later is only worth about 50 dirims on the meter! Out the window i see entire familys with children of different ages huddled together sleeping on the sidewalk outside their cars. It smell's, really disgustingly bad in some places. Finally there is rubbish and delapadated/deserted buildings everywhere. Don’t worry Marrakech is really cool and there’s plenty of crazy fun stories ahead but  just so you can imagine how i felt after that taxi ride, i was culture shocked.

So first day in Marrakech, as you know I have no luggage so I'm stuck in a powderblue hotshort jumpsuit in a conservative muslim country, eff! I borrowed a t-shirt from Kyle for the day so at least my shoulders are covered and head out with no make up or hair brushed, i look like a boy! We start our Moroccan discovery tour at 8.15am and the first stop is the Koutoubia Mosque in the city which was partially destroyed from the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. its huge and pretty impressive its been standing since before the 17th century! We also visit the Saadian tombs where the Saadi Dynasty family members are buried with only a mosaic cover for a head stone, the trusted and longtime royal family servents and soldiers are also buried here with the family. The reason the graves are barely distinguishable and have no big headstone or name on the grave is because muslims believe you do not need a name to leave this life and to spend money on someone after they have passed away is foolish. We then visit Bahia Palace which is a big riad shaped palace with intricate handmade mosaic floors and walls and ceilings of very detailed carved wood. A riad is the traditional name for a muslim house and refers to the architecture, they have no balconys and are usually square in shape and always have a sort of court yard inside, it is like there is no roof over the middle of the house and the floor below is an open space usually with a fountain or pool in the centre, tiled floor surrounding it and always with drains so when it rains, it rains inside but drains away quickly. Our tour guide has explained this is always the design of a muslim family home wheather they are big or small houses and the reason is that they enjoy the fresh air and belive it is natural and healthy to be surrounded by it.
Next stop is a local food market which is (not a tourist visited market) for the local’s to buy and sell their fruit, vegetable's and meat. We are warned that the locals are not happy to be photographed and it is considered very rude to do so without asking and expecially in a place that is their community food market not a tourist siteseeing destination. The food market is incredibly dirty, it is basically a stained dirty corner of a street where locals have layed out their produce to sell to each other, there is sometimes sheets down under the food but not always some of the vegetables are laying on the black dirty road, unrefridgerated meat carcasses hanging from hooks, and there is a box of fresh caught fish sitting in a wooden crete on the floor in the sun with no ice or cover for the flies. It really goes to show the human body can obviously tolerate ALOT of germs and bacteria if accustomed to it! After we check out the Dar Si Said Museum which is cool and has alot of cool old artifacts but none of the information boards are in English so its anyones guess how old or what alot of this stuff even was! Last stop before lunch is the Ben Youssef Madrasa which used to be an Islamic colledge which was founded in the 14th century and remained open until 1960 when it was closed and then reopened in 1982 as a historical site. It has 130 rooms in the one riad shaped building and some of the rooms are so small they would only fit a single matress and leave about half a metre floor space, not to mention some of the doorways are really low and us giraffe's are struggling to not bump our heads. We stop for lunch in this very Moroccan looking restaurant with sparkly sarong covered couches, colourful cushions and pretty lamps dotted all over the place. All our food is served in Tangines (a clay pot that is put directly on the fire and then is placed on the table to be served directly from) we had vegetable cous cous, lemon chicken, and a variety of other delicious traditional Moroccan dishes. After lunch we head to one of the many natural pharmacy's in Marrakech, it is basically like a herbalist store where they use herbs and spices to improve health, we brought these Nigella seeds which you wrap in a piece of cloth and tie with a rubber band so its a ball of seeds and you sniff them to clear your nose and blocked sinus, we both have a little bit of a cold and it actually works a treat! Next we take a walk through the souks which is the rabbit warren of markets that are located behind the main square jemaa el-fnaa in Marrakech. They are, hands down the most amazing markets I have ever been to. There are the most delicious smelling spice shops with all different colour and flavour spices piled up for sale by the gram, leather goods, shoes, lamps, furniture, art, carved wooden art and utensils, teapots, silver jewellery, pretty much anything and its not like bali markets once you have seen a few they are all the same sorts of things, they are all different and you can find some amazing gifts and things for the house you just wouldn’t be able to buy anywhere else and certainly not for anywhere near the prices! I would love to go back with a big empty suitcase and buy some of the amazing stained glass Moroccan style lamp shades and basically just decorate my whole house in all the beautiful stuff! The markets all work by bartering for prices, whatever price they give you is usually about 4 x the amount you will actually end up paying if your a good bargainer! By now i have learnt that, not to sound mean but just about everyone here is out to rip you off, i know it sounds a bit generalising but its true no matter what the situation is they are almost always scamming you in someway for money! We got a great tip from some people on our tour to google the Wikipedia prices for Marrakech markets and use them as a rough guide, this was our saviour, although we never got them quite as low as Wikipedia said it was very close and if i was happy with the price i don’t mind paying a little bit extra than the rock bottom price as i know it is still a bargain for what i am buying. Ill put a list of what we ended up paying for things in Dirims and the converted Euro price so anyone planning a trip can use it as a guide also. In the Souks (markets) the no photo rule also applys, as our tour group passes a butcher we are all gawking at a whole goats head hanging in the window from a hook, the butcher quickly covers it up with a big sheet of fat hanging next to it and is not looking pleased with us! So thats all just the first day! Ive learned not to take photo's of locals and expecially the snake charmers, monkey trainer's etc or they will chase you down for money and not leave you alone until you pay or delete it, they still use donkeys and carts as a means of transport for food and other materials and dont pay the first price the souk stall owner asks, always barter! Also i got my luggage back later that night, PHEW. Much happier :)
The following day we have a tour of the Ourika Valley and waterfalls booked. I was so excited this morning to do all the cool activities listed in the tour! First stop we drive out to a ladies house in the valley, she does not live near a main town so her house is very traditional and she is happy to open it up and show us her way of living. There is no power and the house is made of like red clay mashed together with hay, some stone and stuff and moulded into a house somehow! There are two floors to the house, on the first floor in one room is a cow, they keep a cow in the house for fresh milk and butter. The cow is treated like a pet and usually has a name, our tour guide told me it is often the arabic word that means beautiful. :)  It was a pretty smelly cow though and kind of gross they keep a  cow inside, expecially considering the next room is the kitchen which consists of a sink and shelves full of bowls and utensils and in one corner is a small oven made of red clay with a shelf inside sort of shaped like a mini woodfire pizza oven where they are currently cooking up loaves of fresh bread for us to eat for breakfast. Our guide explains to us that usually women in the same community or area will often sort of team up during the day and share the daily household chores of cooking and washing and do it all as one and share out the workload and fruits of their labours at the end, at her house there is another lady currently helping making the bread. We then go upstairs which has a big open balcony with a view over looking the valley and two open air windowed rooms that would be the dining/loungerooms with couches around the edges and a small table in the middle. We sit down and watch as she prepares traditional mint tea for the group showing us step by step how to make it in a big silver decorated teapot. The tea is delicious, I've specifically brought myself a silver teapot so i can make it the same at home if anyone wants to try some! We are then served some breakfast which is some thick round pieces of freshly baked and still hot flat bread, we rip it up and dip into the home made olive oil, honey or butter freshly churned from the cow downstairs! She is very kind and lets us take plenty of pictures of her and her home. We then drive out further into the valley where we stop to have a short camel ride through some of the red hills. Im sad and kind of surprised to see the rubbish is still everywhere even though we are now about 45 minutes from the city and in like countryside. One of the camels is a bit old and very friendly so we get to pat him while we wait to be saddled up! Im glad to see that although they are out in the hot sun the camels are well fed and some of them quite fat, there are alot of skeletal and scabby looking donkeys and horses in the city and it breaks my heart to see them pulling around big carts of fruit and vege’s when they are so hungry and tired looking. We are now off to what was described online as a gentle hike of the Ourika Valley Waterfalls! On the way, out the window of the car we are following a stream, there are all these restaurants set up that the locals go to, they are just tarps set up over and plastic chairs or dirty cushions in front of a small brick or stone cooking area, it is a very different life out here. Now the hike, it goes for 1.5 hours up to a pool at the bottom of the falls and the around the valley, it is a beautiful waterfall and view the only thing is i cant belive there is still rubbish everywhere all the way out here in the middle of nowhere ruining this beautiful clear waterfall! Now the part where they said gentle, lol i know I'm not exactly model hiker but there were parts of the hike that were not hiking it was bloody rock climbing! Straight up and down, no safety barriers and at points right on the edge of a cliff face!! It was nerve wrecking at one or two parts! There is even a bit so steep and smooth we need a ladder to be wedged into the rock so we can continue. Not to mention Kyle and i conquered it in havvie's! Straya! We then have lunch with our tour group who are mostly spanish couples about our parents age and a hungarian couple our age so it made for interesting conversation and translation but it was alot of fun because I think we are all a bit surprised and proud we made that hike and are still alive.
Our last full day in Marrakech we are finding our way around by ourselves. We had a big sleep in and headed in to Jemaa El-fnaa square to visit some souks armed with our Wikipedia price list! We ended up having to purchase an extra carry on bag to fit all our shopping. Haha so much for a no shopping trip! Would have been crazy not to though, it was so cheap and bargaining with the locals is actually alot of fun, both Kyle and I got really good at by the end because the locals are really friendly and happy to spend some time with you. After a hard day of bargaining in the souks we head into the main square just before sunset to a little bar on a roof top to watch the square unfold as the sun starts to set. The food tents are starting to go up, there is smoke rising from the bbq’s and there are street performers, snake charmers, fortune tellers, beggars, henna artists and an amazing atmosphere in the square. (Mum you have to do this when your in Marrakech it was so cool to watch!) We only order mint tea and Orangina (popular european fizzy drink) because alcohol is hard to find due to Marrakech being a muslim city. After a rest we head downstairs to a restaurant called Toubkal where we met up with our friend Nat from Contiki and her friend for dinner. I couldn’t believe it only came to 40 dirims each once we split the bill, considering we all had main course, salad, soft drinks and it was delish! That's about 4 Euro and maybe $6 Australian dollars each, so cheap! After dinner we grab a few homemade cookies from an awesome local vendor who only charged us 30 dirim ($5) for a box of 16 handmade cookies and was alot of fun taking pictures for us making jokes. Last thing we decided to do before bed was take our last few dirims and hand them out to some of the poor elderly beggars wandering around the square, it is very sad alot of them are very old and often blind or crippled, one of them has an eye stitched shut that had come loose and i could see it was just a black hole in his face where his eye should have been, it is definitely the most different place i have ever been to and an experience ill never forget.

 Picking some midnight snacks from the market with my new friend helping

 This photo makes me laugh everytime! See the bikkie falling out his mouth, haha

 Handmade bikkies in bed

 Breakfast prepared for us in a traditional Moroccan home
 Cactus fruit is very popular in Marrakech
 He's like a bigger smellier Chopsy
 Camel rides through the Ourika Valley
 Tough as nails getting Tattoo'd...
 with Henna
(one of Kyle's sneaky pic's, this would have been a big no no from the muslim lady painting my hand had she have noticed!!)
 Kyles face explains what he thinks of the famous Jus De Orange
 Felt so tough doing all this hiking!
 Stunning lanterns for sale in the souks
 Local produce market
 Muslim lady showing us how to make the bread in the fire oven
 Amazing view as Jemaa El-fnaa square comes to life at sunset
 Hangin' with me mates in the museum
 Saadian Tombs, the royal family's female bodies are buried under the mosaics behind me
 The owner of the house in Ourika Valley making us fresh mint tea
 Tangine's full of yummy Moroccan food
 Traditonal Moroccan food cooked in a Tangine... and a traditional can of coke please
 Ourika Valley falls
 Ourika Valley falls ( it is currently a muslim holiday which is why it's full of people normally its quite empty according to our guide)
 Wasn't kidding about the ladder part hey
The pro's of wearing havvie's hiking - getting to cool my feets in the stream
 Kyle at the bottom of the stream below the Ourika falls
 See those pretty coloured dots Kyles looking at? They are people.... and that is the edge of a cliff he is sitting on! Photo's never quite do it justice. 
 So many beautiful things for sale in the souks (markets)
Marrakech class A safety bridge
Snakes in the square, the black ones were striking angrily if you got too close! So scary but I've read since that they sew the snakes mouths shut and they live only a few days :( not sure how much truth is in it but they do throw the snakes around your shoulders for photo's if you get to close to their stalls without worrying about them biting. (and then try to charge you 20 Euro)
One of Marrakech's colourful herb and spice shops
So many spices
These are Tangine's cooking on little ceramic buckets full of hot coal's. Everywhere we ate they cooked using Tangines and usually served the food in them too. You can buy one in the markets for about $10.
Cute tea set anyone? These cost about $30.
SO EFFING GROSS, but I had to include it! Old human teeth and false teeth for sale in the markets.
This is a bakery, the cook all the bread, bikkie's and all sorts of things in woodovens like this
Couldn't be any more Moroccan
Us with the view over the Ourika Valley
They see me rollin, they hatin'
A man making all sorts of things by carving wood with his feet in the markets
Kyle in one of the old students room's at Ben Youssef Madrasa
The doorways are clearly not made for giraffe's