Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Travelogue - Marrakech

I am back from Marrakech, and I thoroughly enjoyed my trip.

I love it there. Its exotic strangeness is overwhelming, but it feels comfortable and vibrant and exhilarating, as well.

Flew out on Thursday night. I got waylaid by a phone call when I got back from running errands, and since I can never not talk to CP, he told me about the tortilla soup he made, and the beer he'd had for breakfast, and a bunch of other stuff when I actually should have been upstairs packing. Eventually I cut him off, ran upstairs to be sure I had everything important, and flew out the door to the car. The M1 was a parking lot, so instead of the normal 1 hour it takes to get to Heathrow it took 2.5. Pleh. I'd planned ahead, though, so I was still in plenty of time.

Once I arrived in Marrakech, I waited like 100 hours to get through passport control. Or perhaps it just seemed like 100 hours because they were playing an Arabic Muzak version of Lionel Richie's "Hello" in a loop. Teaches me to ridicule the Master...karmic payback sucks. (We also dined in a restaurant playing the entire James Blunt album. Lucky me!) My driver was waiting for me with a sign that read a close approximation of my name, and though he spoke very little English he did get me to my hotel promptly.

You notice little things in Arab states. Things like they ask your marital status on the hotel information form (and at immigration for me, though I've heard that isn't commonplace.)

Our room was a mini-suite with a beautiful view over a private garden with the Koutoubia mosque just over the wall. They'd left a tray of delicious pastries and a fruit basket as a welcoming gift, and so I had a snack on our balcony and thought, "Cool. Mo-D!"

Brad arrived Friday. I hung out at the hotel waiting. I could have arranged for a cab/driver to meet him...ridden to the airport to meet him and welcome him to a foreign country. Instead I texted him and told him to sort it himself, and sat in the sun reading a book. He paid 50 dirham more than he had to and arrived a little shell shocked. We had lunch in the hotel to get acclimated and then ventured out to explore. In the next three days, we learned many things that will make your trip easier if you decide to visit Marrakech yourself.

First rule of visiting Marrakech: Do not, under any circumstances, engage in conversation with someone who approaches you in a tourist area. I don't care how much it goes against your friendly, open Midwestern ways...shut up and keep walking. Be rude. Do not, I repeat, do not, greet them back, or answer their questions, or give any encouragement whatsoever. Sure, one or two now and again are just being friendly. But for every one of them, there are 20 that will decide you've invited them to be your guide and expect payment. Or take you someplace dodgy.

I didn't read this part of the handbook, of course, and me with my sunny disposition and my I'm-on-vacation(!) good cheer said hello to the first guy who grabbed us as we left the hotel. He claimed he was a gardener at the hotel and just on his way home. He would love to show us where to go see good things. I complimented his gardening skills (because the gardens were fantastic) then declined, yet he persisted. I declined again...we had plans. He persisted, and insinuated I was rude. I apologised and told him we were meeting friends at a cafe. He demanded to know which one. I thanked him for his offer and told him to go home and relax. We eventually ditched him in the square.

Second rule when visiting Marrakech: Drink the mint tea to refresh. It is delicious. Very sweet, but delicious. And mind the napkin on the pot handle. That thing is really damn hot. (A lesson I mastered quickly, but Brad was still struggling with on departure day. Hope the blisters heal soon.)

Third rule when visiting Marrakech: When wandering the souks, you will see all manner of cool things. And people will call out to you and try to get your attention. Some of them will even grab your wrist and try to pull you in to their booths if they catch you admiring something. Especially toothless, squidgy little bastards in blue sweaters on a hot day, who will then follow you and try to jump in to sell you something from someone else's stall because they think you're a rube. The guy who mans the stall will strike a completely different deal with you, all of the surrounding men will be laughing at the spectacle as the new shop owner and the grabber fight over who should get the sale and how they can both make a profit on the item. They will laugh harder when you tell the little grabby guy that he shouldn't have grabbed your hand because you're DEFINITELY not buying anything from him now. And when Grabman follows you offering lower and lower prices for the item as you proceed through the souk, ignore him. He sucks.

NB. Who knew there was more than one Ali Baba? And that all of them have magic carpets?? I swear, we met at least three. "Ali Baba" must be like "Steve" in the Arab world.

Fourth rule of visiting Marrakech: It helps to have a phrase book for either French or Moroccan Arabic. Or both. And remember to use it. Brad is a war-on-terror-loving, gun-toting, GO-USA Republican. I, as you know, am a diversity-loving, culturally-sensitive peacenik Democrat. Ironically, the entire trip Brad was the one that said merci and bon jour and tried to be unobtrusive. I, on the other hand, only used English and wore shorts for an entire afternoon, sending waves of horror through the town with my brazen leg-showing.

Which brings us to the fifth rule of visiting Marrakech: Ladies, no cleavage. No legs showing. Bring the cropped pants and the flowing skirts and be modest, or you'll have hundreds of people staring at you as you walk the mile to the Badii Palace and back. And let me tell you, you have no idea how disapproving a stare can be. Sheesh. Talk about a walk of shame.

Sixth rule of visiting Marrakech: Jeema el F'na is amazing, all the time. Snake charmers. Acrobats. Story tellers (in Arabic, though, so don't expect to follow along.) Musicians. Belly dancers. Delicious orange juice. Many fascinating food stalls in the evening, but they use one bucket of water to wash the dishes all night so your stomach better be made of iron if you plan to eat. BUT! BEWARE THE HENNA LADIES. They will beg you for the chance to tattoo a pretty flower on your hand or your leg or your ankle or your arm. Keep walking, say nothing, and DO NOT let them grab you. Unsuspecting nimrods who do not immediately yank their hands away from these Fatimas will end up with a flower scrawled on their hand that looks like some five year old drew it with their fist. And even if you immediately run to a restaurant and wash the henna off, it will stay with you for awhile. And then you'll have to explain that you can't say no in a job interview.

Seventh rule of visiting Marrakech: The dawn call to prayer is really damn early, the key being DAWN. Which is just before 6AM at this time of year, and it starts BEFORE dawn. And they blast it from loudspeakers. Which means your beautiful view has a dark side, especially if you sleep with the balcony door open for the cool night air.

All in all we had a great time. I came home with a bit of a suntan, and have spent my first day of garden leave getting caught up on the news and organising my plan for the next week of calling around looking for jobs. This was an EXCELLENT way to start my new life.

5 comments:

lulu said...

What a wonderful trip. I'm SO jealous!

If you are female here, they ask for your husband or father's name on the immigration control sheet. I'm tempted to lie, but what's the point?

Pam said...

Best trip write up ever.

Bubs said...

I have always wanted to visit Marrakech. I could almost hear and smell the markets from your description, I loved it! What a wonderful vivid description.

And what's this about you knowing Newt Gingrich? Is his head really that big?

Melinda June said...

They do that in a lot of places, lu, I've noticed. I figure if you lie they'll bury you to your neck and stone you. Best to tell the truth.

Thanks, Pam! Although I know it's not true, coming from you that's high praise. Too bad you didn't refer to the etiquette book sooner. I could have used it!

Bubs, you really should try Marrakech. Fly to Spain for a few days (also rockin') and then it's nothing to take a low cost carrier to Morocco. Or better yet, take the ferry from Marbella and then rent a car!

Coaster Punchman said...

Good advice about the pants. And I've had no beer for breakfast today.