Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Marrakech - snakes and all

So, as you all may know, I recently went to Morocco with Peter. This was planned over a series of messages which looked something like:
"Let's catch up. I'll meet you somewhere cool."
(Though Amsterdam is an upcoming plan). There may have been more words and slightly more organisation post-this conversation but that's one of the cool things about Europe - you can declare you're going somewhere and a month later you're there - without extensive planning or having to pay for the flight with everything including the kitchen sink.
But now I'd best get to the actual Morocco bit of the post, huh?
Peter flew in on a Thursday, caught up with an Italian friend, I met them and he and I grabbed an aperitivo (something I should have talked about in my Milan post but didn't, ah well) then headed out to the airport to sleep. Our flight was incredibly early and we didn't think the buses left then. I played hooky from school on Friday and by 10am we were in Marrakech!
The photos below are from our first day, our third evening and our last day as we went on a trip to the Sahara in the middle, but I'm going to write a separate post about that!
Early morning flight

We spent the first day checking into our hostel and exploring the city a little.

Three course 6€ lunch.

As I may have mentioned I have a slight discomfort around snakes - this is a real snakeskin I was was very relaxed about touching it! I'm progressing in leaps and bounds. 

You could pick up a pet turtle, or a chameleon.

I have no idea how they got them so perfect, or how they plan to scoop them for you, but aren't they pretty?
In the medina (square) there were a lot more people selling wares laid out on the ground. There were also snake charmers and trained monkeys. This made visits to the medina very stressful for me and my shoulders would rise up defensively every time we heard the pungi (gord flute) music drifting our way. Consequently, I also have no good pictures of the snakes. The would generally be laying around on the ground or under the round boxes you can see in the picture below.

Mint tea is a Moroccan staple, and often offered when you arrive at your hostel and other places. 

Looking over the medina
Morocco also has a different dress code for women. Marrakech is one of the more touristy cities and I did see tourist women walking in shorts, but I stuck to below the knee clothes. I actually got our hostel owner to check my appearance the first day we went out, and I had to go and get changed! (My dress came to just above the knee, which is tolerable but not great.

Our hostel 

A woman in the market grabbed my hand and started drawing henna on it, claiming it was a free Berber gift. Afterwards she demanded payment of course, which annoyed me as I had refused at the beginning. But, I got this our of it anyway. 
At night the salespeople move to the side and a bunch of food carts set up. As you walk between them you are solicited by very friendly and persistent waiters, telling you to try their delicious food. All of which is delicious and is very cheap. We went their to eat on our third evening and were impressed.

A lantern shop. 

A terrible photo of the food cart city. 

Our cart - you can pick from a menu or simply point at the food displayed, which is promptly cooked up in front of you. 

This food is approved by Peter. We got calamari, olives, pastilla (traditionally made with pigeon but ours was chicken) and vegetable tagine. 

I posed with some of the chefs

Peter had some snails for dessert

Everyone gathers around while music is played and people dance. I was terrified there was a snake in the centre of the crowd and refused to come too close. 

Our hostel
On the last day we got our tourist on properly. We started with the Bahia Palace. This was slightly disappointing as it was a lot of very pretty, very intricate, empty rooms. Possibly it would have been better had we had a guide to explain the significance of... anything.

Was still super crowded though. We kept trying to sidle up to tour groups speaking any language that either of us understood at all. P translated some Spanish for me at one point but then the group moved on. 

Then we went to see the Saadian Tombs, on the way we popped into a pharmacy where we found these gems.

Horse and cart is a totally acceptable way to travel in Morocco. 

This guy is wearing the traditional water bearer outfit. 
The Saadian Tombs date back to the late 1500s and contain about 60 members of the Saadi dynasty. They were discovered in 1917 and restored. Outside the building are the tombs of soldiers and servants.
Very narrow alley way on the way in. 

Around midday we found ourselves in a hammam, which is a bath/massage/spa type place. We were separated into men's and women's wings. I can't speak for what happened to Peter but I was told to strip down and given disposable underwear, I was washed down with black soap that we saw everywhere in the market then I was led to a steam room. I was actually somewhat surprised by the nudity (other women were there with me) given the usual dress code for women in public but I suppose there are very different rules for exclusively female places. I chilled out there for a while before being entirely scrubbed. I was put back in the steam room then led to a different room again to be oiled and massaged, before being washed thoroughly and given a towel. The whole thing took about an hour and twenty minutes and at the end I made my way out to this room where tea was waiting with a thoroughly relaxed Peter.
Definitely something worth doing. I felt kind of floppy I was so relaxed after, and I kept stroking my arms because they were so nice and soft.
In the afternoon we popped along to Le Jardin Majorelle, a private garden turned public built over four decades by Frenchman and painter Jacques Majorelle. It has plants from five continents with fountains and ponds dotted about. It was the perfect place to visit post-massage and we wandered idly along the paths for quite some time.

We did eventually make our way out of that oasis and back to the bustling medina where Peter finally tested how snakes are as scarfs. Not great apparently - must be the whole cold-blooded thing. He does actually have a small one around his neck in the picture below and the guy beside him is just about to pick up a cobra (I think it was anyway).
He proceeded to hold it very close to Peter's face...
He also had to walk past all these lovelies to get to the snake man. The photos are terrible quality because I wouldn't get closer than 20 feet. However, I didn't die and Peter was pleasantly surprised when I let him walk near me afterwards!
I count 9 snakes + the 2 that P and Snake man are holding. I was terrified. 
In the early evening we did a spot of shopping at the souk. I think we both sucked a bit at bartering but oh well.

On the way home Peter got a shave by a Berber barber - not the most comfortable experience apparently but I was a little fascinated by the cutthroat razor. (I'm also not sure if P knew I was going to put these online!)

That night we went to a tourist trap bar and saw some belly dancing over a drink and dessert. Belly dancing is actually not native to Morocco but comes over from Egypt etc and often the performers are foreigners. We had fun anyway.

This dancer looks particularly concerned. I'm not sure why. 
That night in an effort to spend the last of our money we wandered down to the medina and into some shops. We made friends with this guy who has a Kiwi girlfriend and gave us mint tea. He served it in glasses in shoes so that it wouldn't burn our hands. 

Cheers Morocco! Next post I'll tell you about our camel ride!

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