Marrakech - Snake Charmers and Souks!

Trip Start Oct 12, 2010
Trip End Mar 24, 2011

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Marrakech is a lovely city -  it is known as "The Red City" due to the colors of its buildings and it is more modern and has more to offer tourists in some ways than other Moroccan cities I've seen (e.g. hop on/off bus tours, golf courses, excursions to the Sahara or the Atlas Mountains, easy access to coastal beaches, city monuments and of course, the main city square and fun shopping in the souks). 

Each city and village has had its own character and identity, but as a relatively new traveller, I appreciated not standing out as an alien with the possible unwanted attention that can bring. There are many tourists and visitors here in this city and I've even seen people in shorts and t-shirts!!  I have not seen that since arriving in Morocco a week or so ago :)

Our hotel for the past couple of nights was lovely - it was called the DellaRosa Hotel and it played up its rose theme with petals strewn throughout the bedroom and bathroom.  We were back to the mod-cons of air conditioning, soft beds, flat screen TV's, wireless internet, a safe and a fridge in the room, full hot and cold breakfast options etc.  You just appreciate these things so much more after you've bunked in desert accommodations!

The main attraction of the city is the Djemaa el Fna Square which has to be seen to be believed!  It makes Times Square or Piccadilly Circus look like our road in St. Charles!  This square is surrounded by shops and restaurants but it contains the most eclectic mix of orange juice sellers, fruit stands, acrobats, snake charmers, monkey handlers, fortune tellers, henna artists, flamboyently dressed 'water men', bands and more.  The streets leading to the square have a carnival air, especially in the evenings when they are just a sea of people.  Add to the circus atmosphere thousands of bicyclists, noisy small motorbikes, donkey carts and cars and you start to imagine the sounds of this place.  All afternoon and evening, you can hear drums and the snake charmers' horns - they sound like the vuvuzelas from the World Cup games! 

Each evening, around 4 PM, the food stalls set up in the square and the place really begins to cook!  The food stalls include either stools or communal benches and tables and you order from basic menus of cooked meat, fish, vegetables and rice.  The guys who work in the stalls are really good-natured and banter with their customers as well as people walking by. Other vendors come by pushing carts of sweets and candies to sell you as you are eating.  Older women bring young chidren by the tables while you're eating and beg for food or money and people give them the leftover bread and food or unfinished drinks.

If all this is not enough, right behind the square are the Marrakech souks or marketplace.  They are roomier than the market stalls in Fez, which were incredibly narrow, but they are still busy.  You can find dozens of stalls of colorful slippers, hats, tassels, purses, scarves, metal lanterns, wooden carvings, woolen textiles, jewelry, pottery and clothing.  The winding alleyways in the souk also contain many restaurants, food markets, mosques and riads (accomodations like bed and breakfasts with beautiful outdoor courtyards).

For the most part, the souks are safe and although each vendor tries to entice you to come into his shop to look at his items, they didn't hassle us too much and were good natured if we walked away without browsing.  Haggling for prices is totally part of the experience and is expected.  The vendors usually quote a price that is double to triple the 'real' price so you work on getting it as low as possible without insulting them.  We all got some great bargains when we visited the souks over the past few days. 

As you leave the souks and walk back into the main square, you have to be very careful of pickpockets etc. in the crowds.  I found this out the hard way yesterday as I had my backpack on and was jostled from behind in the crowd (not unusual) but then felt a tug on my pack and when I whirled around, a young guy had his hand on my pack.  I slapped his hand away and said "stop that" and he took off.  Turns out he had unzipped the top zipper of my pack and was likely going to grab whatever was in there but I caught him in time.  I did have money in a small plastic case in that zipped section so I was lucky not to have been robbed and it was a good lesson to:  1) always keep money etc in a money belt and 2) to wear my backpack on the front instead of on my back in crowds.

Marrakech has been a really great experience and overall, Morocco has been a once in a lifetime trip.  I leave early tomorrow morning for London, then Dubai and Bangkok - it will be a loooooong couple of days as I will be in transit or in airports for two full days straight.  When I come back to my senses in Thailand, I'll be back online again.  Wish me luck!
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