"Hey, my food still has a face!"
Trip Start Feb 26, 2006
48Trip End Nov 28, 2006
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In Fes and Casablanca we didn't come across as many tourists as expected, so we were blown away by the masses of tourists in Marrakech. It didn't take us long to figure out why this city is THE place to be in Morocco, especially if you like to shop, try different types of food, or just sit at a rooftop café sipping mint tea while watching the crowds. The tourist hotspot in Marrakech is the big square, Djemaa El Fna. This is where all the action is...snake charmers (the little flute they play is the coolest sound), monkeys in outfits while others in diapers (a really sad sight), henna ladies, acrobatic troupes, boxing matches (including those in the under-10 age category!), 3 card monte, belly dancers in their full get-up (except that they're men, don't know why though), and there was even a man at a table full of loose teeth and a pair of pliers!
But, as the saying goes, nothing is free, and no where is this more true than in Morocco!! We learned very quickly that this 'freak show' comes at a price! On our first time in the square, I took a picture of an acrobatic group, and as soon as I had taken the picture, a man came up to me with his hat held out...the photo wasn't anything special, so I deleted it! It got to a point where we were very conscious of where we were walking in the square - if you weren't careful, you could get a snake or monkey put on your shoulder, or some unwanted henna on your hands that you would have no choice but to pay for (which happened right before our eyes to an American girl we had just met). Well, I actually volunteered to have Ed take my photo with a snake (a small one) and it wasn't scary at all...but, then again, I WAS holding its neck quite tight!
All the action in the square begins in the early evening but it really comes alive once darkness has fallen... the thousands of tiny lights from all the stalls light up the square, the smoke from the food being cooked blankets the square, and the whole area is completely bustling with both locals and tourists. It's a fantastic feast for the eyes (and nose)!
Our highlights of the square:
- Fresh-squeezed orange juice from any of the dozens of stands lining the square: You can't go wrong at 25 cents a glass!
- Harira soup (traditional Moroccan soup): This is a splurge at 30 cents per bowl.
- Deep fried battered fish and sides of eggplant, fries, bread and tomato salsa: Follow the crowds of locals and try to find a seat at Stall #14. The food is tasty, but this meal will set you back $3!
- Snail soup: You get spicy snails in a soup broth. This was one of Ed's favourites and he had it every day! I couldn't get over the horrible smell or the snail face looking at us (see photo above), but if you can, Ed swears it's a tasty treat!
- If you still have any money left, you can go and get some soft serve ice-cream for $0.25 or splurge on a couple of scoops of Gelato for $1.25.
- Repeatedly saying "La shoukran" (Arabic for "No thank-you") to hawkers of souvenirs, henna, spices, and even food.
- Cab drivers, stores owners, and guides trying to rip us off because they think tourists are too ignorant to know any better. Unfortunately, we got the impression that Moroccans try to squeeze every dollar (or Dirham) they can from tourists - case in point, when paying for our internet use, the guy in charge did not want to give us our 1DH (12 cents) in change, even though we could clearly see that he had it!!! We wouldn't leave even though we were the last ones in there, so after a few moments of awkward silence and stares, the guy gave in and reluctantly handed us our change. Only in Morocco!
After a few days in Marrakech, we really needed to get away from the chaos. We took the bus a couple of hours to the sleepy town of Essaouira on the Atlantic Coast. It really is a sleepy, laid back town, the kind that gets quiet by 10PM and the only people still on the streets are drunks and troublemakers. The door to our hotel was locked tight by midnight! Essaouira is known as "Windy City, Africa" because it really IS windy, and a lot of people windsurf and kitesurf there. But all we really wanted to do was unwind, which we did by sleeping in, walking along the beach, strolling the streets of the medina (where we didn't get people hassling us), and eating fresh grilled seafood.
- Our yummy staple diet of harira soup, honey galettes (crepes) and mint tea, topped off with a couple scoops of gelato! Other than the gelato, we discovered that this is pretty much what locals had for dinner on a daily basis. We've learned that eating where the locals eat is usually the best choice...but, being the only tourists around, we do get a lot of stares!
- (Who best to tell the following story than Ed himself...)
Since we had been on camels in the desert, we thought it would be nice to get back in the saddle, but this time on a horse...on the beach! Amy decided not to go because the style was English saddle, meaning there's nothing but the reins to hold onto! I went on a morning ride along the beach from Essaouira to the small town of Diabat, famous because Jimi Hendrix spent some time there. I enlisted the help of a local "guide" who lent me his horse for 1 hour for a fee of $10. Galloping down the beach was really cool, except...
a) my horse was crazy and tried to run into the woods a couple times
b) my horse was crazy and decided to walk through thorn bushes
c) my horse was crazy and wanted to run into a pile of sharp sticks
d) my horse was crazy and decided to run in the soft sand and tripped, almost throwing me from the saddle. I ended up on the horse's neck and the horse ended up with a face full of sand. All in all, I had a good time, but at the end of the hour I was quite happy to be back on my own two feet!
Ok, time to say "sayonara" to Morocco!