Cat Nap

Trip Start Dec 16, 2009
Trip End Jan 09, 2010

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Where I stayed

Flag of Morocco  , Marrakech-Tensift-Al Haouz,
Sunday, December 20, 2009

An OK sleep last night, though Mary's scratching of her numerous bug bites on her leg woke me up a few times. Seems to be quite the tradition with Mary - this is the third time traveling together, and the third time she's developed some odd type of rash or flea bites.

Breakfast up top on the rooftop terrace - a nice treat to start the morning, even though it was windy as it typically is here.  Nice and sunny, with some yummy breakfast - what better way is there to get going in the morning?  We lingered ... and lingered ... and lingered some more.  We decided to catch an evening bus back to Marrakech since we like it so much here, up to this point.  Especially nice is the fact that we aren't getting too many of the "Japan!" shouts to gain our attention.   

After breakfast, we packed up our things and deposited them at the Riad's reception, before heading to the Supratours bus station to buy a ticket for later on.  Unfortunately ... sold out!!!  Though this wasn't the end of the world, because getting stranded here in Essaouira for an additional evening is not a bad thing.  However, we called CTM, the other big Moroccan bus company, and they did have seats available on a 17:00 bus.  This worked out for the best, as it still gave us the better part of the day to enjoy the town. 

Off for a walk - there aren't many sights, but the thing to do here is browse the galleries, stroll, and chill out.  That's about all we did today, but with Mary interspersing that with plenty of rolling up her pant leg and scratching herself.  Such a blatant display of skin really isn't very appropriate for such a conservative country!  Apparently, the bugs are slowly eating their way up her leg; according to her, this soon could get quite intimate!

Up to the ramparts, and then down to the harbour - there are a number of shacks that grill up fresh fish, and its workers harassed everybody that walked by about eating at their restaurant.  We finally got a call of "China!", instead of Japan.  We laughed because somebody finally got it right, but then they immediately followed up with a "Korea?", as they made their way down the list of possible countries of origin.    

The fish vendors are extremely aggressive, shouting at you even if you're a good 50' away, and when you're up close, they'll block off your path from reaching other fish shacks that are farther along the way.  Incredibly annoying, but there's no way of avoiding it - it's perhaps more extreme in this case, because it appears as if some local authority has fixed the price for every one of the vendors.  So apparently, the only way of attracting customers is to badger them until they give in and sit at your table.   

After eating so much fish, we strolled around town - we came across a little cat having a nap, and I thought this was quite cute because it had appeared to have crawled inside a small dugout for its slumber.  But then ... a man walked up and started pushing dirt over top of it.  Oh ... it was technically still a nap, but sadly for the cat it was an eternal one :( 

Continuing to stroll, Mary was the first to be stricken with some mild stomach problems - by all accounts, this happens to all travelers in Morocco, it's merely a question of when.  Given that we both have weak stomachs, it was surprising that it hadn't happened to either of us already.  Back to the Riad to relax for a bit, before catching the bus.  Mary's queasy stomach precluded any further walking.   

The Riad's manager asked us how we were getting to the bus station, and suggested a taxi was best because it was fast and cheap.  I asked if they would use a meter or if we needed to negotiate the price, citing troubles we had in Marrakech - we were told that Marrakech was a very different place, and that Essaouirans were nothing like that. 

He suggested that anybody hassling tourists in Essaouira was from another town, because such behaviour isn't exhibited by locals.  He also mentioned that he found it bizarre that someone would approach anybody out of the blue and start talking to them, as happened to him once in Marrakech.  Guess you don't have to be a foreigner to get hassled in Morocco!  Perhaps our first stint in Marrakech would have been more enjoyable had there been less hassling like how it is here in Essaouira.   

The bus deposited us at the CTM station in the new town - though a 2009 edition, the guidebook is out of date, since any domestic buses supposedly let off at the station just outside of the medina.  Disoriented, we hopped into a cab and overpaid probably by $5 CAD - not significant, but it's the principle of it all.  A local probably would have paid a third of what we did.  My own fault for forgetting to haggle!
Riad Jbel Lakhdar - a great thing about Morocco is the hospitality you receive upon arrival, with mint tea and a bit of time to get to know you before being taken to your room.  Mahjoub, the owner, gave us a bit of history on the Riad - he had moved to New York a long time ago and lived there for 20 years, before returning to Marrakech and buying this Riad and converting it into a guest house, a process involving two years of renovations.  Apparently, a Riad like this was a typical middle-class home back in the day - hard to believe, given that a house like this in Canada would only be affordable for the rich. 

We were shown the Riad's Hammam, a traditional Moroccan bath, and told that couples massages were available - we both almost burst out laughing at the notion, thinking that we should mention that to friends back home in order to stir up some rumours.  The en suite bathrooms in the Riad were bigger than the rooms in last night's Riad, perhaps even bigger than the room and bathroom combined. 

A possible change of plans - Mahjoub mentioned that we could do a three day/two night tour to the dunes out at Merzouga for 100 Euros, including a night in a hotel, one night camping in the dessert, all transportation, and most meals.  We had already reserved a one day/night tour from M'Hamid out to the dunes, but that would've involved a full day bus ride to M'Hamid, and a full day ride back to civilization, and then a night bus to Casablanca.

Cost-wise, it'll be almost a wash if we decide to go with Mahjoub's idea - though we had already purchased non-refundable bus tickets to M'Hamid upon arrival this evening at the Marrakech bus station, the cost difference associated with the new plan will be only a few euros.  When it comes to comfort, the new option will be much better, because we'll be traveling by minivan and also sleeping another night in Marrakech on the way back, rather than doing a night bus to Casablanca.

Of course, this means we lose out on some time in Casablanca - the original plan involved arriving at 7 AM and having the entire day there.  The new plan means only having a half day at Casablanca, which by all accounts we've received since arriving in Morocco, is still more than enough for that city.  Apparently, the only decent sight there is the famous mosque, and we won't even be able to see the interior because it's closed on Fridays, the day we arrive.   

Time for dinner - back to Place Jemaa El Fna, but this time we wandered down one of the busy pedestrian streets that radiate outwards from it.  Nothing seemed to jump out at us, and I wasn't terribly hungry after eating a bunch of pastries before departing Essaouira, munching on some chocolate on the bus, and having a pancake at a rest stop.  Wanting something simple, we selected a basic-looking cafe that offered up a variety of tajines. 

A short walk around town the Place, and back to the Riad - earlier, I had mentioned smoking some sheesha to Mahjoub when we returned, but decided against it as we needed to get up early tomorrow.  It's our only full day in Marrakech, and we have a lot of sights to cover. 
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