Africa / Morocco

Morocco Express

I heard on BBC that Ryaniar is saving money on fuel. Filling its tanks with a little drop – just enough to get you to your destination. That’s why they land on time. They have to. Otherwise they probably crash. Nice. I’m thinking of it when my plane is shaking like crazy. God please, let us live. Someone’s laughing, someone’s vomiting. I’m just scared and sweaty. Like very sweaty. It’s one of these moments when you think of your life and you see it passing in front of your eyes as if it was a movie. It certainly is. “Final destination” by Ryanair!!

Somehow we manage to land and I clap my hands. Coz I’m happy. And I don’t care that it’s lame to clap when you land. I feel I have to. Once I read that a good story shouldn’t start and end at the airport. It’s such a cliché. Well, it’s a good point. I’ll think about it. This time though, chronology, I mean timing, is something that keeps me sane in that crazy country.  Welcome to Morocco!

OMG we did it. We’re alive!

Timing and love. The Moroccan way.

It’s my second time in North Africa and I have a feeling that time has it own rules here. No European style rushing. To prove it 1,5h later and we are still queuing to passport control. I feel terribly tired. That has literally been the worst flight in my life so far. I want to put my head on Mario’s shoulder and close my eyes just for seconds. Suddenly a policeman starts shouting at us. Excuse me? Did I do something illegal? Well, yes. Maybe not officially illegal but the guy in a rather rude way tells me off. “Morocco is no country for AMOUR” he says. I quickly analyse all possible scenarios (including the one of being imprisoned – and how awesome my post would be after!!) and decide to shut up.  At the end of the day I came for holidays not trouble. And think that Morocco is considered the most tolerant of all the Arabic countries! You know what they say – when in Rome…

The sublime art of negotiations.

As a result of many complicated processes, configuration of stars, movement of the sea (and similar bullshit) our trip to Marrakech is completely spontaneous. All we know is that we have a hostel (but we don’t know how to get there) and that we want to see Sahara. Although Mateusz bought a guidebook I doubt he opened it even once. Kasia and I, we were looking for some stuff online but what we found was rather disappointing. So adventure! How we imagined Marrakech? Hustle and bustle, colours and tastes. And an Arab country which means HAGGLING. Everywhere. In a shop, at a hostel, in a restaurant, even in the toilet! A bit ridiculous considering that 1 GBP = 13 DHS but when you are on a tight budget every penny counts! And so it is. Moroccan reality. Haggling requires being a good actor. Dramatic gaze, a bit of a shout, a lot of exaggeration in every day gestures. I feel I could be pretty good at it. First exam – getting to Medina. If you have time, I would recommend walking there. It’s only 3-4km. We don’t have time. Taxi driver says he can take us for 150 DHS. We refuse. 130DHS and he will take us straight to our hotel. We seem confused. To go or not to go. I decide to take the bull by the horns. 100 DHS – I say. The driver seems to be angry but when he sees our persistence he finally says yes. All of it for 4 pounds less 🙂 I should have studied business.

You only get what you paid for.

I heard it so many times in the UK. It has to be true.

Taxi driver leaves us somewhere in the city quickly explaining how to get to the hotel. Obviously we don’t get it. So.. what did he say? One rule – in Marrakech, you don’t need a map. Everyone is a guide here. Moreover everyone is more than happy to help you. However you are expected to tip. For everything.

When we finally find our hostel, we sit down, rather tired and realise how amazing place it is. The owner makes tea for us. Strong and sweet. I have never tried a better one. Although back home I would think twice about the amount of sugar it contains! Now it’s time for paper work and booking our trip to Sahara. It turned out that we paid more than 3 guys from our hostel going there with us the next day. But less than a guy from a different one. Even at hostels there is no fixed price list. You’d better polish your negotiation skills before going to Africa. We leave our stuff on beds probably made of wood (I felt like sleeping in a coffin – not that I know how it is to sleep in a coffin :)) and it’s high time we conquered the city!

welcome tea in Waka Waka
patio inside our hostel
spartan breakfast at the hostel

Marrakesh by night.

Worth-seeing in Marrakech? Medina which is more or less the Old Town surrounded by thick walls with lots of gates. Attraction itself, but I keep on thinking about cheese looking at them. (You will see why in the pictures!) Highlights of Medina – Koutoubia Mosque  – located in the southwest Medina. The mosque is ornamented with curved windows, a band of ceramic inlay and decorative arches; it has a large plaza with gardens, and is floodlit at night.The minaret is around 77 metre high – moroccan Big Ben! 🙂 Unfortunately non-muslims can’t enter any mosque so we have to admire it’s beauty from the square in front of it. The Saadian Tombs were built in the 16th century as a mausoleum to bury numerous Saadian rulers and entertainers. It was lost for many years until the French rediscovered it in 1917 using aerial photographs. Ben Youssef Mosque easy to find due to green tiled roof and minaret is attached to the biggest Madrasa in this part of North Africa. You can visit it everyday from 9am till 5pm. The biggest live attraction is Jemma el Fna square – part of the UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985. The square attracts people from a diversity of social and ethnic backgrounds and tourists from all around the world. Who you can find here? Snake charmers, acrobats, magicians, mystics, musicians, monkey trainers, herb sellers, story-tellers, dentists and pickpockets so be sure you keep your belongings in a safe place. It’s getting really dark – time to stop seeking for moroccan wonders of architecture and concentrate on finding something to eat.

Eating in Marrakech? You can basically eat everything you want. And everywhere. Don’t think too much about hygiene.

Morroco is a safe country for European bellies. Some of food stalls give you “2yr no runs warranty” Lol. I buy it. Few days later though I started thinking does this warranty equalls 2yr of obstipation?? 🙂  The food is good but repetitive. After 4 days I feel sick when someone mentions “tagine” or “couscous”.

It’s way cheaper (and more exciting) to eat food from the stalls or local fast foods located in tiny streets that go to restaurants but coffee at a rooftop terrace of one of restaurants is worth spending few dirhams more. (For the view. Not for the coffee. The taste was rather disappointing) Interesting new flavours? Cactus – very refreshing (will paint your lips and teeth so be careful + lots of little stones) fresh orange juice (you will never call a “juice” something from tesco after trying THE REAL THING) mix of dry fruits or nuts.

minaret of Koutoubia Mosque
City Walls surrounding Medina
one of beautiful gates in city walls
Jemma El Fna in fire – nah.. just lights and smoke from stalls
8am – good morning Marrakech
one of many mysterious doors hidden in Medina’s twisting streets
choose 77 and you go to heaven 🙂 creativity of stall salesmen amazes
say it like you mean it – tagine!
tasty, healthy, colourful
fresh orange juice for only 20p!
fast food moroccan way – burger, omelette, pita
fast food polish-spanish way

The book of One Thousand and One Nights.

Since we made the decision about Morocco there was one thing that was keeping us really excited – camel trekking. We were pretty sure that it would be the highlight of the whole trip. I know that it smells like a cheap tourist attraction for those who want to feel the oriental groove. And it’s pretty much like this. It doesn’t change the fact that I still remember being on a camel! Because it hurts 🙂 Afterwards my friend Kasia described it as “the worst experience ever” 🙂 But if you want to see the dunes, the sunrise at desert you have to be ready for a bit of sacrifice. One tip – don’t book anything online. Prices are usually way higher. The whole trip was pretty tiring so I would recommend choosing 2 nights/3 days option. Also take a coat and a sleeping bag – I was mad at the owner of our hostel for advising me to take only a jumper. Nights at deserts are feeeezing!

On our way to Sahara we stop for a short visit to Ksar Benhaddou. Many famous movies like Gladiator or Alexander were being filmed here but visiting this place reminds a good comedy show. Our guide looks like a freak with a scarf around his thin and long neck quoting phrases from Wikipedia (a few phrases to be precise). We make a stop at every single shop with souvenirs and low quality pictures from movies. Fee for entering Ksar, fee for leaving Ksar and then straight to a restaurant where they will pull last dirham from your wallet.  Tourism is a great business in Morocco.

beautiful view of Atlas Mountains
berber village
ksar Benhaddou – do you now recognize this place from movies?
views from the top of the Ksar
jumping picture 🙂
my berber hubbie 🙂 no teeth but hey, how cool are his lizards?

Sleeping in a berber tent is kind of magic. Bonfire, singing and playing drums, stars like you have never seen them before (especially if you live in London) sunrise and sunset over the dunes. One of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I regret only one thing. Lack of time. Only one night and we have to go back to bustling Marrakech. One more camel trekking. Kasia has to chase our caravan as she claims that camels weren’t her best friends 🙂

our tents
and the real caravan
hello camel!
one of my fave pics! we look like we were photoshoped here!
just before the pain 🙂

Kings and Queens of the night in the New Town.

We’ve seen Medina, we’ve been to Sahara, so the last night we need to spend in the New Part of Marrakech. Through souks we get there in around 1 hour. Modern Marrakech. Clean, with less colours and smells. Prices is restaurants are high. Maybe it was better to stay in Medina? But we are craving for cold beer so badly!! Finally we find a small local bar. They serve food, they have alcohol. They don’t have menu which means tourists pay double. But who cares. It’s our last night before coming back to black&white. Moreover you can’t exchange moroccan dirhams outside Morocco so we want to spend all we have. We probably never go back here although I start to recognize subtle melody in what, at the beginning was just an annoying noise. And haggling seems to be my second nature now. (Situation: guys, it’s last time to haggle. how much we can pay for the taxi? 100 DHS nothing more!Excuse me how much is the taxi to the airport? 100DHS. OK, we take it. –  this was our haggling 🙂 ) Marrakech was my first trip of quiet few planned for 2014. Just 4 days but enough to remind me that I work to travel. And travel to live. Next stop Slovenia in April!

POST SCRIPTUM:

Morocco kicked our asses. Not only Kasia had her “camel issue”. I ended up with cystitis, Mario had tonsillitis. The only one who escaped unharmed from this trip was Mateusz. Technically unharmed. A moroccan pigeon pooped at him. And this, as we know, in all the cultures of the world means GOOD LUCK!

every day life in travel – don’t think it’s a bed of roses! 🙂