So yes, I know it’s been nearly four months since our return from our vacation but I promised you guys the rest of the re-cap.
After packing what summer clothes we could find or buy in the middle of our winter, we packed two suitcases and brought a large empty one to hold all of our souvenirs, my sister dropped us off at the airport, and in no time, we were on our way to Marrakech. We experienced no flight delays which was nothing short of a damn miracle, especially flying out of JFK.
We arrived on HOT “winter” day and by that I mean instead of being 120 degrees, it’s only around 75 or 80. Of course, standing around in the loooong line at customs in that kind of weather makes it feel like 120 degrees. Especially when you’re wearing sweats like we were(we always fly in comfortable clothes on long trips). Finally, our passports were stamped and we went to the baggage claim and waited and waited and waited. We found one piece of our luggage and when all of the turnstyles stopped and we were the only ones left standing around, we went to the baggage claim office and turned in a claim. The man was very nice and shook our hands and welcomed us to Morroco. We were thankful he spoke such good English.
We then took a cab to our hotel and checked in. We had a really good view of the pool and of the medina in the distance. Upon our arrival, they had 5 pink roses and a large fruit basket. We pigged out on the fruit, took showers, and went to bed. We always sleep immediately upon arrival on our international trips, just to get the jetlag out of the way. We awoke and it was evening time and called down to the concierge who promised he would “take care of all the arrangments regarding our luggage”, and found that as of that time, our luggage was nowhere to be found. We were a little bummed but hey, we were in Morocco! And having already been burned twice on the whole luggage fiasco, we brought along a change of clothes in our carry-ons. We went and had a late dinner at the hotel restaurant, had a bottle of Moroccan wine, and toasted at having checked off another continent on our list.
Very early the next morning, I heard a strange sound outside our hotel room. I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what it was. I got up out of bed and it was still dark outside, I opened our patio door and realized that it was the clerics doing their morning prayers which are broadcast all over the city from the great Katoubia Mosque. It was hauntingly beautiful and Howard and I were mesmorized. In the Muslim culture, prayers are said 5 times per day, at the same time, every day. It also reminded us of how very far away from home we really were.
Pictures from our hotel:
It wasn’t until two days later, that our luggage finally arrived and the concierge went to fetch it and we were happy campers. We arranged to have a registered tour guide show us around the city, especially since we knew absolutely no Arabic and I was very rusty on my French. (the two languages spoken in Marrakech) Mahjoub, our guide, arrived and we were on our way. I suggested we walk everywhere which was fine with him. I began firing questions at him, wanting to know everything about him, and about Morocco. He was gracious and candid with me. Howard hung back and took some photos. Walking down the main road on our way to the great medina, I still couldn’t believe we were in such an exotic place.
Pictures from the street leading to the medina:
We made our way in to the medina and it was stepping in to another world. The medina is basically the heart of Marrakech, and surrounded by a great wall. Thousands of years ago, it was built to keep people out. (there is a whole history lesson with this but I’ll save that for another time) The women were still in traditional Arabic and Berber dress and so were the men. There were horse-drawn carriages, donkeys pulling carts, but also motor scooters, and cars too. It was an eclectic overlapping of time periods. Of course there were also tourists, which made me feel better about being in my western world attire.
After visiting the Katobia Mosque and got over being so awestruck, we made our way to the famous DJEEMA EL FNA (I cannot phonetically spell it here, so don’t even ask) which means “square of the dead.” People were executed there as little as 100 years ago, for crimes they had committed. After public executions were banned, the square became a grand exhibition area. We saw everything from snake charmers, belly dancers, story-tellers, tattoo artists, and also many people selling food, clothing, souvenirs, etc. We paid a few dirham and had pictures taken with snakes around our necks and Howard got up close and personal with a cobra, which scared the shit out of me? but also fascinated me at the same time.
Pictures of the Katoubia Mosque and DJEEMA-EL-FNA:
We eventually made our way to the souks which is like a big flea market of shops selling everything you would need from clothing, food, medicine, and small livestock. Thank God, we had a guide with us because one could get lost in this long narrow alleyways. People harassed us to buy things, but the guide kept them at bay, if we saw something we liked, we stopped to look.
Pictures of the entrance to the souks and the alleyways:
Now I have to tell you right now, there is a way to shop in the souks: Buying something isn’t just picking out an item and giving the person your money.
The souk owners want to visit with you, they want you to feel comfortable, and they also want you to haggle with them. People have done this for hundreds of years. We learned this because when I went to buy a pair of Camel leather slippers, I just gave the money to the owner who named his price. He thanked me but seemed a bit disappointed. Mahjoub then told me, when we were out of earshot that, the souk owners love to haggle over the price, it’s just how it is done, if you don’t haggle, it offends them.
So, the next little souk we came to, we were prepared, because let me tell you, my husband loves to haggle. The man (all souk owners are men in their culture) will invite you to come in, serve you some mint tea (which is the tea of Morocco and is very good!), then he will whip out his little note pad, and write down a price.
You will then counter his offer. He will say something in Arabic or French like: “oh man, that’s too low, I have a business to run!” all in good humor of course, then he’ll make conversation like where you’re from, you’ll ask him about himself too, then he’ll write down another price which you’ll counter again. Sipping your mint tea, it will go on like this for a good half hour especially if it’s something expensive. Finally, you’ll write down the absolute most you’ll pay for an item and tell him that’s your final offer.
Most of the time, after a little more ribbing, and you thanking him and walking away, he’ll agree to your price, tell you what a good businessman you are, then shake your hand and thank you.
(It’s very difficult to get photos of the souks because it is considered disrespectful to take photos without asking first and then usually you will get suckered in to buying something)
It’s amazing and hilarious to watch. The men do the haggling, the women can offer advice on how much they want to spend, but it must be the men doing the haggling. I know that sounds a bit chauvinistic but this has been their culture for many years. They are never disrespectful to women, and in fact, will always offer tea to her first, or offer their chair and be very chivalrous but they are very old world. If you’re a feminist and go to Morocco, don’t be offended, you’re a guest in their country, respect their culture. I promise you’ll still have a great time.
We bought lots of beautiful things, our biggest purchase being a Berber rug. It was around 100 years old and the pattern was that of a traditional prayer rug with the design pointing towards Mecca. We got it for around 500 US dollars which was a steal considering we talked them down from 5000 US dollars. The haggling took over two hours, and I drank so much tea, my pee was green all week. The gentleman told Howard to “shock” him and so Howard did. Miraculously, the gentleman agreed on the price, but Howard and I really wanted to discuss this further and wanted to sleep on it. Mahjoub gave us his home phone number and told us we were in no way obligated to buy the rug but if we wanted it, to call him and he would have it delivered to us at our hotel. We had our minds made up before we got back to our room that night. When would we ever have the opportunity to buy something like this ever again? Chances are, we wouldn’t. The next morning we called Mahjoub and we had our beautiful rug that afternoon.
Pictures of the rug shop, though we never took a picture of our rug, I have no idea why. Also, that’s the back of my head as I’m listening to Mahjoub describe how the rugs are made:
You know, the more I write this post, the more I realize that with all of my wonderful stories of Morocco, I could use up all of my bandwidth easily, so I’m going to end this here and get back to you with a part 3, possibly a part 4. And I promise it will be within the coming week.
Suffice it to say though, that this really was our favorite destination of all of our travels.