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Around some of the world in 180 days

A Den of Villainous Deeds - Marrakech Part 1

MOROCCO | Friday, 13 December 2013 | Views [1752]

Carpet shop

Carpet shop

"Mos Eisley spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villianly." The word of Obi Wan Kenobi as he made his fateful trip to hire a transport that would take to his fate. Events begin to move at the speed of plot. Within a matter of minutes, we are treated to a severed arm and sneak attack by Han Solo on poor Greedo. Hardly the stuff of family viewing. Obi Wan might as well have been talking about another place. A long long time into the future, in a galaxy far far away. A place conveniently located on planet Earth.

For a north-south, south-north trip, Marrakesh is as a good a place to start as any. Marrakesh airport was a pleasant surprise. With a level of efficiency and cleaniness that could rival the Swiss. The two countries even share a language in some ways. English speaking immigration officers to boot. Ha, take that La France. Apparently the 2013 World Club tournament is currently taking place in Morocco. Inwi,  the telecoms provider are handing out free SIM cards to celebrate the event. I take it. It's free and it may come in handy.

This is the first time in a year I'm backpacking somewhere, so I'm expecting to be scammed by airport taxi drivers. Disappointingly,  I was not disappointed. Armed with experience and research, the taxi drivers dutifully performed their script to the T. The price listed at the airport is 60 dirhams. This is already two to three times the meter rate for taxis. Even this inflated rate was not enough for the greedy @#$*. Quoting 100 dirhams for the trip into Marrakesh. All the while insisting this was the correct fair by pointing to the prices listed on a board. 100 dirhams is for someplace else. Hey, I may only know survival French, but I can read. In any case, I agreed on 40 dirhams just to save myself the 10 minute walk to the main road for a cheaper ride.

Sign to my hotel in a side street

So much of the inner parts of the Marrakesh is inaccessible to cars that the best the taxi can manage is to drop me off with a 5 minute walk to my hotel. It's just as well that there's a little sign pointing to my hotel. Hidden as it is within a small alleyway,  I'd have real trouble finding it otherwise: I ring the bell to the hotel, no answer. I ring some more, still no answer. 5 minutes later the bell ringing is joined by symphony of banging on the door and I've given up hope that someone might answer. Thoughts of finding another room are starting to form. Perhaps at one of the many hotels I've already walked past. No wait, maybe I can phone the hotel using the SIM card I just got. I'm a bloody genius. Let's see, get the packaging off, pop the SIM card out. WTF, it's a standard SIM card. This isn't going into my HTC One Mini. Curse you modern technology that make my life so much more convenient and providing hours of entertainment while I'm commuting to work.

Right, I'll need to get a local SIM card from one of the Teleboutiques and have them cut it down to size. 50 dirhams it costs and I suspect being ripped off. Let's call the hotel and see. Great, no answer. Thoughts of spending the night on the streets are now overpowering other thoughts. Lets go back to the hotel and work the bell some more. This time someone answers. 50 dirhams down the drain,  but I'm relieved. Even with my mangled French, I can understand the receptionist insisting she's been there the whole time. What the deuce, were you in the toilet performing King Kong sized duties?

It's too late now to visit any museums and palaces, so might as well head out to Djemma El Fna. The Marrakesh Medina. This is the famed spot to go for food, shopping and entertainment. It's not a particularly long walk to the Medina, about 15 minutes. Still, it's 15 minute endless array of shops. I've dealt with a lot of touts on my travels. Never have I dealt with any as persistent or as aggressive as here.

No I don't want to buy spices from you. Won't take polite, "Non, merci"? Great, now you want to block my path? Okay, how about I walk around you?

"Welcome, what is your name?" While offering a handshake. Okay, you been shaking my hand for 10 seconds now, you might want to let go!

"Hey dude, did you just grab my arm?"

"No I don't want you faux fossils."

Once through the gauntlet of shopkeepers, it's the Marrakesh Medina. The place is teaming with street entertainters plying their trade. Snake charmers, street theatre, musicians, fairground games and even a man performing something that look a lot like belly-dancing. That's right, a man performing a belly dance routine, wearing normal clothing, except for the highly suspect skirt with the beads, over their trousers. The type of skirt commonly worn by the female counterparts. As I walk around each, it only takes a few seconds to realise I'm not going to be watching the entertainment. Yet a few second is still enough time for someone to approach and demand a fee. Sorry dude, but I'm not gripped by the performance. Plenty of guidebooks warn that taking pictures of anything is not free. So I refrain from doing that as well. Sorry dudes, I'm also cheap.

Even taking a panoramic view on the square of no one especially, encouraged some loser to approach and demand payment. Just for having temerity to try that one, he got a jovial "Au revior".

 Medina at night

Then there's the stalls selling patisseries, dried fruits, the famed Tigine. Orange juice, for some reason seems to be a speciality here. Tried the Vegetarian Tigine. I was not inspired. The fresh orange juice is fantastic. At 4 dirhams, it's a bargain. One of the many orange stalls:

 Orange stand

The Medina is undoubtedly the Mos Eisley of Earth, but not without it's killers. A kind of ground zero for insanity. Sitting high up on a terrace cafe. As day turns to night. Watch the stall are being set up, spontaneous patches of ground commandeered for the nightly performances, the cacophony of music and sounds, the illuminations of a thousand light bulbs giving impression of watching a city from high above. It's all so random, splashes of energy here and there. Sparks of insanity here and there. It's all a lot of fun to watch this Medina living up to it's legendary status.

Tags: marrakech, touts


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