Thursday, January 7, 2010

day cinq

well, friends. today is pouring rain. pouring pouring pouring.

we had our breakfast as usual, then waited it out in our room a while. since half of the riad's "lobby" is open air, the rain hits us on our walk to our room. there is an overhang, sort of, but you can reach out and touch the rain.
the pouring didn't stop.

after a while, we went down and sat in the lobby. our host advised us to wait a while longer. he was wearing a head-to-toe rain outfit, going out to get supplies. we waited a while, but it was getting late and we were restless and bored. we didn't want to lose our last day to walk around! we ducked our heads and ducked out the door!

we had a simple plan- just get lost in the souks one final time. we didn't want to venture too far out, as we had no rain gear, only our simple hats, sneakers and jackets. it wasn't so bad at first. the walk to the souks is uncovered. after about 1o minutes, the alleys start to have either metal or woven reed roofs. we just picked a new street to wander down.

i did some "window" shopping and made my final purchase- a beautiful pair of bright yellow babouches (slippers). they were a bit more than the others i had already purchased, but the leather work was much more detailed, and they had a nice heel. i bartered him down a lot, too. sold!

we wandered down a couple more alleys and some neon colored yarns caught my eyes. we entered a store and little did we know what we were in store for us. giant skeins of neon yarns lined the walls. they were HUGE- and gorgeous. we followed them around a corner, and we were met by a very friendly moroccan gentleman wearing the traditional long dark brown hooded robe. he started talking to us in english about the things they made there- it was a wholesale carpet and blanket business. it was a huge house. he led us around another corner to show us a large weaving machine, and explained the two different kinds of weaving that moroccans do- women do weaving sitting down, by machine, and men do weaving by hand (and feet),with loom and shuttles. the women typically do the more detailed work. we were both very interested, and he was very interested in talking more, so he invited us upstairs to see more...

the walls and shelves were filled with colorful blankets, neatly stacked in piles and piles. the walls had beautiful blankets and carpets hanging as art. we entered one room and he had the men start weaving to show us how it worked. we entered another room (little did we know we'd be there for a long long time!!) and he began to talk about all the different types of blankets and rugs.

one after another, he started pulling rugs from the 6 foot piles that lined the huge room we were standing in the middle of. i thought he was just giving us a quick tour, but we soon found out he was making a sales call. 40 blankets and rugs later, camel wools, vegetable dyes, so many layers upon layers ... he then began asking what we were interested in buying, then offered us tea.

mauricio, much to my surprise, was interested in both a blanket and a rug! in the reverse order he put them down, the old man's assistant lifted each rug up, each rug that he had carefully layed down and described in great detail, and told us how to say "like it" or "hate it" in arabic. so he lifted each piece up, and mauricio would say if he was interested in it or not.

he ended up on a huge, thin blanket. it's in gradaded colors, fire colors of orange, yellow and red. it's vegetable dyed. very beautiful. and a carpet runner made of camel wool, with a very detailed pattern on it, mainly in a darkish blue, but with lots of other colors. it was packaged up all together, nice and tight, wrapped in paper.

and off we went, 3000 dirhams later, a pretty crazy experience for an otherwise boring rainy day.

we walked around a little more, got completely soaked, had some more tea, and some lunch, and came home to dry off and warm up.

it's our last night in marrakech, off to catch a flight back to madrid tomorrow morning, staying there for two nights, then back home to boston on Sunday.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

day quatre

after our half-day of bed rest yesterday, we were itching to get out and at 'em today. we woke up, had our brekkie, and hit the streets and ally ways by 1030 am sharp.

we walked all the way to the plaza. our first mission? Monkeys!! we headed to the first monkey we saw, and the man immediately put it on mauricio's shoulder. before we went over, we had tried to get ready, by putting some money in my pocket and giving me the camera (i had originally not wanted the monkey on me). he posed with the monkey, then the monkey got on his head! pretty hilarious. then the monkey got on my shoulder. he smelled like poop and i was paranoid he was going to steal my wallet :) He was so smart. he gave me kisses. we have some really great photos. and hell we should- they cost us 200 dirhams!!

our plan for the day was to walk or cab it to the new city. but when we got the end of the plaza, one of the those typical "you see them in every city" double decker buses was sitting right there, staring at us. so we asked how much it was to hop on (it was stopping where we wanted to go), and we grabbed two seats on the roof.

it was a gorgeous day today. 65 and sunny. in the sun, i was comfy in my jeans, sandals and short sleeves. in the shade, a sweatshirt and light jacket. i alternated with all these layers all day. but the sun on the top of this bus felt heavenly.

we took it a couple stops and got out to find these markets. we wandered and wandered, but never found them. we ended up at a cafe and had some very un-moroccan food. not worth mentioning.

we found our way back to the bus, did the rest of the route, and got off where we started. we saw some new sights, it was pretty fun. but on the way, we drove around a street of markets we hadn't been down. so after getting off the bus, we walked back to that street and did some more exploring. This led to more souvenir shopping.
One thing led to another.... We ended up exploring a whole different part of the souks we hadn't been in yet. a whole plaza dedicated to baskets. i bought a souvenir for someone, did an amazing job bartering (lowered the price 100 dirhams), and got a free wooden camel!!), saw a live falcon, live turles, zebra skins, found the one street that had beautiful fancy shops with actual doors! (this is pretty significant once you see all the photos), and finished all the souvenir shopping. cleaned my wallet dry!! it was super fun, getting lost. i didn't feel scared anymore. we got turned around so much, we literally had NO idea where we were.

we found our way back to the plaza, sat down and had some mint tea to warm our bones. it was starting to get chilly around 6. getting tired from all that shopping and walking! and i should've worn sneakers, not sandals. we decided again to eat at the outdoor market, at the picnic tables. we made the mistake of walking down all the aisles, and the guys can be aggressive! they were fighting over us. they try to MAKE you sit down! but we settled on the one vendor that had sardines on the menu (i know, we're weird). stall #1. 1 is the best, you know (or that's what they made us believe). of course, we had a veggie couscous (forth day in a row?), sardines (duH!), auburgines (eggplant), sausages (mauricio gave one to a homeless guy in a wheelchair, and one to a street kid), and a veggie soup.

day is done. one day left!

day trois

this day started out ok... we got a good night's sleep, after (difficultly) watching a movie on my netbook on youtube.

we woke up, had our crepe, coffee, juice breakfast in the lobby, but i wasn't really hungry at all. my stomach was a little bit upset. after breakfast, we came back to the room and i immediately knew something was up. for the next ... five? hours i was a prisoner to the bathroom. I think i'm blaming it on the raw veggies in the salad i ate the day before. it took a while before they were digested. then ruined me on the inside. it was so nasty, i don't even want to think about it. but the experience was named the Moroccan Poop Goops. You know, like morrocan couscous!! we were so bored most of the day, but we couldn't leave until i knew my bowels were all better. i ate about a dozen pink peptos and sat on the bed and moaned. alternating, of course, with climbing down the ladder and running to the bathroom (did i mention our bedroom is a loft?)

around 4, we finally went out. we walked all the way back to the plaza and sat and had some tea, and just explored the markets a little more. I was finally feeling better, so we felt adventurous and ate at the outside vendors in the plaza- a nice dinner of couscous and kebabs and olives. yummy street food. it's the nighttime food market you see in all the pictures of marrakech. steam from the grills floating up into the sky. people everywhere. booth after booth of vendors. long benches and tables covered with white vinyl. the vendors all basically serve the same food- grilled meats and veggies, tajines, fish, but they fight with each other for your business and try to lure you to their tables with their charms. we picked the first vendor that talked to us. # 25. he was cute. they put down a piece of newsprint for your placemat. there are no napkins. you get a small round piece of bread. and two small bowls of sauces- one is a thin tomato sauce, the other is a sweet and spicy chile sauce. you dip your bread, your food is cooked in minutes on the huge grills.

we ate dinner and walked back to the riad. i couldn't take too much more than that after my traumatic morning.

Monday, January 4, 2010

day two

-we are currently sitting on the second floor. there's a small lounging couch, low to the ground. it looks out into the courtyard, and there are squeaky birds flying back and forth!!

-now we just went to the kitchen and asked for some mint tea. Oh! the mint tea! a nice girl just served us mint tea in tiny glasses in a silver teapot

-this morning, we slept in and came down to the lobby. there was a small table set up and we had a breakfast of: fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee, traditional moroccon crepes with jam, homemade coffee cake, homemade yogurt.

-we ventured out again, further than last night. we followed the same path, and went past the restaurant. we made it all the way to the big plaza, which was totally surrounded by vendors selling more of everything. in the center, vendors were selling glasses (real glass) of fresh squeezed juice. you stood at their stall and drank, then gave your glass back. and everyone was selling fresh figs and dates and nuts and dried fruits. they looked beautiful, however, they were covered in flies.

-we looked at everything, then decided on lunch on a rooptop terrace. I had a fresh salad with quail eggs and smoked salmon, mauricio had a lamb tajine. It was cool, overlooking the plaza. It started to get ridiculously windy, and we saw gray clouds looming ahead, so we left and walked back to the riad. Stopping, of course, to buy street cookies (at two different places), mandarins, and my first souvenir (from a guy that tried to steal 100 dirhams from me! the nerve! i'm smarter than that).

-tonight, the riad is cooking us couscous for dinner.

the dinner at the riad turned out to be a great surprise.
we started off with a moroccon salad, like an antipasto.
it was on a divided plate- into five sections. there was a cold carrot salad, with carrots finely grated and mixed with orange juice. there was the standard cooked eggplant spread (very similar to eggplant parm, but finely diced), a kind of fresh tomato salsa (not spicy), marinated beet salad, and a potato salad like salad, but with no potatoes- it was a mayonaise sauce, with cabbage and raisins. not sure what else was in that salad; i couldn't figure it out. it was served with the traditional small round bread.

our tajine couscous was surrounded with squashes and chickpeas and had cabbage in the middle.

dinner was finished off with a delicious fresh fruit salad in a cocktail glass filled with fruit juice, and hot mint tea.

we ate in the middle of the riad's lobby. by candlelight :)

day one, part deux

where did we leave off?

-After we get in the final taxi of the day, he is driving and driving and driving, down the narrowest (and i thought i had been down the narrowest streets EVER in cadiz) allys. At one point, he slows down, some kid pokes his head in the passenger window (i assumed just asking for a ride), and he hops in.
It's a party of four now! woohoo.

-He keeps driving. Soon, the road ends. He can't drive any farther. He tells us to get out of the car, and I'm like HUH?? I think we're all getting out and he's about to do a drug deal. He informs us this kid is going to walk us to our riad and he wants to get paid for the ride. Mauricio is pulling out his wallet, and I'm like, NO FUCKING WAY, we just paid a ton of other people to get us NO WHERE, you're walking us to the door. so the four of us walk down this tiny dark ally, i'm scared shitless, i think his friends are waiting around the corner to steal my luggage. Then we turn on to another tiny street, walk for another minute and the kid starts yelling the name of the riad! he's found it! So we pay the driver, he leaves. We ring the bell, we start to enter the door, and the kid is looking for money for bringing us to the riad! we're like, uh, No?? we don't know you, we didn't invite you along for the ride, and we didn't ask you to walk us here. Our host babbles to him in Arabic, he shouts, he leaves.

-we were safely in our riad, checked in. it's a really interesting place- all the riads in morocco were previously private homes, later turned into guest houses. they typically hold about 9 rooms. our riad had a really inviting "lobby", with microsuede couches, everything was perfectly styled with moroccan accessories- a huge live palm tree in the middle of the room, really cool ornate doors, beautiful candles and lanterns everywhere. a small pool in the middle (we're still not sure if people go in it. The inside courtyard is probably as long as my house. half of it is covered by a heavy plastic roofing (so if it rains, the furniture doesnt get ruined. but the other half is open air, so we can see the sky on the walk to our room.

-there is an upstairs and an outdoor, rooftop patio. there are a ton of tables and couches and chairs, but they're a little bit stiff and not as comfy as this couch. but there are big straw hats if we want to sit out there. it's nice in the sun.

-it was almost dark after we got settled, but we decided to venture out because we didn't want to be inside all day, and we needed to get something for dinner. let me
tell you, i was a nervous wreck. i needed a huge handful of exanax to make it thru the night. we were following a really crappy map, that didn't have all the street names (but that didn't really matter, because streets are hardly streets and more like alleys and definitely don't have street signs), and the route was drawn in by hand by the man running the riad. but i was nervous because we had to find our way back to the riad after we were done "exploring".

-we start off, finding the landmarks described to us. we're walking down the right street, and mauricio is looking at the map. all of a sudden, this guy comes up to him and starts talking, asking him what he's looking for. they're talking and talking, i'm trying to pull his arm and giving him the "let's GO" look, because i know this guy isn't trying to help us get somewhere out of the kindness of his heart. all of a sudden, we're surrounded by four other people, i'm totally freaking out. we don't need help going anywhere- we're just trying to walk straight down one street! so we finally keep walking, after i nearly have a panic attack. i keep thinking i'm going to get gang banged or something.

-we wander further and further into the souks (markets), making only two major turns (i keep track of the landmarks so we can find our way back). it's mainly a straight shot, but there are some forks and turns to keep an eye out for. The streets are amazing- closer to our riad, they are just the sides of buildings and some ornate doorways. some tiny shops (holes in the walls), women selling soaps and shampoos and cookies and candies, or boiled quail eggs by the dozens. but as you get further into the souks, it's stall after stall of the goods you see in pictures and in magazines and on tv- glass lanterns, tajines, leather slippers, silver jewelry. people are grilling meat on the street. vendors have carts full of a dozen kinds of breads and cookies. tiny stalls are selling health and beauty products. you can walk by some man weaving a rug. or painting pottery. metal lanterns, glass and metal tea sets, spices, nuts and dried fruits.... it's endless. everyone wants you to stop.

-the streets are VERY narrow. they are SO crowded, no matter what time of day it is. no cars are driving by, but there are horses pulling carts, or mules with carts, and people driving both ways on motorbikes. and bicycles. you can easily get run over. your foot. banged into. last night, mauricio had a close call with a couple of horses. i thought he was going to get trampled. now, on the way back to the riad, we pass the spot where he "almost got run over by a couple of horses".

-we were nervous, scared, out of our element. didn't want to eat dried fruit or street food for dinner, but had NO idea where to go and it was too late to request dinner at our riad. so we kept walking, hoping to find a resto to eat at. finally, the first place we walked by, we stopped at. we walked up to their terrace, and had a nice candlelit dinner for two. then we walked back to the riad, following my landmarks, breathed a sigh of relief, and had a good night's sleep.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

marrakech, day 1, part 1

ok, this day has been sooo overwhelming, like nothing i've ever experienced before. kind of scary, terrifying at times. The language differences surprisingly haven't made it more challenging, unlike being in spain. so much has happened, i'll update in list form:

-we have many obstacles at the airport. it is SO crowded. we have to show our passports, between madrid and morocco, like 12 times. we just make our flight
-we arrive in marrakech. easy. i go to use the bathroom, and my first encounter avec le francais- there are like four women in the tiny bathroom changing their clothes. one yells at me: Fermer la porte! (shut the door). i freeze, with the door open, just staring at her. i think her pants were down. then i pee.

-we take a taxi to our riad (a riad is like a bed and breakfast. ) in the medina (square), cars are not allowed. so the taxi driver lets us off outside the medina and flags down this (later we find out) ILLITERATE moroccan who is pulling an old metal cart lined with cardboard boxes. he takes all our luggage and fills up his cart. we follow him like he's our mule. except one thing: he has no idea where he's going. and we show him the address several times, the taxi driver verbally goes over the directions to the riad with him before leaving. so we walk a bit into the square, only to have him tell us to hold on, watch his cart. he disappears into a store, with the paper with the directions, and comes out five minutes later with a cell phone. About 15 minutes later, we are getting no where. I think he's spoken to someone else, and he decides we need to take a taxi to get there because it's too far away to walk. SO we walk towards the taxis and this guy approaches us asking where we're going. He finally ends up driving us in his taxi, but not until we all almost get run over trying to cross the street, and after he leaves us at his taxi for five minutes while he goes and makes a call. We get to the riad and sit down in the lobby. and wait.

to be continued...