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The City Of Marrakesh

We have had quite the experience in Marrakesh, a place to bustling and exhausting that three days is almost too much. In fact, we had to escape to the little seaside village of Essaouira to catch our breath.

Marrakesh is a crazy city, a place that rushes about in pursuit of raw capitalism like an addict chases a hit. Our guide book really touts the place, most of the pictures seem to come from its medina or its main square, the Djemaa Al-Fna. The books describes it as being such a place of exchange, as though it belongs to the world and the world owns it. All very dramatic, but not so accurate. Really, it is a place where you hand over as much dirhams as the sellers can get you to part with, and you might get something out of it. In that sense, it is a very frustrating place. You literally have to haggle for everything, and they start out at prices that make it impossible to have a decent end-price at all. The book suggests starting the bargaining by cutting to a third the original price and starting there. However, when they start with 12 dirhams (nearly $2) for two bananas, you know already you will get screwed, and it's best sometimes just to walk away.

While I seem to be on a tangent, let me get something off my chest. I don't like to complain, nor do I like to subject an entire nation to a subjective observation. However, there seems to be a definite trend that we have experienced in relation to pretty much every monetary exchange that we have had with Moroccans, and it has led me to a simple conclusion. Basically, if you are a foreigner in Morocco, you can expect to get screwed out of a fairly large sum of money, the total depending on how much stuff you buy and how long you are in Morocco. Even when you are aware that most Moroccans who have something to sell to you is looking to take you for as much as they can, you still don't always succeed in avoiding getting jacked. The best you can do is minimize how much they rob from you.

Allow me to illustrate. For almost everything that I have had to purchase, I have had to haggle for it. In these exchanges, I have experienced blatant highway robbery, in several forms. In one small cafe that we ate lunch in, I watched the waiter add up our bill, and I still didn't notice that he'd added 30 dirhams ($4) to the total; I figured it out later, when it was too late. I have had shopkeepers try to give me the wrong change (the 10 dirham coin looks similar to the 5 dirham coin), and I have gotten different prices from different shopkeepers in the same store, though they were similar in that they were both far too expensive. I have had shopkeepers place weight in the basket with the bananas that he was weighing on a scale instead of against them. We were taken for 150 dirhams ($20) for four lousy, small beers, as well as charged almost $2 for two small bananas (I walked away from that man). My least favorite experience so far was when we were headed to the bus station in Marrakesh, and found a taxi to take us. We haggled for awhile, and settled on 17 dirhams, even though the proper price would have been 10 dirhams. Once we arrived in the bus station, the driver suddenly wanted 70 dirhams, telling me that I was confused. According to Jess, I became quite irate, and had a few choice words, but at least I didn't throttle him, at least not outside of my mind. He walked away with 20 dirhams.

To sum it up, what I have realized is that in any purchase, no matter how safe it seems, you always count your change. You always know how much it will cost before you ask for the bill. You avoid souvenirs, as this is where they really stick it to you. Sadly, what I have come to feel is that I can't trust any Moroccan in any monetary exchange. I hate thinking that, but I've been burned too many times already, and I've talked to plenty of other travelers, all of whom have similar stories. It is exhausting, because you always feel like you're being taken. We've gotten to the point where we don't even want to buy food in stands, such as bananas, because we are tired of getting ripped off. That ends up just hurting the people of Morocco, because for every sucker they take, they lose out on future purchases by that angry sucker.

Obviously, you expect to have some of this in a country that has the kind of poverty that Morocco has; you don't even mind paying more than locals given that poverty, because it is easy to do. Still, they take it to a ridiculous degree here; food is more expensive than in Spain, and we simply won't even waste our time shopping for anything besides food. It also causes us to feel more than a bit hostile and bitter towards Moroccans; it's like having that red-headed stepbrother who blatantly pesters you constantly, and occasionally gets in a good sucker punch to the kidneys. Only, in Morocco, that sucker punch is a monetary loss on the foreigners part. I've never been anywhere like this before; it kind of takes the fun out of it.

Anyhow, that was my rant; like I said, I don't like to be negative, but this is part of our experience, and so I feel like I should write about it. Traveling isn't all fun and games, there are irritations sometimes, and at times you just feel like getting back on the train, heading back up to the ferry, and heading into Spain. But, for the most part, it is easy to let these things go and enjoy the experience.

Of course, the experience if Marrakesh was certainly not limited to these things. We really enjoyed Marrakesh, at least for the first several days. Then you get tired of the rush of the medina, the countless motorcycles whizzing by, the noises and the strong smells. I think that a lot of travelers just have to head to smaller towns, such as Essaouri, to take some time off from Marrakesh, it is just so exhausting. But when you are in the mood for it, the city is quite exciting. The medina, with all of its souks and shops, and the constant adventure of getting lost in the narrow, winding alleys, is really exciting. The main square, Djemma Al-Fna, is a bombardment on the senses with all of its food stands, the orange juice sellers, the snake charmers, the henna artists and the fortunetellers. It is a big part of urban, ancient Moroccan culture all packed into a small space. We ate in the square, in the little food stands, every night in Marrakesh; our meals rarely cost more than $10 for the both of us (they have set-price menus). It really is quite an experience.

We also got a little culture in Marrakesh. We decided to try out the hammams, the traditional baths. I guess most Moroccans don't necessarily have hot running water in their homes, so they get their hot baths by visiting these public ones. We opted for the traditional version, the kind that Moroccans will get. Jess went off with her assistant and a group of girls, and had a nice experience. I went off with a fellow who worked for the riad, and my experience was a little different. He took me to the men's hammam, which started with a dark and grubby room in which I stripped down to the bathing suit I'd worn. We went from there into an adjoining room, which was heated like a sauna. There was a tank of hot water, which the guy took a bucketful from. He splashed it down on the ground and instructed me to lay flat on my back. Now, the floor looked pretty darn dirty, and I had doubts that the bucket of water did much to clean it, but I was there for the traditional experience, so I went ahead and laid down. He used a kind of natural soap to wash my arms, chest, back and legs, strangely avoiding the bottoms of my feet. Then he did a series of what felt like a combination of stretch therapy and mild torture, bending me around like a pretzel and using his weight to press down. It never was as painful as the deep-muscle "massage" I had in China, but I wouldn't have called it painless either. He moved on to splashing buckets of the hot water over me, then finished with a scrubdown with a rough glove that was to scrape off any unnecessary dead skin, as well as some live skin. All in all, it was a good experience, one that many Moroccans get, so I will take it for that. I'm glad for a good, hot shower, though.

A funny story about me and Marrakesh: we were walking around the souks one of the days, and I kept feeling coins hitting my legs. This seemed to always happen around some teenage hooligans, the kind that always seem to be offering a tour of the medina or advice on where you don't want to go, and so I figured it was some trick or another, perhaps to catch my attention, perhaps to figure out which pocket I kept my change in. But I wasn't going to fall for any tricks, I was too smart. One kid, hearing a coin bounce out on the ground, cried, "It's yours, it's yours!" Belligerently, I ignored him as well as the coin, smug in the thought that I wouldn't be lowered to picking up a coin worth a few US cents tossed at me along with the name "Ali Baba" (which I'm not sure the meaning of, only that I've been called it several times). Later that day, sitting in a cafe, I was wondering where all my change went; turns out I had a hole in my pocket and had been losing coins down my pants leg the whole day. I wasn't so smug after that.

Now we are relaxing in Essaouira. This little village is quite nice. It's much smaller, for one thing, and the souks aren't so crazy nor as confusing. It's nice not having to dodge speeding motorcycles in the alleys. The fish market here is something else, possibly the most intense one I've seen before. The beach of course is really great, and has calmed our frayed nerves. We might not even get on the train and head north to Spain, or not yet at least.

Until next time, be safe.


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The pictures are amazing! I'm not one to overuse an exclamation point but wow! Enjoy the beach, the food, and each other. Whatever you do, keep writing and taking pictures.

(I can't find spellcheck)

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