Morocco, Day 3

Posted by Ted on Oct 29, 2007 in Travel

Our last day in Marrakech already? We woke up slowly and caught the end of breakfast. The lavender yogurt was truly wonderful, and we need to find a way to make it. Afterwards we took a nap, packed up, showered, and left our packs in the care of the riad for the day while we went wandering. We went to the bus depot to buy our overnight tickets to Zagora, the farthest “big” town towards the desert. We went to the bank, and each took out 2000 dirhams (about $260 each) and we ended the day with 90.

Did I mention that the vacation cost about twice as much as we’d anticipated? One of our original reasons for choosing Morocco was because it seemed cheaper than Spain, and not much more than Burning Man. The key point is that it can be done cheaply, but two things counted against us. For one thing, we decided to play it by ear. After the first two nights in Marrakech, we made no plans, and decided to let our whims guide us. This worked out great, except for the fact that the cheaper lodging was already booked. Also, we (or at least I) was unprepared for exactly how much shopping temptation there was. We figure that we spent over $800 on stuff; mirrors, jewelry, clothing, a lamp, and an amazing blanket. Some food is really cheap, but some is not. By US standards, even the expensive meals were pretty reasonable, but everything added up by the end of the trip.

By chance, and the fact that we stood out even among the tourists, the cab driver from the day before found us and tried to be our guide, but we wanted to wander on our own. We walked through the north of the medina, getting lost in the residential district, which was devoid of other tourists. We hired a horse-drawn carriage to take us across town to the Palais de la Bahia. It was closed when we arrived, so we walked through the Spice District and into a nearby plaza. Liz got a bracelet with interlocking snakes from a wandering woman, which we later found out from a different woman that she could have gotten 5 for the same price. Clearly we still had lots more to learn about the value of things and of haggling. There were many lantern shops, and a souvenir shop that was beyond anything we’d seen. A modest hole-in-the-wall entrance like any other, it was cavernous, dimly lit, each room leading onto another, filled with everything imaginable; lamps, mirrors, chests, doors, carpets, jewelry, pottery.. Time stopped while we were inside, and it felt like the storeroom for an archeological dig. Then we stopped for lunch, with poor quality meat, which was made up for by the potatoes which soaked up the superb spicing. Now that the palace was open, we wandered through and took pictures. It had a very run-down feel, but it was still beautiful. The zellij tilework was stunning, and the carved rock was unbelievable; such fine detail, carved by hand, blew us away.

We walked back through the Spice Quarter, and picked up some Ras el-Hanout (a blend of over 30 spices), some mint tea, and a 5-spice blend for fish. We meandered down a new street, looking at belly dance costumes, and then ended up back at Djemaa el-Fna. We walked around the back of the square, looking at different shops, and stopped at a lantern store owned by a woman. This was especially notable because it’s a culture where the men are generally the business owners. In fact, we met no other women shopkeepers in our travels. She was a welcome change from the typical pushy salesman. While very pleasant, she was also clearly well suited to her role. She was proud, professional, and talked about her empire of three factories which made lanterns, ceramics, and something else. We bought a lantern for our bedroom, unlike any that we’d seen in the multitude of shops. Across the street I found a mirror that I liked, and tried the “walking out” technique of haggling to the success of talking down his 950 dirham offer to 500. I probably still paid too much, but we were learning.

Spent, literally and figuratively, we went back to Dar Soukaina to pay our bill, rest, and repack. Then we headed out to dinner at Cafe Arabe which thankfully took credit cards. We relaxed on the rooftop terrace with a bottle of wine, our first alcohol since arriving. Forbidden in Islam, alcohol is not widely available, but it is offered in upscale restaurants who cater to tourists. For a country that doesn’t drink much alcohol itself, Morocco does have its own vineyards that produce very drinkable and very reasonably priced wine.

Then we caught a cab to the train station, and walked a couple of sketchy dark blocks to the bus station. While we arrived in plenty of time for our 11:30p bus, it was late getting in, and so it would be another two hours before we got on our way. During that time, we were approached by this guy in dreads and a robe who asked us if he was in the right place for the bus. It turned out that his name was Ali, has a relative who lives in Boston, and he worked for Sahara Services, and he’d be happy to take care of us when we reached the desert. He was gregarious and warm and crazy in just the way that we are, and would be at home at any Burner event. He was filled with glee at the existence of the soda vending machine in the lobby, and then asked us to watch his bags while he went across the street to grab a bite to eat.

Meeting Ali would be one of the best things to have just randomly happened to us, as it led to us meeting so many other wonderful people, and to experience the magic of the Sahara.

Finally the bus would arrive, and thus would end Day 3.

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An adventurer at heart, Ted Beatie is at his happiest when he’s off the beaten path. His deepest passion is sharing the world through photography and writing, found at The Pocket Explorer. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

1 Comment

Nov 23, 2007 at 1:01 am

On the way to work yesterday, I noticed a huge billboard advertising Marrakech as a vacation destination. Naturally, I thought of you.