We woke up early to catch an Uber to Charles de Gaulle airport so that we could head out onto the next leg of our adventure. Flight numero deux. Continent number two. Memories unlimited.
Morocco was “Debs Pick” for the trip. She wanted to get out into the desert, see the flat arid landscape that had a Appalachian of mountains that cut the country in half by the famous Atlas mountains. Guaranteed this was going to be a cultural shock to the kids, if not all of us, as we assumed it was going to be so different from our way of life back home, and what we have experienced in Europe.
We arrive at the airport in Marrakech after a three hour flight on Air France. The kids had done some homework which consisted of a “True or False, and if False what is the right answer” review of Europe. Depending on whether or not the answer was true or false, it was scored as a 0.5 of a point for true, and 1 point for false. There were then math questions that they had to answer such as 5T – 2F = x, or 3.75T + (4F/3) = y. It was really good and was a challenging piece of homework that covered many areas.
We got off the plane, got some cash from the ATM and went out to find our taxi. A very pleasant man took us to his taxi and we embarked on our first monetary mistake.
In Morocco, no price is what the real price is. In fact, I don’t think there is a real price. We should have done our homework on taxi prices before arriving as was later found on blog posts about Morocco. “How much?”, I asked. “A million dollars. Hahaha”, was his reply. So, I try french. “Merci beaucoup, mais, combien pour le taxi”. Again a similar response in french. Then it came out to 400 dihram which we paid. A taxi normally would have cost about 70 or 80 dirham, but often the drivers try to get more out of the suckers like us who have no clue, and they are often successful. Oh well, no gelato today.
We walk down the road to our lodgings, the Riad N10, which we will be staying at for the next couple of days before heading south to the Todra Gorge and the Saraha Desert. Our room is on the top floor by the terrace that overlooks the tops of all of the buildings, and our room is super nice, and has a bonus of air conditioning.
It is mid day and it is very hot, but we head out for a short exploration of the craziness that we can hear coming from the Jemma Al Fna market which is a short walk away. This is the main market in the old city of Marrakech, and there are over 2600 souks, or market stalls, selling everything from silverware, scarves, dresses, soccer jerseys, food, leather goods…everything. You have the majority of the souks being targeted at suckers, I mean tourists, like us. They are well signed and the attendants are aggressive to get you to come into their souks to see what they have to buy. Most of the souks are about 20 feet deep by 8 feet wide with 12 foot ceilings. They are jam packed with their inventory.
Then interspersed in between these souks are non-descript unsigned rustic souks that the locals actually use. There you can buy water, cookies, juice, pop, and, best of all, real Moroccan food. The kind of place that you go to and ask “Can I see your menu”, and he opens the pot to show you. That’s my kind of food. We say ok, and he points to the plastic garden tables and chairs that are set up in behind him. No market side cafe here. Come, eat (fuel up) and get back to life. Wilson and I go in for some lunch while Deb and Lulu go look at some dresses as they aren’t that hungry. He brings over some homemade bread, rice, and amazing chicken tajine (Moroccan slow cooker) which is incredible. Wilson and I are in heaven. The girls return and we share some with them, but Lulu is not really into it…not even the bread. Uh oh. We haven’t even started to eat the weird stuff yet.
We headed back to the Riad to escape the noise and insanity of the market, and we just had some chill time in the room with the air conditioning. It was 36C without the humidex, so it was good to escape it for a couple of hours.
As the sun started to set, the we went back out into the market to watch it as it changes over from the day market that is all about selling trinkets and goods, to the evening market which has over 125 food stalls serving everything under the sun. And every stall had two or three people “working the crowd” as you walked by. “You look starving!”, “Do you feed your children?”, “Come in, my food won’t give you diarrhea!”, “You remember me, stall 42!”, “Bonjour, hello, ciao, neehow, achtung!”, and so on.
Anything to get your butt on the bench in their stall. We had read about stall 100 before we left, and we found it so we ate there. But, if you go in the future, remember rule number one (for the market or any of the side street eateries). The food is good and genuine if there are locals eating there.
There was one family of locals at our booth, but the stall behind us was jam packed with them. And like our lunch spot, they had a big pot that they were serving one thing from. You don’t want whats in the pot? Then get lost. Haha. It stays true to the motto of it is better to be really good at one thing than ok at at a whole bunch of things (I learned that on Restaurant Makeover where they usually chop menus to gt them down to two or three options). You can’t possibly have an expansive menu where you are good at everything.
We ate and headed back to the Riad for a nights rest before we went out on another adventure tomorrow.
Marrakech Madness: Part 2
I woke up and snuck out to the terrace where breakfast was going to be served eventually. The sun was just coming up, so the sky had a beautiful blue hue and the colours of everything seemed to pop. Eventually Deb got up and joined me for a nice cuppa before the animals, I mean the kids, woke up. We were going to try to do the same thing today, wander the streets of fMarrakech for the morning, then hide out for a bit from the mid day sun, and then to head out in the evening to watch the market from the terrace at Glacier Bay restaurant, which reportedly had the best birds eye view of the market.
I sat down and scribbled out a scavenger hunt for the kids so that the would look around and find objects in the different souks while we walked. The only downside of this is that they would be engaging with the souk owners. Anything, even a glimpse, a turn up of the corner of your mouth, a slight turn of your head, or any gesture will signal the owners to think that you are in fact interested in what they have for sale. So the best rule of thumb is to wear sunglasses and point your head straight forward, have your best poker face on, and look by only moving your eyes. If you are interested, then you can move your head. The souk owners have the best hearing in the world. Bat-like. They hear everything. They will pick up a word of your conversation and then they will repeat it back to you to try to engage you in conversation.
Anyways, back to the the scavenger hunt. I was Googling (does a verb ever get capitalized?) Marrakech scavenger hunts, and Geocache came up. I had heard about this phenomena, but never looked into it. I watched some intro videos and downloaded the app, and before I knew it, I had signed up as a premium member with a subscription that would allow us to explore using all of the features.
I looked around Marrakech and found 5 geocaches, and we looked at the profiles of them. I picked one out that had a good backstory, and the kids seemed to be enthusiastic about trying it, so we headed out. So, for those of you who haven’t geocahced, it basically gets you where you are, and where you want to get to. And a straight line from point A to B. But there are buildings in the way, or physical obstacles, so you have to use the map or compass to get yourself to the final destination. The geocache, which is as small as a nut bolt, or as big as a cooler, is usually hidden. It can be anything. Inside there is a log book of who has been there, and sometimes little gifts that you can take so as long as you put something of equal or greater value back in for the next person. Then you put the geocache back and you move on.
So, this wasn’t like it was a walk in the woods. This was walking around the crazy market where people are trying to coherse you, touch you, and move you into their souk. Doing this as well as moving towards an objective target was crazy. Wilson and Deb don’t like crowds at the best of times, so adding this in was an added stress since there was not a clear directive of “Here is the route you take to get there”. Some turns took us into quiet markets (ahhhh…), and some took us into shady back alleys (turn around and find another way to get there). But we did find some hidden parts of Marrakech that we wouldn’t have found otherwise, like the local fruit market where fruit was 1/10th of the price in the main market, the spice market, the olive/date/apricot market, and then finally the store of shoes. There were many shoes…the geocache could have been anywhere. But the owner gave the kids a clue since it was their first time, and it was in plain sight in a wooden treasure chest.
We thought about buying something there as a momento of our first find, but in the end, he gave the kids two small leather keychains and we left to go on our merry way. We headed back to the riad, and the kids worked n some math and english with Deb, and I headed out to find some food.
I went back to the fruit market where I got a pile of fruit, and then found a restaurant that served a traditional dish of earthen barbequed lamb. Basically they have an oven that is under the ground, measuring 3m deep by 2m wide. They heat it up with a fire that goes down to ashes and then they place two or three lambs in the oven for a couple of hours to cook. Everything cooks and it comes out where they have it out for display in the hot sun that keeps it warm and they cut off however much you like. Served with bread and you sprinkle freshly ground cumin and a rock salt/pepper mix that they make and then you eat it with your hands. A souk owner was there for his lunch, and we played “How do you eat this” charades without much success. He shows me how to season the meat and then we share a bit of each others meal as a sign of respect and friendship. On the way out of the restaurant, he pays the guy and leaves to go back to work. I finish up my meal and go to leave, and the chef says that the souk pad for my meal. No strings attached. Very nice in the midst of all of all of the people being very aggressive and obnoxious.
I take some of the food back to the riad so that I can share with them, and the kids are doing homework on the terrace outside of the sun.
After they are done, we decided to head out in search of two other geocaches. One of them is just a historical landmark of local cultural significance with it being the largest and oldest sandstone mosque in Marrakech (this is called an Earthcache, where you have to read about the site and then answer some questions once you log the find. The other geochace was closed (it was inside a restaurant) so we headed to a park outside of the city walls where there was shade and it was quiet, and played Heads Up and Charades while we waited for it to open. We headed back into the market and found the geocache and the kids had fun looking around the restaurant (before it was open, so they could run around looking in vases, under lamps, and then they found it inside a decorative tajine right in the middle of the restaurant. I can’t believe that people would come here in the middle of dinner service!
We headed across the market and passed entertainers (similar to the ones that were featured in the Amazing Race challenge), snake charmers (don’t ever ever look at one because before you know it it will be around your neck and they will expect you to pay them), monkey tamers, and then the food stalls. In a decision to stay away from the craziness, we go up to the terrace of the Glacier Bay restaurant and we get a ring side seat for the circus. Here is a video of the madness that unfolded over the course of the night.
We headed back home to pack up so that we can head south through the Atlas mountains via the Tishka Pass, and over to the Todra Gorge for a couple of days.