Tajines, Couscous and sweet mint tea
15.12.2009 - 19.12.2009 27 °C
Our trusty sleazyJet delivered us Marrakesh with good humour: "Please ensure you take your luggage, belongs and children off the plane - we don't want them" but unlike our Belfast Ryanair flights, delivered the typical each-man-for-himself budget airline experience. After selecting The World's Longest Immigration Line (others zipping to freedom as we waited on what must have been an extremely thorough officer), and paying the expected Welcome, Naive Tourist taxi fare, we arrived near the main square of Marrakesh, Djemaa El-Fna.
Overwhelming was an understatement. As soon as we hopped out of our Grande Taxi, backs already groaning with our over-packed bags, we were hit with the sounds, smells and buzz that is Morocco - Arabic music blaring from flourescent-lit shops selling fake everything; spicy kebabs filling our nostrils; and dodging the crowd that either walked, motorbiked or pedal biked, all without collision. Did we say we were exceptionally out of place?
Our Riad (courtyard hotel) was located in the souqs - winding market lanes crammed with stalls selling beautiful ceramics, carpets, spices and small animals, however on actually studying our Google Map, it turned out the map was completely wrong. So, armed with our taxi driver's scrawled map we tried finding our Riad - you can guess how that went. Finally we gave in and reluctantly allowed two small boys to lead us to our Riad, who then snubbed the Chupa Chups that Jac offered.
Much to our delight we discovered that most Moroccans parlent Français, however their keyboards speak Arabic.
Our days were spent exploring the souqs, being invited in by vendors to smell (and sneeze at) all the different spices, including some that were Viagra and anti-Viagra (surely the latter is just Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day?) and indulging in the fine art of haggling over NZ50c - it's all in the win, with perspective of course. Actually, unlike other cultures experienced, Morrocans are a very easy-going and non-aggressive, who are happy to desist after you say 'La, shukran' or 'non, merci' and often reply with a genuine, 'Pas de problem'. However there were frequent calls of 'Ni Hao!' or 'Konichi Wa!' which surely must have been directed to Chalky.
Lunches consisted of tajines or couscous with mutton or chicken, and dinners were eaten in Djemaa El-Fna: skewered meats, bread, dips and olives, snail soup (just like mushrooms, but complete with face) and other goodies served on cutlery/dishes that you just knew had not seen a good wash since they were packed at the factory. Every evening Djemaa El-Fna springs up small makeshift restaurants, stands packed with dried fruits, fresh orange juice, and crowds of locals gambling or watching storytellers act out traditional tales to Arabesque music and dancing.
We decided to visit the Ourika Valley, near the Atlas Mountains, where we did some impromptu and unexpectedly tough rock climbing to see waterfalls and collect quartz. Not only did we discover muscles in our backs, arms, legs, and hell, little fingers that never existed, but we also seriously lagged our guide, Jamal who leapt gracefully up and down the mountain. We'd met Jamal while walking past his shop, and he guessed we were from New Zealand. He was such a lovely and gracious man, who is a devout Muslim - he dashed off a few times to pray, once entrusting us with his shop to mind, much to Mavis' delight... never have so many locals and tourists alike pulled double-takes at the small, Chinese woman dressed in Kathmandu, trying to entice visitors with "Bonsoir, entrez s'il vous plait?".
After being enchanted by Marrakesh, we decided to head to Meknes and booked a 7-hour bus north. Except it wasn't 7 hours, but more like 10. It was comfortable yes, but had highlights such as men hopping on to serve us long, impassioned pleas for money or Koranic sermons; and the delightful experience of having a local woman cradling a toddler have intermittent and loud screaming matches with the driver over the fact her husband was left behind at one of the stops. Every time the bus stopped it in fact, reminded her. Luckily they were reunited some hours later, where the he caught up with the bus somehow.
Tired and weary we finally arrived at a very rainy Meknes.