Thursday, July 3, 2014

Marrakech Morocco

Photos here: Marrakech


Why Morocco?  Well, I've never been there, and had a hankering for seeing North Africa.  Most of the Middle East is currently not safe for traveling, so Morocco was a nice compromise.  I knew very little about the country, but my research indicated that Casablanca was uninteresting, while Marrakech was the cultural and tourist hub of the country.

I thought I would spend four nights here, and then move on to the Moroccan sea village of Essaouira for several more days.  In between, I would do a trip of the Western Atlas mountains, which separate "habitable" Morocco on one side and the Sahara desert on the other.  I briefly considered doing a camel trip or a desert soujourn, but the reviews were fairly bad.

I booked the Riad Badi guest house, which is run by a delightful French couple.  Christian and Isabelle take pains to make their guests comfortable, and to inform them about navigating the city.  I recommend this hotel most strongly.

I spent the days in Marrakech doing the touristy things, such as seeing the ruins, the mosque exteriors (non-Islam people are not allowed in), roaming the souks (shopping areas), visiting the gardens, and the like.  I also took a lot a pictures of storks, as they dominate the city's roofline for some reason.  As a pure tourist attraction, the city is so-so.  Not bad, but not outstanding.  When compared to say, Istanbul, Marrakech comes across as a serond tier experience.

Moroccans are also not the easiest people in the world.  They are aggressive, and their cultural norms are so different than ours.  They also kept insisting speaking a few words of Japanese to me, even though they clearly had no idea what they were saying, confusing "ohayo gozaimasu" (Good Morning) for example with "sayonara" (Goodbye).  I have no idea why they mistakenly took me for a Japanese.  I told them I was from Costa Rica.

By the end of my trip, I resorted to inventing my own language to counteract this.  In Arabic, hello is "As-salam alaykom."  I started responding to their Japanese hellos with "Similac Akeem Oulajawon", mixing the name of a baby formula with the former NBA super star.  I thought if I spoke with enough of an accent I sounded vaguely Arabic of some sort.  Indeed, every person thought I was trying to speak Arabic and would respond in a flurry of gutteral speech in trying to strike up a conversation (usually in an attempt to sell me something).  So I tried saying "Osama Bin Laden Hussein Obama", and got the same excited happy response.  Even when I went with "Malcolm X in the Middle", the sales chatter only increased as they assumed they could finally speak to me.  Ahhh, crazy Moroccans.

With a couple of notable exceptions, the food was also not to my liking.  I can't figure out why the food in the region isn't more spicy, as I equate "hot" areas with spicy food (because of the historical need to cover up the taste of spoiling food).

Still, on balance, I was glad I came to Marrakech.  I doubt that I will ever return, but it was a unique experience and I learned a lot as well.  And spending the evenings watching the sun set from the Kosybar with a cold cocktail was actually a lot of fun.


Photos here: Marrakech

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