Part 3: Marrakech
For some reason in my North American mind it was very important that we ride camels while in Morocco. Never mind that there were good roads in Marrakech and that no one was riding around on camels, we still felt compelled to find some camels. Youssef, our host in Riad Jardin Secret arranged for a driver to meet us outside the rampart wall. His car was modern and comfortable and stood out amongst the tiny run-down cars that are common in the medina. He explained that we were off to ride, not camels, but dromedaries. Camels have 2 humps while dromedaries have only one. Who knew? As it turns out we really knew nothing about camels/dromedaries. One thing that I have really enjoyed about traveling is learning new interesting facts. Dromedaries are cool!
Cool camel/dromedary facts:
1. They do not store water in those humps. Nope, the humps are fat.
2. So if the humps don’t store water, how is it that they can go so long without water? This is the cool part: Camels are really good at minimizing water losses. First, they have very little urine output and there poop is very, very dry. Camel urine is as thick as syrup and their poop is so dry it is burned by nomads in the desert for fuel. Secondly, they don’t lose as much water during breathing as humans do. Have you noticed that they have unusually large nostrils? Hot air is inhaled and cooled in spiral turbinates in the nose. When air is exhaled it is cooled by the turbinates and water vapor condenses just like dew on grass. This water is reabsorbed by the camel.
3. Even their blood is different! A camel’s red blood cells are actually oval rather than circular like most other mammals. This facilitates the circulation of blood when they are dehydrated. It also allows them to tolerate osmotic variations that would kill a human and cause our red blood cells to explode.
4. Camels can tolerate up to a 40% loss of their body weight in water! That would be like a 180 pound (81 kg) man losing 72 pounds (33 kg) of water!
5. Camels can run 40mph for short stretches and can sustain a speed of 25mph.
6. Camels live 40-50 years.
7. Camels can drink 200 liters (52 gallons) of water in 3 minutes!
8. Camels tolerate enormous fluctuations in body temperature. Their body temperature can range from 34 °C (93 °F) when they get up in the morning to 40 °C (104 °F) by sunset!
Now you can fascinate and impress your friends with your new knowledge of camels/dromedaries, an added benefit of following Team Kezmoh!
We drove to an area of Marrakech called the Palmerie. Although the landscape was completely flat, the road twisted between the palms. Abdul explained to us that it is a crime punishable by fine or imprisonment if you cut down a palm tree. The trees are older than the road, thus the curves. Along the way we passed many roadside camel stands just waiting for tourists to come along and rent a ride.
Somehow I thought we would be in the desert and that it would seem less touristy but Marrakech is an oasis and the desert is far away. The truth is, riding a camel is a bit cliché, I realized. About 15 minutes from our riad we met our guide and our family of dromedaries. Team Kezmoh climbed onboard our new friends and had a loop around the Palmerie. To be completely honest a camel ride is more of a photo op than anything else. We did come across a turtle on the road and our guide saved him from our dromedary train.
The highlight of the tour was when we returned to our base. Our guide led us through the palms where 2 baby dromedaries and their mother were hanging out.
The babies were 2 weeks old. One baby was nursing while his mother ate from a giant pile of leaves. I imagine a 1000 lb animal must have to eat constantly to support a baby that size.
When we were satisfied that we had a full camel experience Abdul drove us back to the hotel. Shortly after we returned our friend Cathy Baker arrived with her daughter Jessica and Jessica’s friend Catherine. Mike and I work with Cathy back in California. She is a dear friend and she actually is the obstetrician who brought both Sky and Savannah into the world. Cathy had been a Peace Corps Volunteer before medical school and lived in Oman. During that time she learned Arabic so she was excited to come to Morocco. Sky and Savvy were fast friends with our new visitors and the little band of girls quickly disappeared together to explore the riad.
That night we asked our hosts Melika and Youssef to recommend a restaurant. They recommended Riad Riaffa which promised good food and belly dancing. We ordered a variety of traditional Moroccan tagines and salads. Although most Moroccans do not drink alcohol it is available to tourists. We had a bottle of Moroccan wine which was pale in comparison to the delicious Spanish wines that we were used to but still good.
The highlight of our dinner was a belly dancing performance.
I have a new appreciation for belly dancing after my time in Spain. Last September, just after school had started for the girls our friend Amparo approached me on the street with a clip board. She was collecting names to join her in a dance class at the sports pavilion. She told me that it would be danza del vientre. Humm, danza del vientre, I did not know what that meant but I was delighted to be asked to join any sort of exercise group so I signed right up. I thought maybe it would be Flamenco, maybe Zumba, maybe some sort of Spanish dancing. I arrived on the appointed day dressed to exercise. I was still too embarrassed to ask what sort of a class I had signed up for and by then I couldn’t even remember what she had called it. The instructor arrived, she was extremely fit. This must be Zumba, I thought. Marta shed her sweat pants and put on a tiny skirt over her tights. The skirt had little metal coins that jingled when she moved. “OH NO”, belly dancing!
Belly dancing is probably the last type of dance that I am built for. It did cross my mind to get out of there right away but I stayed and gave it a whirl. Marta instructed us to practice what we had learned at home. I went home and demonstrated some of my new moves to the team. We laughed and laughed, I looked more like a robot than a belly dancer. Walking home from my second class another student, Laura, explained to me that it wasn’t my fault, “Es que no eres Latina (It’s just that you aren’t Latina)”. So, no hope for me… I did continue the classes until February when it dwindled from 20 students to 4 and our instructor told us that we were just too few students to make the class worth it for her. So my own, largely unsuccessful attempts to learn belly dancing definitely gave me a new appreciation for the sport. The belly dancer who entertained us while we ate was talented and I think I enjoyed the show more than anyone.
In the morning we went back to Djemaa el Fna (see Marrakech part 1) with Cathy and the girls. Cathy had promised Jessica a carriage ride around the city. We negotiated a price for 2 carriages and the 4 kids hopped in one while Cathy, Mike and I took up the rear.
Our driver Ali spoke English and Spanish in addition to French and Arabic. He pointed out the sights as we passed and answered my questions. He was proud to tell me that Marrakech is a city that is open to visitors and that, in his opinion, people of all races were welcome. As we drove past the Royal palace he explained that King Mohammed is a popular and good monarch.
He pointed out storks that nest on the rampart wall to the 3 obstetricians in his carriage.
We trotted out of the medina and into an area of luxury hotels and upscale stores such as Louis Vuitton. Once back in the medina we stopped at a spice store where we were given a tour of the wonderful herbs. The smells in the store were divine. I bought a sac of spices that our guide promised was a mixture of 45 spices, “the secret to Moroccan cooking”. I have enough spice to flavor our cooking for years. (If anyone wants a bit please let me know!).
When our carriage tour of Marrakech was completed we plunged back into the chaos of Djemaa el Fna. I passed a wrinkled man sitting at a little table. As we approached he quickly covered his display with a large piece of cardboard. How odd, all of the other vendors called to us as we passed. He was quite obviously not interested in our little band of Americans. This piqued my curiosity. I stood apart from our group and watched him from a distance until he uncovered his table. TEETH! It was a gruesome display of molars and other various teeth. He was a Berber dentist! I later read that these “dentists” will extract a tooth for you right there at their card table!
We spent the afternoon exploring and shopping.
Jessica and Catherine were keen to get some henna as well so we went back to the Henna Cafe.
For dinner that night we enjoyed our best restaurant meal of the year at Le Comptoir du Pacha. The restaurant was around the corner from our riad and was owned by an enthusiastic Frenchman. He seemed genuinely happy to meet us and gave us a tour around his place. The food was an incredible mix of French and Moroccan styles. If you make it to Marrakech I’d highly recommend his place.
Part 4 coming soon!