Tag Archives: americans in marrakech

Camels, Friends and Belly Dancers

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Camels, Friends and Belly Dancers

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!

Here we go, ready to ride some Dromedary!

Here we go, ready to ride some Dromedaries!

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.

Really big nostrils!

Is this guy smiling for me? Really big nostrils!

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!

Flower?

Flower? Savvy meets her dromedary.

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!

I think Sky and this dromedary are laughing at the same joke!

I think Sky and this dromedary are laughing at the same joke!

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.

Waiting for some customers

Waiting for some customers

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.

Sky the turtle whisperer.

Sky the turtle whisperer.

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.

Meeting a baby dromedary.

Meeting a baby dromedary.

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.

Mama and Baby

Mama and Baby

Posing with our guide.

Posing with our guide.

Team Kezmoh and a baby dromedary

Team Kezmoh and a baby dromedary

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.

New buddies. Jessica, Savannah, Sky and Catherine.

New buddies. Jessica, Savannah, Sky and Catherine.

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.

Cheers!

Cheers!

The highlight of our dinner was a belly dancing performance.

Belly dancer in Marrakech

Belly dancer in Marrakech

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!

My instructor, Marta Indra

My instructor, Marta Indra

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.

Mike is not sure if he should look!

Mike is not sure if he should look!

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.

American girls on a carriage ride in Marrakech!

California girls on a carriage ride in Marrakech!

Mike and Cathy Baker

Mike with Cathy Baker

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.

Leslie and Ali

Leslie and Ali

He pointed out storks that nest on the rampart wall to the 3 obstetricians in his carriage.

See the stork nesting on the rampart wall?

See the stork nesting on the rampart wall?

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!).

Spices

Spices

Pigments for local painters

Pigments for local painters

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!

A Berber dentist.  Photo from Google images

A Berber dentist. Photo from Google images

We spent the afternoon exploring and shopping.

This guy is carrying a bundle of live, squaking chickens.

This guy is carrying a bundle of live, squawking chickens.

A cool lamp shop The vendor with Sky and Cathy

A cool lamp shop
The vendor with Sky and Cathy

Sky, Mike, Savannah, Cathy, Jessica and Katherine

Sky, Mike, Savannah, Cathy, Jessica and Catherine

Delicious pineapple and coconut sold by the piece

Delicious pineapple and coconut sold by the piece

Jessica and Catherine were keen to get some henna as well so we went back to the Henna Cafe.

IMG_9533 IMG_9531

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.

My appetizer, yum!

My appetizer, yum!

Part 4  coming soon!

 

Henna, Turtles and McDonald’s

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Henna, Turtles and McDonald’s

Marrakech, Morocco Part 2:

On our first morning in the medina we were jarred awake at 4:30am.  The Muslim call to prayer is a shock if you are not ready for it.  The Adhan is recited from the top of all of the mosques 5 times a day by a Muezzin and it goes on for several minutes.  The Muezzin is a special person in each mosque that is chosen for his ability to recite both beautifully and loudly.  This was once done just by reciting the prayer from the minaret in a big voice. Now, thanks to modern technology, a loud-speaker broadcasts it so that everyone can hear.  When it is heard it is time to stop what one is doing and get ready for prayer. In most cases at 4:30am this means to stop sleeping.  The mosque, (that may have been right outside our window), made a second call to prayer, the Iqama, at 5:30am as well. So, once my heart had stopped pounding and I had drifted back to sleep, it started all over again.  Now I don’t mean to be culturally insensitive. I do understand that this is very important for muslims; it was just a bit of a shock the first day. Once I knew what the sound was, it was far less startling the next morning.

It is lovely to be on vacation and not need to get the girls ready for school in the morning. We wandered downstairs for breakfast after 9am and Youssef was waiting for us . We had rghaif which is a rich Moroccan dough that is pan-fried and served with honey. We also had delicious coffee, hot milk, yogurt, pastries and fresh-squeezed orange juice.  IMG_9272 IMG_9273

The girls and I had noticed that there was a spa next door to our riad. After breakfast we decided we could use a bit of pampering and we scheduled pedicures. At the Heritage Spa we were welcomed with warm tea and led to a sitting room where we waited for our attendants.

Sipping tea

Sipping tea

Waiting for our pedicures

Waiting for our pedicures

Sky and Savannah were taken to a lovely little room where they reclined on a colorful bed of pillows. A fountain bubbled and whispered soothingly and soft Moroccan music played in the background.

Having pedicures in Marrakech

Having pedicures in Marrakech

I had also scheduled some waxing in addition to my pedicure so my attendant, Banan, led me down some stairs, then up more stairs to a separate, more private area.  I lay on a massage table while she focused a bright light on me.  She had an old-looking can of wax with thick honey-colored drips down the side. It sat on a grubby base that she gingerly carried over and placed next to me.  She carefully pulled some used-looking gloves out of her pocket and covered her hands.  She used a popsicle stick to dip into the rusty can and blew on the wax to cool it a bit before she painted my hair.  There was a lot of double dipping involved and I tried not to wonder how many other people’s sticks had been in that bucket of wax.  I really did want to get rid of all that hair so I convinced myself that nothing could survive in boiling wax however unsanitary the set up was.  I thought that surely I would get to go to the lovely room for a pedicure and a leg massage when the procedure was over.  Nope, still on the flat table she had me bend my knees to put my feet in a bucket of warm water, weird.  It was my first lie down pedicure.  Once my toes were done she left me alone without a word in my little room.  I put on a robe and wandered out to find my clothes and my children.  I found Sky and Savvy lounging on their bed of pillows while their toes dried.  Two little sultanas. I joined them and we compared colors.  No one offered to paint a flower on our toes and we all felt that the foot massage was little more than a couple of slaps on the bottom of our feet but all in all it was a pleasant experience and I did get a very complete, albeit somewhat scary waxing.

Moroccan Pedicures

Moroccan Pedicures

Next stop, the Henna Cafe. After the odd experience with our henna attack in the big square the day before we thought we should find a calmer venue for some “temporary tattoos”.  We noticed the Henna Cafe the day before on our explore about town.  We climbed a narrow staircase decorated with paintings and photographs from local artists. We passed a tiny kitchen on our way to the rooftop terrace. We sat in the shade and sipped tea and ate delicious food from tagines.

Tea was a bit different, not my taste

Tea was a bit different, not my taste

The food was fabulous! Definitely my favorite lunch of the trip.

The food was fabulous! Definitely my favorite lunch of the trip.

Sky and Savannah found small turtles roaming about the tiles.  The turtles were tame and ate table scraps. It was good entertainment while we waited for our food.

New friends

New friends

Sweet gentle Sky, animals always find her

Sweet gentle Sky, animals always find her

The girls chose their designs from a book and gentle Fatima skillfully painted them with her “homemade organic henna”.

Savannah and Fatima

Savannah and Fatima

After getting lost in the labyrinthine medina Mike was keen to check out the “modern” city, Gueliz. Youssef pointed us in the right direction and this time I downloaded a map. We were very careful to memorize landmarks and I promised Savannah that we would come home the same way we went out so that we wouldn’t get lost. She was skeptical but agreed to go.

Found a park on our way

Found a park on our way

Stop

Stop

I did wonder what the draw was to this part of town. I wondered just until I saw the McDonald’s, which of course Mike already knew about from his Africa McDonald’s App. As a vegetarian, it is embarrassing to admit that my husband has a deep-seated love for Mickey D’s.  So against my better judgement, it has become our tradition to visit one in every country.  It is amazing how we just happen to “stumble” upon them.  Mike was in beef heaven and was so happy that it was worth it.

So happy but a bit sheepish

So happy but a bit sheepish

Mike had a Hamburger Royal and Savvy had a cheeseburger.  Sky and I sipped vegetarian milkshakes. McDonald’s in Marrakech is wildly successful.  It was packed with people, lovely girls met us at the door and took our order on handheld computers.  We had to search for a place to sit amongst the local Moroccans.  IMG_9318We had definitely come across the modern Morocco. Beautiful, fashionable women in head scarves strolled next to friends in tube tops and high heels (I wish I had a photo of that!). Many women passed with their heads conspicuously uncovered, with long, flowing dark hair exposed.  The west has obviously affected this Arab country but it seems that it has been a peaceful transition.  Morocco was our first exposure to the Arab world. We learned from the locals that we met, that in their opinion, Marrakech is a progressive city that welcomes the Western changes.  There are many immigrants from other parts of Africa who on their way to Europe stop in Morocco. Many find it so agreeable and peaceful that they decide to stay.

Over the centuries, Moroccans have endured invasions by Arab, French and Spanish civilizations.  The indigenous Berbers have been in Morocco for over 5000 years. They have survived and today live throughout Morocco composing more than 40% of the population.  There are 35 million people in Morocco and the overwhelming majority are of mixed Arab and Berber descent so it is not surprising that Arabic and Berber are the two official languages of Morocco. What is surprising is that Berber was not recognized as an official language until 2011. The third, unofficial, language is French which is the language that is widely spoken in government and business. Moroccans easily switch between French and Arabic and we noticed that they frequently speak a combination of the two languages.  The recent history is that Morocco was occupied by the French and Spanish as a protectorate from 1912-1956. The French occupied most of the country while Spain occupied the northernmost region.  Mohammed V negotiated a peaceful transition in 1956 that restored Moroccan independence from both Spain and France.  The sultan agreed to transform his country into a constitutional monarchy where the sultan would continue to have an active political role.  His son, Mohammed VI, is the reigning king today. In 1999 at the age of 36 he became king when his father died.  Today he seems to be a popular and powerful king, not to mention fabulously wealthy. In 2009 Forbes magazine estimated that the Moroccan Royal Family had one of the largest fortunes in the world.  He is ever-present in Marrakech from his face on the Dirham, the local currency, to his ubiquitous portrait.  In 2002 he married to the most beautiful computer engineer in the world, Princess Lalla Salma. They share a son and daughter.

The Moroccan Royal family

The Moroccan Royal family (google images)

He is also known for creating a new Mudawana which is family law based on Islamic principles that grants more rights to women regarding marriage, divorce and property ownership.  I like to think that his lovely, well-educated wife had some influence on the new rights for women in recent years.

I got a bit carried away, but I do find the whole idea of royalty quite interesting.   After lunch we shopped in the modern shops where everyone spoke French and many spoke English.  It was relaxing not haggling over prices. We were surprised that in the stores that sold typical Moroccan clothing and ceramics that the prices were actually better in Gueliz than they were in the medina. Obviously in the medina the local merchants are accustomed to asking outrageous prices of the tourists.  Sky chose a beautiful blue outfit that was one long piece of fabric.  For the outfit and some golden shoes it cost the equivalent of about 40$. In addition, there weren’t the pressured sales pitches that we experienced in the souks.  Savvy found some sandals that she was happy with and we successfully found our way back to the riad.  Sky put on her new outfit and we had a fashion show.  We sipped mint tea and played cards until we collapsed. Another full day in the Red City!

Sky in her new Moroccan duds.

Sky in her new Moroccan duds.

Part 3 coming soon…

 

 

 

Mint tea, snakes and monkeys

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Mint tea, snakes and monkeys

Marrakech, Morocco: Team Kezmoh goes to Morocco Part 1

Morocco, so close to the Iberian peninsula…  Team Kezmoh knew we couldn’t spend a year in Spain without visiting Africa. We could have traveled across the Strait of Gibraltar by ferry but we wanted to visit deeper into the country. We choose Marrakech, Morocco’s jewel of the south.  Al Magrib, the Arabic name for Morocco, means “far west” or “where the sun sets”. When Arabs first arrived in Morocco it is said that they believed that they had reached the westernmost point in the world.  And so, we travelled south to the land where the sun sets…

Marrakech was founded over 1000 years ago in 1062.  In the 12th century red walls were constructed to fortify and protect the city.

Marrakech from google images

Marrakech from google images

Team Kezmoh started the day at 3:30 am to make our flight from Sevilla to Marrakech.  Sky and Savannah jumped out of bed, excited to begin the next chapter of our adventure. We travelled during their spring break from school. We knew that we would miss Semana Santa, (Holy Week or Easter Week) so we planned a couple of extra days in Sevilla on the way home from Africa.

First steps in Africa!

First steps in Africa!

We easily found a taxi outside of the airport and we arrived after a quick 10 minute drive. Luckily we had the phone number for our hotel and our driver called ahead for directions. When we arrived he pointed down a narrow alleyway and said in French, “I think your hotel is that way…” A moment before we set off in the wrong direction, Youseff, our host at Riad Jardin Secret appeared. He had thankfully come out to meet us. He greeted us warmly and unlocked a small unmarked door in the rampart (wall around the city).  He led us down a tiny passageway to the entrance of our riad. I was very relieved to see the sign outside the unassuming door. The door gave no hint of what we would find inside.IMG_9554

 

Just arrived!

Just arrived!

Youseff led us into the cool tranquility past an indoor garden and sat us down in a beautiful parlor. He hurried back with sweet, hot mint tea and gorgeous pastries.

Youseff, taking good care of us

Youseff, taking good care of us

Sky and Savannah enjoying some mint tea.

Sky and Savannah enjoying some mint tea.

Delicious Moroccan Pastries at Riad Jardin Secret

Delicious Moroccan Pastries at Riad Jardin Secret

We learned that a riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior courtyard or garden. There is generally a water feature in the central courtyard that acts a natural air conditioner.

Sky and Savvy in the courtyard

Sky and Savvy in the courtyard

Warm air entering the riad is cooled by channeling it over the water. The heat rises and leaves via the open air courtyard.  We noticed a significant temperature drop as soon as we entered the riad.   Ryad is the Arabic word for garden so technically our riad was called “Garden Secret Garden”.  Riad Jardin Secret is a very typical, traditional Moroccan palace.  It was built in the 19th century and has been beautifully restored.   It was designed to protect the privacy of the family who would have lived there. There are no exterior windows to the city. All of the windows face to inner gardens and courtyards.  This design principle also supports the Islamic tradition of privacy for women.  The inner walls are constructed of a shiny tadelakt plaster. Most of the courtyard walls are adorned with colorful zellige tiles.

After a rest in our room we checked out one of the lovely lounge areas around the courtyard. Notice the traditional z tiles

One of the lovely lounge areas around the courtyard. Notice the traditional zellige tiles and intricate carvings.

There are 8 rooms, each opulently decorated. We were told that Jardin Secret was once the home to an aristocratic family who also owned the home next door.  One wife would have lived here with her children while the other wife would have lived next door.  (Polygamy is now illegal in Morocco).

We relaxed and sipped our tea until Youseff led us to our room.  We felt like royalty when we entered.   Our quarters were spacious with plenty of room to relax.  The windows had colored glass and views of the courtyard and when opened allowed the peaceful sounds of the fountain to relax us.  SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESOur bathroom was large with a tub that was definitely not for those lacking in agility. There was a thigh high mosaic wall to climb over to enjoy an open air shower.

Beautiful tile tub/shower

 

Youseff left us to rest.

So tired!  Notice the shiny plaster on the walls. This is called Tedelakt plaster which is created using lime plaster that is treated with a natural soap.

So tired!
Notice the shiny plaster on the walls. This is called Tadelakt plaster which is created using lime plaster that is treated with a natural soap.

The view from my bed

The view from my bed

Sky and Savannah played on their new rubberband looms creating bracelets and little animals (thanks Dave!). We enjoyed the cool peaceful tranquility until our stomachs reminded us that we needed to go out. Youseff walked through a short maze of passageways to a busier road deeper in the medina. The medina is the area within the rampart walls, it is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets with thick walled interlocked homes. This labyrinth was supposedly designed to confuse invaders.  We learned that it also functions to confuse modern day tourists.  The narrow passages were quite obviously created for pedestrian and animal traffic but today they are a dangerous mess of foot, donkey and scooter mayhem. We had to be constantly alert as scooters flew by the winding, tight roads.

In the Medina

In the Medina

Youseff pointed out small landmarks so that we could find our way home.  He launched us in the direction of good eats and disappeared.  We wandered down the road, conscious that we looked conspicuously foreign.  Although we were careful to dress respectfully the first day (the picture above is from later in the trip), we realized that short of wearing headscarves there wasn’t much that would help us blend in.

We stumbled upon a lovely restaurant called Kremm Café.

The Kremm Café

The Kremm Café

After months in Spain we were excited to try some Moroccan food.  The typical Moroccan dish is a tagine, an earthenware pot which is traditionally heated over hot coals.  All of the ingredients are placed in the dish and are cooked slowly over many hours.  Mike and Savannah discovered what would be their favorite food right away, lemon chicken tagine.  The chicken, lemons, olives, onions, oil and spices are placed in the middle of the pot and vegetables are arranged in a pyramid over the meat.  Sky and I enjoyed many vegetable tagines which are the same design minus the meat.  Cous cous is offered as a side dish with the juices from the tagine poured over it for flavor.

We were not brave enough to eat from one of the street vendors but it did smell good.

We were not brave enough to eat from one of the street vendors but it did smell good. This picture is from Wikipedia.

Marrakech is teaming with tourists. We felt foreign but we had plenty of company. We felt a bit more comfortable amongst the European tourists who were dressed for the weather in sundresses and tank tops. We soon gave up on wearing long pants and long sleeves.

After lunch we set out to discover the famous Djemaa el-Fna square. This is a huge open air market. Djemaa el-Fna is both a functional marketplace where the locals come to shop and a major tourist trap. The main entrance is lined with horse drawn carriages and men with crazy hats trying to lure visitors on a tour around the medina.  The idea of the big square was more exotic than the reality.  “Henna” artists swarmed us as we approached . One young man grabbed Sky’s arm and started painting a “free sample” he said.

Beware of black Henna, Sky still has a rash!

Beware of black Henna, Sky still has a rash!

When he was done with a quick doodle he demanded 100 dirhams, (which he did not get).  It turned out that her henna tattoo was not henna at all but an irritating black ink. Weeks later, Sky still has a rash. Next up were the snake charmers who were friendly and welcoming at first.  One man draped a harmless, lethargic, green snake around our necks, “for luck”.  IMG_9248 IMG_9246

 

He led Mike over to his tent where he pulled a viper out of a basket. He held it over Mike’s shoulder for a picture. When I looked at the picture later I noticed that it was flat and quite possibly dead. IMG_9253We took pictures knowing that we would be expected to pay him.  I offered him 20 dirhams (about 3$) which I thought was fair for a couple of photos. His demeanor changed quickly and suddenly he was angry demanding 200 dirhams (23$). In the end I gave him a little more and we walked away. Whew, not the magical experience I had hoped we would find.  There were dried-out lizards and turtles in cages baking in the sun. Unhappy monkeys in chains were led around by evil looking handlers.

As soon as we got close to the monkeys I felt bad that we were encouraging this practice. The monkeys looked at us with sad, intelligent eyes.

As soon as we got close to the monkeys I felt bad that we were encouraging this practice by being there at all. The monkeys looked at us with sad, intelligent eyes.

It was a circus of unkind, seedy performers exploiting the animals and tourists alike.  They began with toothy smiles but were quick to change from friendly to demanding in a blink of an eye.

We did enjoy the fresh squeezed orange juice from one of the many juice vendors.

Don't forget to come back to stand 27!

Don’t forget to come back to stand 27!

Eventually we retreated to a rooftop cafe to observe the chaos below. Djemaa el-Fna is today at best a flee market or carnival, at worst a lure to see how much money they can bleed from the tourists for a few pictures and trinkets.

Long ago it was a very different place. Djemaa means “meeting place” or “congregational mosque”. Fna or Fina can mean either “death”, “end” or “courtyard”. So Djemaa el-Fna either means Mosque with a courtyard or Meeting place of death. There is a famous Mosque in front of the square called the Koutoubia Mosque but I also found references to the ancient practice where severed heads of criminals and sinners were displayed in the big square so either definition may be correct.  No pictures of that!

Sky and Mike in front of the m

Sky and Mike in front of the Koutoubia Mosque

The Koutoubia Mosque is the largest mosque in Marrakech and the towering minaret (picture above) built around 1150 is the oldest of the 3 great Almohad minarets around the world.   The others being the Hassan Tower in Rabat and the Giralda in Sevilla.

Here is my dad, on our trip to Sevilla with the famous, Christian-ified minaret behind him

Here is my dad, on our trip to Sevilla with the famous, Giralda, the Christian-ified minaret, behind him

And another, sorry I couldn't resist I have so many pictures of Sevilla. Note my Dad in the lower right hand corner!

And another, sorry I couldn’t resist because I have so many pictures of Sevilla. Note my Dad in the lower right hand corner!

Interestingly the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque is topped by 3 golden orbs.

3 golden orbs. No, I didn't get that close. Credit goes to Wikipedia

3 golden orbs. No, I didn’t get that close. Credit goes to Wikipedia

There are many legends regarding the orbs.  One of which is that they were made from the melted jewelry of Yaqoub al Mansour’s wife in penance for eating either 3 grapes or for eating during 3 days or 3 hours (depends on what you read) of the Ramadan fast. We couldn’t actually enter the mosque as we were quite obviously not muslim.

After enjoying our break from the chaos in the square on the terrace with a light dinner (well, quite light, as it was very bad). We ventured into the souks, the markets of the medina.  Part of the experience in the medina, it is said, is to get lost in the souks. Breathe in the smells, taste the food, buy some stuff that you never knew you needed. We dove in, visiting various shops. I bought some shoes and souvenirs.

Sky bought some sandals from this nice man who was happy to pose for me.

Sky bought some sandals from this nice man who showed us how he made them.

Who knew I needed blue slippers!

Who knew I needed blue slippers!

We could see the minaret and initially using that as a reference we thought that we could just walk in one direction and end up at the rampart wall and then walk until we came to our riad.  Silly plan.  The sun soon set and any chance of navigating using the minaret dissolved as everything above the walls of the labyrinth faded with the last light of the day.  Nevertheless, I was enjoying the exotic sights and smells. There were tables piled high with dates, apricots, mint and herbs. Colorful stores lined the streets filled with leather shoes, scarves and pottery. IMG_9312There were carts with baskets of aromatic spices (would have been more appealing without the many flies). Vendors called to us as we walked inviting us to sample their foods or try on traditional flowing robes.  The colors were intoxicating. I was fully enjoying the experience but as it grew darker and we tried to orient ourselves I became a bit nervous.  Walking in one direction was actually impossible as every road twisted and turned almost imperceptibly until we were not sure which direction we were going. Deeper into the medina the shops became less touristy and the people more local. I had read that a compass would have been useful, I later remembered that my iPhone had a compass but I didn’t think of it at the time. The girls began to worry that their parents were lost and Savvy started to cry. Despite the dark alleyways, I never really felt unsafe. There were children playing around every corner and friendly locals stopped to offer directions.  Just take the second left and then you will be on the correct street… Finally we stopped at a newsstand and the man directed us to a teenaged boy who offered to lead us home. I read that this is what everyone ends up doing when lost in the medina and since a taxi is not possible we followed the boy deeper into the tangle of passages. Soon we recognized a shop where we had bought ice cream earlier in the day and I paid the boy 100 dirhams (12$) which is what my tour book recommended.  We were so relieved to be welcomed home by Youseff. He made us tea and by midnight we were asleep only 18 hours after we had left Spain! As I was tucking the girls into bed they asked how many days we had been in Morocco. I answered just one day but it already felt like 2 or 3.

Stay tuned for Morocco part 2… Please send comments! I love to know who is reading this!