Part 3 of the Morocco backpacking series: Backpacking through Morocco
Day 3: Marrakesh Ancienne MÃ©dina
Taxi split: 40 Dh
Hotel Chellah split: 150 Dh
Sandals Peter: 125 Dh
Lunch Peter: 15 Dh
Lunch Mark: 25 Dh
Synagog split: 10 Dh
False guide split: 20 Dh
Sprite split: 30 Dh
Jelubu Peter: 200 Dh
Cafe d’epice split: 30 Dh
Toilet Mark: 1 Dh
Dinner + Belly dancing split: 300 Dh
Tips Peter: 5 Dh
Tips Peter: 7 Dh
Mark exchanged for 2000 Dh
Conversations with strangers under a foreign sky, with sunshine brushing our faces through the shades of apple trees. Our morning was spent with Suzanne from Switzerland and Yum from Korea/Barcelona, both veterans of backpacking. We found a few tips on getting into Spain/Barcelona for cheap and learned about the pitfalls to watch out for when passing through customs . I can’t reiterate how much I prefer a hostel over a comfortable hotel. Not to mention that between Mark, me and finger pointing, we are able to communicate enough to have an interesting conversation with strangers from most of the countries around the globe.
Yesterday was just a taste to get our foot wet. Today we are going in for the kill and our destination is the “Ancienne MÃ©dina” ofÂ Marrakesh. We started off cheap and wanted to hike our way to the destination, but by noon we finally learned the important rule of the game that will shape the way we travel for the rest of the trip. One cannot withstand the unbearable heat of Morocco. I was already sun burnt and have emptied my water bottled by the time we called a cab. We paid the driver 40 Dh for the ride to our riad styled hotel Chellah. Very nice and clean with an open courtroom in the center. Most of the houses and hotels are styled in this way. I think paying 40 Dh is justified for how far it is and how complicated it is to find the the roads to our hostel this time. The driver also speaks French fluently while at the same time explained the history of all the buildings around.
At last, we arrived at the hotel intact. What a heavenly sight. Here’s a panoramic view in flickr. Click on all size and check out the original for the detailed view.
Here’s a footage of us walking from outside our hotel to a major street of the souq. I apologize for how shaky and bad the video is. I had to hide the camera because the locals gets very aggressive when cameras are pointed at them.
A few years ago, the government instigated a big crackdown on false guides so I can only imagine how bad it was back then. Even with the crack down and enforcement in place, we were still heavily assaulted everywhere we went. Marrakesh is a tourist city and scammer heaven, so don’t expect any peace of mind unless you stay inside.
Imagine this, you are lost in a strange country with intertwining side streets confusing the hell out of you. You take out your map and your trusty guide book “Lonely planet” to get oriented. Out of the blue a friendly looking local approached you and asked if you need help. His smile heart warming with a few missing teeth, you welcomed the help and asked if he can tell you where is “Jemaa-el-Fna” (Central square). He said he’d take you there, but having heard stories of the false guides you told him that you don’t have money and that you are not going to pay.Â Really, you just want him to point a general direction. Figuring that you can rely on your skills at asking for direction that you’ve honed in other backpacking trips. Well, you are in for some surprise buddy. This is not an European country.
Perhaps Marrakesh shouldn’t be the first place that you visit, but chances are it is if you got swayed by any of the guides or vacation agency packages. And as such, you will have a misplaced sense of trust on Moroccan people if you did. I am warning you first because the real Morocco is not like what I am about to describe.
The false guide trade
Dealing with the locals of Marrakesh is tricky. The only rule that they abide by is this: 100 Dh for every service rendered. The guide promised that he’s just being helpful and said that we’d do the same for Moroccans visiting Montreal. But as we progressed, it became more and more obvious that he’s just taking us around to his friend’s place so they can gauge us. We got a full explanation of all the spices and natural makeup. 10 Dh for visiting the last synagog. The kicker is when we decided to ditch him, he had the audacity to ask for 100 Dh. We gave him 20 Dh and held on to our claims that we didn’t need hm and said so at the start.
It seems to me at the time that for Moroccans there is no such thing as business integrity. Several times we tried to work out a deal first before taking on any service but still get asked to pay different prices at the end. And when you accuse them of lying, they get really mad at you for saying that. It insults their honor (which is pretty ironic). In Morocco, theft’s punishment is having your hands cut off and I am not sure what lying is, but I am pretty sure it’s a harsh punishment too. Price changing is not equivalent to lying. So they hold you to your western guilt and honor while exercising no honorable conducts themselves. Before you bash me on this, please finish reading the rest of the journey. I understand that this happens only in the tourist towns in the tourist area, but I also need to warn anyone who decides to venture there.
For people who’s not on a budget and not afraid to splurge, you can usually find an official guide by asking the owner of your hotel. They come with official badge and are dressed in the traditional Moroccan robe but they charge more than the 100 Dh demanded by false guides you find on the street.
Because of the false guide, we were pretty disoriented and had to spend the better part of the day finding our way back. This is when I discovered a unique character of Mark. He seems to have a need to know absolutely where he is. It surprises me because the whole idea of backpacking is getting lost. In any case, after much roaming around, we finally found our way and proceeded to finish the tours outlined on lonely planet.
One of the point of interest on the walking trail is Cafe d’Ã©pice. The place is shocking because of the number of white people stuffed in it. It act an oasis for weary western travelers to take a breather from the constant assaults of shopkeepers who wants to sell you stuff you don’t need. This is also where you can see the effect of lonely planet in full swing. Marked as a “Friendly place towards females” we saw a building full of white woman. All of a sudden, we don’t feel so unique anymore.
I spent some money buying some cloths to help me blend in, somehow , all that seems to do is making people mock me as “Chinese Alibaba”
When we returned to the hotel Chellah, we met a pair of British born sibling who lives in France: Jen and Rob.Â We were all relieved to be able to speak English once again and to feel the proximity of people who think like us that we decided to spend the rest of the day together and go out to watch some authentic belly dancing. It is from Jen and Rob that we begin to hear about the camel excursions in desert that some of the other backpackers are participating in.
We talked and enjoyed the atmosphere in a traditional Arabian settings until well into the night. Jen and Rob decided to head back to the hostel early because by midnight, the streets have turned hostile. Especially so towards woman and we had to surround Jen to protect her from all the cat calls and potential problems that might occur. At night, the streets are back in the hands of the locals. Single woman venture out at your own risk. Even guys needs to take more precaution.
Jemaa-el-Fna was quite a impressive in the morning, however, it is nothng compared to the night. It reminds me of a Taiwanese night market with the lights food and the people. It also showed the ugliest side of Marrakesh. Everythng at the night market requires money, a rule which we didn’t know. Because of this, we severely pissed off a few people. From listening to group of people making music to taking pictures. They will get hostile if you don’t pay up as if we are intruding on their right to enjoy themselves. They will even stop the music and stare at you using crowd psychology to force you to pay.