Marrakesh Revisited (2)
Medina & Souks
11.09.2008 - 23.09.2008 35 °C
Riads in Morocco are private houses converted in hostels, there is an inner patio with a fountain, Muslims must wash their hands and feet before entering their house and this ritual is observed before praying five times a day. These houses have a ground floor and then two or three floors more with small rooms. Houses are narrow and so are the streets, which lead from one lybrinth to another. Streets are also very narrow with high walls on both sides and in many streets it is not advisable to venture after seven O'clock in the evening.
Riad Dar Badra is situated in the old town, ten minutes walk from the famous Koutoubia Masque and Place Djamaa El Fna and the Souks, markets which are full ofsmall shops sitting cheek by jowl, full of hundreds of different articles, perfumes, spices, jewelry, clay pots, carpets, lamp shades, clay pots and ceramics and many more things. Haggling goes on all the time, the shopkeepers block your way, shake your hand and literally force you to enter into their small shops to have a look around. It can be a hassle if you do not have the patience. And even if you buy something, you will never know if you paid the right price or not. I bought a straw hat, the vender wanted 150DH, I offered 20DH and he accepted with such alacrity that I knew I could have paid even less. And indeed, a few hundred meters further in the market I found the same hats selling for 10DH.
We wanted to go on a day excursion to the waterfalls, the tourist office Rep wanted 300DH pp, and before I could start bargaining, he himself was willing to accept 200DH. Another thing to remember is to keep small change handy, coins of 5 &10DH, notes of 20DH. Otherwise you will get nasty surprise of not getting any change. If you have to pay 3DH for a glass of fresh orange juice in Jemma El Fna, don’t pay with a 50 or 20DH note. In Morocco there are four prices for everything, one for the locals, another for people from the north (Tangier and Casablanca since they have more money) yet another for the foreigners living in the country and non-resident Moroccans who come to visit, and the fourth for tourists. So a watermelon which may be only 0.60DH a kilo, could cost upto 2.50DH to a tourist. I bought a kilo of fresh oranges for 0.66DH a kilo for which the vender demanded 20DH a kilo. So bargain over everything, whether you want to buy or not, but not over a glass of fresh orange juice. It cost only 3DH for god sake.
For Muslims September is the holy Ramadan during which they must keep fast during the day, they have to eat before sunrise and again after sunset. Because of this the opening and closing hours of many places of interest were changed.
There is a hop on and hop off tourist bus service (130DH pp) but if you are a good walker, many places are within walking distance and you can enjoy the atmosphere of narrow streets, the Kasbah and Souks too. Or you can hire a horse carriage and do the sightseeing at a trot, observing the motorcycle and taxi drivers committing kamikaze through the chaotic city traffic or see men urinating against the city walls. Sounds and smells of El Maghreb.
In the last five-six years Marrakech has seen a remarkable urban development, modern houses outside the city walls, new shopping center on Avenue Mohammed V with the inevitable McDonalds and KFC, wide and shady Avenue Mohammed VI with four & five star hotel complexes. The city has extended a lot with the affluence of tourist revenues.
Tomorrow I am leaving for Mexico with my son Alex, so I will continue writing from there about Marrakech and Essaouira which we also visited.