Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Fes to Marrakech

The last few days, with our Morocco Explored driver and guide, we have traversed the middle Atlas, high Atlas and touched the edge of the Sahara desert. The land has been brown, yellow and red; rocky plains, barren and bald mountain tops, lush valleys filled with date palms and villages.

The road has wound it's way past nomad tents and abandoned structures, small houses that blend into the landscape (building material is the local mud mixed with straw), villages perched on the edge of cliffs, kasbahs centuries old. Winding roads and barren landscapes with a lush palmerie in the valley will be enduring memories.

Abandoned Nomad dwelling

Centuries old Kasbah with graffiti

We have seen men, women and children going about their daily lives, riding donkeys, walking and crammed into overcrowded vehicles (everything from motor bikes to utes). Men building/repairing houses and leading donkeys carrying heavy loads, (and most often sitting drinking tea together at local cafes) women tending gardens, washing clothes at the stream with small children in tow, older girls helping their mothers, older boys working or playing soccer and small children doing what kids do everywhere -playing and getting underfoot.

this little boy appeared out of nowhere and followed us around for a while

We have driven through market after market, busy thriving places full of people and animals. There is energy and mayhem at this important weekly event.

And finally we have arrived in Marrakech, a city bursting with frenetic activity, noise and people. If Chefchauoen is blue, then Fes is yellow/brown and Marrakech pink (these colors reflect the dominant building materials and colours). Chefchauoen has cats, Fes donkeys and Marrakech motor bikes. They whizz past roads and alleys, souks and every available space. Horns honking, you really do need to be careful. Marrakech is tourist central, and after a week or more seeing mostly locals it is strange to see scantily clad tourists. Fes did not feel so touristy, perhaps the medina is so large you don't see so much of each other, perhaps it is just quieter up there? It is certainly more conservative, the locals in the medina covered from head to toe.

So far we have ventured from our Riad to the local souks and the main square. Motor bikes are a hazard, people stream from everywhere, the stall holders are much more forthright (a polite way to say pushy and sometimes aggressive - especially the food stalls of an evening) I can see how it could be overwhelming, especially if this was your first stop in Morocco. Our experiences so far have prepared us well, but we still managed to get scammed in the square - Johanna wanted to get her hand painted with henna, the woman seemed ok but we made the school boy error of not settling on a price first (we did ask but she made a joke - that should have warned us). Painting done she demanded 600 dirham (approximately 60 dollars), we refused but couldn't get it for less than 400, an expensive bit of hand painting! Oh well lesson learned!

The main square teems with food stalls of an evening, snake charmers, storey tellers, entertainers etc... All of them want to take money from you one way or another. We walked to the edge of a group to see what was happening (some kind of music), within 30 seconds someone was there demanding money to watch. Colin said we had just arrived and maybe we would be willing if we had actually seen anything first! We refused to pay and moved on. The monkey men ( our name for the men who have a monkey on a leash) come up to unsuspecting people and shake their hand, the monkey jumps onto your arm, the man takes a photo for you on your camera and then demands payment. You have to be smart here, (or pre-warned), develop a tough skin, say no (often) and not feel rude when you don't acknowledge the other person or deliberately turn or walk away - it's the only way to survive. The square is an interesting experience but I don't think we'll spend lots of time there, getting hassled is wearing after a while!