Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Making The Best Of Marrakech - Morocco (Africa, Not Europe!)

Our next stop on the great Western Mediterranean cruise of 2013 was Casablanca, Morocco. We were very excited to go here. After all, it's Africa! Not lions and elephants and safaris, but still, we were on the continent of Africa.

Want to read about where we were before? We were in Barcelona and then Seville.

Our boat docked in Casablanca. We chartered a van to drive us the two hours south to Marrakech so we could shop, eat, and explore. 

Right between those green and pink arrows is a whole lotta desert. Not very exciting. Unless you're a camel or a sheik, I guess.

Right as we got off the boat we were happy and all smiles. We were excited. We had no idea how long of a day lay ahead of us. 

Arabic Stop sign

On a happy note, I saw my first stop sign outside of America that actually said STOP in a  language other than English. At least I assume it said stop. It was the right shape and the right color but for all I know it could have said 'free milk' or 'bears ahead.' Yeah, I don't really know any Arabic. 

It was at this point in our trip that things began to head south. We couldn't find the driver and the van who we had prepaid to take us to Marrakech. He had very explicit instructions to meet us at the port gate. No one to be found. Mrs. Point wasn't going to have any of this so she ran down past the port gates with our other travel partner, Mrs. Bulgaria (she really is from Bulgaria). Finally, after two hours we found our driver, Hamid. (No joke. His name really was Hamid.) We all piled in the large van and took off through the crowded streets of Casablanca. 

As we drove, Mrs. Point and Mrs. Bulgaria were very mad that Hamid was nowhere to be found. Mrs. Bulgaria was yelling at him from the back, "Where were you, Hamid?!" in her cute Bulgarian accent. (Actually, she can be pretty scary.) Hamid just smiled and turned up the Arabic music of sitars and women wailing a throaty song. No one was going to bring Hamid down. 

One hour into the drive, the youngest Point family member threw up in the van. One and a half hours into the drive, Mrs. Bulgaria's one year old daughter threw up in the van. And it was the really gross stinky throw up of curdled milk. So there I am, riding in this van in the warm Moroccan desert and sun with crazy music playing and vomit dripping off the windows. I was having so much fun. (In the poor children's defense, the youngest Point was sick and Mrs. Bulgaria's daughter gagged on an apple piece. It all got cleaned up. Well, as good as you can clean up vomit in a moving van in Africa.)

Marrakech Morocco

After driving through the desert for what seemed like forever, we started to arrive in Marrakech.

Marrakech Morocco

The first thing I noticed was the juxtaposition of the living situation. Wealthy walled off and protected from the poor right next door.

Marrakech Morocco

The streets of Marrakech.

This tower is part of the walled section of the medina or the old section of town. A medina is usually walled and contains maze like streets that host vendors.

Snake charmer in Morocco

Within five minutes of our arrival in the shopping area, we were accosted by this gentleman here. Meet Mr. Snake Charmer.

Snake charmer in Morocco

Mr. Snake Charmer saw me and my little boys standing off on the side just watching the snakes. He approached me and said, "You like?" 

Snake charmer in Morocco

I replied, "No, not really."
Mr. Snake Charmer - "Your boys! Your boys! They like!"
Which they did. They are after all, little boys. 

Snake charmer in Morocco

So see if you can follow me through this exchange...
Mr. Snake Charmer - "Take a picture of your boys with the snakes! You come! You do it!"
Me - "No, thank you. I have no money." (Which I didn't. We hadn't even gone to the ATM yet.)
Mr. Snake Charmer - "No! No money! Just come! Take picture!"
I've been around the block with my travels so I knew better. That's what really gets me about this whole situation. I KNEW better. I should have left.
Me - "No. It's okay..." I am walking away. But my little boys are standing by with rapt attention. He starts to put his hat on their heads.
Me - "No. No. No."
Mr. Snake Charmer - "It's okay. No money. It's gift. For you. For you coming to Morocco." And that is where he got me. I didn't want to seem rude and refuse a gift. (Deep down inside, I still knew better.)

Snake charmer in Morocco

Mr. Snake Charmer starts draping snakes all over my boys. "Picture! Picture! Take picture! For you!"

Every time I tried to leave he insisted I take more pictures.

Snake charmer in Morocco

Mr. Snake Charmer even grabbed Matt and shoved a snake in his hands. Finally, I had had enough and told him I was going to leave. Matt had already drifted off and disappeared in a crowd. I gathered Aidan and Andre, who were still being charmed themselves by the snakes, and we started to leave. Mr. Snake Charmer at this point grabbed my arm (very hard, I might add) from behind and yelled, "You pay!"
Me - Totally surprised, "I'm not going to pay." He still is holding my arm.
Mr. Snake Charmer - "You take picture! You pay!"
I scan the crowds for Matt. He is nowhere to be seen. All I can see is the fear in my young son's faces.
Me - "I told you. I have no money. I can't pay!"
At this point he calls over his enforcer. 
Mr. Snake Charmer - "She won't pay!" Mr. Enforcer comes running out of nowhere and grabs my other arm.
Mr. Enforcer - "The rule is if you take picture, you pay!"
Me - "I told him I have no money! I told him that!" Mr. Enforcer then lets go of my arm and grabs my camera which is around my neck and jerks it.
Mr. Enforcer - "Then you must delete pictures!"
Me - "I will delete them! Let me go!" Let me remind you I am in a busy shopping square with people all around. I keep scanning the crowds for my husband or my friends. Nobody.
Mr. Enforcer - "I will watch you delete! Do it!"

At this point, I had had enough. I started to get angry. Like really angry.

I wrenched my arm (very painfully) out of Mr. Snake Charmer's grip. Mr. Enforcer still has my camera strap.

Me - (yelling at the top of my voice) "I told you I had NO MONEY! YOU said it was a gift! You said no money! No money, it's okay!" All the time pointing at Mr. Snake Charmer while getting ready to kick some shins and run.

Mr. Enforcer gets a defeated look on his face and starts yelling at Mr. Snake Charmer in Arabic. He drops my camera and I grab my boys and walk as fast as I can into the crowds. As you can see, I didn't delete any pictures. Ha ha, Mr. Snake Charmer and Mr. Enforcer. 

I find Matt and the first thing out of my mouth is, "You jerk." I went from screaming at some snake charmer men to screaming at my husband. I accused him of abandoning me. I may have been projecting my fear and frustration over the situation on him. But. I vowed not to let the morning's events ruin my whole day. Just part of the day. I rocked an awesome bad mood till lunch.

We got some lunch and I mellowed out a bit. Yes, what happened was unfortunate, but in a way, a little bit my fault. I should have just kept walking. We had some traditional Moroccan tea which is fresh mint tea steeped with mint leaves and sweetened with honey. It was so sweet it actually tasted like hot honey with a little bit of tea. But still good.

Marrakech henna

Something similar happened to Andre. He was standing by the Point family when they were getting some henna done when one of the henna-weilding ladies grabbed Andre and started decorating his arm all on her own. Mrs. Point informed her she that she didn't ask for it and wasn't going to pay for it. 

I was beginning to see a pattern here. I heard stories from Mr. Point about how vendors would shove toys in the youngest Point's hands and say, "See? He likes it! You buy!" Mr. Point would have to take it out his the child's hands and hand it back. Sometimes they would not take it and he would have to put it down on something and tell them that he was not going to buy it. So, keep your traveler wits about you here.

After a great Moroccan lunch and hot honey tea, we went out to explore. (A funny side note here is that all the Moroccan men that Mr. Point came into contact with kept calling him Ali Baba. We don't know if it was the beard or what, but the name stuck and now we call him that too.)

Marrakech Souks

We wandered around the souks or souqs, depending on your spelling desires. We saw spice markets.

Marrakech souk

Marrakech souk

And carts pulled by donkeys and monkeys on leashes. 

Marrakech souk

The medina was full of tourists. But as touristy as it was, it was also filled with locals doing their daily shopping. Picking up fruits, sweet breads, spices, dried meats, and other various things.

Marrakech souk

In addition to fruits, breads, spices, and dried meats, you can also pick up spare teeth and denture sets. Yes, it is one stop shopping here.

Black henna, Marrakech

Ashlenne got some black henna done on her arm.

Black henna, Marrakech

Here is what it looked like all dry. The darkest spots lasted almost a month. But lighter places started to face in two weeks.

Brown henna Marrakech

My beautiful sister-in-law, Leslie, got the brown henna. 

Brown henna Marrakech

It dried and stained her skin this fabulous tangerine shade. Lovely!

Marrakech medina

Some of the souks were in these tiny, twisting streets. The whole place smelled of leather, dried spices, and a thousand years of history. (Believe it or not, history is kind of stinky. Think a combination of dirt, urine, sweat, and animals.)

Marrakech rug shops

We went shopping for rugs. It was all a very stressful experience. Shopping and paying for things is all done with haggling. It's something I don't like. I like to walk into a store, see a price tag, know what I have to pay, and be done with it. I don't like being told, "Oh, best price for you!" I don't like having to refuse to buy something and then walk out then be chased down the street with a new deal when they see you leaving. It's a real pain in the neck. Literally.

Marrakech medina

My younger brother mastered some haggling and scored himself this wonderful carved cane inlaid with silver. He severely broke his leg when we were kids and all this traveling really wears him down. But at least now, he can be dapper and limp in style.

Marrakech medina

After the long vomit filled drive, the almost assault by Mr. Snake Charmer, the stressful haggling, I finally really started to enjoy Marrakech. I even bought a beautiful scarf. People have asked me after hearing about our day if I would go back. "In a heartbeat," I answer. Why? Because traveling isn't supposed to be easy. The whole goal of traveling is to see, experience, taste, and do things that are different. Things that take you out of your comfort zone. Things that push the limits of normal for you. Check, check, and check on all those things in Marrakech.

I rode back on the long vomitless drive to Casablanca, tired, but oh so glad I had seen Marrakech.

Until next time.

Stay tuned for my next visit to Morocco. Tangier!!


  1. Good God I had anxiety just reading that blog!

  2. Interesting experience! Reminds me of when we were in Belize, they had a chain link fence like 20 feet high so the cruise passengers wouldn't be assaulted by the aggressive hawkers, but they still grabbed at your hair through the fence trying to get you to pay for braiding. This was like ten years ago and I remember it vividly. Glad you enjoyed the rest.

  3. Our Morocco Travel Packages By Morocco Xcursion are exclusive for families, you can choose bike riding, camping in the desert, cooking class and much more to have a wonderful trip of Morocco.


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