Last week, Laura, Aggie & I set off on our first summer holiday since Barcelona 2010. And we definitely got more than we bargained for when we landed in the beautiful, hot, vibrant and unique city of Marrakech.
It was our first visit to Africaaaaa (waka waka eh eh) and on the plane alone we learnt a few things;
1) I am a terrible distractor. My attempts to divert poor Laura's attention from take off (she has a fear of flying) included 'look at this ugly cat'.
2) We all need to brush up on our general knowledge: there are 7 continents, and no, Russia is not one of them (my bad!)
3) 'The Fault in our Stars' by John Green is THE BEST (and worst, if you don't like being sad).
After a long day of travelling which involved cramming our overflow of 100ml liquids into various men's plastic bags at security (I envy men for being able to travel so lightly) and a suitcase mix up which very nearly left Ags belonging-less for the entirety of the trip, we finally arrived in Marrakech. Our taxi driver greeted us at the airport and en route he educated us on the big challenge of Ramadan: no sex. The no food or water malarky was no biggy, but no SEX...well that was a killer. Looking back, he was probably the most honest of all the Moroccon's we met!
CONNING LOCALS/ THE TANNERIES
After arriving at our riad in the Medina (the old city and the place to be if you want to experience the city and culture in all its glory!), we were greeted by a lovely man called Ahmed. He didn't speak much English, so over the week our exchanges were literally limited to-
Ahmed "Hellooo how are you?"
Us "Good thanks! You?"
Ahmed "Good. What time breakfast tomorrow?"
Us "9? 9.30?"
Ahmed "Ok. Ok Bye"
Despite this limited interaction, we loved and trusted him and his cute little smile!
We decided that we'd spend our first day wondering the Medina and the main "big square" (Jemaa el Fna), familiarising ourselves with the surroundings and attempting some 'cultural' tingz. Despite this decision and several warnings about dodgy Moroccans luring you in at every angle to their shops and spice markets, or taking you to your destination and demanding a tip for their troubles, we underestimated how persistent and untrustworthy they really are!
Within 30 seconds of walking out of our riad, we were approached by a seemingly harmless and sweet "Saharan" who insisted we see the tanneries as it was the Berber auction/ "Festival of Colours". In hindsight and after reading other blogs, there was definitely no festival...unless swimming in pigeon shit was part of some bizarre ritual! But being the naive beings that we are (by 'we' I mean me and Laura...Ags had her head screwed on right from the word go!), we followed the conning local. At the sight, we were talked through the stages of producing leather (the most memorable being that pigeon shit is used to soften the skin), taken to overpriced shops filled with leather goods and works resembling Aladdin's magic carpet, and then demanded to tip. This is where shit got serious...whilst we denied them money as we were originally told it was all free, the tour guide got angrier, even hitting Ags with the mint leaf we had previously been given to disguise the smell of crap! I know, intense. Then others got involved, circling us on their mopeds and shouting at us for disrespecting their religion in our leg bearing outfits. We eventually paced it down the street; getting lost was a small price to pay for being free of the angry, hungry, scary men!
|The best thing I'd ever smelt at this moment in time|
|Getting stuck in...shit|
|Ags wasn't impressed by their selling attempts. 'Whyy am I here'|
THE BIG SQUARE/ JEMAA EL FNA
The drama did not end there. After attaching ourselves to two British tourists and finding the big square together, we realised that pretty much every single boy/man on the street was out to get our money, using the maze-like structure of the city to their advantage (if you've been to Hampton courts maze then you know what I'm saying). They would constantly attach themselves to lost tourists, demanding a tip for guiding people to their destination. One of their favourites was shouting that anywhere and everywhere in Marrakech was closed...including the square! Of course this was just their way of trying to lead us astray, most probably to their own shop to sell us their goods. I can't count the amount of times we heard this...come on guyssss, come up with some original lines!
At the square, horse-and-carriages line up ready to take tourists around the city, and after we secured our first haggling deal at 20 dirham each (less than 1 pound and half of the original price the man asked for) we experienced possibly the worst tour in history. We were promised an hour long tour with stops off at 5 major tourist attractions. Instead, we received a little ride around the Medina roads, one horse fell over, the guide briefly pointed at the major palace gates, saying 'Badi- closed' and 'Bahia- closed' and the only place he enthusiastically stopped at was a friends spice market! Oh, and we also saw a KFC on the tour, obviously the highlight.
|Putting on a brave face|
Lessons learnt that day:
1) Cover up, especially during Ramandan
2) Don't. Trust. Anyone.
3) Bring a map!
THE SOUKS: DO'S & DON'TS
On our second day we decided to venture into the souks (markets). These complex, vibrant alleyways are full of shops and stalls overflowing with Moroccan spices, lanterns, carpets, shoes, leather satchels, brightly painted pottery, bracelets, teapots, adorned plates and bowls, genie lamps and ornaments, and the sweet smell of Moroccan pastries mixed with the aromatic smell of spices fill the scorching hot air.
The souks are perhaps best known for the haggling process and we tried and tested a variety of haggling tactics...those Moroccan's sure are tough negotiators! So I thought I'd share some tips from our experiences...anyone planning on visiting Marrakech in the near future, take note!!
1) Call yourself Fatima. If I learnt one thing from the trip, it's that apparently I look Moroccan. Like a 'Fatima', to be precise. I can't count the amount of times people passed me on the street shouting 'you have Moroccan face' or 'your face is Moroccan'. My personal faves though were 'your face is Fatima to me' and, upon haggling for a purse, Aggie was told 'cos you with Fatima, low price'. Lolzzz.
2) Stand your ground, like Aggie, a 'strong woman' according to many Moroccans. It is almost certain that they will go in with a ridiculous price, at least double what they will actually take for the item in question. The best thing to do is to laugh, have some bant with them, and go in with 1/3 or 1/2 of their first price. It's important to stand your ground and not give in to them; they bump up the prices for Westerners because they believe we have a lot of dollar to spend. Like Ags said- "they clearly haven't heard about TFL" (definitely the quote of the holiday). There's no real way out of this unless you buy a burkha and learn French/Arabic, and believe me, we contemplated this. They will always retaliate with 'give me best price' or 'serious price', but stick with it, and don't worry if they don't accept it. 4 out of 5 times, if you begin to walk away they will chase you, and if not, the item will most likely pop up in several other shops/stalls around the souks!
3) Stay alert & zip up your bag. Amongst the hustle and bustle, arm grabbing and shouting, motorbikes and donkeys, it can be easy to put your belongings to the back of your mind. Although we were all lucky in the souks, Laura did get her poor iPhone taken from her bag near the square :( RIP. So beware of pick pocketers!
1) Pretend to be mute. So seeing as Aggie is Polish, we devised a plan to pretend we were all from Poland (I was a Polish gypsy they'd pitied along the way) in the hope we'd be able to haggle lower prices as they see Poland as a poorer country. At one stall, Ags and Laura were trying on sandals whilst Aggie muttered Polish to Laura and Laura responded with a few 'tacs' (Polish for 'yes') and nods, and I stood mute on the side. This was all well and good until the stallholder asked me where I was from, and aware that I would possibly mess up our plan and cost my friends more money, I could only glare back in silence... at him...then Laura, until finally Laura stepped in with "her- little English". She said it's the quietest she'd ever seen me! Now I don't know whether it was our terrible acting, or our lack of bonding and chatting to the stallholder, but he was unwilling to sell them for anywhere near the price we'd hoped! In hindsight, our best deals were done with people who we'd laughed and joked with, and who had taken a liking to us. So I'd definitely say that honesty is the best policy as far as nationality is concerned...and making friends is the way to go! "Yeah I'm from Britain...and what? I'm a student, I can't afford this price" is a good one (a little white lie never hurt anyone).
2) Flaunt your flesh. We definitely also found that on the days we covered up, especially in the souks, we got way less hassle and people were more likely to accept our offers. We scratch their back, they scratch ours kinda ting. Or, in other words, we respect their religion by covering our naked selves and they give us reasonable prices for their beautifully crafted leather satchels and purses. Maxi skirts became my new best friend for a week.
OTHER LESSONS LEARNT
1) Avoid eye contact with men holding monkeys on the square at all costs. I stupidly stroked its little face which resulted in the man grabbing my arm and forcing it onto me, meanwhile I screamed for Laura and Aggie to come back and 'save me'. Ever the drama queen...(but they do demand a tip and the monkeys are drugged boooo).
2) That goes for the henna women on the square too...they are ruthless! We caved and this was the result....
|After an hour of washing it off|
Yeah, don't get henna there (and never get black..apparently it's dangerous!) Or if you do, maybe leave it on longer...we were told an hour but mine ended up resembling a mangled skin rash of some sort. I'm so sexy.
3) Beware of motorbikes and mopeds. One ran into me. It hurt.
4) Men on Ramandan are hungry, thirsty, horny and therefore incredibly irritable. Particularly in the last hour or so of their fast. We made the mistake of leaving our riad at 7.15pm one day (the fast ends at 7.45pm) and got a lot of abuse.
5) Moroccans in the Ourika Valley mountains dress and move like Tarzan. Kinda jel.
6) I had an affair with bread for a week. Don't get me wrong, it was fun while it lasted, but me and bread are done. Soz babes.
7) Aggies calling in life is to be a cat whisperer. Dr.Pop has a certain ring to it, don't ya think?
|Dr. Pop in action|
1) Laura getting likened to the British classic that is fish and chips darrrrling. "HELLLOOOOO FISH AND CHIPSSS"...gets me every time.
2) Seeing Bill Murray (the Hollywood star!!) come out of the restaurant we were going to whilst we fought with a taxi man about prices:
Us - "You said 5 dirham- here's 10'.
Taxi man - "No. 5 dirham"
Us - "Yes, so here's 10. You're getting a tip here!"
Taxi man - "NO! 5 DIRHAM!!!!!!!!"
Us - *Upon working out that he actually meant 50 dirham and his accent made it sound like 5*
"Okay, here's 40. Bye". We knew it was too good to be true (5 dirham is about 35p!)
3) Riding camels & meeting Pascal the chameleon at a stall in the souks (those who love Tangled will appreciate his name).
Conclusion: camels are cool but chameleons are cooler and I want (need) one in my life. Christmas prezzie 2014 what you saying?
4) Having three women massage us while we lay naked next to each other. Seeing Laura and Aggie's boobs being swirled around like a washing machine. Worth every penny.
5) Chilling on rooftop terraces sipping on mint tea. Oh, the life.
6) Lunch in the river and meeting this lovely guy!
7) Seeing this natural beauty
8) El Badi Palace
All in all, I highly recommend booking a flight. It was an experience I'll never forget and beats your average beach hol!
Plus, I met the love of my life (dear orange man). And he is 19, obvs.