16 September 2010

Dodgy Snake Charmers - Marrakesh [Day Nine]

I woke before 7am drenched in sweat. The heat was immense and I just had to get out of the room. While sitting on the terrace reading my book I saw the tortoise! He was soooo cool. And friendly too. I played with him for a while (video), racing up and down the terrace (I won, but he was pretty speedy). At one point I put my finger a bit close and he decided to see what it tasted like. I think it was a love bite, because after five minutes we were best mates.

A quick shower and I was ready for the day - I was heading to the Ourika Valley, to see the Berber (North African indigenous people) villages and the Setti Fatma Waterfall. I was picked up from the hostel and after a couple of quick stops to pick up other keen travellers, we were off. On the way we were told that the guide at our destination was not included in the price. That is strange, as I didn't see that on the advert. But not a problem, I thought, I would just wander around by myself.

The journey was interesting - from enormous uncontrolled intersections on the outskirts of Marrakesh, to the wide open plains of desert. The further we drove the greener the scenery got, with more trees and plants popping up. Before long we were following a river and heading up into the mountains.

We made a quick stop at 'Arom Montagne' a small business in the mountains. They had gardens which they used to make spices, beauty products such as moisturisers, creams etc, and medicines or herbal remedies. We had a quick walk around the garden and were told what each of the plants were used for, then taken into a room where we were shown all the different products they sold. It was quite interesting, but I think a bit of a gimmick - they were friendly but you felt like you should be buying something. While there about six or seven other vehicles showed up full of tourists, so it looks as though it was the done thing. I wonder what sort of kick-back the tour companies are getting?

We also stopped off at one vantage point looking out over the valley. It was quite cool as you could see all the mud-brick houses built into and up against the hills. As soon as the vehicle stopped there were two or three scooters show up and try to sell their goods. They did have some really nice things, especially these rocks which had amazingly coloured crystals on the inside. Kind of like this (picture on the right). They had both halves so when you fitted them together it looked like a normal rock. Pretty cool eh? We also spotted camels sitting in the shade, waiting for tourists to come and take a ride, carpets hanging against the side of a hill, dusty stalls filled with beautifully coloured pottery, and others with huge terracotta pots and beautiful mosaics.

The further we drove, the more basic things became. The road turned into a dirt track with streams running across, footbridges crossing the river seemed to be made from whatever wood was lying around. We stopped in a small village after about 90 minutes, where we would be trekking into the hills to see the Setti Fatma Waterfall. As soon as I got out I noticed how much cooler it was than in Marrakesh. I mean, it was still really hot, but I didn't seem to be constantly sweating 1 litre and hour. We happened to stop conveniently right outside a restaurant where they were ready to take our order for when we returned. The prices were hugely jacked up, what cost 40 durham in Marrakesh cost 120 out here. They didn't like it when I told them that I was going to find somewhere else to eat, but too bad.

Our guide showed up, and started talking about the trek to the waterfall. Wait, what? So one of the main things the trip advertised, seeing the waterfall, was going to cost extra? I was not impressed, but I wasn't going to come this far and not see the falls. The track up the hillside was pretty tough going, plenty of hills and steep rocks to clamber over. It seemed as though this was a popular destination, as the track was packed with other tourists, each with a guide leading the way. The guides were all wearing jandals (thongs, flip-flops), but were like mountains goats. The steepest or slipperiest surface provided no challenge for these guys, as they bounded from rock to rock. The bridges were not dissimilar to the ones I had seen earlier, just knocked together with whatever was lying around.

Every flat area there was a little stall set up selling soviners and drinks. One of them was particularly cool as there was a guy carving little animals out of rock to sell. We also passed by an area with a large monkey family, but unfortunately being mid afternoon and bloody hot, they were all somewhere shady taking a nap.

We finally made it to the waterfall, where the spray was instantly refreshing. It was packed with locals, all either sitting on the rocks with their feet in the water or swimming. Most of the tourists took a back row seat and just enjoyed the cool spray.

After 30 minutes or so we made our way back down to the village. Those who had ordered at the restaurant earlier sat down to eat, and I went for a wander to see what I could find. It seemed that the Moroccans had adapted the Spanish tradition of siesta; I wandered into more than one place to find no one around to help me. I finally found one place who were also very expensive, but not quite as bad as the first one. I ordered a chicken tajine and coke and went to sit by the river. It was a really nice setting, there were tables set up against the river on the lush green grass and under the shade of massive trees. Some of the restaurants had tables and chairs right in the river! I proceeded to eat the best meal I had while in Morocco - I don't think the potato fries covering the tajine were very traditional, but the chicken was insanely good. When I went to settle up the bill the guy even threw my coke in for free. What a good guy.

I returned to join the rest of the group who were just finishing up their meal. I sat with my feet in the water and watched locals playing and washing in the river. After 20 minutes or so we piled back in the truck and were off back to Marrakesh.
I was dropped off not far from the hostel. While wandering back a kid, must have been about 10 years old started talking to me. He was trying to get me to come with him to 'his' store. It was surreal, he was just like all the guys in the market, saying exactly the same things they did. I think he was even more tenacious. But after a huge day nothing was going to stop me from getting back to the hostel.

That evening a few of us from the hostel headed out to a restaurant overlooking Djamaa El Fna. We got there just before sunset and watched it sink down beyond the market, while it slowly came to life. Very picturesque.

The others all had a huge day also, and decided to go back to the hostel, but as it was my last night in Marrakesh I decided I needed to make the most of it. I headed into the square and wandered amongst the snake charmers, palm readers and story tellers. One of the snake charmers came up and tried to get me to sit down with him. One of the guys from the hostel told me he had sat down with them the day before, taken a few photos, then when he got up to leave they demanded 200 durham! (about £15, NZ$30) He ended up giving them 50 durham after about 10 minutes arguing, and he said it was not a pleasant experience. To avoid this I was determined to agree a price before I sat. I said 'How much?'. 'No, no, don't worry, just sit'. 'No, how much'. 'How much do you want to pay?'. 'I'll give you 5 durham'. 'Don't worry about that, just sit, sit!'. 'No, I'll give you 5 durham'. 'OK, OK, OK, sit, sit'. So I sit, have a few photos with the snakes, he takes a couple of me with a one of the small snakes around my neck and one of the big suckers in front. I get up to leave and '200 durham'. I just laughed. No way was this guy going to get more than we agreed. 'OK, OK, 20 euro'. You can't blame them for trying I guess. There were two of them, and we argued for a good five minutes, one was saying 'delete the photos', the other 'no, pay us the money'. I was on the verge of deleting the photos simply out of principal, when 'OK, OK, OK, 10 durham'. I ended up giving them 10 just to save the hassle, plus the guy did take some pretty good photos.

Thinking I was on top of my game, I walked past the guys with the monkeys. Again we went through the whole process of him trying to get me to hold the monkey, and me trying to agree a price. We settled on 5 durham again, but this time I gave the money to him before so there would be no arguing. I guess for people like me who they can't screw for a ridiculous amount of money they make no effort, because I was suddenly not allowed to take a photo with the monkey. I guess my downfall was paying him first, so basically, your screwed either way. I took two photos, and suddenly I owed him another 5 durham. I just laughed and walked off.

Later I visited the mosque, where literally thousands of people were praying, all in perfectly straight lines. The sound and symmetry was like nothing I had ever experienced. I noticed one woman with a dior headscarf, not exactly traditional I don't think. I took this video just by the mosque to give ya'all an idea of what crossing the road is like. The only think I can compare it to is a game of frogger.

I hadn't bought any souviners up to this point, so I made my way into the Souk, all the while desperately trying to remember which way I had come. I walked forever, bartering with the stall owners. Some were funny - offering to swap my watch for some shoes or something. Everyone seemed to ask where I was from, but none really cared, I just got the generic answer 'oh, very nice'. It was just something to get you talking to them. I asked a few - do you know where New Zealand is? Most didn't, but one guy did and we ended up having a ten minute conversation about the All Blacks. One guy made me laugh he was so desperate to make a sale - I expressed a small interest in a little wooden camel. I asked him how much, he said 200 durham. I laughed and started walking off. 'How much you want? How much you want? OK 100! OK 80!'. He dropped down to 60 before I was out of earshot. I decided that I didn't actually want it, but when I saw him later that night, without even making an offer, I could have got two for 50. I decided on a tactic of having only how much I wanted to pay in my wallet. That cut out all the barter, because you show them the money, and they can take it or leave it. I ended up getting two small hand carved animals for 30 durham - not bad going I thought.

I made my way back to the hostel about 11pm. While on the way a little girl, all of about 8 years old, asked in perfect English 'do you know where you are going?'. Moroccans, ever friendly and helpful, and amazing language skills.

That night I slept out on the terrace under the stars. It was a beautiful clear night and I had probably the best sleep I had had all trip. The following morning I was up early and reluctantly made my way to the airport. Marrakesh was such an amazing, vibrant, friendly city, I really did not want to leave, regardless of the crazy heat. It was a short and sweet trip, enough to give me a taste of a place I knew I would someday return to.

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