3 Things I Love about Marrakech Medina

Marrakech marrakeshI guess it’s time to leave Morocco on a high note. After the chaos of our arrival, the two days we spent in Marrakech were wonderful, lazy days, which is surprising considering how busy those souks are!

1. The Colours

During the day, Marrakesh Medina is a sprawling maze of colour. Every tiny shop is overloaded with items for sale. Each one had its own theme. The textile stores brimmed with pashminas and sparkling wedding blankets (I opted out of one of those!). Spices were piled high next to bottles filled of unimaginable things and baskets of dried flowers, and there were more dates than we could eat or freshly squeezed orange juice than we could drink!

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2. Hidden Design

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Because the markets tiny streets are so covered with things for sale it would be easy to miss some of the beautiful architecture behind it. Each twist and turn hides a little gem of the patterns Morocco is so famous for. Definitely not as prevalent as Fes or many of the other stops we made along the way, every now and then you found a clear reminder of where you were. This beautiful Hand of Fatima door knocker was one of my favourite details seen during the entire trip. marrakesh marrakesh marrakesh

3. Rooftop Cafes

Ultimately, the best thing you can do after a long stint in the market is go up. My Marrakesh bucket list only had two things on it: spa day and rooftop cafe. Happily, I managed both and we got up to Cafe Des Espices within the first few hours of our arrival. There is a small square on Rahba Kedima, a ten to fifteen minute walk into the souks from Jemaa el-Fnaa, where we found spice shops, teeny turtles, and the triangle of cafes we spent most of our time in. Whether having coffee and listening to the call to prayer, or having a fancy three course dinner, rooftop cafes are a beautiful way to escape after shopping up a storm.

Sadly, it was too hazy for us to properly make out the Atlas Mountains which run along the eastern horizon. We could make them out very faintly and I’ll bet anything they look pretty spectacular on a clear day. Instead we just enjoyed the sounds of the day and the sunsets and the lights of the early evening from our perch above the world.

DSC_1074DSC_1090 DSC_1092After thirteen days it was finally time to leave Morocco. Taking off, I could distinctly make out Jemaa el-Fnaa out amongst the orange rooftops and I knew I’d have to return some day. We left so much untouched: Chefchaouen, the coast south of Marrakesh, I’d love to spent more time roaming in the Sahara (maybe without a camel next time). It’s always sad to leave your holidays behind, but coming home only leads to the next adventure, right?

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Staying Safe in Marrakesh

marrakesh

Our guide was extremely paranoid about Marrakesh. He did not like the city at all. As a country boy from the Atlas mountains, he made it clear how much he did not want to spend a whole extra day in this particular city after the tour. He took pains to keep us all together and made it seem like there would be trouble at every turn – especially at night.

After our final group dinner, on a rooftop overlooking the Koutoubia Mosque, we wanted to experience the Jemaa el-Fnaa markets at night. Although the place was reasonably bustling during the day, it completely transforms at night. Around half past five men come from seemingly no where and begin assembly the hundreds food stalls that fill the air with the smoke and smells of cooking. We agreed to meet at 9.30pm near the post office and set out in smaller groups to wander the night market. There were hundreds of people around. Large groups formed to haggle over bags of clothing in the streets, there were street performers signing and dancing, and people grouped around long wooden tables to eat from the food stalls. Just chaos, really.

Pick-pocketing

Eventually, it was decided that we would all take the public bus back to the hotel, which was a 30 minute walk away. Taking a bus from Jemaa el-Fnaa involves crowding around the bus stop you think the bus will arrive at and dozens of people pushing forward when its doors open. The bus was packed within minutes and most of our group were standing in the aisle.

It only took about ten minutes to reach our stop. We got off and walked the short remaining distance to the hotel. As I was going up the steps a woman came up behind me and said she was on the same bus as us and some of her things were taken. The message slowly relayed around the group and we were all uncomfortable about being so close to the theft.

After throwing our bags in our rooms our group met by the pool for an evening drink only to be told that one of our guys had also been quietly robbed. His iPhone and wallet were gone, including his visa card for the UK. He went off with our guide to the police station to report the theft. They didn’t return until 4am and when they did they looked like they’d had the most unpleasant experience of their lives. Over breakfast they narrated the experience of a Moroccan police station which included sitting for hours no knowing what was going on and arrested people being quite literally dragged through.

It’s hard to give advice on this because we were all wearing our bags on our fronts. Pick pockets are just so wily! We think they must have seen our friend put his wallet into his bag before boarding the bus. Then anytime between the crush of people getting on and the ten minute journey, they could have unzipped the pocket, taken his things, and zipped it back up. My best suggestion is to separate your money throughout your belongings and also split your documents. Then if something is taken you’re not left completely in the lurch. I talk money belts at the end of the post.

door marrakesh dog

Taking Taxis

The next day our guide insisted that we could not walk to our accommodation. That we’d – and I quote – “never find it”. He called us a taxi and gave the driver directions. Pity he couldn’t settle the price with him. Although our guide told us to only pay 20 Dirham, when the driver dropped off Brigette, Other Rachel, and I, he insisted on 100. We gave 50 and called it quits.

The Riad ended up being on the very fringe of the medina, a kind of Marrakesh suburb. There was a small grid system of houses that all appeared to be owned by local people. The only evidence ours was a hotel was the TripAdvisor sticker on the door. When we did check in to our new accommodation, a family run Riad where the owners only spoke french, we were simply advised not to take our valuable items into the marketplace, just in case. And since we’d already been so close to some pick-pocketing, I felt that advice was appropriate.

Brigette and I decided to save the hassle and arrange a taxi to the airport through our accommodation. For 150 Dirham they took care of our transfers. It was probably a family member or friend who ended up taking us there in his range rover. That’s not to say taxis are a complete waste of time. We did a round trip to the train station with Other Rachel where we had some great laughs with the driver and he made some good suggestions about things to do and see.

Women Walking at Night

After the huge deal our guide made of it, I was concerned about walking back to our Riad at night. He really insisted that we be home by 8pm, and the first night we did get back for sunset, missing out on the dinner in the market our friends were having. The next night I decided to expend with the advice. We had a lovely farewell dinner with Other Rachel, the last remaining person in Marrakesh from our original tour, and headed back to our accommodation around 10pm. Brigette and I decided to go in disguise. Long dresses with cardigans and headscarfs on. We had compliments from the woman running Other Rachel’s Riad after we dropped her back on how well we’d done the scarves. On the way back down the same busy street we’d walked up only a couple of minutes before, and multiple times that day, we were unrecognised. Then we turned into the closing souks to take our normal route home. It was so strange seeing those busy souks closed! The crowds were no where to be seen and most of the shop keepers had gone home. A few people remained moving boxes or walking. There weren’t people around every turn, but when we did see people, especially local women, walking around we became more comfortable. It only took fifteen minutes to do the half hour walk since we didn’t have to navigate any congestion. After doing the walk a few times the location of our Riad seemed less dangerous.

The whole time were were in the Medina of Marrakesh we only got lost once and in fairness to ourselves it was because a door on our normal route down to the market place was closed. Although I feel like our guide had over exaggerated the danger to us, I think Marrakesh needs a lot of personal awareness. You need to know where your things are and who is around you.

suburban marrakech

Money and Money Belts

Brigette carries a money belt, I personally thing they’re too dangerous. If you do choose to wear one, make sure you take your cash for the day out before you leave your accommodation. Use a separate coin purse or wallet for bargaining and avoid going into your belt at all. If no one knows you have it, they have nothing to target you for.

I normally have money spots which change throughout the trip. For this trip, I didn’t take much cash with me anyway. Cash machines were easy enough to come by and used on the one occasion I needed it under the watchful eye of our tour leader.

If there are any other subcategories you’d like me to discuss, please leave a comment below 🙂 I know this post sounds a bit like a horror story, but we really did enjoy Marrakesh aside from a little trouble that could have happened anywhere.

The Road of 1000 Kasbahs

kasbah moroccoIt’s a Wednesday that feels like a Tuesday. I don’t know why, but I have that Tuesday kind of feeling. I guess now is as good a time as any to head back to Morocco. Specifically to the day we drove from Todgha Gorge to Ait Beni Haddou via the Road of a Thousand Kasbahs. Of course, we didn’t stop at all of them.

In fact, we really only stopped at Amridil Kasbah, which was presented to us as a kind of additional attraction by our guide. If we hadn’t visited, this day would have been very short indeed. It’s hard to gauge how popular this kasbah is because we were the only visitors during the 45 minutes we toured it. According to the Lonely Planet, this is Morocco’s “most coveted” Kasbah. It appears on the 50 dirham note, so that is some indication of its importance to modern Morocco.

We met our very enthusiastic local guide at the door and he took us through the rabbit warren of rooms.

kasbah moroccoDSC_0673DSC_0675DSC_0676DSC_0682Now I’m thinking in hindsight, I really remember very little from the tour. I remember how excited our guide was to highlight some of the ingenuities of kasbah life. The fact that the kasbah has about four kitchens, being one of them. The kitchens kept the house warm in winter and closing kitchens kept it cool in summer. Comparing it to Volubilis, life changed very little in Morocco. This kasbah had an olive press, an internal well, locks and ovens, very much the same as Roman Mauretania Tingitana.

I just googled the site and found a video of the guide who took us around, but he’s speaking Italian. The comments section says he speaks four languages. Particularly impressive as the tour sounds fluent to me. He even has the same delivery gestures. Just watching it made me chuckle at the memory. Unfortunately, I lagged behind on his fast moving tour for photos and didn’t catch everything he said. There was even one point where I got lost with one of the guys on tour. We walked around in several circles only to reach the group just as they were moving off from the kasbah’s most spectacular terrace! I just couldn’t win.
DSC_0683DSC_0686DSC_0687IMG_1357IMG_1359IMG_1363It seemed like no time at all before we were back in the van. We’d swapped one sick girl for another. The seat nearest the door was informally chosen as the sick person seat and those feeling under the weather seemed to make their way there at some point.

Other Rachel was the sick person on this leg of the journey and I was so sad for her when she missed our walking tour at Ait Benhaddou. She didn’t seem perturbed, but I’m sure that’s because she was so sick and only wanted to sleep! While she was transferred to the hotel the rest of us set out on foot. Perhaps I am simply more excited for the early history and prehistory sites and that is a bit out of place in a country renowned for its mosaics. I guess places like Amridil and Ait Benhaddou can see architecturally plain by comparison. Ait Benhaddou was an important stop on the caravan trail between the Sahara and Marrakech. Once upon a time, all of the town’s inhabitants lived within the walls of the kasbahs and ksars. Now, only four families remain living in the remnants of an ancient world.

In my opinion, there was quite a bit of hassle in Ait Benhaddou, people grabbing at you and trying to sell you things. Fortunately our guide was walking us so fast passed the rows of street vendors that they didn’t have a second to start a sales pitch. We really didn’t get that many shopping opportunities en route outside the crafts people we went to see in Fes. A bit of a shame.

DSC_0764Before I crossed the river to the fortified city (yet another UNESCO site) Knox showed me a little card she’d managed to haggle for even as we flew down the street. It was a couple of camels against a desert background. Lemon, she said. Burning lemon juice into spectacular scenes seems to be the art du jour of Ait Benhaddou. Acknowledging our curiosity, our guide put together a hasty demonstration from a local vendor. The picture was complete before I had a chance to see what he was doing, that’s how quick they put these together.

DSC_0781We were eventually dragged away from the shops. Our guide was under pressure to get us a sunset, particularly after the desert had been so hazy. Although we practically bolted to the top of the city, we had to leave before the sun went down so we’d be at the hotel in time for Moroccan Cooking Class! That’s right, I can now cook a Moroccan tagine, despite our guide really interfering instead of letting me learn. The food I cooked myself was some of the best of the trip. Now I wish I’d bought a tagine so I can make it at home in Belfast. Perhaps I can put it together in a saucepan? Afterall, it’s just slow cooking…

DSC_0794DSC_0793Budget

MAD150 for the cooking class that doubled as our dinner
MAD25 for pizza at lunch
MAD10 to tour Amridil Kasbah

Travel Fashion

This day I chose a maxi dress and ballet flats. Another dose of hindsight says that ballet flats were not the most practical shoes for the sandy riverbank around Ait Benhaddou. Dress was paired with a long cardi and scarf. Probably my favourite outfit of the trip!

Life at the Bottom of the Todgha Gorge

todra gorge moroccoI don’t remember the drive to Todgha Gorge. When we hit sealed road again after leaving the Sahara I decided I didn’t want to be in the van anymore and the only way to “get there faster” was to just close my eyes and go to sleep. I woke up when we pulled into a viewing point at the top of the gorge so we could look down into the fertile strip flanked with orange cliff faces.

Some of my rock climber friends will be very impressed with this place. It’s a climbers dream with 150 routes in place. I think this sporting attraction is one of the factors that has made Todgha less remote. That said, it’s not over run by tourists. There are some lovely hotels, but there are no major tourist facilities. Those in the group wanting wine had to place orders with the tour guide who used a connection to get them what he could. Alcohol is otherwise unobtainable for tourists in this area. It didn’t really affect me since I don’t, for the most part, drink. todra gorgetodra gorge moroccohotel todra gorge

So we descended into the gorge. After a brief bag-drop at the hotel, our guide took us on a walking tour of the irrigated area at the base of the canyon. We followed the river bank through almond trees and bean plants as the cliffs became more and more sheer. You can see how the land folded and pancaked back on itself sometime in prehistory. The blue, orange and green layers of land and sky were so magical and for a large part we walked in silence. I lagged behind with a small number of the group. Those ahead must have been so irritated because we had to take pictures every five steps. I can completely appreciate why my brother Jack never wants to go places with me – we really did stop for an exceptional number of photos!

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As the gorge narrowed, we climbed out of the farms up on to the sealed road. They say the last 600m of Todgha are the most spectacular and we had to stop at the beginning of this. It is certainly where we felt the smallest. The cliffs reach so high they give the appearance of almost touching at the top.

Getting back in the van the guide asked us if we wanted to visit a local weaver and see how carpets were made. There was a tentative ‘yes’ from about 80% of the group, so we went. I hadn’t bought anything up until this point and the weaver proved to be my shopping kryptonite.

We were led through winding alleys back the way we’d just hiked, into an unmarked and unremarkable building, and up to the second level. The room on level two was covered, floors and walls, with carpets in all manner of colours and designs. The owner, a man named Mustafa, came out and began a speal about how welcome we were to learn about carpet even if we didn’t buy anything. We were handed tea. This weaver is a co-operative. A group of about 15 women weave for a couple of hours a day in their homes. They are running their households at the same time and weaving is a bit of enterprise on the side for them. When they finish a carpet they bring it to this building where the co-operative sells it on their behalf. According to Mustafa, each carpet is a story unique to the woman who made it, so no two carpets are the same.

He explained the dying process and the difference between sheep and camel wool. Then they brought out the carpets. Dozens of them in different sizes and colours. Rachel, our resident textiles expert, was the first to dive in and start the bidding process. After she began quite a few people got up and found pieces they want to take home. I saw a cobalt blue carpet, my brown eyes turned blue with its reflection.

And I spent almost ₤100 on a carpet.

They took my money before I could say runner and had it wrapped up in a surprisingly light roll for me to carry home.

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My adrenaline was so high after that. I remember walking back to the bus happy, talking carpet prices with the other carpet-buyers. When we got back to the hotel we had grand plans to lounge by the pool and swap carpet stories further – and with a view like that how could you not? But first I had to tell Tiernan. The previous day he had jokingly told me not to buy a rug. We have a kind of informal spending limit agreement. Normally we can spend about €100 without informing each other. In wedding year this threshold is a lot lower. And, of course, I’d gone over it. So I rang him.

“Hey Tiernan.  I did a thing and I’m happy so you can’t be mad.”
“What did you do?”
“I bought a carpet.”
Silence. Followed by a slow laugh.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope.”
“The one thing I told you not to buy. You did it anyway?”
“Yup.”
But it was all fine. It was just typical me. Swearing black and blue I won’t do something and then doing it anyway. Like quitting fizzy drink.

After I finished the call everyone from the tour group laughed and off we went for yet another couscous dinner. And so started a solid two days of buyer’s remorse, which I’ve totally recovered from. Especially now it’s on the floor of my room! Unfortunately I suffer from very serious buyer’s remorse. The only thing I never regret buying is food (probably the reason we eat out so often).

Also, my maid of honour to be, Brigette, ended up buying the carpet off me to give us as a wedding present. So that entire emotional roller-coaster was for nothing at all! Thanks Brigette! It’s on the floor and looking fab 🙂

carpet morocco

Our Saharan Desert Camp

Sahara Our group ascending the dunes! Photo: Aidan Thorp

Sadly we didn’t have the best weather for our trek into the desert. It seemed overcast, but those grey skies weren’t clouds. A sandstorm was rolling in. You could literally see the dunes moving, slowly but surely, with the wind. After an astounding 10 hour drive from Fes to Merzouga, we were mostly glad to be out of the Sprinter. I have blocked it out of my memory. I’d probably sign up for it again, just because I’ve forgotten exactly how unpleasant it is to be in a van for that long. What I do remember is pulling to the side of the road so our dear friend Knox could be sick. 

I also remember everyone being stunned to see the Sahara. The dunes were so much taller and more burnt orange than we’d imagined. Ian sat on the wall of the resort (which would be storing our belongings while we were off at camp), gazing out over the sand from the time we took tea until it was time to go. Knox decided not to come. She could see the dunes from the resort and just could not face the camel ride after an unbearable drive. Once the trek started, I definitely thought Knox had made the right decision.

sahara

After about five minutes on the camel I’d had enough. Oh how I longed to just walk to the camp. I named my camel Springy and began naming all the camels in the column. In fact, Springy didn’t live up to his name at all. He was in no way springing, in fact rather lumbering. Camels take a step, allow their hooves to sink into the sand, and then bring their other leg forward. So every step has two jolts. It’s extremely uncomfortable.

sahara morocco Sahara Morocco sahara morocco camel camel riding sahara morocco

It took an hour to reach the camp. Little tent villages were dotted about amongst the dunes and ours was the furthest from the resort. The tents are joined together to form a square compound with foam mats and carpets forming a social area at the centre. Each tent had two rooms and each room had two thin sleeping mats. The room selection process was swift and efficient because we were dying to climb the nearest dune. Our guide looked at us knowingly and said, “It doesn’t look far, but I’d say that will take you at least twenty minutes. Half an hour.” He was right.

Walking up the dunes was much more difficult than anticipated! I stopped for a breathe every ten steps, and I’m not that unfit a person. Lactic acid was building up in my calves so that they burned each time I stole a break. With half the group already at the top I knew I couldn’t quit. I reached Ian, who had been sat for sometime about half way up, we managed to convince each other to keep going. Helping each other along, we finally made it to the small group of victors. High fives were given all around and we sat in hope of a sunset.

No luck. The wind was up and the sky was grey. The sun faded into the haze and it became cold and dark alarmingly quickly. Unsurprisingly, the descent was a lot faster.

dune climbing

sahara desert camp camp merzouga morocco

The camel drivers who had brought us into the desert prepared a tagine for us and we ate it hungrily – well deserved after our exercise. As night closed in, they brought out sets of drums and performed some berber songs for us. It was almost spiritual, dozing to the beat of the drums. When they asked us if we’d like to have a go only the kiwis were really game enough. I learned I don’t know all the words to any songs except for New Zealand’s national anthem! We sang part of Prince Ali, there may have been a verse of I Knew You Were Trouble, but hardly any completed songs. Brigette and I trilled some waiata (traditional Maori songs) that we remembered from school. It was a little embarrassing, but I feel less self conscious when I’m not singing in English.

The darker it got the more paranoid I became about bugs! I was absolutely terrified of the huge beetles! I never knew the desert could be so full of life! We started to see some dung beetles crawling about just as the sun was setting. Perhaps the cool air drives them out? They were flying about everywhere and I’m such a chicken 🙂

Our guide told us that we would leave at 6.20 the next morning so we could see the sun rise on en route back to the resort. He said if we heard him clapping, that was our alarm to get up. People filtered off to bed in singles and pairs. A small group was left in the centre of camp, telling jokes until the wee hours.

6am rolled around quickly. Brigette and I were up before our guide made his way, with the promised slow clap, around the campsite. I was already in pain. My entire lower region dreaded the thought of hopping back on Springy. It was even windier than the previous night and as we were led back along a different route, I really wished my scarf had been tighter and that I’d put on more layers before getting on the camel.

It was a quiet journey back. Everyone was contemplating the beautiful night we’d just spent in the Sahara and looking forward to mint tea, boiled eggs and the strange, pastry-like pancakes that seem to be a buffet staple in Morocco. Just like the journey in the van, I am slowly filtering out the uncomfortable memories and retaining only the good ones. Chances are I’d do the camel rides again just to spend one more night under the stars.

sahara morocco camel ride sahara morocco

Travel Fashion

We all went for the Lawrence of Arabia look for our desert excursion. The scarves kept the wind and sand out of our faces during the camel ride. I recommend good shoes that won’t fall off easily – we ended up with a rouge flip-flop in one of our saddle bags. The owner having either evaporated or didn’t notice they’d lost it. Barefoot up the dunes.

Since it was still Morocco’s cooler season, we needed long sleeves during the day. It also got quite chilly at night, so a light fleece is recommended. I didn’t end up using my puffy, down jacket, though I brought it in my backpack anyway. G-Adventures only allows you to bring a small backpack on the camels, with your suitcases and bags stored at a nearby resort. No one took a change of clothes with them, just fleeces and jumpers to layer on at night. When we got back to the resort the following morning we were able to shower and change.

Half the Cost? You must be Crazy!

fes leather

The Art of Haggling

I mentioned that I didn’t buy anything in Fes, but I did enjoy watching the rest of the team engage in the age-old art of haggling. We were very nervous hagglers; particularly in the beginning. Haggling seems very confrontational to those of us used to paying sticker price in Penneys. But shopkeepers LOVE it when you engage in the process. A few good natured smiles and some laughter and you will get to a price you’re both comfortable with… eventually.

The tanneries in Fes were our first foray into the haggling system. With the smell of sun drying skins wafting over us on a scorchingly hot day, backs aching after hours of walking around the confusing alleys, we fanned out to look at the two floors of bags, belts, wallets, jackets and shoes! I accompanied a girl named Knox to look through the jackets. She couldn’t find anything she liked and the shopkeeper got a bit sick of us as she kept refusing to try anything on. Buying and selling in the marketplace always seems like a show-down: me on one side, the shopkeeper on the other, engaged in a price debate (even when the stakes are only GBP5).

fes leather

I did a lot of shopping with a girl of the same name – Rachel! She was brilliant with the haggling thing.

“How much for this?”
“1000 dirham”
“No. How about 400?”
“400? It’s too low. You see this? Is real leather. What’s your top price? Not 400, not 1000.”
“500 is my top price”
“Ok 500”
They shake.
“Also you must give me one smile,” and Rachel flashes a brilliant smile.
“For you because I like your smile,” the shopkeeper hands her a small hand of Fatima Charm. We also got some good deals by going in together to by multiples of things we all wanted. More smiles, some hugs, and everyone is happy. It’s about keeping the whole process friendly. The friendlier, the better the deal you’re going to get… more or less.

As a general rule, you should start by offering 1/2 of the asking price. I’ve read that in Marrakech you could even start at 1/4 or 1/3 the price. It’s unlikely in the big souk of Marrakech that you’ll be invited to sit down to tea, but if you are it’s good manners to accept. Our tour group took tea before they brought out the carpets in Todra Gorge. It’s part of the lovely Moroccan hospitality.

Also, you don’t need to be afraid of walking away. The shopkeeper will probably yell prices down the street at you as you walk away, but you don’t need to accept a price you don’t think is fair. I prefer to only enter the process if I’m genuinely planning on buying the item (walking away is a little too stressful for me). My shopping partner, and I tried to listen in to other people’s haggles and come up with a good idea of price before diving in.

We were also very conscious of going insultingly low. This is their livelihood after all and Morocco is very cheap for someone earning pounds sterling. We ended up paying far too much for our first taxi adventure in Casablanca. We took a three minute cab ride to the Hassan II Mosque and, since our hotel said they’d call us a taxi for 100MAD (which we declined), we handed the driver a 50. His eyes lit up and couldn’t thank us enough. Turned out the ride was worth less than 10MAD. But we made peace with our overpayment fairly quickly.

Ultimately we decided that they probably needed the money more than us. If we were happy with what we bought and comfortable with what we paid, it didn’t matter too much if we were overpaying a little.

donkey

Bonus tip: It’s also good manners to not only ask people if you can take their picture, but also give them a small tip if you do so. This chap and his donkey were perfectly happy for a group of about six to queue up and, one by one, take pictures. For 10MAD each.

Aquiring Pots, Appropriating Numbers

fes tagineI really hope you have a large mug of tea right now, because I loved Fes and have a lot to say about it!

Our first night in Fes we were completely shattered after a day in the van. Still, our guide decided to push us on and make sure we experienced everything. We all wanted to go to a fancy three course dinner and a show, so we all congregated in the hotel atrium at 8pm. We were taken to a beautifully mosaiced palace in Fes Medina and were sat on poofy chairs, right near the stage.

For three hours we delighted in a variety of berber (turns out Moroccan ‘berbers’ do not call themselves ‘berber’ due to racial appropriation of the term by Moroccan Arabs – you should call them Amazigh) music, belly dancing, and magic! It was quite dark and I’m not the best photographer, so I didn’t get many photos. I do have some videos that I’ll clip together and put up… eventually.

While in Fes it was essential we try their delicacy, Pastille, a sweet pigeon pastry pie. I think ours might have been chicken or duck rather than pigeon. It was the next day, in a more local restaurant, that we are 100% certain that they brought out the pigeons. In yet another fine example of me not being able to accomplish mind over matter in any circumstance, I never finished my pastille.

fesThe next day was a full day’s walking tour of the Medina. In true G Adventures style, we met a local guide who took us up to a beautiful panoramic view over the old city.

fes panoramaAfter gazing down on what we were about to enter, we were whisked into a nearby pottery studio to learn (quickly and briefly) about the process of making the tagines and dishes we were already so familiar with. There were some seriously talented people here. First, we saw a man turn a tagine in seconds, all by sight. We applauded when the lid he made perfectly matched the base by pure experience. Everyone there was amazingly skilled. The women painting the designs did it so deftly, making it look easy.

Perhaps the most impressive were the men chiseling ceramic tiles into tiny shapes which would go on to be used in mosaics. It’s painstaking work, but the results are outstanding! Naturally, at the end of the tour, we were led to an on-site store where we everything was stickered pricing and we were allowed 20% off. I managed to hold off my desire to by the whole store, although Brigette did buy me a mug for my birthday…

fes potter fes pottery fes pottery fes pottery

Not wanting to lug purchases all the way around Morocco, many of the girls decided to hold off on the shopping in Fes. Shopping wasn’t really in my budget at all, which is pretty typical for Rachel travel. I love nice things, but I like travelling too much I can’t wait the extra few months to save spending money. Anyway, we assumed we’d be able to get much the same stuff in Marrakech. My advice in hindsight is: do not wait. Fes had the best craftspeople of the whole trip (save carpets in Todra Gorge). G Adventures took us to all manner of studios there and visiting the artisans made the pieces seem more special and authentic. Those who didn’t buy in Fes wished they had after we arrived in over commercialised Marrakech. Lesson learned.

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With about ten tagines in the back of the van, we made for the medina. Our guide gathered us together in front of the Bab Boujloud gate before we entered Fes’ old city. Our guide told us to stick close. At first we dawdled along a road running around the outside of the medina, looking at dates, and getting distracted by kittens and stalks. We soon learned why we had to stick together as we were forced into single file and began winding our way into the depths of the medina and its labyrinth of markets.

Perhaps the most interesting thing our guide taught us that day was the origin of our numbers. I did know prior to this trip that the numbers 1 through 9 come from Arabic, but I definitely picked up some cool facts I didn’t know. Did you know that the reason the numbers are shaped the way they are is because of the number of angles in each number? Well, in the original style/font they did. 1 has one angle, in the original number, 2 has two and so on. Our guide drew us a picture.

guide

That way, illiterate people could count the angles. It really goes to show that math is the universal language. Not only do we all use math regardless of creed or race, but it actually transcends literacy. I was very impressed.

And since this is my longest post in ages, you’ll have to wait for tomorrow for the rest of the tour! Bye bye x

Budget

I mentioned in the last Moroccan post that we went to a dinner and show deal. That cost MAD250 for three courses and about four straight hours of entertainment. Aside from this I stuck to my traditional budget of approximately MAD70 per meal.

Some shopping guidelines:

  • My Moroccan cup cost MAD160 (about GBP10)
  • Decorative, large serving tagines (i.e. not terracotta) were from MAD1080 (GBP70) from the pottery studio. Definitely on the expensive side (especially compared to Marrakech), but we saw them being made, they are gorgeous, and for large purchases the studio will ship them back to your home country.

Travel Fashion

T-shirt, with a long-sleeved shirt over the top. Long loose trousers from Thailand to keep things breezy. Excellent walking shoes! Fes is also the city where wearing a headscarf got the best reception.