Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Weekend in Marrakesh, Morocco

My kind new friends at the Casablanca American School helped me arrange a trip to Marrakesh, which some say is the most beautiful city in the country. 

It's about two-and-a-half hours by train. I left Saturday morning and returned Sunday afternoon.

The train compartment in my section sat six, three and three facing each other; seats were assigned. On my way home, what I presume were a husband and wife were already seated when I got there. They were Muslim. The fourth to arrive was another Muslim women. I didn't understand what they said, but the husband and wife switched places so the two women would be sitting next to each other. (But they didn't speak to each other. I am sitting next to the man as I write this.)

The school warned me that Marrakesh taxi drivers try to take advantage of foreigners. They typically don't run the meter and charge whatever they want. I was therefore instructed to simply hand over 20 dirhams (about two dollars) for my six-minute ride and hop out. That wouldn't be so easy considering my bag would be in the trunk, so instead I was transparent up front. 

At the train station in Marrakesh, I got in a taxi, gave the name of my hotel, and asked him to run the meter. He said no and explained that the tariff (by which I believe he meant fixed fee) was 100 dirhams (ten dollars). I said 20, he said no, I got out. I tried again—this time only 70 dirhams, but still much more than the actual rate. It took four tries to find a guy who begrudgingly agreed to 30 though I repeated that I would paying 20. (I ended up voluntarily paying 28.)

Shortly after settling in to the hotel, I set off on a three-hour tour of the city. My guide, Adil, kindly let me choose the destinations. Midway through, he told me that his first child was born only two days ago! I asked what he was doing with me and he said he has to work; besides, he said, a lot of family were at his house. At first I took this to mean that his wife had plenty of help; I later understood it also meant he needed a break from the crowd (only to lead a stranger through another).

The main sites I saw:

  • Majorelle Gardens
  • Djemaa el-Fnaa (main square)
  • souks and beyond
  • Lazama Synagogue

Majorelle Gardens

Named for (and abounding with) Marjorelle Blue, a vibrant variation of the color that was created here.

I saw it before Instagram did.

Djemaa el-Fnaa

The famous and expansive square home to food stalls and exotic entertainment for more than 1,000 years. Here there be cobras and monkeys (and, unfortunately, animal rights violations). One snake-charmer tried to force a snake around my neck so he could force (or at least guilt) me into handing over a few coins. I resisted…but not because I wasn't prepared to spend money.

 New best friend...for a price.

 Note the sadly common sight of a monkey or Barbary ape,

souks and beyond

These dried (and dyed) flowers are an invitation into this shop, housed in the former Jewish quarter.

This is lipstick:

A defunct public fountain, used until the 1950s or '60s when people began to have running water at home:

In Marrakesh, even the laundry is colorful:

Lazama Synagogue

The area for female prayer is a fraction of the space as what the men get down below. 

Though Jews left this part of the city in large numbers after World War II, the Jewish street names remain.

A view within my hotel, floor 3:

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