Wednesday, February 2, 2011

مراكش (Marrakech)...Camels, and snakes, and monkeys oh my!


So this past weekend I was in Marrakech, Morocco (the week consisted of more going away parties and karaoke).  Pretty cool, right?!
Saturday: We arrived in Marrakech at around 2:30.  We got picked up at the airport and taken straight to our hostel which was exactly in the center of the Medina (old city).  We checked in and dropped off our stuff.  Then we headed to the souks (markets) and spent a few hours getting lost in the labyrinth of stalls and bartering for goodies.  As it turns out 1 euro = 10 dirhams, so we got by on about 100 euros for the whole weekend (excluding the hostel and our excursion).  I bought a 100% cashmere pashmina and a charm for my bracelet.  Then we had an early dinner on the terrace of a cafe which overlooked the Jema el Fna (market square).  Then we just went back to the hostel and watched some movies.  We ended up going to sleep at about 10:30.  
Sunday: We went on our excursion to the Ourika Valley.  Our first stop was a major traffic jam just outside the city walls.  As it turns out Sunday was the day of the Marrakech marathon, so we got to chill for almost an hour watching people running.  Hilary and Jordan decided to join in for a bit...Then we drove up to the Atlas mountains and stopped along the way for pictures.  The first actualy stop was at a natural medicine place.  They had all sorts of natural remedies and were making argon oil the old fashioned way.  Argon oil is an oil that is only made in Morocco.  It is made out of dried nuts (they smell kind of like almonds, but I don't think they are).  If you roast the nuts first, the oil ends up with a darker color and nutty smell and it's used for cooking.  If the nuts aren't roasted then the oil looks like olive oil and doesn't have a smell and it's used for cosmetics.  Following this stop, where everyone  else bought remedies, I saved my money, we went up to the waterfall.  At least we went to the town where the waterfall was...We had to do a little rock climbing to actually get up there.        
Following the excursion to the waterfall we had lunch at a local Berber (native Moroccan) restaurant where we had tagine (where the meat and vegetables are slow roasted in a clay pot) and soup and Moroccan desserts and mint tea.  Really delicious.  On the way down we stopped to ride....camels!!!  Yes, I rode a camel.  It was really scary at first as they were standing up, but it ended up being a lot of fun!  At one point near the end of the ride they unhooked my camel from the line because the camels were zig-zagging and just left him on his own.  The guide ended up coaxing him into trotting (do camels trot?) and he trotted straight into the middle of a two-lane highway.  Definitely got a few really odd looks.  Then we headed back to the hostel where we met up with 5 other Americans who are studying at St. Andrews, in Scotland, and we went to dinner with them in the square.

Monday: We got up fairly early and had breakfast with the rest of team America.  Then we hung out with them for the rest of the morning, until they had to catch a bus to the beach.  We started at the square, as there was a general need for a bank, where we saw a monkey (or minkey...)  Then we went to the Palais Bahia, the old palace in the middle of the city.  The palace was in  general state of decay, as were the gardens, but they were pretty.  

After the palace, we passed through the spice market (photo on the right) on the way to the mellah (Jewish's still active).  The Jewish quarter has been active in Marrakech since 1558, unfortunately though, the only things that are still active are the cemetery and the synagogue.  We didn't have enough time to actually go into either, which I was a little upset about, but I did meet the rabbi briefly.  I would have really liked to spend more time there though.  
Following this we went back into the center of the city and had lunch at the most amazing vegan  restaurant called the Earth Cafe.  We then walked to the Koranic school, but it cost a little more than we wanted to spend to go in.  So we just walked around in the souks some more.  Jordan met a snake charmer, and the girls all got henna.  The woman with me, is the artist.  Then we walked over to the mosque.  We couldn't actually go inside, but we walked around it.  It was a very impressive building.  Then we went back to the hostel and just relaxed for a couple hours.  Before heading out for dinner which we bought on the street, it was basically ground beef, grilled onions, salt, and moroccan spices all in a pita.  Some of the best food I've ever eaten!  Then we stopped at a random orange juice stand, they were all over the place, and started chatting with the owner and one of his friends.  His friend took us to get mint tea at a nearby cafe and then we went over to his friend's drum circle where we actually got up and danced in the middle.  We were treated like family; all the other tourists were asked for money, especially when they danced or took pictures, and we were never   asked. 

   Abdellah, the friend, also taught us how to put together a Berber head scarf.  Below is a picture with all four of us with Abdellah.  Following this we each got a turn to ride, and drive, his motorcycle (sorry Mom and Dad) and I got my first, of three, marriage proposals.  Apparently I look mediterranean so I am worth lots of camels (of course they don't know that I drink wine, thus negating most of my camel worth)

Tuesday: We only had a couple hours before we had to go the airport so we woke up early to go to the souks so we could spend the last of our dirham, since there was very little point in converting 20 dirham (2 euros).  I ended up buying sandals with the last of my money.  I also the last two of my marriage proposals.  Then we set off for the airport where I bought a thing of mixed moroccan pastries...basically baklavah and almond cookies and such things.  The flight went really smoothly, but after landing it took much longer than anticipated to get through customs (mostly because this german couple was chatting with a flight attendant thus holding up the bus that was to take us to customs) so we made it to the bus literally 2 minutes before it left.  Definitely a good thing since the next bus was two hours later.  But, we made it home in one piece and with all our luggage.  It was such an amazing trip!  I would love to go back someday!  It was a really good way to round off my three week break, school starts again on Monday.

¡Hasta la semana que viene! 

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