Sunday, May 28, 2006

Yesterday when I checked into the new riad (because they were so full, they had to move me from one riad to another), I found out that I had not been staying at Riad Zahora like I thought (apparently there was a plumbing problem with my room). I was actually at Dar Zahia, which I suspect is a much nicer riad. Here is a link to it: (I was in the Chambre Saida.) The new riad, Riad Magellan is also very nice, but not quite as fancy...

Last night I went to this great Moroccan restaurant in a riad called La Maison Dar Saada ( The tagine was delicieuse et l'ambience, superieur... I originally wanted to go to this restaurant called Marakechi off of the Place Jemaa Al Fna (the Moroccan gentleman I sat next to on the plane here recommended it) but they were occupée tout la nuit... So, in traditional Moroccan fashion, there was a "guide" at the door ready to escort me to this other restaurant. Of course the new restaurant was twice as expensive, but it was no more than I would pay for dinner in New York, so I decided to stay. The interior was all white with intricate plaster carvings all around the room. The only problem was that I had to walk back to my riad by myself. By now I know the way, but being in the small passageways at night by myself was a bit scary, so I made a dinner reservation at Marrakechi for much earlier tonight...

Below is the photo of the day: typical street in Marrakech...

(photo of Moroccan street removed)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Today I decided to head out on my own to see some of the sights of Marrakech. As seems to be typical in Morocco, I was "distracted" by a Moroccan youth. I asked him for direction to the palace that I wanted to see. He told me that it was closed for the noon hour (everything here closes for two hours or so at lunch time.) So he took me to his shop instead (which is actually in my guidebook!) There he showed me many different types of spices, perfumes, and herbal treatments (one he described as "Viagra for women"...) He gave me mint tea and I met his brother who also helps run the store. I ended up buying many spices, some tea, and some cosmetics. Everything that I asked the price of was very inexpensive, but everything that I did not ask the price of was apparently very expensive, because at the end of the day I ended up paying over 70 dollars! (I hope those of you at home REALLY appreciate your gifts! :) hee hee) Here is a picture of me and Mohammed outside of his store.

(photo of me an Mohammad outside of spice shop removed)

I finally found the palais, but, sure enough, it was closed. I wanted to find a café where I could eat and wait for the palaces to open again, and sure enough there was another Moroccan man ready to come to my rescue. Instead of taking me to a café, however, he decided that he would give me a tour of the Jewish Quarter (which I had already seen when the brother of the young man from the apothecary decided to take me on a "tour" which apparently is code for "come shop in my friend's store." When I made it clear that I was not going to buy anything, he left me alone, which of course meant that I had to find my way once again out of the medina. After eating, I decided to come here to the internet café, which again meant that I was dependent upon a stranger for directions. The "guide" got me here, but insisted that he wait for me and then I would go to his shop. When I said I would be two hours, he demanded that I pay him. I only gave him 20 dirhams and then went inside.

The men here are very eager to help, but it is clear they expect something in return! Either money, dinner later, or a visit to their store! I have been told that because I have green eyes and light skin I am considered very "exotic". It has also been suggested that I should get a Moroccan husband! Hee hee... Perhaps I will fabricate an American husband who is waiting for me at whatever place I would like to travel to!

So I arrived in Marrakech late yesterday afternoon. This time I decided that I would be smart and NOT drive in the center of town, but rather park in a garage outside of town and take a taxi to the hotel - definitely a good thought on my part, but there are additional complications in Marrakech... At least in Casablanca my hotel was on a main road; in Marrakech it is in the heart of the medina. The first cab that I got into had no idea where to go; so he just dropped me off goodness knows where. The second cab driver lived in the area of the address that I had; so he dropped me off on the edge of what I thought was the medina (no cars are allowed in the old part of the city because the streets are so narrow.) Two young men could see that I was lost so they offered to help me find my way. Pretty soon I had a pack of children following me trying to help me find my way down the narrow streets (not of the medina it turns out, but of another part of town). We found the address that I had written down, but it was clearly a private residence, not a riad. I suggested that I call the riad to get directions, so the children took me to a little phone booth store (3 booths and two cats). I changed some dollars into coins and we tried dialing several times, but the children clearly did not know when to use the country code, the area code, etc. Finally we figured out the correct numbers to dial and I was connected. Unfortunately, I had just enough time to tell the guy at the riad that I was lost before my money ran out. I changed some more money and dialed again (this time I was smart and put in lots of money first) but then I got the answering machine (and I lost all of my money! Not so smart after all I guess...) The third time the children and I worked out a plan where I would talk and they would feed money into the phone at the same time. So me and two boys squeezed into the booth and they deposited coins (which kept falling thorough the phone instead of sticking - much to their amusement) while I talked. The hotel owner told me to go to the Place Jemaa-El-Fna where I was to call again and someone would come get me. As it turns out, the Place was about a half an hour walk from where we were. Two of the older boys generously volunteered to take me there. At the end, I got there and tipped them each 100 dirhams for their help - about 12 dollars each. It was worth it! I never would have found the riad on my own. (The picture below is of part of the medina; unfortunately I did not get a picture of my two heros...)

(photo of Marrakech street removed)

The riad that I am staying at - Riad El Zohar - is absolutely gorgeous!! A riad is a traditional Moroocan house (usually for the wealthy) with an interior courtyard. My riad is elaborately decorated. Here is one photo, but you will have to wait until I edit my pictures to see the rest...

(photo or Riad El Zohar removed)

Friday, May 26, 2006

OK. Quick post from Essouira. It is gorgeous here!! I spent the afternoon walking around (and, I'll admit, doing a bit of shopping). The riad I am staying in- Riad Al Madina - is VERY charming (and extremely reasonably priced)! I would highly recommend it...

This will be a quick post, since I have been in the internet cafe for awhile and really need to hit the road if I am to arrive in Marrakech before dark! (Plus the guy next to me just started smoking - YUCK!! People can smoke anywhere in Morocco!) I planned to upload several photos, but they take a REALLY long time to upload, so just one for now and you can see the rest when I publish my photo album at the end of the trip...

My original plan was to see Casablanca the day that I arrived and then to leave the next morning for Essouira, visiting some of the smaller towns along the way. Because of the suitcase debacle and the number of times that I got lost, however, I did not have very much time to see the city. In particular, I really wanted to see the Mosque of Hassan II. Because I was out late with Takir (and because I was jet-lagged) I slept in the next morning and went to see the mosque, which was absolutely amazing! (picture below)

(photo of mosque removed)

After the mosque, I took the obligatory two hours to navigate my way out of the city. All I can say is "merci dieu que je parle le français!" I don't know how I would have found my way otherwise, as few people on the street speak much English, and I was heavily reliant on the kindness of strangers (which there was in spades-the people here are amazingly friendly!) to navigate.

I finally made it to the highway and somehow managed to find Al Jadida. Al Jadida is a beautiful town on the coast. I was there for about five minutes, when, of course, I got lost. I asked a woman for directions, but she was from Casablanca and was actually looking for directions herself. She asked someone in Arabic how to get to the Portuguese Cistern (which is where I wanted to go) and gave me the directions. It turned out that she was going the same way, so I offered to give her a ride. We found parking and started to walk toward the medina when she confessed her story to me. She is a banker working in Casablanca. The day before she took the train and happened to sit next to a very famous Moroccan author whom she had seen on television a few times and greatly admired. She talked to him and they really hit it off; he invited her to Al-Jadida to attned a lecture he was giving there the next day and to spend the evening with him. She told me she felt that she was living a real-life Moroccan love story. We had lunch and I helped calm her nerves. At 3pm, she went to the lecture and I went to the cistern (which was closed until 3pm). I hope that she finds the happy ending she is looking for! Below is a picture of her.

(picture of Moroccan woman removed)

Anyhow, because of all of the delays, I did not have time to see Safi and did not arrive in Essouira until late at night. Consequently, I am taking today to see Essouira and am driving to Marrakech late afternoon. It all works out in the end, however, as part of the fun for me is meeting new people along the way! The drive from Casablanca to Essouira was also beautiful...

Well I made it to Morocco! (Although unfortunately my suitcase was not as lucky!)

When I picked up my car at the rental car place, I confessed to the young man at the counter that I did not know how to drive a stickshift, and he took pity on me and gave me a half an hour lesson. I actually learned very quickly! I took off for Casablanca thinking "this isn't so bad!" Then I arrived in the city where the lines on the street (when they have them) are just a suggestion, street lights are optional, and jaywalking is the national pasttime! Add motorcycles and scooters plus to the mix, plus the fact that I have absolutely no sense of direction and you can imagine the mélée that occurred. For the most part, I did pretty well, but whenever I got nervous (which was usually when I was in the middle of a major intersection) my car stalled! Driving a stickshift with no experience is definitely the most adventuous thing that I have ever done - forget about skydiving and waterfall splunking!

After getting lost for 2-3 hours in the city (there are virtually no street signs and those they have are mainly in Arabic), I finally found my hotel. I parked my car (or rather I had a guy on the street park my car for me since it took me awhile to find reverse) and went inside. The people from the airport told me to call them in two hours to get a status report on my suitcase. Since more time then that had elapsed, I gave them a call. Fortunately, my suitcase was there at the airport (and I suspect that it was there the entire time, but that it fell off the cart or something since there is only one flight a day from New York to Casablanca...) Unfortunately, that meant that I had to drive back to the airport (they don't deliver suitcases in Morocco). So, I got back in my car, and got lost for another two and a half hours as I tried to find my way back to the airport before I finally arrived. I picked up my suitcase, jet-lagged, sweaty, and tired of driving. I also happened to run into my driving instructor again and he asked me to dinner; I told him to come by my hotel at 6:30 so that I could shower and take a nap. Because it took me two hours to find my way back to the hotel (notice that my sense of direction is slightly i,mproving!) I did not really have much time to see Casablanca!

Here is a picture of Takir, my driving instructor!

(photo removed)