It's with a mix of curiousity and dread that we're heading into Marrakesh with.
We've heard so much of this mysterious and mystical city through books and songs, as well as from other travelers and we're eager to see what all the fuss is about. But having endured the touts of Morocco's other large cities, we were also expecting the worst in the country's largest tourist capital.
The Gene amongst tajine pots
But first, we have to cross the Atlas mountains again. We made the crossing last in the east, near the desert, and it was through the range called the Middle Atlas. This time, we're going up and over the High Atlas mountain range towards the Marrakech Plains.
You can see the snow-capped Atlas Mountains in the distance
Mountains are getting closer as we climb higher
The twisty road that we're on is called the Tizi n'Tichka. Tizi means "pass" in Berber
The temperature drops to below freezing (-1C!) and the visibility gets worse as we ride up into the clouds. We're over 2200m above sea-level at the top of the pass and the moisture from the clouds and the freezing temperatures force us to pull over and put on our rainsuits.
Just like in the Middle Atlas Mountains, we find all the dogs that were exiled out of the cities by the cats
Neda feels sorry for them and rummages through her pantry (top case) to find some food for them. She generously gives up her last few scoops of peanut butter to these sorry canines, but they don't seem to know what to make of it. Even after suspiciously sniffing the open jar, they don't go for it. Neda has to spoon some out with a twig before one of the braver dogs approaches for a taste-test. Dumb dogs. No wonder the cats managed to kick you out of the cities!
Aren't dogs supposed to *love* peanut butter?
This guy knew what was good and made off with the jar!
With our rainsuits on and one jar of peanut butter lighter, we made our way back down the pass.
Back down the switchbacks of Tizi n'Tichka
Back down in the Plains of Marrakesh, the weather gets sunnier again. Still not that warm though...
Our ride into Marrakesh was unremarkable. Our original intention was to try to find a place outside of the medinas and then ride in one day to visit the souks, thus avoiding the hustlers. But we found that all the accommodations were so expensive. It really was cheaper to stay in the old city, I think because the hotels in the modern areas of the city were frequented by people on business with bigger budgets and corporate expense accounts. So it was back to the medinas with the rest of the backpackers and vacationers.
Like before, we had to park outside the walls of the old city and I dove in on foot while Neda watched the bikes. I made a mistake not getting the exact GPS co-ordinates of our riad in Marrakesh before arriving. All I had was a Google Map location which maybe gets you in the right time zone when it comes to navigating in the medinas of Morocco... Lost in the labyrinths of Marrakesh, I couldn't find the place where we were staying and against my inclinations, I had to enlist the help of one of the touts waiting for business. But not before negotiating a price.
After some walking around, it seemed my young guide did not know where the riad was, but he flagged down another guy on a motorcycle who seemed to know and the guy on the bike motioned for me to get on the back seat. The riad should have been close by and I didn't want to pay extra for a ride, so I declined and followed his bike on foot. Our guesthouse was only a few hundred meters away and at the door of the riad, I settled up with the first guy who I asked for directions.
He immediately took off, leaving the motorcycle guide looking at me expectantly. Thus I was introduced to a new hustle in Marrakesh - I call it the "Everyone Gets Paid". Basically whoever you make a deal with enlists as many people he can get to help you out, then you are expected to pay everyone involved. *nuh-uh* I shook my head. "Go chase after your friend and get your money, I didn't make a deal with you".
He looked pissed, probably a mixture of play-acting and annoyance that the "Everyone Gets Paid" hustle didn't work. Too bad, so sad.
Once more, into the fray we go. Into the medinas of Morocco
We were both in a very bad mood in Marrakesh. The hustlers were wearing us down and we didn't feel like leaving the riad. Why did we even bother coming to the city then? It took great effort of will to don our armour and go exploring once again.
Grounds of the El Badi Palace
One of the first attractions just outside our riad was the El Badi Palace. Built in the late 1500s, it was built to celebrate (gloat) over the Moroccan's victory against the war with the Portuguese.
Good luck storks atop one of the towers in the palace
Stork in flight, baby already delivered
Proof that I was there
Reflections in the pools at El Badi Palace
Copper lamps in a Marrakesh souk
Talk to the Khamsa
The Khamsa means "Five" in Arabic and in this instance refers to an open palm symbol that is often used in artwork and jewelry as a sign of protection and to ward off the evil eye.
More peering into mosques that we were forbidden to enter. Such intricate designs inside!
Snake charmer in the souk
Djemaa-El-Fna is the largest souk in Marrakech, located in the main square of the old city. Snake charmers are known to frequent this area and we really wanted to see snakes being charmed. Before taking pictures, I asked the guy above playing the flute how much and his buddy beside him answered 10 dirham. Okay, deal.
The snake glistened menacingly like it was made of shiny, moving metal
The guy playing the flute motioned for me to come closer, he kept kicking at the snake to maneuver it into a position so I could get a better shot. I think either the snake was not poisonous or it was defanged, he didn't seem at all concerned about his (or my) safety. Thankfully I have a zoom lens...
I don't think the flute player was doing anything special. The snake didn't seemed very hypnotized or charmed or anything.
This was as close to the snake as I dared go
After I was done taking pictures, the flute-player's buddy took my 10 dirham and promptly got up and walked away, disappearing into the crowd. Oh no. Is this "Everyone Gets Paid" all over again? I looked at the flute player waiting with his outstretched hand. Yep.
I shook my head, turned around vowed never to engage with street vendors and hustlers again as he called out to me for his money. "Everyone Gets Paid" only works if tourists start falling for it and I wasn't going to contribute to this behaviour. I had no doubt in my mind that he would get his 10 dirham once his buddy came back.
We went to a fancy restaurant which was supposed to serve good tajine. Not impressed. Too many raisins.
Waiting for business
Looking out the window is a favorite past-time all over the world
Men in traditional Berber hats walking around the souk
So in the end there was nothing mystical or mysterious about Marrakesh. Nothing that we hadn't seen in any of the other medinas of Morocco. It just confirmed that we are so done with medinas and souks.