Cobras. In the main square, snake charmers would play sleepy melodies to them. My first time seeing cobras with snake charmers, I had my eyes glued to the snakes and veered an extremely wide berth past them, plotting my mad dash at the slightest view of a slither my way. Jesus Christ, it’s not every day that I sneak past a live, fanged and poisonous cobra!
The traffic in Marrakesh was a mishmash of street dust, car exhaust, motorcycles, people traffic and various animals sometimes pulling wagons or carts. This orchestrated constant flow allows seemingly no chance to cross traffic. Somehow locals walk out and don’t get flattened by cars. They calmly proceed between two cars moving at ridiculous speeds with calculated precision. You sometimes need to just say a prayer and run through a little gap. Watching the locals was the only way to learn here. Taking the hop on / hop off bus was a perfect way to reduce my irritations as a solo traveller and get to know Marrakesh.
An arranged taxi transported me from the airport to the edge of the cement walled souks of medina, let me off, and I was slightly confused. I would now be transported by little cart and guide. My backpack went on a wooden wheelbarrow-like cart and I followed a younger guy as he navigated through passageways that went on and on for fifteen minutes, but felt like a short eternity. Two Americans in the lobby of the hostel had been mislead by some local teenagers who took them on an hour hike all over the souks, then they demanded a ridiculous amount of money.
I had chosen the arranged taxi rather then follow the “find it yourself” instructions online which had twenty steps that read something like: 1) From the east part of the square, walk twenty steps, take a left, 2) walk ten steps, take a right, 3) walk thirty more steps past a store with a blue sign and dangling moroccan lights etc.
The exact location of my hostel within the unmarked, shady, often empty tunnels was memorized by venturing out, then backtracking several times. As a solo traveler this was quite the challenge. No GPS, no cell phone, no street signs, and many people who don’t speak your language. Being in the tunnels was uncomfortable but unavoidable. There was a calm, shaded coolness in them with an unknown feel.
In Morocco, I almost got run over by donkeys gone haywire in the markets. People would grab your arm and pull you into their shack to try to get you to buy their food. The British guy in my dorm ended up with two monkeys on his shoulder, each handler demanding the equivalent of $20. I can’t think of anything less that I would rather spend $20 on then having a monkey with a diaper sit on my shoulder. The guy however was seriously proud of his new $40 Facebook profile picture, which he claimed would be good for approximately a year. Fair negotiations were so tough at times because of people like him. No “diaper monkey” pictures for me. Granted he was fresh off the boat from the UK, confirmed by his paleness. Forty dollars worth of fresh Moroccan dates shipped home would have been a much better use of funds looking back on the situation.
My roommate James from London was doing graduate coursework in architecture and was there with a group of other students studying the wall surrounding the souks of medina in Marrakech. His estimate was that salespeople marked up items by something like 600% to start, then work their way down, expecting bartering and friendly negotiations. He had taken a year off from his bachelors degree in Architecture to live in the Brazilian jungle, doing what I’m not sure… clearly not studying architecture.
He entered data collected from the day as I compiled photo compilations to email to my people showing them progress on my journey across Europe. One of his missions for the day was to find a leather shop to fix his leather bag. The strap had worn down and he needed another one. By the next day he had found a vendor that supplied and put together a perfect leather replacement for something in the range of $5. Clearly way less then what you might find in London for exactly the same thing.
Up in the rooftop patio they served Moroccan mint tea. You cannot escape Morocco without having one of these beauties. The two ladies took about fifteen minutes preparing the tea. Perhaps this was not too long but certainly felt like forever, as I was alone. The two ladies talked to each other in Arabic as the water boiled (5 minutes), tea brewed (5 minutes), then they proceeding to mash what seemed like an entire mint plant into the little teapot (yet another 5 minutes). To be fair it end up the best mint tea I have ever had, and might ever have but I do remember thinking at the time: They are intentionally making me wait. They must not like me.
Let’s just grow a new tea plant while we’re at it! Perhaps some slow-growth hardwood trees grown from seedling could stoke the cooking stove?
Maybe this is part of my British background, but when I feel like a tea, unnecessary waiting can be associated with a significant increase of long glares. Waiting for things in Morocco was not an isolated incident.
I was invited by four roommates to the main square at night to explore, but had sufficiently stocked myself with chocolate croissants to avoid the chaos for the night. Later devouring a fresh lentil specialty at the rooftop bar was more of “my thing” while my roomies ate animal brains cooked in whole skulls available in the main square. The rooftop bar and restaurant had a great vibe and one could hear stories from travellers returning from desert trekking, camel safaris, the atlas mountains, and surfing on the coast.
Taking refuge from all the salespeople and shenanigans out to con the unaware traveller was essential for my handling Morocco. The rooftop restaurant was just the place to peer over the ceiling of the city, eat, and listen to the stories of the travellers.