Monday, 6 July 2009

Moroccan coast, here we come! (Day 16)

We woke up early in the morning. It was around seven and we were still in Marrakesh. Because of many unwelcome guests in our room we didn't sleep too well and were eager to get out of the room as soon as possible.

When we inspected the room and checked around for any remaining night-time guests, we were surprised not to find a single cockroach anywhere. It felt like being caught in a low budget horror movie, where after a tough night, with the morning light no zombies/vampires/werewolves can be found anywhere.

When the nice receptionist from the day before, asked us how the night was, we just gave him the look and a short "Not all that well...".
He said nothing but the look on his face spoke for itself. He knew exactly what we had in mind.

Over another delicious breakfast at the patisserie we had discovered the day before, we decided to head on to the Moroccan western coast. We were really looking forward to see the Atlantic Ocean again and enjoy some fresh seafood.
We checked out of Hotel Mimosa and caught a petit taxi to the bus station. We negotiated a good price quite quickly and getting to the bus station was a matter of minutes. Once again we chose a CTM company bus.

The trip was nothing special. As usually we stopped at a small village, with food and drink opportunities. There was also the usual fossil stand. By this time we got used to sometimes very impressive fossils sold everywhere. Some were so fascinating I even considered buying them, however I didn't want to risk some unnecessary border troubles.

When we got to Agadir we caught a taxi to an affordable hotel we found in our Lonely Planet guide book. We chose Hotel Tiznine which proved to be an excellent value. We got the last of their double rooms with a bathroom for 160 Dh per night.

Since we needed some quality sleep (we didn't sleep too good last night and M. was not feeling too well since she caught a cold one night in the desert), we decided to soon turn in for the night. We still had time to take a stroll by the beach and find fish stalls next to the port.
As it was getting darker an inscription in Arabic was lit on the side of a hill with the ruins of the old city on top of it. It could be translated into English as: "God, Homeland, King". I guess this should be the right sequence of important things in the life of every true Moroccan. I am not really sure if this is still true today (especially in a modern and westernised city like Agadir), but was surely the case a couple of decades ago.

When we finally got to the stalls (M. lost hope way before we got to the port), we negotiated two huge sea breams with bread, olives and salad for 70 Dh each and demanded an extra large coke on top of it. With a large bottle I meant one half a litre bottle, instead of a standard tin. After a couple of minutes we got a whole litre of coke.
We ate it all up and even took some of the leftover coke with us. 140 Dh is not very cheap, but those two fish were really huge and at the same time very delicious. Our tummies were full and after we made it to our hotel, we slept like in heaven.


Tuesday, 23 June 2009

A room full of cockroaches (Day 15)

We woke up in Hotel El Kennaria in Marrakech. We didn't sleep too good, but it didn't bother us much, since the plan was to move to another hotel. After a few morning photos of the street bellow from our room's window, we were glad to leave this hotel behind. We checked into the nearby Hotel Mimosa, which was recommended to us by a couple we know back home. This was the single hotel recommendation we got before the trip and accordingly our expectations were high.

The staff at the Hotel Mimosa were extra friendly and we also liked our modest room and also the insides of the hotel. On top of that, everything looked very clean.

After we dropped our backpacks by the bed, we went straight out to get a breakfast and a glass of fresh orange juice. We discovered a really nice café and pastry shop in a street just off the Djemaa el Fna square.
Delicious pastries were flushed down with freshly squeezed juice. This was the one thing we just couldn't get enough of during our three weeks in Morocco.

Once again we were running out of local currency and it was time to find a working ATM machine to withdraw some Dirhams.
We only had Maestro/Cirrus cards that (as we found out) didn't work with all local banks and ATMs. We finally found La Banque Centrale Populaire ATM that was ready to cooperate.
I expected one of many banks with western bank logos on their ATMs would work with our Maestro/Cirrus cards, but no luck. I guess it would help to have a Visa card for backup when going to Morocco. However if you have problems withdrawing money from various ATMs, be sure to look around for La Banque Centrale Populaire logo. It worked for us.

After a visit of a quite interesting nearby palace we decided to take an inside look at a Hammam (a traditional public bath). Not a fancy - touristy one, but a real one. The kind Moroccans go to.

Since this was our first time visit, we didn't know what to expect. A young receptionist from the small hotel we were staying in, tried to prepare us for the visit (you can check out a few tips on public hammam etiquette here). He found this situation at least funny, if not hilarious and was giggling all the time.
He directed us to a corner shop where we got the necessary hammam items we were missing: black soap (savon noir) and two scrubbing mitts. After a short negotiation this added up to 25 dirhams. We already had shampoo and towels.
The receptionist tried to tell us that the price for entering the hammam could not be more then 15 dirhams, we didn't manage to get in for less then 60 dirhams (and we tried - hard).
We entered through two separate doors - one for men and the other for women. I went in dressed only in my underwear. It became hotter and hotter as I went deeper into the hammam and didn't stop until I reached the last room which was really hot. I grabbed a bucket, filled it with hot water and began the routine. There were a couple of locals who pointed me to a thing or two, but unfortunately conversation wise, that was it. None of them spoke any English, not even the guy from the reception who came in after a while and gave me a scrubbing massage of some kind.

It really was a very interesting (sauna like) experience, lasting way over an hour and also included a quick scrub, so I guess even if it was overpaid, the price wasn't all that bad.
M. had a similar experience but got tired of it a bit earlier then I did. So we met at the entrance, where she was occupied talking to a local couple. They seemed disappointed when I showed up - this meant an end to their conversation with a freshly scrubbed and of soap smelling blonde.

We were too exhausted for any further activity. The hammam experience also made us quite hungry, so we went to grab some food from one of the stalls on Djemaa el Fna. It was quite amusing watching two locals repair a light at the food stall next to ours. It was like watching an episode of MacGyver on TV, with a good deal of suicidal tendencies feel to it. The whole time through my meal I was waiting for someone to get electrocuted. Fortunately the Moroccan MacGyver saved the day and there was light again.

After a cup of tea, we went to sleep. Well... that was what we wanted to do.
As we got into our room and switched the light on, everything started moving. There were dozens of cockroaches running around, trying to get away from the light. After squashing a few, I gave up and decided to go to sleep despite the annoyance.
M. just couldn't believe it, but to me it seemed obvious that I couldn't win a battle against the far greater numbers of annoying little creatures.

I zipped myself into my sleeping bag and soon fell to sleep. M. followed after a while but didn't dare to close her eyes for another couple of hours.
That night we slept with the light on - at the only place in Morocco that was recommended to us back home. The only one with cockroaches too!


Monday, 8 June 2009

What is so special about Marrakech?

Marrakech is definitely the number one destination in Morocco. Quite frankly I don't know why...

It surely has some good points, but I don't think it really has something you couldn't find at another place in Morocco.
On the main square (Djemaa el Fna) you can find the cheapest (3dh per glass) freshly squeezed orange juice. You have to specifically ask to get it without ice and will probably be charged extra for the privilege.

There are many snake charmers and watermen on the main square. If you never saw a snake charmer, this might be a good opportunity for taking some great photos, otherwise stay away - as they can get quite pushy. However you have to be aware that you will be expected to pay for taking a photo or even for taking a close look. I took a few photos, but from quite a large distance or from under my arm. In such a way I also got away with this photo of a waterman. They are there only for the show and don't have their original role any more (if you take a closer look at the guy on the photo that is quite obvious).

Marrakesh (also spelled Marrakesh) is a big city with many interesting things to see. Sadly most of them are overrun by tourists. Consequentially the prices can be quite high. Hotel rooms we checked out were mostly quite expensive but at the same time were not at all that good.

Usually the medina of Marrakesh is regarded as a shoppers heaven. I beg to differ. The architecture doesn't seem all that genuine (at least compared to the one in Fes) and it also isn't all that big.
Locals often have a bit too arrogant approach for my taste. On the other hand it is not so strange that salesmen are mostly not too interested in haggling over a scarf. They can be pretty sure there is a tourist with pockets full of money waiting in line just behind you. It is still worth looking for a decent offer, but you have to look for it. Typically it is waiting for you at least a few streets away from the main square.

I don't know if it is just me being weird, but I like Fes a lot more and would recommend it to anyone who has to choose between the two (you can read about my (a)mazing Fassi experience on this link). If you have a different opinion and like Marrakesh above all, please do share your views.

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