05.02.2008 - 10.02.2008 25 °C
Marrakech, Marrakech, Marrakech. A very special city. It's divided into 3 parts: Hivernage (a posh residential area where I've never been), Guelize (the shopping, administrative, and clubbing center), and the old town (called the Medina). At the center of the Medina is the reason why I actually spent 6 days in Marrakech: Place Djemaa-el-Fna, commonly called "The Place". I had read about this place and people had told me about it, this is why I was quite disappointed when I arrived there from the airport around noon. It's neither bigger, and cetrainly not more beautiful than other places I have seen (Esfahan, Rome, Beijing,...). Anyway, I found hotel for 60 Dirham a night (10 Dh = 1 euro) right next to the Place.
In the evening I started to understand why this place is so special. Thousands of people gather here every night. There are healers, henne-tatooists, food-stalls, orange juice stalls, stalls with dates, nuts and other things I don't know, music groups, storytellers, snake-charmers, and thieves, tourists, hustlers, plenty of locals, false guides and so on. It's an incredible mix of colors, smells, sounds and people, I love it! The food stalls are also the cheapest place in town to get food, which was fortunate for me since I decided to live on 100 Dh a day (60 of which were spent for the room).
On the first evening (tuesday) I met Haishan, a false guide that offered to arrange trips for me to the surrounding attractions for 1000 Dh (!!!) and just generally tried to rip me off (which he partly succeeded, since I paid him tea, a taxi ride and a beer, but since he did show me around Guelize I considered this fair payment). Anyway, that was a pretty fun evening, although Haishan was quite disappointed in the meager results. We still parted ways on good terms.
On the second day I woke up at 5.45am at the muezzins first call for prayer. I have started to really dislike this first morning prayer call... I later met Gabi and Maria, two anthropology & media students from London. Gabi is Lithuanian and seems to be a very successful writer and critic (even though her target audience is arguably rather limited since she only writes in Lithuanian). She despises simple, easy-to-digest litterature (especially Coelho) and likes heavier stuff like Proust. Maria is from Poland and more into the Media thing. They made me realise how badly my litterary culture is lacking when they started discussing Dostojevski, Camus, Hemingway, and others I never heard about. Since my 100 Dh a day goal proved more difficult than I imagined I was fortunate to meet then, as they let me finish their meals, thus saving me from hunger. Thank god for Eastern Europeans that feed the poor pennyless Swiss :-) During the afternoon we spent some memorable time walking for hours in the sun and failing to find all the sights we were looking for. At least we got a good look at the Medina.
On the third day I woke up for the second time (first time being the prayer call) because a slightly panicked Maria was banging on my door and asked me if I had any anti-allergy pills, which I hadn't. Turns out Gabi was stung by a moskito during the night and she made an allergic reaction to this. Her eyes and lips where badly swollen. Maria aptly described her as "our little Quasimodo". The resemblence was striking:-) Since there was nothing we could do we fed her a banana (Maria says the magnesium in bananas helps against allergies) and went to watch the sunrise, which was quite pretty. After a while we fed Gabi 5 or 6 more bananas, but facing the very marginal success of this treatment we decided to buy some anti-histamine pills which quickly solved the problem (By the way, Gabi, go buy the damn insect repellant!). During the afternoon we met Antoine, a french friend of them who stayed with us until saturday evening and gave me the address of his cousin who lives in Tangier. Really kind person.
On saturday we decided to pass the day in the Ourika valley, a popular excursion place in the Atlas for Marrakechis. At the bus stop we met three elderly men, whom Gabi classified as "middle-class British", a population she qualifies as "incredibly stupid". She was immediately proven right when they told us how they paid a taxi driver 300 Dh to get to Ourika village, a dirtpatch from where they were unable to find a taxi to get up the valley. Fortunately for them they met us on their second attempt and after a bus ride to Ourika village (for 5 Dh each), all seven of us crammed into a taxi (which was at the taxi stop, 20m away from the bus stop and impossible to miss!) and went to Seti Fatma, a village further up the valley. The fresh air and calm there was a very welcome change from the pollution and bustle of Marrakech. What our three "middle class British Grampas" lacked in travel-wisdom they made up in kindness, as they paid us the taxi ride and a cup of tea in Seti Fatma.
We passed the day walking upstream to a waterfall, ate a succulent tadjine there (which was accompanied by a very heated discussion between Antoine and Maria about the ethics of prostitution, during which I wisely decided to honour the noble Swiss tradition of neutrality :-) and finished the day smoking a waterpipe and drinking tea.
Well, this was a good first week. Tomorrow I move to Agadir.
Have fun everyone