Tuesday, September 30, 2008

africa?? you bet!

this is a long post... and i won't apologize.
when i was younger, i remember making a list of places that i wanted to go before i died. on that list, i included africa; and while morocco isn't exactly the africa i pictured in my young-girl heart- i am still putting a check mark on that list. the final stop on our initial travels took us to this strange and interesting place. we got into morocco pretty late at night and only had one sketchy reservation at a hostel so we took a bus from the airport to the town hoping we would figure out something once we got there. we walked off the bus to find a bustling main square full of temporary restaurants that only come out at night, markets that sell just about EVERYTHING, little kids playing, street performers, snake charmers, men selling old teeth and so many people! although we were a little overwhelmed, cade found some girls who were staying at our same hostel and had actually printed a map! the luck! cade really does have the best luck. anyway, we started walking to the market and learned our first moroccan lesson: do not make eye contact with anyone. here is a shot of some snake charmers we took from the roof of a restaurant. if they see you take a picture, they ask for a ton of money... so we just used our zoom feature.

as we were winding our way through the market, a man saw we all had packs on and a map in our hands. he started walking next to us so we naturally looked at him to see what he was up to. at this point he guessed the name of our hostel and said, 'i will take you to equity point' (the name of the place). i had read about how people in morocco will demand money for any service they perform for you (aka guiding you somewhere) or even for taking pictures. i told the others about the scheme and we all started telling the man to leave us alone and that because we have a map, we do not want him to take us. almost as though he couldn't hear us, he trucked on alongside us trying to walk in front of us. at one point, one of the girls we were with tried to pass him to show she knew where we were going but all this did was fuel a speed walking contest and eventually- the man won. finally we managed to find a little hole in the wall where a long series of tunnels led us to a door in the stone wall. we knocked and found out we were at the right place. immediately, our little amigo demanded some money for his 'services.' grudgingly we all paid him as little as possible and slipped inside only to find that our reservation was just as shady as we had originally thought. there was only room for one of us and they would not budge to let one more in.
the man called one of his friends who showed up at the door a few minutes later to take us back through the tunnels to another door in the wall. this door led to a beautiful riad with the most amazing interior. we knew that it would probably be a little more expensive than our hostel, but it was so fun and authentic, we ended up staying there a night and then going to our hostel the other two nights.

the night was young- so after settling in a little, we headed off to the market for dinner. it was a such a fun place. once you hit the square, the servers from all the different spots come and try and persuade you to come to their booth. the best part is, they all serve the same thing so you are safe no matter what you choose. we decided to just sit down as quick as possible to avoid a huge scene. the food was good and cade loved the arabic coke (of course, cade knows his mother's wishes and drank it grudgingly).

afterwards we decided to take a look at some of the shops. they were tempting me all through dinner with their colorful scarfs and rows of cool looking shoes. this is where we learned lesson number 2: don't walk into a shop unless you are full prepared to buy something. as we started looking people would say anything to get us to stop. once we made eye contact (see lesson #1) they had us. not fully educated yet, we made eye contact and eventually listened to a man convince us he had the best scarves at his shop. we followed him down a few shops and the next thing i know i turn around to find cade looking like this:

that's right. the man had dressed him head to toe. i was so wrapped in scarves by this point i could barely see him but we both got a good laugh out of our situation. as you can tell by the picture, after some intense bargaining cade walked away with the entire outfit (see lesson #2) with my voice echoing all the while- when will you wear that stuff. the answer has been clear ever since: always. even as i type this sentence, cade is sitting on our bed wearing his beloved robe (ali baba as he calls it) while reading. and yes- i walked away with one of the many scarves the men had wrapped around my neck (see again lesson #2). not wanting to get sucked in again, we kept our eyes low and wound our way back to our hotel. marrakesh really was funny because the market was full of people trying to make money. at one point, a guy with a tassel on his head jumped in front of us as we were walking and started dancing all over the place. when he had finished, he held out his hat for money. what do you do???! and that was all day one....
day two, we thought we would hit up all the museums and mosques. the crazy part about finding your way around marrakesh is that the main section of museums and markets is full of small, winding alleyways where no cars fit but are packed with people and motorbikes. we asked for a map from our hotel only to find the section we wanted to map out was a big orange blob labeled 'the souqs,' meaning it was too much to map out. nonetheless, we left that morning optimistic we would find whatever we needed without hiring any more 'guides.' we were wrong...
to give you an idea of what these tunnels look like, here is a video of us getting to out hostel from the main market... and, no... we didn't add the music in.

the souqs are like a maze that never ends. the deeper you go, the more you realize you have no idea where you are. this is where we learned lesson number 3: never look at your map in public. once we showed the slightest bit of confusion we were approached by a handful of 'guides' loking to take us to the museum or mosque. a few of them tried the 'walk along side' method that our little amigo tried the night before, so cade and i would just turn around and walk the opposite way- refusing all help. little did our little guides know, they were pointing us in the right direction, and after we had successfully shaken them off, we continued towards our destinations reassured we were going the right way. i don't feel the least bit bad for it either because their idea of payment is like 50 dollars. ya right.
finally, we found the museum we were looking for. here is lesson number 4: during ramadan, things can close at any time, people are all so hungry, and we are pretty clueless about the rest of the muslims traditions. the museum we had been searching for all morning was closed for the rest of the day for ramadan. ok....

so as we turned down a different street, another guide approached asking us if we were going to the tanneries and pointed the way we were going. we said no, did our little back track method and decided to try out the tanneries after all. the tanneries were very difficult to find as well, which meant shaking off a bunch more guides in the process. finally, as we were getting closer, a man approached us and started doing the 'walk alongside' method. we told him we would not pay him and he turned around and said he did not want any money, but he would still show us the place. we were skeptical, but we followed. he led us to a tannery and showed us inside where he immediately introduced us to a shady looking fellow (ah! this is why the first guy said it was free!) who said he would show us around. he handed us both big clumps of fresh (a debatable term) mint leaves to hold to our noses.

it wasn't too long before i realized why. going to the tannery made me grateful for every piece of leather i have ever owned.... EVER. it was sooo stinky and there were piles of animal hides and hair everywhere. i was in my little flip flops and was seriously concerned that i was going to contract some fatal disease, but we obediently followed our new guide around. he walked us through the piles and across small planks of cement that separated big pits of a pigeon poo mixture and some sort of coloring liquid. men were waste deep in the guck soaking large slabs of hide and laying them out to dry in the sun. thus the smell. i have never seen anything like it.

surprisingly, this shady guide didn't ask for money either and cade and i were wondering what kind of deal we had found; however, as he took us out of the tannery there was another man waiting to meet us and take us to his leather shop. this is the point cade and i realized the money making scheme we had been roped into. we walked into the shop and the shop owner started showing us all his leather goods. as impressed as we were, the man was asking ridiculous amounts of money for everything and we really didn't want to buy anything. he kept pushing us (see lessons #1 and 2) and finally cade walked out of the store. 'there goes my money!' i explained but the man wouldn't let me leave! cade was waiting outside and i finally got out of there and practically ran down the street. the next thing we know, our little tannery guide was running behind us demanding money. we thought it would be good to pay him since he showed us the place, so we gave him some money. apparantly, it was not enough. he started getting really mad and looking around, i realized we were the only tourists on the whole street. we finally got out of there and, again, laughed at the craziness of it all. after the tanneries, we allowed ourselves to be convinced into a few more fun buys, went out the market to eat with some friends and spent the rest of the night chatting with some friends in the hostel.

after all the madness of the first two days, we decided to take a nice break from the streets and get hammam massages. we weren't quite sure what that was, but a girl at the hostel highly recommended it. this was an interesting experience. we soon found ourselves in a steam room with a little moroccan lady who told me to take off all my clothes and for cade to leave just his underwear on. she then proceeded to bathe us with hammam, a kind of soap. she would lather us up and then leave us in the room for a while. you may think this is TMI for a little blog post but it really happened. i will admit that it was a little interesting to have someone bathe me... if you want more details of the hilarity of our bathing session, you'll have to hear it in person.
after the bathing, we were led to a room where we got full body massages.... that's right... full body. it was interesting to see that a country that requires so much modesty in their women still had traditions like this. it really was fun- definitely a cultural experience i won't forget.

this brought us to the end of our trip; but even as we were leaving, we still broke lesson 1 and 2 in the market. as we were walking out, cade made eye contact with one of the henna women who sit in the square. they have been asking to do henna since we got into marrakesh and i just didn't want it. well, after eye contact was made, the next thing i know, this lady has a death grip on my hand and is drawing all sorft of designs with her henna pen on my hand. i tried to pull away and it just made her leave a long streak up my pinkie finger. i told her i wouldn't pay her because i had no money- which was true... cade had it all. she just kept drawing and telling me i would have healthy babies and that my eyes were pretty. the design was all over my hand and every time i tried to pull away- she would mess up again. finally, i wiggled free and she told me to give her something of mine.... she wanted 'something american.' i honestly had nothing to give this lady. by this point, cade was at a safe distance, watching me try to get out of this one... the lady asked for my necklace- ya right. she then asked for my earrings. i was not getting out of this. annoyed at this point that i was covered in henna when i had to start work in 2 days, i took out my earrings and handed them over wondering all the while if that is even legal to demand my possessions. the earrings were old and the lady needed money, so i guess it was win-win in the end.
we had so many other adventures here like almost walking into a mosque (a big no, no), eating at roof top cafes, and just hanging out in the midst of it all. marrakesh really was such a fun place. it was so different from any place i have ever seen. the bargaining and money scams were all just part of the experience. we loved the craziness of it all and would go back in a second... after learning all these lessons: we are ready!


Anonymous said...

we so enjoyed reading your blog this evening of all your experiences in africa, and so glad for your saftey. it looked like an indiana jones movie. i was concerened about the coke however and hope that that situation can be remedied at some point SOON!

Adam said...

Unbelievable, guys. Seriously.

Randy and Leslea said...

I got on to your blog to show Kris Tanner a few of your experiences.... and SURPISE! You had written more! I love seeing the pics of the places and things you have described to us!

The Nortons said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Nortons said...

You are not really eating all of that stuff, are you? I can do any sort of tough travel, but when it comes down to sampling the "local flavors" count me out!

We love and miss you both so much!