Friday, April 16, 2010

Backpacking through Morocco Part 2: Marrakech

[Note: This post is part of a series. You can find Part 1 here.]

Monday March 29, 2010
The next day we headed to the train station around 10 to buy tickets to Marrakech.  The next train left at 11:50am, which didn´t give us time to go find lunch in Rabat as we had hoped, but to arrive in Marrakech with time to find our hostel before dark, we had to take this train.  As we hadn´t eaten dinner the night before nor breakfast that morning, we were quite hungry.  We ate a bunch of pastries and such at a café in the train station while we waited for our train.  (btw, food in Morocco is super-cheap!)

Waiting for our train in Rabat

This time we couldn´t find a compartment with four empty spots, so Mara and I went in one compartment while Jimmy and Izzy found another.  About a half hour into the ride, Mara started taking some pictures out the window of the scenery.  It wasn´t anything special, just grassy fields or little pueblos, but it was certainly different scenery than what we were used to.  Then, a Moroccan man sitting across from us asked if he could ask Mara a question.  We said yes, he could.

MM: What are you taking pictures of?
Mara: Uh - just the scenery... nothing specific
MM: Why would you take pictures of broken buildings? That is not a good picture.
Mara: Well, when I´m traveling, I usually take pictures of everything.  I think this scenery is pretty.
MM: My friends would not take pictures of bad things.  For example, are you going to show these pictures to your friends? To your family?
Mara: Probably.
MM: And this is what they´re going to see of Morocco. But Morocco has many beautiful things to see, buildings, landscape; many good sites. Why do you take pictures of this?

So Mara, innocently taking pictures of the scenery, was all of a sudden forced into a defensive position.  We felt as though he was accusing us of giving Morocco a bad name, which clearly wasn´t the case at all.  And I mean - it was only our second day in the country... what kind of damage could we have done to Morocco´s image?  And little did he know, we´re fair, open people who will share experiences as they are.  So it was an awkward start to our next five hours together in the train, but things smoothed out from there.

Turns out this Moroccan Man´s name was Emad (Ee-med), and he was on his way to Marrakech, as well.  He hadn´t spoken English for 13 years (which was hard to believe, because for going that long without speaking, he had retained a lot - but kudos to him) and thirteen years ago, he had only studied English for three years.  When some people from our compartment left, I went and found Jimmy and Iz, and they joined us.
 Landscape from the train window

We were in the last car of the train, and later Iz & Mara discovered that both the doors on the end of our car were open.  This provided enjoyable hours with a nice breeze (it had gotten a bit hot in the compartments. Claro que no había AC...).  When I finally found out where they had gone and what they were doing, I had to give it a try, too.  I got to stand outside of the train (on the steps) and stick my head out, as our train continued chugging along - it was awesome!

When we got to Marrakech, we showed Emad the address of our hostel and asked if he knew where that was.  He asked some people in Arabic, and said we´d have to take a taxi to get there.  Then, before we knew it, Emad had talked with a taxi driver and gotten us a ride for 50 dirham (~5 euro - and to compare, when Mike came the following day, his taxi was 150 dirham. Goes to show how they can easily rip off the tourists.  You can also barter with taxis, but clearly we got a lower rate because Emad was talking to the driver in Arabic.)

Our taxi driver dropped us off in the middle of a busy plaza.  Later that day I began to realize that the whole city was that busy.  Marrakech was very overwhelming to me; in the streets there were always cars, bikes, donkeys, motorbikes passing whomever they please, people crossing the streets with traffic coming straight at them... not a lot of order.

We tried finding our hostel, but in the end, payed a kid to take us there, as we had read about in one woman´s review of the hostel ("You´ll never find it - just save yourself the trouble, find a boy on the street and pay him to take you to the hostel!")  And truly, I don´t think we would have found it ourselves.  It´s back through a narrow path with tall walls on both sides, so a taxi couldn´t have even taken us there.

The hostel was gorgeous, and the man who works there, Najib, was incredibly helpful and nice.  After we put away our stuff, we had our first Moroccan mint tea up on the roof.  It was delicious.

View from our room, looking out into the common area

Izzy, Jimmy, Mara: tea on the roof

On the roof, later that evening

That night, we finally ate a real Moroccan meal.  My meal started with a Moroccan soup, then cous-cous with lamb, later there was fruit (delicious slices of orange with cinnamon sprinkled on top), mint tea, and pastries.  After dinner we walked around the city´s main plaza for a bit.  Lots of fruit stands, people, bikes, motorbikes, etc.

Later we hung out up on the roof of the hostel for a bit, chatting with other hostelers, before heading to bed.

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