September 20th, 21st 2010
Why do I do this to myself?
It was extremely cramped. There was no air circulation. The A/C, when working, blew out lukewarm to warm air. It smelled very funky. There were hardly any toilet breaks. (Toward the end, I was holding my pee in so long it hurt so to take my mind off the discomfort, I watched Hard Knocks on my mp3 player). And the driving was terrible. I almost threw up a few times and it took me all my willpower not to (I had a bag ready in front of me JIC). I don’t know if we were traveling at slightly higher altitude or it was just the very windy roads but it was nauseating.
I could’ve picked a shorter leg of my journey to ‘brave the waters of serious local transportation’ (see Fes entry), maybe from Marrakesh to Casablanca (4 hours)? Why did I pick the absolute longest leg of my journey to do it? I seriously think I am a masochist. But I told myself to man up. If the locals could do it, so could I. Next time, don’t drink anything before getting on the bus. Next time, pack snacks. Next time, don’t pick a seat in the farthest corner of the bus, where you are closed off from all angles.
After enduring everything, while enjoying the beautiful landscapes, we arrive at a rest stop where we had 45 minutes to relieve ourselves and get something to eat. The lamb tagine was spectacular. Fresh air, stretched legs, good food, and empty bladder. I felt like a new man! Come on, bring on another 9 hours in that bus! Ok, just kidding. I tried to converse with some locals I sat to next to the bus, but they just smiled at me because they had no idea what I was trying to say or sign to them.
Another 2 hours or so, and I arrived in Marrakesh. Good thing my neighbors woke me up (they knew I was going to Marrakesh) because this wasn’t the final stop and I could’ve ended up God knows where. It was 12:00 am. It was dark and I didn’t know where the heck I was. The map in my Lonely Planet guidebook had no street names. Not that I could find street names due to lack of, as well as darkness, even with streetlamps.
I walked slowly toward what I was told is the direction of the medina. Or was it Djemaa El F’na? Either way, that’s where I needed to go. A teenager saw me, walked up to me, and asked where I’d like to go. At this point, I could’ve said, ‘No thanks, I’m taking a petit taxi to where I need to go’ but no, I said ‘Riad 02 Hotel’. He offered to take me there and I accepted. I knew he was a faux guide and I knew I had to tip him at the end. It was 12:20 am, we were in an area where there weren’t that many people, the streets were almost empty, and it was dark. What could possibly go wrong?
We started walking and chatting a little bit, mostly because I felt slightly nervous. His English was pretty good. His name was Kareem (are they all named Mohammed or Kareem?). He was 15. He liked Real Madrid and I told him I went to watch a game at Barnabeu. His favorite player was Cristiano Ronaldo and his hairstyle was similar.
Kareem then took me off the main road (if you could call it that) and we began to make our way into the small, dark alleyways. I grew more and more nervous, walked slightly behind Kareem and constantly looked over my shoulder, especially when I saw a few random guys around, and a few followed us. They eventually turned off into another alleyway and we were alone again. Kareem kept assuring me ‘No problem, no problem’ when I stopped walking because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to follow him anymore. Scooters sometimes rode past us. We came to a tunnel that was so damned dark that I was convinced that was the place I was going to get mugged by a group of guys. I stopped and turned around and looked at a guy who was following us. He looked at me and knew what I was thinking so he assured me ‘No problem, no problem’ and ushered me on, trying to tell me he wasn’t a bad guy. I took yet another leap of faith and continued following Kareem until we eventually reached a small door which had a sign on top saying ‘Riad 02’. Apparently this place charged USD$50 a night but it didn’t look it. I expected a small, nice looking hotel but this was hidden away in a dark alley. I was a bit relieved to find it but I didn’t let up yet. Kareem knocked on the door and rang the bell but there was no answer. We tried for 5 minutes until I told Kareem that it was late and that no one was going to help me. As we walked away, the door opened and a man stuck his head out. He told me there were no rooms available so I thanked him and we walked away. I told Kareem I wanted to head toward the taxis. At that point, I was so lost in the maze that I needed his help to get out. He asked me how much I was going to give him. I offered him ‘10’ and he asked ’10 Euros?’ and I replied ‘No, 10 Dirhams’. He laughed it off, saying it was the equivalent of 1 Euro. Demanding fucker. He said 10 Euros was an acceptable price and I said ‘Let’s talk when we get to the taxis’. I obviously wasn’t going to offer him anything close but I needed to get to the taxis first. After a while, we heard the sound of a car and Kareem knew it was a taxi. We found one dropping some Westerners off and I offered the driver 20 Dirhams to get me to Djemaa El F’na, a bit over market value but whatever. Then Kareem started asking for his money and I handed him 30 Dirhams. He looked shocked, continually saying that ‘It’s nothing!’ and eventually asked for 50 Dirhams. I kept saying ‘No, I don’t have anymore, that’s it, I have to give the rest to the taxi driver’ and we went on for a few minutes, much to the annoyance of the waiting taxi driver. In the end, Kareem gave in, said ‘Welcome!’ in a gracious tone and I triumphantly got into the taxi. I didn’t really win. I could’ve chosen to get into a taxi in the first place, saving myself 30 Dirhams and all that nerve-wrecking moments but no, I am an adrenaline junkie of sorts. Or an idiot. Did I want to get mugged? Did I want to feel nervous and scared? Did I want to do all this so I could tell my readers about my experiences walking through those dark, quiet, maze of alleyways? Maybe. But what price would or could I have paid for the experience? All I know is, I won’t be doing anything like that ever again.
Found Hotel CTM, which was listed in my book. Good location, quite cheap but boy, what a dump, especially the bathroom but what I pay for is what I get. It was 1 am, the Djemaa El F’na was bustling with activity but I chose to lie in bed, in wait for a fresh start the next day.
I had initially wanted to spend 3 nights in Marrakesh but from the looks of things, I think 2 nights is plenty. I bought my ticket at the train station (holy crap, it’s a nice looking station, thank you Frenchies), checked emails, walked around the souqs (outdoor markets), and bought some stuff. I was mainly waiting for dusk to arrive, when the main square becomes filled with stalls selling all kinds of foods and when street performers are out in full force.
(Djemaa El F’na at night)
I started off with a cheap option, something a lot of locals seem to eat because that’s what they can afford; an egg sandwich. A man will turn a piece of Moroccan bread into a pocket. Then he spread cream cheese, put a hard-boiled egg in there, cut/mashed it up with his knife, put a whole potato, mashed that up, and added some salt/pepper mix, hot sauce, and onions. Pretty good stuff and surprisingly, quite filling. I walked past other stalls, all selling different kinds of foods they throw on the grill on demand. One stall had sheep’s head, brain, and tongue on display. These foods were featured on Bizarre Foods (on Travel Channel) and I just had to try it out. So I sat down next to a few locals, no doubt enjoying their bizarre foods, watched the chef chop up some brain and some tongue, dish out a little curry sauce on top of it, and I ate it with a piece of bread. It wasn’t bad at all. The brain had the texture of yogurt, didn’t have much taste, and the tongue looked like pieces of beef. Baaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(Tasty looking or what?)
(Sheep tongue and brain)
I was pretty stuffed so after being hassled by street performers for taking pictures, I went to rest in my room. (They asked for 10 Dirhams, I offered 1, they said no, I told them I’d rather delete the picture, and they usually let it go for 1 Dirham. It worked every time.) After an hour, I went back to the square and scoured the place for more foods. Ate a bowl of harira, which reminded me a lot of one of the Campbell soups, and drank a glass of piping hot mint tea that had so much mint. After this, I was stuffed. I really wanted to eat other foods but I just couldn’t.
I could not sleep that night. The room was hot and stuffy and I was sweating a lot. I guess I could have counted sheep. (Get it?!) The next day, I hung around until my train left for Casablanca at 1 pm.