May 31, 2016

All good.  Will post pics and a story or two later.  Got a ticket by an unfriendly policeman.  Not wearing my seat belt.  Had just stopped to check the price at a hotel ($44.00 with spa, pool, massages, facials, etc.) and had driven just 100 yards.  In my haste, I had not yet put it on, after wearing it constantly for 600 miles of travel in the desert and mountains.  Se la vie, as the locals would say.

I was in some remote, wild, out the way places on the drive between Tata and Essaouira on the Atlantic coast, where I am now.

Accidentally locked my phone’s SIM card, rendering my phone useless.  A friendly policeman helped with the unlocking process..

Room is 150 yards from the ocean, only $20.00 a night.  This is the view as I walk out the door of my room.  Feels Moroccan, with clean sheets, a decent mattress, lots of noise from gulls.  No towels, tp, soap or shampoo, but I travel prepared.  

Essaouira is much more to my liking than Agadir, to the south.  Agadir is like Cabo or Cancun.  Essaouira is an old hippie hangout that still has small town charm. The guys running the hotel are very friendly.  When told I am from America, they ask “New York?”  I always shudder then I explain that Oregon is north of CA.  I then draw a map of the US on one of the 3X5 note cards I always carry.  Everyone is interested in the U.S.

I much prefer the Medina ans souk shopping here vs. Marrakech.   Will stay several days.

Just had to stop and take pics when I saw these goats climbing an olive tree for a meal.  There are about a dozen goats in the tree, if you enlarge and look close.  They were climbing around like spiders.



 If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung

Would you hear my voice come through the music

Would you hold it near as it were your own?
It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken

Perhaps they’re better left unsung

I don’t know, don’t really care

Let there be songs to fill the air
Ripple in still water

When there is no pebble tossed

Nor wind to blow
Reach out your hand if your cup be empty

If your cup is full may it be again

Let it be known there is a fountain

That was not made by the hands of men
There is a road, no simple highway

Between the dawn and the dark of night

And if you go no one may follow

That path is for your steps alone
Ripple in still water

When there is no pebble tossed

Nor wind to blow
You who choose to lead must follow

But if you fall you fall alone

If you should stand then who’s to guide you?

If I knew the way I would take you home

By the Grateful Dead

You Are Very Rich

When I was paying for my last night’s lodging she asked for 10 Durham each for the taxi phone call two nights ago and for the 6 ounce OJ after my walk from the restaurant.

“You are going to charge me 10 Durham each for a taxi phone call and for one small OJ?”

“You are very rich.”

“I am not rich.”

“But you are American, you are rich.” 

“I am not rich.”

I gave her 400 Durham.

She handed me 3 coins (20 Durham) shorting me 65 Durham. 

She had the balls to ask “Is OK?”

It Is Pretty Obvious

Where was walking when I met Abdoul and his motorbike yesterday before he took me to the tannery.

Then to my hotel

Then back to the tannery

To hotel

To tannery

To hotel

To medina

I saw lots of Old Marakesch on the back of Abdoul’s motorbike yesterday, plus saw several neat places.  It was a $10.00 windfall for him and the price of a movie for me.  

It was money well spent.   

It was equal in price to a movie or dinner for two at Mc Do’s, and much better entertainment.

I could have spent an hour bargaining with him for $5.00 less, but would the time that it would take really be worth it?  

Abdoul wants more of my money now.  

I am ‘The Rich American’ to him.  

I am leading, he is anxiously following. 

(BTW, I met him while I was out walking today).

It is “The Dance.”

Tomorrow, at 10 AM Abdoul will hustle me off through the back streets of Marrikech (inshallah) on his motobike to a shipping office (inshallah) with my ‘to be shipped’ bag under my arm.  

I needed help negotiating the shipping maze, just like in Egypt. 

Hopefully, he will act on my behalf tomorrow (inshallah).

Paying him an extra $5.00 made him want more time with me.  

He knows that if he does me right, I will do him right.
Then, I a plan to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for the country side.  

Not on a $100.00/ day group tour with a bunch of Moraccan touristas or on a slow, overcrowded bus.  

I’m going solo.

I’m feeling like I need some mountain air to clear the tannery smell from my brain.

The Green Herb     May 27, 2016

If you did not read the BBC News link about the Marrakech tanneries in the earlier post, please do so now.
Or try the following:

Marrakech Tanneries
If neither link works, let me know in a comment.

After a relaxing morning coffee, the best I have had so far on walkabout, I did some web searching on dangers, cautions, prices and the top sights in town.   

I focused on the tanneries.  

Searching the web, looking at Fodor’s, wiki, and other sources, I set out with my maps and GPS tracking apps all turned on so I could find the way back to the hotel. 

The medina section, or old town, is surrounded by a big fortification wall, so if you stay inside the wall you know that you are within a mile of your hotel.  Finding your hotel may be a different story.

I walked about 1/2 mile, making mental notes of key landmarks I passed.  There were few foreigners and many motorcycles.   Most shops were closed, as Friday in Muslim countries is like Sunday in the U.S.

A man walking a moped excused himself as he walked around me on my left.  I kept walking.  Once ahead of me he turned and asked if I was looking for the garden square.  I nodded yes.  He spoke understandable english and said he would walk me to the square.  After walking 100 yards he said most places were closed but the tannery was open with leathergoods for sale.  He said he was not a guide, but he ended up guiding me.  He said money was not important, but it was, eventually.  I knew the dance.

I crawled on the back of the moped and he fired up the engine.  It was my first ride on the back of a motor bike since racing all over the back streets of Kathmandu, 16 months ago.  Winding through the narrow alleys, around blind 90 degree turns without honking and potholes where I could feel the rear tire needed 30 pounds more air, past donkey carts full of veggies – we made our way.  I knew not where.

We exited the wall surrounding the medina, picked up speed and I became a little worried.  Where the hell are we going?  I felt like an animal that jumped the fence and was in the open range for the first time.  

Luckily, we soon reentered the city wall and came to a stop near a man outside a narrow doorway.  He was holding a handful of green herb.  I got off the bike and the man crushed the herb in his hand and then handed me the herb.  He instructed me to smell it.  It was mint. 

I was at the entrance to the tannery.

I quickly figured out why he gave me the handful of mint.  We walked around several corners, down an alley and I was standing in the midday sun amid the hundreds of concrete vats full of pidgeon fececes used for tanning,  vats with different colors of dyes and the putrid, foul smelling animal skins – horse, sheep, goat, camel.  

Men waded in the vats wearing only rubber boots.  They handled the skins, scraped off hair, stacked and sorted the hides, some without rubber gloves, aprons or other protective gear.  Several young boys chased each other as they played a game amid the vats of hides.  I continued to hold the crushed mint in my hand, but breathed only through my mouth.

Feeling adventerous, I let a small amount of air through my nose as I took a photo.  I immediately asked “Do tourists get sick often?”  The man nodded.

Carefully stepping around puddles of liquid, piles of hair and hides, I took several more pics and then said through my nose “That is enough, I get the idea.”

We went to a store next door where after mint tea, lots of haggling, leaving then reentering, I bought three real nice camel skin leather bags and a really nice hand made rug.

Abdoul (or maybe ot was Muhamed) then took me back to my hotel on the motorbike to drop off my purchases. 

He then took me to a store unlike any I have ever seen in person, in photos or on TV.  It was f’ing amazing. Photos do not do it justice and it was more eye popping than the Egyptian Musuem in Cairo. It was jam packed with the most amazing handicrafts I have ever seen in my life. I wished I was high.

After half an hour of browsing, and hagling, I bought an old Saharan leather bag that will be a great piece of wall art.  I could go on an on, but will let my pics tell the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say.

I paid Abdoul $10.00 for tyhe motorbike rides and guiding me for 3 hours and then asked him to take me to the post office on Monday to ship my treasures home.

Upon returning to my room, I stripped and washed my shirt, pants and shoes.  I then thoroughly showered. 

But the tannery smell remains……indelibly imprinted in my brain.

More Comforting Advice 

Marrakech is a generally safe city, with a solid police presence. However, staying alert about your surroundings and taking general safety precautions is always a good idea like everywhere. Here are some tips:

Violent crime is normally not a major problem, but thefts are known to happen. Keep your money close and hidden, and avoid poorly lit streets or alleys at night.

Guides offering their services should display an official badge from the local tourist authorities.

Morocco is under an increased threat from international terrorism. Be vigilant when you’re out and contact authorities if you notice anything suspicious.

Be especially careful about being drugged, especially as a solo traveller. The common and easy-to-make drug GHB only lasts three hours and is undetectable in the body after 7 hours, so if you are attacked, take action immediately.

Be careful ordering room service if you are a solo traveller, as even older women can be targets for robbery. Don’t ask the waiter to enter your room.

Be especially careful in the Guéliz (New Town) area when walking at night – muggings and bag snatches, often at knifepoint, by men on motorbikes are common when leaving the bars and restaurants.

If driving in Marrakech be very careful to observe roadsigns and traffic regulations. Although the traffic seems chaotic, the police are very keen on stopping foreigners and will not hesitate to impose on the spot fines (especially if you have left your driving license at the hotel).

Marrakech has many stray cats. These do not pose an immediate threat to most travelers (they are not aggressive) but do have a high risk of carrying fleas in their fur.

Some of the tent food stalls in Jamaa el Fna will overcharge you heavily, e.g. giving you a bill amounting to Dh 470 for just some mediocre street food for three. Beware of restaurants that are not full of locals, and always check 

Drinking water

The tap water in Marrakech is OK for bathing. While locals drink it with no problems, visitors often find it hard to digest. To be safe, opt for bottled mineral water, available at the marketplace kiosks and food stalls. Make sure that the cap seal has not been broken, since Moroccan vendors have been known to save money by refilling plastic bottles from the tap. At restaurants, ask for your drinks without ice cubes, which are usually made with tap water.

An important issue concerning toiletries in Marrakesh, and the cities around as well, is that, in general, commercial establishments, cafés and restaurants also, do not have toilet paper in their bathrooms, even in ladies’s rooms. So a good practice is always to carry toilet paper with you.

If you look like a tourist, then it is common for people to offer to help with directions or even lead you to what you are looking for. Although not apparent at first, these people expect to be paid and will often lead you round in circles to increase the amount. Be careful when exiting your taxi, scammers may grab your luggage from the trunk while posing as bellboys from the hotel, so confirm their identity before letting anyone touch your bags. Also, people may say that the place you are looking for is closed, but they will take you somewhere else that’s better. This is almost always a lie. The best people to ask for directions are people behind a counter, as they cannot lead you because they don’t want to leave their stall. If you are seriously lost, getting someone to lead you back is an option, but you should not give them more than Dh 10-20, no matter how much they complain.

Moroccans are not permitted to be guides for foreigners without a license. Usually Police officers (under cover) are patrolling to catch Moroccans who are bothering tourists or try to make some money.
There are often people in Djemaa El-Fna offering henna tattoos, which are popular with locals and tourists alike. But among the many genuine traders are one or two scam artists. They appear very charming and trustworthy while you choose a design, but will then cleverly divert your attention. Before you know it, you have the beginnings of a rather poor henna tattoo. Even if you do not want a design, keep your hands away from them as they will grab your hand and begin a design anyway. The scam artist later demands massive payments, in whatever currency you have (dirhams or not). After emptying your pockets, if they consider you can afford more, they will demand that you visit a nearby ATM. Always agree on a firm price before work starts. If you can’t do this, insist that the operator stops immediately — then go to another (hopefully more reliable) operator to get your design completed. If they say it is free before they start or while they are doing it, they will always ask for a price later on. If this happens to you, you can walk away without paying; however, they will harass you for a little before giving up and moving on to another tourist. Also, there have been stories of these scam artists using henna mixed with dangerous chemicals, such as PPD (this is sometimes done to make the tattoos appear black), which can cause skin damage or severe allergic reactions.
Some tourists encounter an elderly lady offering henna in the main square – she welcomes you to her stall, and then fetches her friends (who arrive, usually, on motor bikes) and will provide you with very appealing tattoos – however, beware – they will not agree a price upfront and will ask for huge amounts – e.g. a 50Dh tattoo will be 450Dh – or they will promise you free tattoos and then charge equally large amounts. When you dispute the amount they will scream at you – so be calm, pay them what you think it is worth, and walk away. If they try to stop you then create attention – however, do not use physical violence as these artists work in gangs and before you know it you’ll be surrounded by other con-artists.
There is a small nameless restaurant inside the markets catering to tourists. It looks like a budget restaurant but has extremely inflated prices. It has an awning with painted faces and offers grilled brochettes for Dh 40 each, which is much higher than the regular price.
Most Moroccans are tourist-friendly and are not aggressive, so sometimes making a fuss in public can generate unwanted attention for a scam artist and shame them into backing off.
When bartering, know what currency is being quoted. Some sellers quote in euros while allowing the buyer to assume dirhams, hoping they may be embarrassed/confused into making the sale anyway.

If You Have The Money

You can stay at the Four Seasons here in Marrakech.  Rooms start at $491.00 for the low budget traveler, but if you really want be pampered, spring for the Presidential Suite at just under $4,000 a night.  If that is not to your liking, just ask them for the Royal Villa.  If you ask “How much?” you cannot afford it, as the price for the Royal Villa is not posted.