Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Shyster, Hustler.

Our 5 days in Marrakech and the luxury of Riad Chi-Chi.

The Riad ( is owned by the friend of a friend, so came highly recommended and we were not disappointed. It’s in the heart of the Medina right of the edge of market souks. You walk down a tiny alley through some very low arches, ducking your head, and round a blind corner, and voila! As you walk into the Riad you are immediately transported into another world. Light, white and airy, and of course very stylish. The staff were marvellous and the food was sensational. We ate in most nights to save the running the gauntlet of the hustlers.
The entry to Riad Chi Chi

Within 24 hours of being in the souk were completely lost 3 times, and got ‘helped’ by the locals who demand money and get really aggro if you don’t give them enough.  They want the equivalent of 5 euros for 5-10 minutes walking and certainly know how to demand it! We really got fed up with them in the end and started getting snappy. You can imagine Lawrence.

Lawrence of Arabia
We hired an official guide for half a day (another Abdul) so we could see the souks and some sites without getting hassled, which was great except of course we did too much shopping. The truck is now sporting a smart, red kilim, we have some lovely argan oil cosmetics (I’ll be wrinkle free shortly!!), argan oil for coking, a cashmere wrap for me, and a scarf for Lawrence. The carpet was bought from a Women’s Co-operative, which appealed to me.

These salesmen should have their own TV show

Once we found our way through the souks to the main square we felt very smug and could tell the ‘helpers’ to bugger off. We found that you really can’t stop to look at anything as you just get mobbed by the store owners and hassled to death, so we just keep on walking, drove us crazy. Not that we could really buy anything, but it’s nice to look as they have some really lovely stuff – but so much of it – how do they sell it all, and to whom???

The mopeds zooming through the markets also drove us crazy, “beep beep attention” every 5 seconds. I don’t mind getting out of the way for the donkeys, but mopeds, scooters, bikes and trucks is something else. One guy on a moped was carrying a roller door on his shoulder!!

Lovely Marrakesh Almoravid architecture - Koran School

I know we are in a 3rd world country and we must expect the hassle and chaos, but this has really spoilt Marrakech for us. Maybe we are getting too old for it, or maybe we have just forgotten what it’s like, but we’ve decided – no more Moroccan cities. We’ll stick to the smaller towns from now on.

We left the truck is a secure parking area, which was an adventure in itself. Of course we got lost as soon as we entered the city, but the wonderful Saleh from Riad Chichi came to rescue us. I had to ride in the living area, which was great fun, whilst Saleh and Lawrence navigated through the chaos to the parking. Lawrence got stopped by the police for  allegedly committing 3 misdemeanours at once, each of which carried a  500 dirham fine. Saleh, being used to the ways of Moroccan policemen, managed to negotiate our 1500 dh fine down to a 200 dirham baksheesh (about 20 euros).

Out last afternoon was spent getting scrubbed in a hammam, followed by a massage back in our room. What a lovely way to finish our stay. For those of you that remember the Korean Bathhouse in Sydney, this scrubber made those Korean women look like amateurs. It’s wonder I have any skin left. I’m sure the mitts were made from scourers from Woolies.

We are staying 2 days in a camping park near Marrakesh to do the boring domestic stuff – washing, shopping, cupboard re-aranging etc in preparation for heading south. The campsite is really lovely – even by European standards, more like a resort. As I type this I’m sitting in the sun sipping coffee by the pool. We can see the snowy peaks of the High Atlas beckoning us.

Our Camping Site

We are heading to the edge of the Sahara where there is a nomad festival happening.  Sounds interesting. An Irish photographer who loves in the Czech Republic, who we met in Marrakech told us about it.

Adds a certain "Je ne sais quoi"

Thoughts From the Driver.

Well, what is Marrakech like? I'll try and keep this brief but probably won't succeed. Firstly, the traffic is a bloody nightmare. We've managed, apart from Tangier, which wasn't too bad, to avoid Moroccan city traffic so far but had no choice in Marrakech. There are bloody scooters and mopeds everywhere and they, literally, appear almost under your wheels from nowhere. The favourite is to come down the inside so close you don't see them in the mirror and then cross in front of you. I must have nearly killed about a dozen this way but, Hamdulillah, I've managed to avoid them so far. It's the sheer number of them that makes it so difficult and they obey NO road rules at all. I'd got used to defensive driving because of the generally random Morroccan style but these things in this volume are nerve-racking. They don't seem to realise that being hit by a big, yellow truck is probably fatal.

The next problem arose because we were staying in the middle of the old Medina among the souks. It quickly became apparent when we arrived that the planned meeting point was impossible and, after a good deal of mutual incomprehension, they finally sent Saleh to meet us and guide us to the parking.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly until I got stopped by the police for, allegedly, (1) running a red light (2) making an illegal right turn and (3) driving a truck where not permitted. This was going to be Dh500 per offence but Saleh did a bit of negotiation and I got away with Dh200 (with no receipt needless to say). We had a bit of discussion about whether or not the Mog was a truck but it didn't seem to matter since the matter was resolved. Wrong!

Next day I went off with Saleh to get some odds and ends done on the Mog: oil change, get a bit of welding done on one of the side rails, have a look at a battery charging problem, get the aircon fixed. We went to an area on the outskirts of Marrakech which was like Desolation Row: blocks of scrapyards, trucks being dismantled in the middle of the road and every kind of vehicle repair shop except for aircon! However, I got the oil change and the welding done. On the way back to the parking I got stopped by the same bloody policeman for allegedly driving a truck in forbidden zone. We then had a long discussion about the status of the Mog. I produced the Rego document which says "Motor Caravan" but he still insisted it was a truck.

It ended up when I offered to take him into the back and show him the living space. At this point he gave up. While this was going on, on the other side of the road passed 3 huge French motorhomes, all of them 3 axle, longer than the Mog and at least the same height!

Now to the non-Mog side of things. We thoroughly enjoyed the pampering and comfort of our Riad after life in 4m x 2.5m. Being in among the souks is interesting but it is a rabbit warren where it is possible to get completely lost and disoriented in 2 minutes. It got to the point where we trusted absolutely nobody and would not even talk to people who may very well have been genuine. It's a shame, but it's self preservation. It's the first time so far we have come across this aggressive hustling as it's such a contrast with all the other souks we've been in. This place is far worse than anything I experienced in my 15 years in Asia, even Indonesia.
It's not just us!!!

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