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Marrakech, Morocco

Arriving in Marrakech after a 12 hr bus ride, we were exchausted. It was also late at night, near dark and we did not see the guy that we arranged to stay with for our first stop in Marrakech. In order to keep the trip more affordable we opted to try couch surfing, or the act of asking strangers on an internet database if we can use their spare rooms or couches. We are trying the site bewelcome, and so far have not had much luck, and at 9pm in a new city it looked like that would continue. With darkness rapidly approaching, we decided to hail a cab and head to the main square, Jemaa el Fna, where then majority of hostels are located. Unfortunately, it is in the old city where cars are not allowed and we had to walk in. Immediately we were surrounded by some youths that tried to show us the way down some dimmly lit side streets. Not believing them we asked for directions from a local shopkeep which confirmed the location. The first hostel was booked but their sister hostel down the street had openings. We could see on their security cameras that the two youths were still waiting outside for money. Pushing past them, their statements of "my friend" quickly turned into profanity. Nevertheless they continued to follow. Turning down winding dark alleys, while following graffitied signs of the hostel's name, we ended up paying a third guy that showed us the unmarked door that we had missed. Getting in we settled down and conversed with some Australians with tips about the city, before getting some much needed sleep.

In the morning we met another traveler, who had just arrived from studying law in Spain. Really, this is the best part of hostels, meeting people who you would not usually ever come across. Feeling rejuvenated, we went back into the chaos that is Morocco.

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The streets of Marrakech are wider than those of Fez, and the crowds not as dense. While there are a few donkeys, carriages and mopeds, you are not in as much danger of being ran over if you fail to watch your surroundings. The merchants are not as forceful but that doesn't mean they won't block your path or pull on your arm to keep you in the store. Haggling is required and you need to bargain hard. My one souvenir is the traditional djeballa, an outer covering used to keep the dust off your clothes. It also has a large pointy hat that makes it look like a wizards robe. The original price was marked 1600dh and after a lot of remarks about the colors, quality, other stores and such we finally agreed on 190dh. And I probably still paid to much.

Leather goods, tea sets, silver, linens, fruit, spices, beauty products and carpets are once again the main wares sold with a dozen shops on each street dedicated to the same thing. You need to research what will let you know the difference between a fake and the genuine article before you go. Ben looked up information about leather and found that if not properly cured, it will have a bad smell and get worse. Our new friend wanted to buy some leather pencil cases for his nieces. The shopkeepers will take a lighter and shown you that it is leather and not plastic. Ben then smelled them and said they were not good, which pissed off the shopkeeper, who then chased him down the street hitting him in the face with the pencil cases.

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We went to see the sights but, as was the case in the rest of Morroco, most of these were off limits to non-muslims. The exteriors may have some decoration but the interior shows the tile work, carvings, gardens, etc. As well as having drab exteriors, Moroccans usually do not let you take pictures of them or their stuff even if you pay for something. A few tourists have been chased by people demanding money for pictures, including us.

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Having a new person with us we opted to go to the tanneries and where they make Berber carpets. The guide showed us around and gave us a speel about the production of leather which was followed up with a sales pitch for rugs. After we left they chased us down to demand money for the tour.

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In the main square there are animal handlers, dancers, musicians and more to entertain and try and get your money. Both Ben and I had animals thrown onto us and the handlers refusing to take them off until we took a picture. They would then demand money and whatever you gave them wasn't enough. Simply walking away solved these issues.

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The heat gets to you around mid-day and shops close down until around 6pm. Everyone tends to sleep through this period of the day.

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Then then square fills up with fresh squeezed juice stalls and pop up restaurants that vie for your business. They really all have the same dishes so just find the ones where the waiters hassle you the least. We chose the first one based on the waiter not grabbing us and saying, "I know that Americans do not like to be touched." A few stands have different items for purchase like sheep's brain tagine or snails.

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Being a poor country, services are very cheap. I had a shave for just $2.50 as well as fixing and shining my boots for the same amount.

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We also went to a hammam, or bathhouse. Not knowing what to expect we opted for a more tourist oriented one. First we stripped down and had a loincloth firmly tied to us. We were then lightly oiled and led to a steam room where we sat and drank some water while sweating profusely. After 15 minutes we then showered off and had every inch of us scrubbed down by a man with a course mitten. This was followed by another shower and a massage with argan oil and some "light" stretching. It ended with several cups of tea in a small dimly lit room with rose petals scattered around. This really refreshed us and we were ready to be hassled again by the locals.

There are two meals of note in Marrakech. The first is chicken schwarma which Ben hungered for several weeks before we found it. At only $2.50 for fries and the sandwich it was quite a bargain.

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The second was mechoui, a whole lamb covered in oil and spices and slowly roasted in a giant pit in the ground. They then shred it and give you bread and a cumin and salt mixture to eat it with.

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Posted by CulinarySojourn 14:16

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