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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Salam!

I knew after the first of the year that I would be returning home to Denver and felt the strong NEED to book one last trip before I moved away from London and all the convenience of travelling from here. After having explored Europe quite a bit over the last year, I was really disappointed that I wasn't able to take the photography safari to South Africa that I was tentatively planning for early 2012.  A friend of mine at work had mentioned that she had been wanting to visit Marrakesh for some time and I was quick to jump on board.  This would give me a chance to visit Africa before I left London but also have a travel buddy to join me as well.  I had heard from several people that Marrakesh wasn't the best of places to go as a solo female traveler so I was actually really happy to have someone to join me on the holiday!

Not really knowing much about the area it was so interesting to see the blend of Arabic and French culture that makes up the region around Marrakesh.  Most of the people there were fluent in both French and Arabic as well as some regional dialects as well that were more common with the mountain and dessert people.  Lindsay and I were able to patch together our very poor French enough to communicate with the merchants but it was definitely useful that we spoke and understood at least a bit of French or I think it would have been a real struggle. When I was planning the trip, people that have travelled there before had told me as a female going there I would love it or I would hate it and i have to say I really loved it there!   The weather was amazing, the scenery and architecture was beautiful,  most of the people we dealt with were very friendly and I found the cultural aspect really fascinating.

Me in my 'modesty scarf'
This is the first time I have visited a Muslim dominated city so we took it pretty serious and tried to adapt a bit.  Lindsay and I both wore scarfs around our necks each day we went out.  We began calling them our 'modesty' scarves but really it was just to be respectful of their culture and not to show too much skin in public.  Even though we did cover up most days we went out and were both dressed very modestly the entire time we were there, we were still greeted with constant cat calls and honking horns as we walked down the street as two females alone.  The comments were so over the top that it did start to become really amusing.  It wasn't uncommon to hear a man whisper under his breath 'boobs' or 'nice ass' as we walked by.  With the two of us there together, we kind of laughed it off but I do understand completely why a woman alone there would feel really uncomfortable by the constant attention you get from the men.  While the comments were pretty constant while we walked through the souks and markets, they were never physically aggressive so with the two of us there together it never felt overly threatening.  If anything the women were far more physically aggressive.  When we were in the markets, the women in full face scarves and long dresses would walk up and grab your arm slipping 2, 3 and before you know it 10 silver bracelets up your arm as they start the negotiation for what you will pay.  It is nearly impossible to get away because for every bracelet you pull off to hand back to them they have already slipped three more on!  I finally gave in and paid for the set that I had been cuffed with which did come in handy later in the day when other women came up with the next line of assault.  I'd simply throw my arm up in the air and give them the look of 'defeat that said 'you're too late, your friends already got me'.  The henna women in the square were even worse.  They came at you from all directions and even if you had no interest in henna they would start spraying the ink on your hands with what looked like a syringe as you walked by and then try to charge you for it!  I was pretty aggressive with them and told them no but my friend Lindsay, being English, was far more polite and before 30 seconds were out her entire hand and arm were covered in the brown gooey mess!  The women then proceeded to ask for a fortune in payment for a service she never even wanted in the first place.  We later recounted the story with the Australian girl who was staying in the same riad as us and she had had a similar experience in her travels through Morocco -she had termed the attack a 'henna rape' which in retrospect seemed pretty fitting.  Although it may seem a bit off putting the humor that resulted in all these experiences almost made it all worthwhile.

Aside from the cultural experiences, we were also able to see some amazing sites as well.  Our first day in Morocco, we had booked a trip out of the city to do a short camel ride and hike in the Atlas mountains.  I was actually really excited for the camel ride as I felt like it was going to be a real trek through treacherous terrain on the back of a camel.  It turned out to be a bit less adventurous as we were simply put on the camels while a man walked in front of them leading us up a trail that lead from one village to the next.  It was still a very beautiful and scenic walk.  Camel rides are also nicer to think about then to actually experience.  The wobbly gate of a camel means that you are rolling your body the entire time to maintain balance while riding and at one time I commented to Lindsay that I thought it was probably a pretty good core workout. 





My bum was pretty numb by the time the ride ended so I was ready to move on to the lunch/hiking portion of the day! We walked to the top of one of the hillsides looking over the mountains and the villages below.  The setting was AMAZING and just as we were waiting for our lunch to arrive, the call came resounding from all the mosques in the area - it really was chilling to hear the chanting on the loud speakers resonate through the mountains. 


Lindsay and me in the Atlast Mountains



I would say if you do go to Marrakesh, plan in a day to get lost in the souks (the markets).  The souks are really just a series of alleys that twist and turn while motorcycles and bicycles and carts whizz by narrowly missing you.  It is a bit chaotic and its quite easy to just get lost inside them.  Sometimes I think that is what holidays are for though - getting lost - so I didn't really mind.  By the end of the holiday we were actually quite good at navigating our way though them.  When you come out of the markets, you pop out at the main square which in the afternoon into the evening has several different street performers, anything from snake charmers to musicians to dancers.  The square really comes alive and in the evenings several stalls are set up to serve food to to the tourists.  Lindsay, again being far more polite them me, was accosted a second time in the square by the snake charmers who walked up behind her and wrapped a small snake around her neck demanding a tip for a picture with the snake.  We snapped the shot and ran away having given them a nominal tip however not before the snake had pooed all down the front of her scarf and dress.  Turns out that the snake was more afraid then we were I guess.  I think as long as you have the right attitude and you take it in stride it is all just part of the experience of being in Marrakesh really.





 We visited a palace, a tomb, an old school that had been converted into a museum and a huge garden that sat just outside of the walled portion of the city dedicated to Yves St. Laurent.  All of the sites we visited had one thing in common - amazing tile work!  The intricate designs were beautiful and you could turn your head from side to side and from ceiling to floor and still not be able to take it all in. Many of the designs carried meanings and you'd see them repeated in different places.  The mis-match of designs was beautiful when it all came together.  It was easy to get carried away with the feel of the place as it felt like you were stepping back to some exotic time and place.  There always seem to be the scent of spice in the air and the taste of mint tea in your mouth. I ended up buying some pottery and a lamp to remind me of the decorative feel and some spices and tea to remind me of the smell and tastes.  I love that you can take a piece of a place home with you to remind you why you loved being there in the first place!





I think my travels over the last year have opened my eyes to how different people really are all across the world.  Each place has something to appreciate if you go in with an open mind and don't judge others cultures.  The city could definitely be very overwhelming at times but all in all its was an amazing experience and I think a great way to wrap up my travels from my London adventure. I will miss being able to plan my weekend getaways to places that seemed so out of reach when I was in Denver but it has also given me a real appreciation for everything that my home has to offer as well.  I will cherish every memory that I have captured in the last year and look forward to future exploration of my own home when I get back!

Shukran  (Thank you)