Thursday, August 18, 2011

Morocco, Ramadan In Marrakech


After a short evening rest at my riad, the call to evening prayers is being echoed across the city as I make my way back through the almost deserted souk.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is very significant to Muslims around the world. It is a time of inner reflection that requires fasting from sunrise to sunset.

As the sunsets, Muslims break their daily fasting with a small meal and then most of them prepare to answer the call of evening prayers.




Sony 032 Main Mosque In Marrakech, Morocco



As I enter Djemma Al Fna, droves of people are heading to the main mosque. The crowd is growing at the mosque into the thousands as readings and announcements continue to be broadcast over loud speakers.

Inside the mosque is filled to capacity but there is a huge outside area where the faithful men and women are separated during prayers.

As an almost full moon hangs over a blacken sky, it is a sight to witness as thousands in unison observe an important tradition of their faith.




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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Morocco, Afternoon Stroll In Marrakech


Having found my hotel, I am 15-20lbs lighter as I head back into the souk. This time it is much easier navigating from the riad to Djemma Al Fna. It's about time for lunch and I pass some more interesting vendors in my search for Moroccan cuisine.


Sony 002 Want to have your teeth pulled or need a new set of dentures?

Well, I just might have the right guy for you.




Here  you can get all your dental work done while you watch scooters, horse carriages, snake charmers and maybe even a midget with a violin go by. Who needs Novocain?



Sony 011 Lamb Tajine


On the perimeter of the square, I have a lunch of Moroccan salad (drenched in dressing), lamb tajine (lamb,vegetables and couscous), mint tea along with an almond pastry that sends my glucose level sky rocketing.

About D$45 for lunch with free acrobatic entertainment in the background, I also get a chance to practice my Arabic language skills. What a deal! Sho-cran!

Leaving the restaurant there is now more activity in Djemma Al Fna than when I first arrive. Many of the locals are trying to drum up busy with the crowd and apparently at times this causes an altercation or two between them.



Sony 003 I stand back and watch as a fight takes place.

The loser comes out of it with a bloody forehead.




More snake charmers but nothing is for free. I have the give up a free dirhams to capture a picture or two even from a distance.

Obviously, there is a good working relationship between the snake, a cobra and the charmer as both seem comfortable in a face to face photo opportunity.

I hope the snake is getting a decent take of the profits.



Sony 006 Marrakech Snake Charmer



Continuing my walk I head towards Liberty Circle and then through a neighborhood along Mohammed Avenue.


City Wall Along the way, views of the remaining wall from the old fortified city is impressive.

It seems full of bullet holes but these are just holes that remain from the use of scaffolding.





Sony 021 Main Mosque Marrakech


Back near the main mosque arrangements are made for a day trip to Essaouira before another stroll through The Square of The Dead. The entertainment is still going on in full swings and the air is starting to take on an aroma that is driving my taste buds crazy.

Although I plan on dining later, I give in and sample some flat fried bread. Well, more like two samples. One just plain, another loaded with peppers and onions, delicious!




Morocco, From The Airport To My Riad


Other than a scramble to fill out an Immigration Card, once inside the airport terminal, the no visa entry process into Morocco is fast and simple.


Sony 007 Just outside customs, I exchange some dollars at 7.8 to 1 for the local currency, the dirham.





Upstairs at the airport cafe for D$30 I purchase an internet card to find out what I have been missing for the last twelve hours. Absolutely, nothing.


From the cafe, I stop at the local information booth where I am told my hotel is somewhere in Old Medina and will be an adventure to find if I take a bus into town. I am up for the challenge and head for Bus No.19 at he far end of the terminal. It is only a D$20 fare compared to D$100 plus for a taxi.



Sony 008Approaching a relatively empty, so far,  Djemma Al Fna.






The sounds of trotting carriage horses, beeping car horns, rumbling motorcycles, music and the hypnotic tunes of snake charmers fill the air as I approach the open market square.



Sony 004 With no real love for snakes, I learn rather quickly to keep my distance from the snake charmers who think it is cute to put one around your neck for a few dirhams.


No thanks, I am fine without that experience.


Besides, the snake charmers there are other entertainers and vendors that would gladly free you of a few dirhams. Some worthwhile, others certainly not. A midget strolling with a violin is cute but his first note has my ears screaming for protection.



Sony 023 Hot Dates And Nuts Stand


The scene here is a good introduction to Djemma El Fna, Square of The Dead, which I understand is even more interesting at night. Passing numerous fresh orange stands along with dates and nuts vendor I enter “The Souk” in search of my hotel.

I am now a rat in a maze looking for that elusive piece of cheese. The souk is a never ending connection of narrow streets and alley ways lined with all types of merchants.



Sony 009 I have no doubt it was specifically designed that way to keep you trapped.






At one point sensing my dilemma, a merchant offers to help me, well sort of help.  He claims to be familiar with the area and I follow his lead although I am still lost as I do so. Eventually, we exit the souk and enter a narrow alley lined with tall sun blocking buildings.



Sony 010 A turn here, a turn there, another here then there, finally I arrive at my riad (hotel).





A bit of haggling from D$50 to D$20 and my self appointed guide walks away disgusted and disappointed that I would not give him more dirhams for his help. My first experience with the common haggling process in Marrakech. The lesson learned is to set a price before you accept help or agree to any arrangement.

I feel a bit of guilt that soon vanishes as I am comforted that there are always winners and losers in the haggling process here.

This time I think I won!





Friday, August 12, 2011

Morocco, Of All The Gin Joints …..


I am airborne from JFK on my way eventually to Morocco via Madrid. A funny Adam Sandler movie, “Just Go With It”, dinner then before I know it I am waking up to a beautiful orange and blue sunrise over Spain.

As always, clearing Immigration and Customs in Europe is as easy as American Pie.

However, there must be some secret International Airport law that requires all passengers to walk a thousand miles before arriving at Immigration. My dogs are already barking!


Sony 004 With a direct flight from Madrid to Marrakech (E$97 with no checked bags), I am about to have my first flight experience on easyJet.





Sony 006 About 12 hours after leaving New York (JFK), I am walking across the tarmac at Marrakech Airport.

My Moroccan adventure is about to begin.



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