Marrakesh, part 2. Family and the sights. My host brother lives in Marrakesh, with his lovely wife and 2 daughters. My host Mom is also visiting here from our home town. They have a very nice apartment in the very popular part of town, called Gueliz. My sister-in-law picks me up at the train station. They both work outside the home in professional jobs and even have 2 cars. This is unheard of in the smaller villages, but I don’t know if it is unusual for city folks. They both speak English, French, Arabic and Darija. My brother also speaks Spanish, German and Russian. I meet the kids and reunite with my Mom and brother. We enjoy kaskaroot and a soccer game on TV (Barcelona, where my brother once lived for work/training). Then we head to the famous Djemaa el-Fna square. Lonely Planet calls it the #1 thing to see in Morocco. As you leave the street and head for the square, there are horse carriages, guys selling lighted hand-held pocket copters, lamps made out of recycled tin, peanuts, sunglasses (even at night), watches, rubber snakes and more. Most of the entertainment is during the day, but there are a few groups, including banjo guy with a chicken on his head. The huge square is surrounded by restaurants 3-4 stories high, neon signs, all vying for your business. Countless juice stands, pop up BBQ restaurants, dried fruit stands and more, fill the square every night and then fold up and disappear during the day. The adjacent old medina is a bit wider and more modern than Fes and Meknes. Everything is ever so slightly more westernized, catering to the tourist, such as olives in jars rather than huge piles. I am told that many of the old riads and hotels have been taken over by westerners and that these new owners have a big influence on keeping the area clean and welcoming, without losing the chaotic charm that has brought people to this square for nearly a thousand years. After a delicious, fresh made juice, we enjoy a wonderful dinner of, well, everything, at one of the pop-up restaurants. I had tried Tanjia in Meknes, but now I have the authentic Marrakesh version. It is meat, slow cooked in a tall clay jar. I sit next to a visitor from Japan.
Of the cities I have visited, Marrakesh has the most distinct American influence with McDonalds, KFC and even Chili’s, but there is still no mistaking you are in Morocco, with big roundabouts and signs of the King everywhere. Sunday, we visit the Menara gardens, with acres of olive trees, old naval training pool, picnickers hiding behind sheets on trees, vendors of snacks and sun hats. Then a road trip to the Ousarka valley. As we leave the flatlands we see increasing stands with pottery, rugs, argon, camels to sit on for a photo, snow on the approaching mountains, river, plum blossoms, small towns, small buses, big buses on small streets. You wonder how they will make it through. As the road narrows and the crowds thicken, you see official looking guys in florescent vests trying to wave you into the parking lot of their restaurant. There are hundreds of restaurants, stretching on for miles, above, on and even in the river. There are brightly colored couches and plastic chairs and tables. Many are accessed by bridges across the river, some of which I am convinced even Indiana Jones would not attempt. You see terraced orchards, red earth and tinted buildings. The canyon narrows, and still there are huge buses. We enjoy a fabulous lunch at the best terrace table, with visiting musicians and afterwards we wander down to the water’s edge. The river can be easily crossed on a few stones in many places. On the way home the usual Moroccan music is supplemented by some favorites of my generation, Cat Stevens, Hotel California, The Gambler, Pink Floyd. Home for another Soccer game, Manchester United.
Monday my family is off to work after we walk the girls to school. I am left to do some tourist wandering on my own. It is a short walk to the Marjorelle gardens, including the exquisitely done Berber and YSL museums. I highly recommend the Moroccan breakfast in the garden café. But if you go, arrive around 8:30. You will see the small garden and be first in line for the Berber museum, enjoy the larger garden that opens at 10, and breakfast. By the time you walk over to the YSL museum you will see hundreds of people standing in line. Nothing THAT great. All the museums and attractions have different pricing for residents (which I have the card to prove I am) vs tourists. Most (Marjorelle was more) attractions are 10 DH for residents and 70 for visitors. Taxi drivers in Marrakesh are notorious thieves. Even though their fares are regulated, they will tell you their meter is not working and try to charge flat fees that are 10 times the metered rate. Often even locals have no choice but to pay, but I never go down without a fight and about 1 in 10 will be honest and give you the meter. Often your only choice is to walk far from the tourist spots. If your destination is out of the way, good luck! I visit the Saadian tombs, get lost walking, then find the Bahia palace, I walk the medina to Djemaa el-Fna. Daytime and the snake guys, monkeys, fake Berbers posing for pictures, dancers, musicians, ring on soda games and more. The snake guys tried to intimidate me into giving them 1000 dh. HA! I did give them 20. I could not find a taxi that knew my address, so I walked home. We enjoyed Harira and meat juice misimmon.
Tuesday morning, good bye to the family before heading to Carrefour for a towel, toilet paper, soap and all the other supplies our “hotel” does not provide. I pass the Starbucks (hands were full and no time to sit), get a haircut and pick up my long overdue dry cleaning (I wore the scarf every day and it was getting very stinky). I will see my family again once more before leaving, when we visit the Menara Mall, as modern, beautiful, neon as any in America. We enjoy coffees and tea beside a beautiful fountain show, with music and colored lights. Pizza at the food court with the best panoramic view of Marrakesh.