Nov 14, 2006

The Last Day

We had one more full day in Marrakesh, which started with a guide and ended up with some of our own wandering. Our guide, Fouad, showed up at our hotel at 9:30 along with Driss. This guy was quite the opposite of Halid, our previous guide in Fes. Fouad was a balding and slightly overwight man in his 50s, with a weak grasp of th English languag that was barely sufficient to pass himself off as an English guide. To cover this, he would exclaim "beautiful day" (it certainly was) every five minutes or so when he was at a loss of something better to say.
Fouad and Driss took us to a few of the sights in the city, of which none really stood out as noteworthy or memorable.

Halid seemed to enjoy showing us the mosques and madresas, the religious buildings that Islamic life flowed through. Fouad avoided these; its possible that Driss had told him that we'd already seen them in Fes, but it seemed like Fouad himself was uninterested. "Did you see a madresa in Fes?", he asked, "well you've seen them all". Instead he showed us the palaces in Marrakesh, his favourite quarters being the harems, his favourite tidbits being the facts about wives and concubines (Islam allows 4 and 40 of them, respectively, although Fouad indicated having more than one was costly, perhaps trying to inspire some sort of sympathy from us that would bring more tip). He threw in a bunch of profanities here and there to demonstrate his mastery of English, which was funny in a way, but I must admit I was laughing at him and not with him.
The tour ended with a short trip through two shops in the market, oddly, since this was probably the day he could convince us to buy souvenirs. In any case, the tour ended far sooner than we expected, which wasn't a bad thing since we weren't getting much out of it. Driss mentioned that Fouads misogynist humour often went well with tourists, which made me feel a little guilty for encouraging the sad little act.
After driving us around the ville nouvelle as we requested, Driss made his move to slip away and make his leave from us. I'm pretty sure he was supposed to be our driver for the rest of the day, and drop us off at the airport the next morning. However, our interest was mostly in the souks (markets) of the medina that were mostly pedestrian, and we were hoping that he was eager to return home to his wife and daughter, so we bid him adieu with a grateful tip and started wandering on our own. Even in retrospect, the only use we might have made with the car was to get a ride to some of the bars or clubs in the ville nouvelle in the evening. However, if they were like the ones in Fes, it probably wouldn't have been a worthwhile trip anyways.
We spent the afternoon wandering with the Lonely Planet, looking for food and checking out the Museum of Moroccan art, which turned out to be closed from noon til 3pm, and pretty lame when we returned after 3. There was another Museum of the Friends of Marrakesh mentioned, which seemed to have potential, but at this point we were tired, and in need of a toilet, and the beautiful day seemed to have faded with the want of Fouads pronouncements, and drops of water had started falling from the sky. We returned to the hotel for a break.

At some point after this Jason fell asleep and I realized that the rain was light and petering off, so I made my way back into the medina. I would have to say that the majority of the shops aren't that appealing to me. There were many shops selling spices and dates (which were good, but I didn't want to risk bringing back potential diarrhea for anyone), metal work plates, local style clothing and shoes, wooden sculptures and jewellry boxes made from a fragrant wood, carpets, and jewellry. On the whole, the quality of the items was mediocre, the finish wasn't quite there, and slight imperfections, the hallmark of inexpensive manual labour, abounded.

Occasionally there was a shop carrying quality goods, but they commanded prices similar to North American retail. A cheap metal bracelet might cost 10 drms in one of the shops selling junk, whereas the shops carrying real silver might ask dor over 1000 drms (and you could try your luck bargaining it down).

I ended up spending almost all of the little cash I had on hand on a little rug that could be suitable as a gift. As much as I enjoy the negotiating process (some people hate it), in the end it this way of purchasing is entirely unrewarding for me. Instead of feeling proud that I paid %50 of the original price, I inevitably end up feeling ripped off, suspecting that I probably should have argued it down to something like %10-%25. The process seems like a game, with each side vying for the better position, but it always ends with the seller agreeing on a price, upon which my heart sinks as I realize that was too quick, and I should have been harded and driven it lower.

Anyways, I'll let bygones be bygones, and I continued to wander with my camera over my shoulder and the recent acquisition in a little package under my arm, until I realised it was dark, and I had reached an area where there were few tourists about. I pulled out my compass and attempted to make may way southwest to the square, but as I headed west, I realized all the southbound streets were little empty alleys.

After wandering about an hour, I started getting rather hungry, and dropped into a pharmacy to ask for directions, upon which the kind pharmacist promptly laughed at me and told me to take a cab. I tried to tell her I wanted to walk, but she only instructed her assistant to hail me a cab and instruct thr driver to the square for me.
In the end I was grateful for the kindness; I was headed in the right direction, but the number of turns required would probably have taken me another hour to make it back on my own. The cab drive brought me down to having about the equivalent of $2 in my pocket, but I was back for dinner.

Jason wasn't around, so I left a note at our room and headed up to the restaurant, which did have some slightly more interesting tagines, and I ordered a rabbit tagine preceeded with a salad. Halfway through the meal Jason showed up, and we recounted our shopping stories. The food was not bad, but the service was absolutely horrid, so I didn't bother waiting for the desert and lovely mint tea.
Instead, we headed out to the square, and found a rooftop patio overlooking the square to enjoy a coffee. Sitting in a cafe, just cahtting with a friend while watching people bustle by was one of the great enjoyments of morocco. Doing this in the cool evening air, overlooking the liveliness of the square was absolutely incredible.
We returned to the square for another evening of being accosted by people shouting "konnichiwa" and following us around, trying to pull is into their food stalls. Tonight however, we were prepared with castanets (finger cymbals) that Jason had scored, and we managed to turn the tables on them a few times, mostly leading to some shock and confusion on their part, and some good laughs for us.

We headed in as the life in the square wound down around midnight. The next morning, we packed and met a driver that Driss had arranged to take us to the airport on his behalf. We managed to spend all our remaining dirhams on two coffees in the departure lounge, and toasted the end of an unforgettable adventure.

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