Sunday, April 11, 2010

Day Two Marrakech almost over

4/9/10




Hello to Terry and her husband! You will be arriving in Spain today, as I am heading out to Marrakech via Casablanca.


Wake up call on ship at 545 jumped into my clothes flinging the small backpack large daypack jammed with clothes and shoes over my shoulder grabbing my pretty nasty looking cheap-o part of a target set rolling back down the hallway to the elevator. Out the door, 2 floors down onto the deck, one more scan of my ship ID card and I’m heading down the escalator to the disembarkation area.


It appears that I am first taxi, yeah. Probably could have slept in a bit but better late than stressed. Going to be a long day.


Little tiny female taxi driver, probably in 30s or 40s, she hoisted my big bag into the trunk and I made her understand that I needed to take that big old bag to the Hotel Colon near the cathedral, then needed a ride to the airport. Even though she speaks no English, we managed to get it done.


The hotel staff was confused (as they seem to be all the time) You are guest today? No not today, on the 15th. But finally agreed to keep my bag after making sure I was booked in for the 15th of April (and pre-paid).


Out the door to the airport (total fare from ship to hotel to airport 38 Euros something) where I discover I cannot get my boarding pass until 2 hours before the flight, which is at 1:30, so it is now 7:3am and I have to kill time until I can get my boarding pass= 4 hours. I have euro bills and travelers checks, maybe 2 Euros in coin, and there are only machines on this floor and water is 3.65 Euros.


I go to info stand and find out there are coffee places downstairs so I head down, have a couple ham and cheese baguettes, some OJ and some good coffee, then wander back up, see the two old guys from Wales waiting to check in- keep running into them, funny, and they say they’ll buy me a coffee if I run into them after check in.


I wander back downstairs and sit and watch people pass by with dogs, new planes arriving, people getting their suitcases wrapped with plastic for 6 Euros, some guy in athletic gear signing autographs. With one fan stopping him 3 different times throwing his arm over this guys shoulders and taking phone pix of the two of them. Whoever the “celebrity” was they were very gracious with the fan. Look a Custo Barcelona store. I bought one of their tee years ago in Chicago near rush street for $100 bucks I think and I still have it, it says something like 9 kilos on the back whatever the heck that means. I wear it with a black bra with the straps showing since it has a wide neckline but it looks cool. Looks like they are just opening the store, glad for that since I don’t need to buy any tee shirts at the airport especially expensive tees!


Back for another cup of coffee, then went to stand in the line that was forming at gate 508 for the Casablanca flight. Couple from somewhere in the south that was on the cruise apparently, and an Aussie couple from Melbourne who have been living in Barcelona since January, who are headed off on a 12 day small caravan into the desert. Had a great time talking to the two of them, and stuck with them at check in time, when there were 3 lines but only one employee, and some very pushy passengers who tried to get in the queue in front of us. Be assertive!


Got both boarding passes Barcelona to Casablanca and Casablanca to Marrakech. And headed to the gate, assuming there would be all sorts of stuff behind the passport screen area to look at eat or buy. No such luck. Once you are in the gate area you have choice of McDonalds, Duty Free or a small snack shop. You can see tons of stores on the floor below but you can’t get to them. I walked to the other side of the gate floor and it was the mirror image of my side. Finally went into McDonalds got a big Mac, onion rings and a diet coke. Ugh. It was awful but it was something to do. Went back and sat in the gate area, and when people started lining up, got in line, right in front of a couple from Vermont who were visiting son #2 who was studying in Barcelona, and they were off for some couples time in Marrakech. They have been living on Oahu, he works hotels, and she worked at the University of Hawaii, as chair of multi-media department. She has a video business sideline, and he dabbles in real estate. He is working at the Stowe Mountain lodge, and she is teaching writing now. They have a giant property but it is really in the woods and quite a ways from civilization so they are looking for a small place somewhere sunny in the world.


Saw the Aussie guy and told him got stuck behind passport control, and we boarded the plane. I had the exit row all to myself, the plane wasn’t half full and it was very comfortable. We had tiny sandwiches with the crusts cut off and one was beef and one was cream cheese and something, a few cucumbers, some of the creamiest yogurt I’ve ever tasted, and great cake with what tasted like whipped cream icing, some juice and some coffee. Good meal. Arrival in Casablanca is a blur fell asleep on the plane, woke up with young Egyptian guy sitting in the window seat, didn’t even feel him passing me, he was on business trip and doing video for fun. Traveling with 3 other work friends. Not clear where they had been other than Barcelona, but they were having fun and he appeared to be thrilled I talked to him, waved at me later when we got off the plane.


Plane landed in Casablanca and headed into a terminal that reminded me of the temporary buildings at Palomar airport. Two small snack stands that take only dirhams, and no way to change money in the transfer area. Bathrooms, chairs windows, that’s about it. Found my friends from Vermont and discovered they had gone to that very expensive restaurant Can Sense times or something like that (the one I went to the wine pairing the first night) in Barcelona the night before, but not done the wine pairings like we did. Apparently this is Nora Ephron’s favorite restaurant which is why my shipboard friend knew about it and why they knew about it. Just like Sara they had tried to book from home and it was very difficult, finally got confirmation then when they arrived in Barcelona the restaurant tried to move their reservation. But like us, it was all worthwhile once they got in there.


They told me about a place that is a great tapas and cava afternoon place near the hotel I’m staying the last night in Barcelona. My Aussie friends from the boat gave me a pub tip right in cathedral square where they know the bartender too. The Vermont husband had a flip cam too, but the newer version with a docking station and rechargeable batteries. My battery operated one is working fine. A little worried about leaving that thumb drive in the bag in Barcelona, but too late now.


Time to go, but everyone is lining up at gate 15 instead of gate 16 which is on the boarding pass. Oh by the way, I’ve had a great time with my new Vermont friends over the last 5 hours, and our group now includes a young guy named Eric I think from Boston, recent Harvard Grad in anthropology with an interest in foreign policy, who is living in Delhi on a Rockefeller Fellowship, also worked in Uganda on an aids project when he was 19. Think he is 25 now. He is meeting his grammar school girlfriend in Marrakech for some together time. He hasn’t seen her in several months and when I asked if she was meeting at the airport he said he prefers to see her at the hotel. I just want to make out with her and in an Islamic country in public that is not good. Ha ha.


We watched young girls who just met become fast friends and run all over our “green room” searching for more little girls to join the roving gang. It was darling. So we get up and join the group at gate 15 until I see the aggressive men and their two ladies from the boarding pass line in Barcelona hit the gate 16 and push their way to the front. I tell my new friends to follow them so we all change gates, then follow them back to gate 15 when it is obvious it s the wrong line. One bus appears, passports are checked, and it is filled up. We wait for the second bus.


We jump on the bus and are taken out to the plane, this one a little more crowded, an old 747 I think, but still not full. The flight is very short, maybe 25 minutes once we get in the air. Would have been faster to take the bus or a train to Marrakech I think. But we are on our way. Lots of agriculture on the way, approaching Marrakech I see terra cotta colored buildings, wide streets and we spot the Koutoubia mosque from the air. On the ground we grab our luggage from the overhead and march quite a ways into the entrée area. We see the people waiting for the outgoing flights all the way up the stairs. We pass through two guards, hand in our entry cards and go stand in passport control lines. I’m way at the end, and a very nervous woman, Dutch I think is invading my space in line behind me. I think she has to pee. The passport control guys are in their element and d hassle the young guys in front of me that are maybe 16 or 17. I finally get up there, hand then my passport and the entry card again, and he asks for my boarding pass stub. Geesh, it’s somewhere in the bottom of my bag but all I come up with is the pass from Barcelona to Marrakech and he smiles and waves me though after stamping my passport. I’ve got a lot of stamps from this trip! Cool! One last passport check on my way out the door and I see the outside world, and people waiting for passengers and look for Roselyne holding a sign with my name.


Stepping back again to the airport in Barcelona. My feet were killing me by the time I got on the plane. I was wearing my very expensive Seibel shoes that are closed in, and the minute we got on the plane I switched to my sandals which was great. Then get to the Casablanca airport and the only people showing feet that are female are tourists. I switched out my shoes again there, trying to blend in as only a 6’2” person can do with blondish hair in an Arab/African country. Lol


So I find my ride, and she is wearing flip flops and her male friend who I think she says is Max, who I’m not sure if it is Jacky her husband, is wearing sandals so I’m reassured I can wear open toe shoes here. In turkey and in Egypt the women were covered up but wore sandals but we’ll see what I see tomorrow. So I shake hands with Roselyne and her friend, and tell them I need to change money, since only Moroccan money works here, the dirham, and the exchange rate is about 10 dirham for every euro, or 7. Something for us dollars. I have about $350 Euros in my ready money so get about $3500 DH in exchange. The government sets the rate and you can’t take them out of morocco either. So I get my money and we head off for the riad, with J pointing out main points of interest on the way. Motorbikes everywhere, little cars, little taxis, very few signals, and pedestrians don’t have the right of way so you just go for it. We saw one accident on the way. My new friends speak little to no English, and my French is so rusty it’s laughable so I blame it on the travel, and the fact I left my iphone with itranslate at home. We go down the rue Casablanca which is the main thoroughfare and make a right near a supermarket and the first left, and the riad is right off the first right alley, a door right on the street. We enter and the ceilings are 2-3 stories high with mosaics and solid stone railings and a wrought iron roof covered with some sort of fabric like canvas. They take me up to my room, and get me a banana, apple, yogurt and some water, and I unpack, take a shower and look at my lonely planet guide, before grabbing an ambien and nodding off. Oh, we did call Jamila last night and she will come to get me at 10am, take me to her office, because her printer is broken and the guy is coming to repair it. She will help to organize me for the rest of my visit tomorrow while it is fixed. Hope I wake up in time. Petit Dejeuner is at 8 - a huit heures, and she picks me up at dix heures.


4/10 I wake up at 7 (how’s that for an internal alarm) and lay there until 7:45. There are no windows in my room and this is good it is very quiet and calm and the only sounds I hear are birds chirping. I wash my face, a little bit of makeup and head out to the terrace on the top floor, where they have a table waiting for me. They bring bread, butter, crepes, yogurt, jam, and a pastry, coffee in a large pot, orange juice and sugar and cream.


Perfect weather, I sit outside and enjoy the morning for one hour, not too hot. Very charming rooftop terrace. I go back to my room for my net book and ask about internet access. They have a computer on the top floor I can use. I try out my wifi and it works. They are amazed. I am the technical genius of the 3 of us! I try carrying it outside to the terrace, and the connection works for a few moments then breaks. That is OK at least I know I can upload from the same room without cables!


My friend Jamila arrives to pick me up and after chatting in French with my hosts, we get into her car and drive to her mother’s house which is nearby, to deliver some fresh vegetables from the market. I wait in the car. Beautiful homes, 3 dogs, two puppies look at me curiously while I wait. All the buildings terra cotta color surrounded by walls and beautiful gates.


We then go to her office, which is inside a large square, metal doors hiding the entrance to the shop. She opens the shop metal door and we walk inside where there are books on shelves and tables, and we go upstairs to sit and talk.


We reacquaint ourselves with each other; she tells me of her life, her family, the bookstore, the book caravans the poetry collaboration events, and being the eldest child in her family. I show her my blog and the CSR site www.developmentcrossing.com I discovered last year after hearing Dr William Marre speak and then google-ing his name. She will look at this.


She shows me her new affiliation as Director of a foundation that hopes to rebuild a school , a village, and then the computer printer repair guy shows up so she gives me lots of books to look at the pictures (since most are in French or Arabic) while she waits for the fix to happen and takes many phone calls from family and about her caravan on 4/21.


After the computer is fixed we talk about what I would like to do during my short time here, and we call and make arrangements for me to spend the day with a conservative young Moroccan girl named Malika, who will take me to the markets to buy supplies and then home to teach me some basic Moroccan cooking techniques and culture. She speaks no English at all, only Arabic, so there will be lots of smiling, gesturing and photos from this day I am sure. I will “tip” her 400 dirham’s for the day that is about 40 Euros (or 60 buck us). That is on Sunday. Jamila will drop me off and I will catch a cab back to the riad at the end of the day.


On Monday I will be picked up at 9:30 by a driver , who will then be at my disposal for the entire day, and speaks English, and we will go to the high atlas mountains, visit some villages, have tea, and he will also make sure I get to a bank to change some travelers checks. This day will cost 800 dirham’s or around 80 Euros for the day. Still a bargain I think.


On Tueday and Wednesday, I will go to the medina including meeting the director of the art collaborative Dar Bellarj who is a friend of Jamila who will explain the arts of morocco and the current exhibition. This day I will also see all of the monuments in the medina and the souks for shopping. Then it is Thursday and I fly out at 9am. And I thought I had a lot of time!


So after all this Jamila drops me at the Jardin Majorelle, the estate of the late Yves St Laurent that is now a public garden. She shows me which way to walk to get a meal nearby, and which side of the street to go to catch a small taxi that circulates the city. I bid her adieu, or rather she does that to me, since my little bit of French has shrunk since arriving and I’m almost totally hopeless except for oui and merci.


I walk up the narrow street past horse drawn carriages waiting to take the tourists for a ride. And pay the 30 dirhams to enter the gardens. Bamboo, succulents Palms, brightly colored pots, a royal blue building, ponds with lily pads and lotus, and koi, and cactus. It is very hot and humid, about 26 degrees C I think and I’m sure I’m bright red and I know I’m totally sweaty, but I’ll live through it. It is much cooler inside the garden and it is lovely, and colorful, and a pleasant interlude.


I walk out and back past the horses to the street, and continue 5 or 6 blocks to Gueliz until I see a café with tables outside and in on the other side of the street, and decide to sit inside after glancing at the menu in French and Arabic- now French is something I can understand on menus so I am ok. I am so creative and get a Panini fromage (cheese sandwich) and a coke, and pull out the computer to begin to catch up on the story of my arrival.


I sit there for about an hour and a half, then begin walking in the direction I was told by Jamila, and make it across the first busy intersection without dying or being run down, and continue walking. I flag down a cab, and despite the fact that I’ve read the lonely planet guide, and been told by Jamila, I get into a large taxi with 3 women in headscarves in the back, and they all insist they know where my riad is. We take off, and the driver turns off rue Casablanca, which is the only real street I know at this point, and I start to get worried because I can see we are in an area I haven’t seen and there aren’t a whole lot of tourists around. The three women get out, and don’t pay him anything, and although several people try to flag him down he waves them off and I am beginning to think I am being taken for a ride.


He speaks no English, and I insist on returning to rue Casablanca, and then demand to be let out of the cab, and he finally does so, fortunately charging only 10 dirham (about 1 euro ) for my wild goose chase. I was a little stressed, bright red, and very sweaty at this point.


I started walking in the direction I felt I should go, and some of the shops looked vaguely familiar from either the night before coming in, or Jamila driving me to the gardens that morning, but after a while I stopped in a restaurant and asked, and they directed me back the way I came, so I crossed the street and walked back on the other side.


When I followed the directions, I only went about 1 block before thinking I was going the wrong way again, and off the main road, so I asked a man sitting on a chair inside a gate for help, showing him the paper Jamila had written on. While I talked to him a young guy came out and tried to help me, and sent me back the way I came, and told me to turn right on the big street and continue straight ahead. I followed his advice, for about a block on the big street, and then flagged down a small cab.


I had been told to make sure the cab had a meter, and to negotiate before I got in, so this one had two guys in it, and was a small cab, no meter, but boy did I negotiate. I showed him the address, they both nodded I started to get in and said how much. He said 50 dirham’s, I said 30, he said OK. He drove 1 block, dropped the guy off, and we went around in circles it seemed to me, back the way I had come. I was starting to think that I was never going to get back to my riad.


I had the address of the riad, but only had visual landmarks for the streets except for rue Casablanca, and I wasn’t positive which end of the road I was on. Jamila had given me the name of the neighborhood, and told me it was near the school for mining, so I kept showing the driver the neighborhood name and saying it over and over, and the school for the mines, and I did find out he did get us in the right neighborhood, but I was still lost.


I also heard our riad owners talk about the giant shopping center, but I hadn’t seen it, so we headed that way, and sure enough there was a giant shopping area nearby, but it didn’t look at all familiar. The driver was stopped by a young couple who spoke French and a little English, and they rode up and down the roads with us trying to find a place I couldn’t describe off a street I didn’t know the name of.


I tried to use my international cell phone to call the riad, but I was so flustered I couldn’t figure out where I had hidden the number, then the young guy tried too and couldn’t do it, and I was about ready to cry when I looked up and would you believe it, we were sitting right in front of the Aymain Bakery, which was a large neon sign, and that was my visual landmark from the night before when arriving. Stop this is it! I yelled happily, handed the driver a 50 dirham note (he deserved it) merci beaucoup’d the couple to death, and headed down the street to the first alley street on the right and rang the bell for the riad I made it !


It was about 4:30pm by that time, and Jamila was coming back to pick me up at 5 to take me with her to a dress designer girl she knew who was going to add some Moroccan embellishment to 2 cashmere /wool pashminas she had been given so they were unique. This girl was very creative and also designed formal and wedding dresses, and bought cotton and linen shirts pre-made and added the cording, and hand embroidered embellishments to the items for resale. I washed my face with cold water, and sat down for a moment, and heard Jamila arrive downstairs. I got my bag and went down to meet her, waiting while she made polite conversation and had a glass of water with the riad owners.


We headed to a building close by, and parked. We went into a dark building and got into a tiny elevator to the second floor. We rang the bell of #15 and waited, and the door was eventually opened by a woman with a head scarf, and we entered an apartment full of clothing racks and lounges, with a workroom in the back, and fabrics and cords stacked up everywhere.


Jamila’s friend was not yet here, so we sat down to wait, and I looked at the amazing, brightly colored and patterned Moroccan dressesand jellaba lining the walls. I tried on two tops while we waited but one was too small, and the other one, although pretty magenta colored with magenta embellishments was nice, but I didn’t love it. We went back into the front area and sat down to wait. I said to Jamila, you have to be patient in Morocco and she laughed and said yes.


The buzzer rang several times and people came and went, and finally it was her friend the designer along with her sister. The designer girl greeted me in English and shook my hand, and her sister gave me the more traditional Moroccan greeting kissing both cheeks as I sat. Jamila told her to show me the jellebah, a long shift with long sleeves and a slit neckline, with intricate embroidery and made of linen. They also have a hood, with a tassel sewn on it. It is a traditional outfit worn by everyone that is cool and perfect for the daytime heat.


I tried on a white one and a cream colored one, and liked the cream one best. The girl brought me brown linen pants with ties on the ankles that went under the jellibah, and it was very cute. The first price quoted was 1500 dirham or 150 Euros, but the price came down to 130 Euros for both which is very reasonable and it was very comfortable and fit perfectly and was of her own design. Needless to say, this was my first purchase other than admission and food in Morocco.


Jamila’s phone rang, and she told me that her friends from Italy had arrived, and they spoke English. One man, whose name I think it Mino, is a man in his 80s who is very famous and taught at Columbia University, and who has devoted his life to the study of women and the changes in civil society as women become decision makers and leaders. He is traveling with his wife, his neighbor, a woman who is 70, a young guy who works with immigrants, and a woman who works with psychiatric patients in Rome.


So we return to the riad, meet this group, and a couple from Stuttgart in Germany who have just arrived, and also speak English. Jamila leaves after introducing me to everyone, and the Italians ask me to join them at a local café for a snack.

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