Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I'm not Japanese!

I started out around 10am in the morning, walking from my hotel into the Medina, the ancient of Marrakech. It was simply stunning, all the buildings painted this red/orange color, the dust of the desert in the air, and palm trees everywhere. Finally, I came upon the Mosque at the center of the town, and shortly afterwards, the Medina, a huge plaza where there were bunches of vendors selling freshly squezed orange juice, and other small stands on the side doing henna tatoos, fortune telling, shoe repair, it was like one huge open market.

As I walked through the Medina towards the general direction of where I thought my hostel should be, all of the vendors of the juice carts started yelling out to me. "Hey Japan", followed by "Hey Korea", and then "Hey China", and then, sometimes, "Hey Taiwan". Or they would try to greet me in Japanese at wierd times, saying "konichwa" (good morning), which was then followed by "konbanwa" (good evening), even if it was still morning. Or other random ones like "ohaio gozaimas", which is something like "welcome. All of this despite that I'm not Japanese.

It was definitely annoying to get called this way. I thought how they would address me as "Hey Japan", which if reversed in Europe (ie, greeting a moroccan as "hey maroc") would probably end up with a fight.

As I found the souk (covered market) where my hostel was supposed to be, I noticed a juice vendor at the corner, that seemed to have a bunch of local people around it. Always a good sign, when you see local people at the stalls. So, I started to walk towards the stall, and the vendor called out to me, and I acknowledged him. At least he didn't call me "Hey Japan". And there, I had the most delicious cup of freshly pressed orange juice I've ever had. All for 3 Dirham (about 50 cents). It was so good, I had another glass of orange juice, and another glass of freshly pressed lime juice, for a premium price of 10 dirham ($1.25). These guys were so friendly, I came back every day to the same stall for my 2-3 glasses of fresh juice.

After getting fueled up on orange juice (good thing, since I hadn't drunk or eaten anything since arriving to Marrakech), I continued to find my hostel. I went into the souks, which are essentially covered markets selling all sorts of things, from the small butcher stall, to lots of touristy kitsch, and traditional bath houses. I found the "Berber FANAQUE", apparently a knockoff of the French FNAC bookstore, and remembered that I was supposed to make a turn after the FNAC to find the hostel. Here's where it got difficult. The streets and lanes in the souks are not marked with street signs. I turned into this little covered alley, it was very narrow, and I couldn't even tell if it was the right place. But it seemed all wrong. It was literally a narrow tunnel, with high walls on each side. As I continued, the "area" seemed to get more sketchy, and didn't seem right. Nonetheless, I just continued to walk, exploring the area. I continued down an alley, and saw a woman walking with her baby, and then 3-4 kids come up to me, asking if I need help, or where i was going. I explained "Riad Amazigh", the name of the hostel. Then, they got all excited, and said "Riad Amazigh is this way, follow me". I heard that these kids often "help", but demand money in return, and I felt I was at least on track and could find the place myself, but the kids were insisent. Anyways, I just continued walking and the kids followed me.

Sure enough, about 50 feet in front of me was the door for Riad Amazigh. Here's when things got interesting. The oldest kid asked, "please give me 2 Euros for help". I said, "hey, you didn't even help me, I just walked straight, besides, I don't have euros". Then, he said OK, give me 20 Dirham (about $2.50). Still, I was insistent, "you didn't really help me, I just walked straight". Now, the price started to go down... "ok, 10 Dirham", "No, I'll just give you 5 dirham". And so, I gave him 5 dirhams, and he ran off, but then all of his friends started asking me for money! Doh! Unexpected reaction. I simply told them they didn't do anything for me, and walked into the hostel.

After walking into the hostel, I thought, "I'm in trouble.. these kids will easily recognize me when I walk out." And for a a few minutes, I thought I'm going to be stuck in this hostel, because they'll ask me for money each time. Sure enough, when I left the hostel about an hour later, the kids were outside, asking for money. I explained I already paid them, and I don't need any help. One kid even offered to lead me out back to the main street, but it wasn't that hard, since I already knew how I came into the alley. Funnily, the oldest kid later found me the next few days, and kept on asking for money, even for doing nothing, and I had to explain "No" each time, until he finally got the message.

But the thing that's the most amazing about these places, even though it looks terrible from the outside of the alleyway, the places on the inside of these walls are spectacular mansions, completely hidden away. This hotel had a huge open courtyard in the center, similar to the traditional homes in Asia, and there were these marvelous rooms. These hostels/hotels are "riads", or the traditional mansions of Morocco. It's very deceiving, but you'd never guess that inside this hidden, dirty, and not very pleasant alley, that a mansion would be behind the walls. It was a great hostel, EUR24 per night, I had a 4 bed room, but it was practically a single, since two beds were upstairs, 2 below, and only one occupant on each floor. There wasn't any AC, but it didn't matter, it was a nice break from the hot and sunny hours during the afternoon.

Next time: food review of Marrakech

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