Sunday, July 1, 2012

The 'Kech

The title is just another lame attempt of mine to be hip and cool, but I think I may start something with this.

I'm talking about Marrakech, probably the most famous and recognized city in Morocco. Home of Djemaa el Fna square, snake charmers, (arguably) the best shopping in Morocco, and any other touristy thing the country has to offer.

We had not yet been, so after we got back from Ireland we piled the kids and Mom and Dad in the car for the road trip south.  

As I've said before, it's not a road trip in Morocco without a dramatic detour.  This time we made it to the city proper before things went bad.  Consequently, my iPhone's GPS has been retired.  One minute we are cruising towards the blue dot and the next thing you know we are at the end of a dead end one- way street (dead end for cars anyway) with a man selling chickens on one side of the car and a furniture/pharmacy/electronics/toys/grocery store on the other.   Thankfully we knew exactly what to do: oh yes, this had happened before (in Fes)- we flagged down a cab and paid the driver to lead us to our hotel-  Les Jardins de la Koutoubia where we were once again spoiled by the diplomatic rate.

The next morning we headed out into the medina with our tour guide.  Pretty much everywhere we go we hire a guide.  They are relatively cheap, very professional, have a lot of knowledge, and the most important part, know how to get us into and back out of the labyrinth of streets that is the medina.  We even have a guide we send folks out with in Rabat (shout-out to Aziz).  Anyhow, we got a great look at  the city waking up.  We walked through the medina, some museums, an old university and back out to the Square where you find food stalls, henna, musicians and the snakes being charmed.

This is where I need to go on a little tangent about my Dad and this trip.  My Dad, bless his heart, is up for just about anything that I ask of him.  So when I suggested he (and Mom) hop a plane to Atlanta, then Newark, then Frankfurt, then Madrid and into Casablanca to keep our kids in Rabat while we went away for a week, he was all for it.  Because of all the connections, they brought carry-ons so that their luggage would definitely make it with them to Casa.  And if any of you have been on a trip with my Dad (and many of you have), you know that the suitcase he packs is always the biggest of the group.  I have NO idea what he has in there (power tools? his beloved leaf blower?) but it is all necessary.  So as it was, the carry-on was a sacrifice for him.  Fast forward to Madrid: Mom and Dad's last leg of endless travel.  They go to board the plane and the flight attendant told Dad he needed to check his bag; it was too big.  That's right, it had been just fine for the 3 other flights, but not on Royal Air Maroc.  The employee tried to make them take it all the way back to the ticket counter, which would have been an hour round-trip and they would surely miss their flight.  They argued against it and finally the guy "checked" it and threw it on a conveyor belt to go to the plane.  Well, I think we can all guess that bag was placed on the conveyor belt to nowhere.  I mean, REALLY, Royal Air Maroc, you lose GATE CHECKED LUGGAGE.  So, our foolproof plan to get the luggage here was not so foolproof.  Anyhow, Dad was a pretty good sport about having one pair of jeans the entire time and now they are locked in a fight to the death with the airline to be compensated for the lost luggage.

So continuing on to Dad's (comedy?) of errors trip, at the end of our guided tour he gets run over by a motorbike in the medina.  Marrakech is notorious for its small streets with bikes zooming past.  It gets old real fast.  Many of our friends don't like to take their kids into the medina for that reason- we made ours stay in the stroller the entire time.  They come out of nowhere and are traveling way too fast.  Well, one caught Dad. He wasn't too hurt, just his pride, but it made us all the more nervous.

Then, that very night Dad locked himself out on the balcony.  We switched out nights going out to dinner since the restaurants don't open until 7:30 or so.  That night Joe and I were eating at the hotel's French restaurant and Mom was putting the kids to bed next door to their room.  Dad stepped outside onto the balcony, which by the way, was only about 2 feet deep. Don't you know the wind came along and blew the door shut.  And THEN that man shimmied over to our other balcony and just as G had closed his eyes (after about an hour's fight), Mom heard a "tap, tap, tap".  Somehow she just knew it was Dad, locked out of the room.  Cursing the day he was born, she let him and after he fumbled through the room, she started the process over with G.

The best part of all this is that Joe and I had a view of the window from where we were eating dinner.  We saw Dad standing outside and commented that it was nice that he was out there probably enjoying a glass of wine.  Sadly, we missed the Spiderman part of the show. Also, we later checked the balcony door and it was found to be UNLOCKED.

This brings us to the next morning and the end of Dad's woes.  He wanted to get a picture of the snakes.  Before we walked up I gave him a small amount of money to pay the snake guy.  If you take a picture, they want money, and as I didn't want to get anywhere NEAR the snakes, I was putting Dad in charge of the transaction.
One of the snake guys- 2 cobras and a python curled up on the corner of the rug.  Just looking at this picture gives me the willies.

Dad wanted to have his picture taken with the snake guy.  At this point he has NO IDEA that a snake is being put around his shoulders.

After the initial surprise and schoolgirl scream, he decides to "own" it and is holding the snake by the head.  At this point snake guy is gesturing to Mom and I to come get in the picture.  
Dad is beyond thrilled with himself for being so brave with the snakes and snake guy continues to be persistent about wanting to put a snake on me and Mom.  This is when I throw on my teacher face and very forcefully yell, LA! LA! ("No" in Arabic) And he got the idea.  

It was then time for Dad to pay up.  Mom and I were standing a safe distance of 20 ft away and watching as Dad gives the man the amount of money I originally gave him.  But no, the man asks for more and even though I had warned him against this, Mom and I watch in horror as Dad PULLS OUT HIS WALLET and opens it up and basically empties it for this guy. (Anyone that has visited a third world country is having a heart attack right along with me right now) Thankfully, he only had the equivalent of $25 left (way to go Mom on the tight rein), and snake guy was a little disappointed.  I should note that during this time of negotiation snake guy had his back towards the snakes and they started wandering off a little too far for my taste.  

Back to the rest of the trip. We spent our time shopping and haggling in the medina, taking naps, taking little boys to the pool, and ordering room service french fries and spaghetti for little boys.  G and J did decent on this trip.  Well, J was a champ.  He slept through everything.  Especially the first night when G, Joe and I slept for a total of 2 hours. Guess which of the 3 of us kept everyone else awake?  The second and third night G slept on the king size bed with Mommy and Joe on G's little floor mattress.  What can you do?

And a few more pics-
Every day around noon men go to work setting up 40 or so food stalls on the Djemaa el Fna square. 

Shoes anyone?

Ran into a friend from college in the medina- Jerod and his lovely wife Bethany.  CRAZY!

Koutoubia Mosque 

Mom and Dad- such good sports!
We had such a GREAT time with Mom and Dad throughout the adventure.  And even though Dad half-heartedly suggested on the drive home (during J's one hour scream fest) that we leave the boys with Khadija during our Spain road trip next year, I don't think he would do it any differently.  (And obviously Mom wouldn't let him)

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