Tinfou Dunes: (Very) Mini-Sahara
We visited these dunes as the supposed climax of an otherwise pleasant day trip from Ouazazate along the Draa River Valley to Zagora. The trip itself was enjoyable, with oases, kasbahs, mountain views, and picturesque villages in abundance, though I would rate the nearby Dades Valley with its striking gorges as more impressive. It was the Tinfou dunes that proved to be the big disappointment. They are real dunes, to be sure, but the area they cover is not more than a kilometer in diameter and lies in the middle of an otherwise not especially interesting desert plain surrounded by mountains. With careful choice of camera angles, you can take pictures that might convince your friends back home that you saw the Sahara, but it is really quite a poor substitute, and the tour companies' advertising really obscures that fact. The concentration of tourists in such a small area also attracts hokey opportunities to ride a camel up the dunes and overnight in a tent village near the base of the dunes.
Unique Suggestions: Enjoy the rest of the excursion, visit the dunes if it's your only chance to see dunes, but don't expect too much.
Fun Alternatives: Spend a bit more time and money and go on to the real SaharaRelated to:
Buying Atlas Mountains Quartz Crystal
This could also be seen to be a tourist trap. When we arrived at our first Atlas Mountains lookout we were met with the locals selling their wares. Being a rock lover I could not resist buying some quartz crystal. The colours were beautiful so it took me a while to pick a favourite.
Here is what I selected - a lovely rock still in tact but when halved, presented a gorgeous array of pink quartz crystal. Luckily it arrived home safe and sound as Australian customs are pretty tough when it comes to this sort of stuff.
It reminded me of when we were young and used to go thunder rock smashing in an endeavour to find some lovely crystals :o) It's common to find quartz crystal around volcanic rock and the Atlas Mountains is full of volcanic rocks.Related to:
- Road Trip
Buying Carpet in Morocco
I'm sure you are all well aware of the tricks of the trade that hagglers in Morocco use to get us tourists to buy their wares. Most common is the trick where they say 'you just look' along with an assurance that you don't have to buy.....then the pressure is put on you once you show an interest in something. We were well aware of this trick and others before we arrived in Morocco.
We had decided before our trip that we were not going to buy a carpet and we had done well so far having avoided all the tricks of the trade in Marrakech. But we were totally duped here in Tinghir, in the Moroccan outback.
Unique Suggestions: Well actually we were duped in a nice way and consequently could not resist buying a carpet from Razouk in Tinghir near the Todra Gorges Morocco.
When we arrived at our Raid in Tinghir Habib our guide arranged for us to have a tour around with a local guide. We greatfully accepted and Razouk showed up with a lovely smile. Razouk took us along the creek bed and through the fields of crops and up a hillside for a view over Tinghir. There was a wedding in town and it sounded like they were having a huge party.
Anyway Razouk asked us to come to his house for some tea. We walked through a small alley way and were met at the door by his sister who showed us into their spacious lounge room where we sat down on the carpeted floor and shared some mint tea. Meanwhile, Razouk's sister was in the corner combing some wool to make a carpet.
Razouk explained to us the process and also what the various pictures on the carpets meant. This was most interesting and enjoyable. Then he brought out an array of different carpets and showed them to us one by one. Of course by this time we knew where this was going....but how could you just stand up and say..."Well that was nice....I'll be off now ;o)"
So we chose a small kilim carpet in yellow and red that was made from camel hair and cactus silk and we proudly show it on our wall at home - check out the pic of our carpet in this tip. We didn't haggle. We were happy to pay the asking price because we knew that the money was going towards these lovely people and their family :o)
It was an honour to see how the carpets are made and learn about the designs and their meanings and to share this lovely experience with Razouk and his sister and we have a story to tell when someone comments on our lovely carpet at home :o)
Fun Alternatives: Everyone has choices. The alternative would have been to share tea with Razouk and his sister and decline to buy a carpet. Another choice....now you know the above story is to decline a tour of the area with Razouk. But if not and you choose to take the lovely tour and enjoy tea with Razouk and his sister and buy a capet then the address is below -
Razouk El Mahjoub
Tissage des Tapis Berbere Nomade
Ph 212 0642 478 527Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
- Arts and Culture
A Camel Ride
Being near the Sahara Desert, I just had to try a camel ride. These rides are offered in Marrakech, and can be reached by asking a taxi driver to go where the camel rides take place. The camel herders set up shop in a vacant lot near the old section of the city. The cost of the rides is not high, but haggling is necessary to agree on a price. The rides are not long--only about five minutes--but it is fun and worth the effort. While this is not an adventurous experience like riding camels across the Sahara Desert, I can at least say I rode a camel in North Africa.
There are lots of them on the square of Jemaa El Fna and they insist that you take photographs of their snakes or of you holding the snakes but then they ask for large sums of money for the privilege.
Unique Suggestions: If you really want the photo then just pay a small amount no matter what they insist on.
As we were walking across the square of Jemaa El Fna a lady came over and before I knew it she had put a henna design on my arm so I gave in and let her finish it. However, once done she managed to talk me out of 500 DRH. I was totally robbed. After talking to our riad owners they said I should have paid 100 DRH maximum. It's pretty hard to say no to the ladies once they have put it on you.
Unique Suggestions: Just ignore the ladies, if they approach you say a firm no and keep walking. If they put some on you then wipe it off and keep walking.
Hitchhikers in Morocco
If you drive in Morocco, often you will find people hitch-hiking. Some of them really want a lift somewhere. Many of them want to sell you something. While the real hitch hikers tend to be quite poor, the fake ones are dressed in very colourful traditional clothes, speak many languages and are well off. Also, the fake ones will stand literally in the middle of the road and virtually force you to stop the car. A typical trick is the 'broken down car', whereby one or two people pretend to have their car out of action and need a lift to a nearby village. This will lead to a visit to their carpet shop. It's totally harmless, of course, provided you know what the game is. Obviously, don't buy anything you don't want to buy, and the general bargaining rules apply: if you are interested in an item, always offer about one third of the price you were asked initially and, really, stick to that, unless you enjoy the pantomime of the "final price" duel.Related to:
- Road Trip
Beware the Travel/Tour Guides
I am writing to warn about a tour guide who is apparently licensed by the Ministry of Tourism.
A friend and I took a three day excursion with a guide named Salem Azizi (of Salem Aventure). I had a terrible experience with the guide, and I wish to complain about our experience.
Salem Azizi, whom we had hired for three days, refused to take us to any shop, store, or establishment that was not operated by his friends. I constantly wondered whether he was always taking commissions on the side. When I confronted him (on several occasions) about taking us only to places that his friends owned, he insisted that I did not trust him and also that I was "not intelligent". He became aggressive and quite abrasive on occasions when I refused to purchase anything from his friends.
This dynamic occurred on often, and yet he still refused to take us anywhere we asked him to take us. When I demanded that we visit other establishments, he said we were running behind schedule and did not have the time. He often called me a cheapskate and said that I had no idea what I was doing. Needless to say, the dynamic between the two of us was constantly strained.
On one occasion, he demanded the remainder of the agreed-upon price for the excursion immediately before we were going to the desert, leaving our possessions in his car. When we refused, he accused us of distrusting him.
In fact, if we were not 7 hours away from Marrakesh and needing to get back to the airport on schedule, I would have stopped the excursion and found my own way back to Marrakesh.
He was often unavailable, running his own errands. Once, we were forced to ride in his vehicle with one of his own personal friends.
In addition to serving his own personal ends, he refused to veer from our rather slim itinerary and never offered any information other than for locations where he initially agreed to take us.
He also refused to remember that I am of Chinese heritage. He never ceased calling me "Japan" over the three days. When I reminded him I was NOT from Japan, he would mock me by calling me "Chinaman". He called me a "ruffian". When the issue of money came up, he insisted I was a foreigner and always reminded me I was on vacation, as if it were his place to tell me how to spend my money. He became upset when my friend purchased an ashtray from a vendor he did not know.
Within the first three minutes of our excursion, he asked to "borrow" 10 dirham for spare change, which he never bothered to return.
He told us we did not have to pay for anything on the trip, but we consistently needed to pay here and there for things that "were not included".
And although he rushes you along to keep "on schedule", he frequently (many times each day) stops to spend time talking to friends he sees along the way. These occasions add up to hours in the car, waiting for the tour guide to finish his personal business. This is absolutely absurd.
All in all, Salem Azizi is an extremely rude, self-serving jerk who has done a disservice to my otherwise wonderful trip to Morocco.
I am strongly advising everyone I can against hiring him as a guide.
Too much.....so much......
....sleeping around of tourists with the locals - especially out in the desert area and auberges of the Merzouga sahara area.
Theres a mixture of women particularly who go there because they know the young local guys who work out in the desert area are always on the look out for 'opportunities' and younger or older women who are naiive enough to believe their stories that they are special and that they are or will be the only one.
The ones who are just travelling through and dont mind one night stands are bad enough because they dont think about the ongoing effects of these young guys forming attitudes and ideas that this is normal western behaviour - their own women have to stay chaste until marriage and once married, particularly in this area, are bound within society to conform to expectations of their roles to stay at home with the family until their husband comes home - nor do they think about the fact that these men may have wives and children at home.
Yet these guys are off out enjoying the freedom of being out away from the eyes of the townsfolk - doing whatever they can with the independence that women or men travellers have.
The naiive women travellers will be preyed upon for potential ongoing relationships - because these are rather lucrative - talking them into taking them with them on their travels around Morocco for a further free supply of what they might pay for in town - free holidays away from town - and of which their egos are kept pumped up especially when meeting fellow friends on their travels with their foreigners - and even better being able to ply them with the poor desert/poor Rissani story and getting whatver they need supplied - such as some money to take home to their family to show theyve been away working, clothes, cameras, phones, even cars and auberges - whatever the relationship will behold. Many actually end up with marriages and visas out the country and eventually passports to freedom. Many of these guys Ive known to be engaged with fiances from other countries while being seen out travelling around Morocco with their other girlfriends or short term 'travelling companions'.
The Lonely Planet talks about the juggling that goes on - I couldnt believe it really but Ive seen it with my own eyes and on a very grande scale - it defiinitely goes on - and I mean Ive seen many guys who are friends of my friends and acquaintances who I know have longterm girlfriends or fiances or even since got married and waiting for their visas - but have say 3 of them and then when I stay at their auberges they have had a night stand with a different person each night and then a girlfriend arrives to stay for a week or so....
But its not only women tourists - its also men who go looking for young guys who will do anything for money that is offered.
And once you get into the click of these people you get to hear what are their drives in life - they are sweet and charming and enjoy good companionship and meeting people and learning languages and being involved, are entertaining and vibrant but with that comes an attitude that sex is just as food and money is - from whoever it is obtained from does not matter as long as it is obtained and the more the better. and with that the meaning of honesty has a whole totally different concept.
Unique Suggestions: Be aware you are not the only one. A spanish guy up in Chefchouen said it so well - Moroccan guys are so different to European men - dont ever expect them to be faithful if you are not right there beside them all the time because they think that because they are men they are entitled to be with any woman they want.
Fun Alternatives: Go and enjoy the beauty that is there so profoundly and so abundant around Morocco - but respect the locals - think of the local women - listen to your instincts - if you want a relationship with integrity then think twice about one here - as you will very rarely ever be the only one.Related to:
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
- Gay and Lesbian
- Women's Travel
Carpet shops - visit our 'exposition'!!
So many carpets are made in Morocco - they are mass produced in places such as Tazenakht and distributed to carpet shops all over the country - many are made though by women with their own hands and in cooperatives and can be very beautiful, colourful, cultural stimulating and rewarding, and a good quality product to have at home to add to your taste or warm your feet!
It would seem that 3/4 of the population are looking for ways to make some money any way they know how - and involving tourists or visitors to Morocco - so guess what if youre doing a tour or gaining any friendship with hotel staff - you will be taken to an 'exposition'! - you might think this sounds an interesting introduction to local arts and crafts or tribal peculiarities of the area - but though a first-time intro visit is worth doing to learn the symbols and traditons of carpets amongst the various tribes and living environments - it really just means a carpet shop - and mercilessly they will try their cheaper commercial carpets on the non-knowing first - at as big a price as possible.
Unique Suggestions: Do sit in and experience the rigmarole even just once and in most cases learn a thing or two about carpets - just Dont be too kind or naiive - they are mercilessly after your money at any cost - imagine that carpet that they tell is worth 5000 dirham - its probably only worth 500 dirham or if worth more than that its been bought from a hard working woman for a meagre 700 dirham!!Related to:
- Arts and Culture
- Road Trip
Let me start by saying that Marrakesh is an amazing place, i totally enjoyed my time there. But it is a place that you need to be prepared for or you could end up over-heated, out of pocket, out of patience and getting to know your hotel toilet bowl really well.
1. The first thing that will hit you if you go in summer is the heat, it is so thick. If you are going at this time, water is your best friend, just make sure you get bottled water ( a bottle only costs a few dirham ) just make sure it is sealed and not a refill job out of a tap. The cafes around the djem el fna ( main market square ) are a great place to ecsape the heat and hassle and enjoy a fine Moroccan mint tea and watch the action from a safe distance, just keep an eye on your valubles, we seen young guys scouting for unwatched bags a couple of times. If it gets too hot though it might be best to go and take a nap in your room until 4 or 5 when the sting is out of the sun. Also if you feel a wind come up and notice the locals head for cover and pull down the stall shutters, there may be sand on the way. You might want to do the same, we had to make one quick dash down an alley to get out of it.
2. You will encounter an endless amount of approaches from shopkeepers, performers, taxi drivers, touts, guides etc. They can start to get on your nerves after a while, but with a bit of cunning you can avoid the worst of it. If your are looking at items in the markets, do it from a distance from behind dark glasses. don't go in too close unless you are reading for a bidding war, these guys won't stray too far from their stalls, remember that. I know this will sound awful but another good trick is to find a group of western tourists ( American, English, German will do nicely ) and follow behind them in the souks/markets while browsing for your desired item. Let someone else take the bother while you browse in peace! When you have chosen your target go in casually, don't be in a rush, let them talk while you check out the wares then ask his price ( normally double or triple what it should be ) smile, shake your head and ask what is his 'good price' they will normally straight away lower a little, thats when you make your bid and the game begins, if your not getting them as low as you like, smile, thank them and start to walk off.. most of the time they will fold a little then, especially if there isn't many tourists out and about, remember that more tourists out = higher prices. We found most were good humoured and enjoyed the banter and bargaining. We even made friends with one guy, did our buisness with him, then chatted over mint tea and moroccan cigarettes, he tipped us in on proper pricing for cabs etc. but a few we found were just rude and will even grab your arm, just walk away if this happens, remember they won't stray from their stalls too far. Good idea not to insult them or start swearing, remember that you are well out-numbered and in someone elses yard!
3. The biggest conmen in Marrakesh are the snake charmers and monkey handlers! the game is to get you to pose with these critters while your buddy/partner takes some snaps. Then they will demand anywhere up to 500 dirham! depends on how gullible you look to them i suppose. I got caught out by a guy with a monkey, he dumped the thing on my shoulder and my wife took a pic, then i thought 'oh well' and did the same for her, then he wanted 200 dirham for 2 pics! i ended up getting rid of him for about 60, leason learned! I wanted a pic of the snake charmers so i thought id be clever give him some cash first but sly as you like he forgot he could speak english and tried too hustle me for 500 dirham! I told him no way, he said that it was 500 because i had to pay all his friends too, i told him they did nothing so i was only paying him, after much arguing i tossed him 100 and told them too split it. Bit expensive but these guys are tough opponents! If you really want pics of this stuff then go in hard and try and agree on a price and stand your ground! otherwise give their tents a wide birth, keep an eye out because they work in groups so they may even give chase for a short distance! Henna ladies are a pest as well, but ignoring them works best, they wont persist unless you stand around near them, if you want their services, again nut out a price, anymore than 50 for a single piece on your arm or leg is a total con. Taxi drivers are hard-asses as well, a ride from djem el fna to the airport would be 10 for a local, for you 40 will be about the lowest you will get them to go. Just accept that, they wont budge on it because they know there are many naive tourists around, they dont really need your buisness.
4. Watch your back in the djem el fna! there are no roads marked in here but scooters, bikes, donkeys, horses all wizz past! and they WILL run into you! trust me on this! they are even up in the narrow allys and souks! I had too many narrow escapes to mention, i actually ended up halfway under a horse cart, you really need to be paying attention here or you could get hurt easy.
5. We went into Morocco on our guard where food is concerned ( imodium in the packs if you know what i mean ) But we soon realised that common sense is all you really need. Look for cafes/restaurants with crowds, more food served means less chance of getting something that has been sitting around. Does the place look dirty? are the staff clean? use your eyes. My favourite was the place opposite the tabac shop/post office on the djem el fna. The food was really nice and fresh and the guys there were very friendly ( especially if they got a tip ) One place to avoid is the rows of food tents in djem el fna of a night, these places are quite dirty, smelly and the guys running them are rude and will try and do you out of anything they can, they are busy of a night so if you get a bad or incorrect meal and complain they wont care in the least, your much better off eating at a restaurant or cafe. If your careful you should be ok to enjoy the lovely moroccan grub, just to be safe id reccomend pack the imodium though, you never know!Related to:
- School Holidays
Marrakech - I'll never go back
Marrakech has changed since the Hippies carrying Europe on $5 a day books came to buy cheap hashish in the 70s. One thing is that there is not a whiff of hashish in Marrakech now, not in the air, or for sale. Hashish does not work for me so lack of it is not regretted anyway.
Ever wonder what happened to Ali Babas forty thieves? They all came to Marrakech and each had ten kids. These kids all followed the trade of their fathers and rob and cheat tourists in the squares and alleys of Marrakech.
This is what can be read on the internet:
One highlight of Marrakech is the Jemaa l-Fna market square, a lively meeting place, where tarot card readers, snake charmers, tattooists, hash sellers; amateur boxers, story tellers, musicians and even the occasional mad dentist tout their wares. Surrounding in a colourful arc of honour are charismatic salesmen offering sweet, fresh juice from locally grown oranges.
But now where is all this great entertainment? There are no hash sellers, dentists, amateur boxers, story tellers, and as for musicians, all I saw were some Moroccans banging drums and chanting. I could do better myself.
As for the so called snake charmers. The snakes are not charmed; in fact the snakes are sluggish probably because they have just come out of a fridge.
The snake charmer is stood up well away from the snakes blowing his horn. What he is blowing has no semblance to music – I think they are making it up as they go along. But if anyone stops to take a look, their open hands will shoot out quicker than the snake.
If one takes a photograph, the charmers will rugby tackle the photographer before he gets away without paying. My advice is, take the picture with a telephoto lens.
The stalls selling to the Moroccans displayed no prices, and I’m sure charge reasonable prices – to Moroccans.
However this is how the tourist food stalls with menus operate. The staff is brash, loud, and aggressive, so when they overcharge the tourist at the end of the, already, expensive meal, the tourist will too scared to complain. Well it did not work with me. I could see what the crack was, as the Irish say, and acted accordingly. When the waiter stood over me shouting, I gave my order at full volume to match his shouting. Everyone looked. The service was slow, one dish was off, but they took the order, and at the end, guess what, they tried to overcharge me.
I stood up and fronted the bar-stewerds. I did not pay a penny too much and did not leave a tip. Screw em.
And among all this beggars everywhere. One nine year old boy beggar was even sniffing glue out of a plastic bag!
At another stall I bought a bowl of snails. The sign showed a picture off a snail next to a 3. Was it 3 do dars a bowl? No it was 10. The sign with the snail had the number of the stall next to it. They knew how it would be read, and at the back of the stall partially hidden was a price list showing ten a bowl.
And so it goes on. Maniacs ride motor bike and bikes at full speed through the alleys of the bazaar. How anyone is not seriously hurt was amazing. I was wishing two bikes would collide going in opposite directions.
The street stink of human excrement and urine, and everywhere is the so called Moroccan guide. Ask the way, or talk to some man walking alongside and the man reverts to guide. He escorts the tourist for 50 yards and demands $12! Eventually they are paid off with $2 just to get rid of them, big money in Morocco. I saw it happen all over. It is a form of mugging.
There are some nice old buildings about, but no better than other Moroccan cities. So have an afternoon there, by all means, then move on.
Marrakech is the rip off capital of Morocco. There are a dozen other problems with the place that I have not mentioned for fear of boring readers. Eventually I bought the T shirt and tried to leave for ever – but that is another story.
I don’t think I’ll be back
Unique Suggestions: Spend as little time as you can there
Fun Alternatives: Don't goRelated to:
- Road Trip
Guides, false guides
Guides and above all false guides, they approach you saying that you need them to visit medinas, specially in Marrakech and Fes with the pourpouse to bring you to shop in the places where they take commissions.
To tell the truth I did not meet many in Marrakech, but loads in the train to Fes, they enter, sit by you and start asking where you are from exc. untill they realise that you ned their help to find a good hotel, restaurants or just to visit the city.I visited medinas both in Fes and Marrakech alone and never felt in any danger.
Unique Suggestions: Just look at shops taking a certain distance otherwise, the shoopkeeper will stick on you untill you buy something.Related to:
- Budget Travel
Restaurants in the Jemma el F'na
Most of the restaurants surrounding the Jemma el F'na have 2nd floor terraces that are open to the square and are therefore quite popular with tourists. It's a great way to soak up the atmosphere from a distance without being in the thick of it all. You can also take some photos overlooking the action in the square. The best terrace is probably located at the Cafe Glacier Pizzaria - you are required to purchase something in order to access the terrace. I highly suggest that you either go to another restaurant in the square, or only purchase a beverage. We were left by a city tour guide in front of the restaurant and decided to have lunch. Awful experience! Service was incredibly slow (10 minutes for a drink) and we waited over one hour for our personal sized brick oven pizzas which were absolutely terrible. They tasted like wet cardboard and my pizza had a long piece of hair baked into the dough. Interesting, since the cook was bald.
Unique Suggestions: If you must go to this restaurant, I suggest that you only purchase a beverage, take your photos and leave.
Fun Alternatives: If you're in the square and are hungry, try Restaurant Argana. Good tagines and good service.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
There are two types of taxi: petit city taxi's or taxi's that take you to other towns.
As a foreigner you will be over charged. Don't always take the first one that comes, ask a couple to compare prices first and always ask the estimated price or settle on a price before getting in. To go from the bus station to the port in Tanger is should cost around 8-10 drm. One guy tried to charge us 20 which as you can see is well above the average.
The main problem with the inter town taxi's is that you will probably end up sharing your taxi with 5 others plus the driver. This is the norm, with 4 in the back and two on the front seat plus the driver and I'm not talking about a van but a very old Mercedes. As they are sold as seats, if you don't fancy this you could always buy up all the seats for you, though this is the expensive option especially as taxis aren't much safer, newer or more comfortable than the buses (though many buses are horrific). I was worried that the taxi drivers were going to speed along dangerous mountain paths which is another reason I didn't consider this option.
Fun Alternatives: My advice is if you have the money to spend on a private taxi hire a car instead.Related to:
- Road Trip
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