Local Traditions, Marrakesh
The official language of Morocco is just Arab, but French still being spoken for almost everybody in the country (at least in the cities) in spite of it's not an official one. If you speak French you'll be fell absolutely comfortable because the signs, both official and private are written in this language. For those non French speakers at least you'll have the Latin characters!
The Berber language is also official since a few years ago. In fact this is the real traditional language of the country, taking into consideration that more than 50% of the Moroccans has got Berber roots, but not all of them are able to speak its language. It's possible to see its hieroglyphs letters in some bill boards in Marrakech, but mainly in the Atlas and the South
Fondest memory: Anyway, doesn't matter your mother tongue is, you'll find someone speaking it to be your guide or to sell you something, mainly Spanish or English. The people is very clever trying to speak with you to help and, for sure, to have some money back from you, so be aware!
This rant from Benny is not specifically confined to Marrakesh, in fact it was a technique I used when exploring the Taourirt Kasbah, home of the late Pasha Glaoui, in Ouarzazate......
I had already done my homework, by reading up the relevant history in various guidebooks, and knew all about it, so I boldly approached the main entrance gate, where I observed, from a distance, the usual plethora of guides, dressed in white Djelabas, loitering and waiting for their next "capture".......
I extracted my video camera from my satchel, and made the necessary adjustments for range, volume etc...switched it on to red monitor filming and as I passed the guide assembly, one young guide, obviously the "debutant/protege" of the older ones made his move towards me with his prepared speech in English, offering the tour of the Kasbah, including all the highlights, Harem, gardien eunochs' quarters etc..etc...
I went into action, first by pointing the working video camera at him, with the reply... "La shukran shareef, ana whoosneesh geed"......( no thanks mister, I don't need a guide), this had the desired effect of confounding him, and suddenly when he realised the camera's red monitor light was working and pointing at him, he quickly turned his face away to one side to avoid being identified, the other older guides just seemed to melt away into the shadows, and I was now in hustler-free mode to continue with my personal investigations of this fascinating old, but recently restored Kasbah, without the annoying distraction of a guide, pursuing his own monetary agenda, with all sorts of extra "menu" charges accumulating to the original "fixed price".
After a pleasant afternoon exploring the Kasbah on my own, I made my way back out of the main gate, with the video camera making its identifying sweep of the guides, who again just seemed to magically become invisible, many Moroccans just don't like to be filmed, don't they want to become famous movie stars?
To answer the question in (2), the most important site I would take someone to in Marrakesh, is the Gare Routiere, at Bab Doukkala and persuade them to buy a bus ticket to either Casablanca or Essaouira!
Fondest memory: Just the storks!
In my extensive experience of rejecting the advances and invitations of Marrakshi and Casawi guides, I realised long ago that they generally fall into two distinct categories........
The licensed ones, employed by tour agencies often appear competent and professional, always well turned-out with clean Djelabas, sometimes red fez with gold tassle, and always displaying an official badge. They have to pass tests and knowledge examinations, and speak English and French to gain accreditation to work in the tourist industry, often the Casawi guides are dealing with very wealthy American Jewish tour groups, who wish to explore their ancestral origins in Morocco, and visit the many Jewish cemeteries sited around the country.
The second "lower echelon" category ( faux guides) often started out their careers as official guides, but "blotted the copy book" by being caught thieving from their wealthy clientele, dismissed by the tour agencies, and being rendered unemployable, in the absence of character references, having to resort to being self-employed, operating wherever they might negotiate a commission, from unwary tourists.
I've met many of these people, but when asked to produce their official badge, they become evasive, citing all manner of excuses for not being in possession of the correct up to date credentials. Often, when I dismiss them in peremptory fashion, with a bored backhanded wave of the hand, they try to play the race card ..........."you no like Morocco people? ", uttered in menacing tones, and as I walk away, a variety of well-practised expletives follow my ears!
So, you don't really need a guide, a guide book instead will suffice, and public transport as I suggested will take you anywhere you want to explore. The end of November signals the start of winter, and the northern regions can be cold and wet, so maybe better to explore south of Casablanca, where it's warmer and drier, the northern regions are my favourite, but I always wait until the end of March at the earliest, before my planned annual holiday.
The action-packed hustler bars in Casablanca are in themselves, worthy of exploration, another of my hobbies, can't beat a Friday night pub crawl around the old French quarter.
The young man in the photo, taken in one of Casablanca's many "action bars", was leaving the bar with a bloody nose, mopping it with a towel and muttering to himself, and evidently by his expression, plotting his revenge on the perpetrator, who must have been a superior pugilist!
But at least the loser was still ambulatory, no knock out, and in Casablanca these bar-room incidents are just "par for the course" and excellent live entertainment..........
Fondest memory: Watching Marrakesh disappear in a cloud of dust from the back seat of a bus picking up speed, making for Casablanca.................
To experience local, ethnic living, you MUST stay at a RIAD in the medina.
They come in a range of comfort standards..
Check these sites:
http://www.hipmarrakech.com/ (sorted in price categories on homepage itself!)
http://www.31best-riad-marrakesh.com/ (popular for bookings)
http://www.riad2000.com/ (popular for bookings)
Fondest memory: Trying my best to blend in & experiencing Morocco through the eyes of a local :)
Favorite thing: While Arabic is the first language of Morocco, French is spoken so widely it might almost be considered a dual language country, at least here in Marrakesh. Street signs are in both languages, many shop signs indeed are only in French, and café menus are always available in French (and only occasionally in English). We found that while many people working with tourists will say they speak English, this was often very limited; however their French was generally much more fluent, and by using what we knew of that language we got on very well. I think without any French (or Arabic, naturally) we would have found it much harder, especially when dealing with the various people we met as a result of my fall – the doctors, staff in the clinic and in the pharmacies where I paid for and had the injections that were prescribed for me. Our riad too, Les Lauriers Blancs, was owned and run, as so many of them are, by an ex-pat French couple who spoke only very limited English, so being able to converse with them in French was really good – both from a practical point of view and also because it meant we were able to get to know them better. So if you have a little knowledge of French from your school days, do brush it up before you go to Morocco as you’ll find it really useful.
Favorite thing: Dirham is the official currency in Morocco. At the time of my visit in Nov/Dec 2006, the exchange rate was 1 euro = 10 dirhams; US$ 1 = 8.5 dirhams. Djemaa el Fna area has several banks with cash machines where one could withdraw dirhams. This is also the case along Avenue Mohamed V in Guéliz, the new city. However, many people will accept US dollars or Euros (including taxis) if one is not carrying dirhams. I suggest you bring a lot of small euro/usd change for tips or small purchases, just in case.
Favorite thing: While Arabic is the official language in Morocco, French is nearly as important. It is the second language in Morocco and spoken practically by everyone. If you speak some French, you will inevitably find yourself using it, and would have an easier time. However, most shopkeepers in the souks speak at least some English, Spanish and other languages, learnt by dealing with tourists, to increase the likelihood of selling. This is not the case with taxi drivers and the general public.
The Djemaa el Fna square is a unique cultural experience which, not in vain, has been listed by the UNESCO as a cultural heritage of the world. Not because of the architecture of the buildings which line the square, which is rather anodine and not appealing at all, but because of the magic and autenticity of the traditions that take place here every day (magicians, storytellers, acrobats...). The most amazing thing is that most of the things happen here as if the tourists didn't exist and it has not become an artificial show. The colours, smells and sounds of this square will remain forever in your mind.
The atmosphere in the sooks is also unique, although, being one of the tourist Meccahs in Morocco, Marrakesh is not the cheapest place in Marocco to buy handycrafts.
HOTELS AND ALTERNATIVES
Marrakech has got a couple of the lousiest and cheapest hotels in the whole country, and one of the most beautiful and exclusive hotels in the world. And everything in between.
While the actual number of hotels and hotel rooms is high, do not take anything for granted. You do well in booking your hotel room in advance, even if it is no more than the day before. But normally you will find hotel rooms if you look around in the middle or the afternoon.
Prices are quite OK for all classes. While you might hear recommendations saying that you should avoid staying in one of the hotels near Jemaa l-Fna, because of dangers of theft, this is still the most interesting area in Marrakech, and not as bad as its reputation.
RESTAURANTS AND ALTERNATIVES
Eating can be everything from rock-bottom cheap to very, very expensive. The rule applies for Marrakech as everywhere else in Morocco: Cheap places with lots of Moroccan customers offer the best food. Only to be challenged by the top restaurants in town.
Mid-price restaurants can easily be boring and not worth the extra you pay from one of the simple places.
When night falls, the Jemaa l-Fna turns into a fair of great food stalls, serving fried food of all sorts. This is a spectacle not to be missed, and the food is great, even if it is more expensive than elsewhere in Morocco.
Marrakech has some reputation for its nightlife in Morocco, with a large number of nightclubs and discotheques. You should, however, note that only very few of these have a local female clientele that is not at work!
Some very few places are popular with young people of Marrakech of both sexes, and sometimes it is not expected that a foreigner will be interested in visiting such a place.
Marrakech has many sophisticated night clubs with live music, entertainment, food and expensive drinks.
Fondest memory: TRANSPORT
Marrekech connects to all imaginable places. There are numerous connections going by bus or shared taxis, and they leave frequently. With very few exeptions, these will not ask for higher prices because you're a foreigner.
The only problem of Marrakech to be noted, is that there are several stations spread all around the city. A taxi driver will normally know which station applies for what destination. But if you are heading in direction of a smaller destination, even well-informed taxi drivers can know less than they claim to know, so asking around can be of great help.
Marrakech has also got train as a possible transportation form, but there is only one line, which heads directly north to Casablanca.
Not bad if you're going to Ouarzazate, is going by air. This is far more expensive than bus or taxi, but it will save you from more than 10 hours of travelling (which is not so bad, after all, considering the scenery). Flights even connect you to Casablanca, but is more an option for people in a rush.
Marrakech is much more pleasant for tourists than it used to be. The introduction of a tourist brigade, involves that not only your health is protected, but also everything else. The tourist brigade will even walk you back to the shop if you have been tricked into paying too much for a souvenir.
Marrakech should be avoided in the middle of summer, unless heat is no problem for you. July and August can be dangerous for visitors who are used to colder climate.
In Marrakech you can see women dressed as occidental women ... but if you don't want to be looked or men to say you things ... just try to use big things ...
I walked after women that wear tight trousers or Tshirts ... and they tell them things ... and look at them very much ... (they don't say bad things .. only .. I supouse ... nice things ...)
I used always big bluse ... and a scarf for my neck ... and ... they didn't disturbed me so much ...
at night ... some times ... as I have a little blond my hair ... I covered my head ... is not that I had to ... but ... just because I felt better ...
you don't have to dress like the pic woman
The first morning I was at Marrakech I asked a guide to show me the city ... to learn how to move and to explain me a little of the better monuments ... and souk ....
He was a very good guide of about my age, and I had a very good time with him. He took me to Saadies Tombs .. to Bahia Palais, to Merdesa ... and to the souk ...
I bought with him few things ... and ... help me to learn how to bargain ... :)))))))
The man in the pic is a tipical guide ... with the chilaba ...Its not minen ... the guide that helped me was dress normaly ...
you can ask for a guide at the tourist office .. but also you will find them anywhere ...
120 dirham half day aprox
250 dirham all day aprox
You might be walking down a street minding your own business, and without warning a local will pounce trying to interest you in anything from restaurants, traditional berber robes to weed (called kif in Morocco)
Fondest memory: If you are not interested in what they have to offer, be decisive and make an excuse, a lot of the hustlers pounce on tourists' indecision and make you do/buy things you really don't need.
Favorite thing: Spent a afternoon and evening at the Djemaa El-Fna square! It's a famous square and a lot of tourists are there, but it's also a square where a lot of local people go to in the evening. There's a lot of entertainment, acrobats (around 4pm), futurepredicters, medicine men, Henna-women, story tellers and a lot of food and orangejuice stalls. My favorite was an old storyteller, I didn't understand a word he say, because he spook in arabic, but the way he was telling and people were listening it was nice to see!
And this is her beautiful home, found right here in the Ourika Valley.
The Berber families that are still found in the Ourika Valley lived in houses made of mud (I think) with no electricity... including this particular house that we visited.
It was interesting for a cosmopolitan career woman like myself to experience. I felt as if I was being twirled back in time to the medieval era. (See pic below).
But truly, what they lacked in earthly riches, they made up with their wonderful hospitality and warmth.
And this Berber Mom's daughter even speak French! I should have guessed. The main languages of the Moroccan people are either Arabic or French.
Having breakfast at the home of this Berber Mom who lives in the Ourika Valley was one of my favorite moments here in Marrakech. Yes, we had the ubiquitous mint tea and ate some freshly baked pita bread. Hey, when you're this hungry, you'd eat ANYTHING (like me). What? Me - greedy? Will you pleeease stop telling everyone this? :-)
The Berbers are the original tribe people who first lived in Morocco... and some of them are still living in the Ourika Valley today... about a 1 hour's drive away from bustling Marrakech. The majority of modern day Moroccans (approx. 40% of them) are pure Berber with another 35% of Berber ancestry...
The Berbers are an indigenous group of North-West African non-Arab tribal people and you can find them living in areas of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. It is believed that they inhabited North Africa as early as 3000 B.C. Confused? Yeah, me too.
Don't worry... just remember that they are a really nice bunch of people! :-)) Really.