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Trip Report Reflections on Marrakech

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Marrakech is known as the Red City because all the buildings are made from red clay - like the stuff in the mountains at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. From what I understand, the city is composed of two major parts - the Medina, which is the old city, and the new city which surrounds the Medina.

It seems that the the poorest people live in the Medina, and the more wealthy have moved out to the "suburbs." Sounds familiar. We have spend a week now in the heart of the Medina, in a Riad, which is like a guest house. There are four rooms here in Riad Puchka, and we have spent the last five nights in the smallest (and least expensive) of the rooms.

Tips for having an enjoyable time in Marrakech (some of these we learned the hard way):

1. If you are getting a taxi or any other type of service (even a henna tattoo), agree on the price ahead of time. Do not get in the taxi until you have agreed on the price, which is determined by how far away your destination is - do your homework (ask at the Riad for tips). If you don't like the price the driver is offering, start to walk away, because there are a million other taxis waiting. He will most likely agree on your price. If you are getting a henna tattoo, DO NOT sit down until you have chosen a design, which type of ink you want (brown or black) AND agreed upon the price. They may try to grab your hand and just start applying the ink, just jerk your hand away and walk on.

2. If you plan on shopping in the souks and you are a rookie barterer, do a scouting mission first - see what's out there, and decide which items you would like to buy. Then go home. Make a list, and determine your starting bid (this may or may not change according the the shop-owner's starting price - the general rule is to offer half of their starting price, but be careful because we were told that if you are English or American, they will start their price higher) and what your limit is for each item. They will say things like "Is good price", or "is fine quality." They can be very destracting.

3. Do not expect to have any peace from the moment you step out of your Riad. There will be motorbikes zooming buy, puddles to avoid (God only knows what's in them), and people will simply not leave you alone. Paste a smile on your face, and learn "No, thank you" in every language you can. Ear plugs come in handy at night. As two women traveling alone, we got many perverse comments, and always people trying to get our attention to buy stuff. Even on our trip to the mountains, we would pull over to take pictures of the amazing scenery, and a guy would appear out of nowhere to sell us cheap jewelry - EVERY TIME!!!

4. DO eat at the food stalls for dinner - especially stall #1. The food was quick and very good. They have some things that other stalls and restaurants don't have. Also, when eating at any of the stalls, sit on the inside, not near a walkway, or your meal will be continuously interrupted by people trying to sell you things, usually tissues (because the stalls don't have napkins), or just begging for money, even children. Also, beware that they will charge you for bread that you didn't order. They're sortof underhanded that way. Many restaurants will just give you bread, like in the States at a Mexican restaurant, they'll bring chips and salsa. Others will charge you for it, even though you never asked for it. If you don't really want the bread, don't eat it, and then you can fight the charges.

5. If you want to go on a camel ride, do it in combination with a trip to the High Atlas Mountain and a hike up the Cascades. There are many places to stop and ride a camel there. The place near Marrakech (Las Palmeras) is trashy (literally) and they do not take very good care of the animals. A note about the hike up to the Cascades - this is a tough hike, and depending on your fitness level, can last at least 2 hours. Wear appropriate hiking shoes. You will not make it in flip-flops.

6. If you go to a hammam for a spa day, leave your inhibitions and your makeup at your Riad. You will be having someone "bathe" you, and you will get hot and sweaty, so the mascara will find its way to your chin.

7. If you are trying to avoid carbs, you may want to skip the traditional Moroccan Riad breakfast, which consists mostly of bread, croissants, and donuts. The fresh-squeezed juice is worth staying for, however.

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