Tasty tagines and mobbed medinas - a Moroccan medley

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Feb 22nd, 2009, 12:34 PM
  #61
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kathyninmd - thanks for the kind words! Although I haven't actually finished posting about my trip - I've been working up to the worst part of the Silsila stay!

I would definitely be careful about who you hire in Morocco, and do plenty of checking, but I hope you have a great trip anyway. Is this your first trip to Africa/outside US or Europe/to less-developed country?
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Feb 23rd, 2009, 04:31 AM
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Thursday - I will continue to watch for your posts, then! We have been to Europe a number of times, and the Caribbean and South American (Ecuador and Galapagos) but never to Africa or any Muslim country, and we're very excited.

Tell me, please, if your can; did you feel that carrying your camera attracted more attention, or are the people so used to seeing tourists with cameras that you were "just another one"? I'm looking forward to taking many pictures, and have read several places of having to pay the people for photographing them, particularly in Marrakesh.

We will be going in late September/early October (just after Ramadan), so I suspect it will be a bit warmer than it was when you were there, but we are hoping it will be past the real heat of summer. I guess "layers" is always the best way to pack?

Thanks for any advice you can give me.

KathyN
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Feb 23rd, 2009, 05:07 AM
  #63
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Kathy - I strongly recommend that you read either Rough Guide's "First Time Africa" or "Lonely Planet Read this First: Africa". Actually, I'd suggest you read the Asia titles as well, as I think Morocco is a bit different than the rest of Africa (although I've only been to Egypt myself). You will need to take precautions regarding food and drink that aren't necessary for Europe. You should also check with a travel clinic (or start at wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx)

WRT photos, you should not take pictures of individuals without permission, and should be somewhat careful even with street scenes. Apparently many people in Morocco, especially women, object to having their photo taken (come to that, I don't like it either!). Personally, I won't pay to take a photo, but I suppose that's your choice. You will stand out because you look a tourist, regardsless of whether you're carrying a camera.

You'll probably get lots more advice if you start your own thread.
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Feb 23rd, 2009, 06:08 AM
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Nov. 25 - Held Prisoner by the Dar Silsila

Back at the Dar Silsila I packed - with nowhere to put stuff Iíd hardly UNpacked - located enough euro to pay for one night, and headed down to check out. Or try to. The cancellation policy says that if you cancel ď0-10 daysĒ before arrival, youíre liable for the cost of all the nights you booked. But I hadnít canceled. I showed up on time, I found that the accommodation in no way matched their description, and I didnít feel obliged to pay for the nights I wouldnít use.

The Silsila staff insisted I had to pay for the other two nights. When I refused, and said I was leaving, the largest member of staff rushed to the only door, locked it, and stood in front of it. I was trapped.

I was alone, in a foreign country, physically threatened by people who didnít speak my language. Fortunately, I was just a little bit more angry than I was afraid. I was also entirely incredulous! What on earth did they think they would achieve? Were they going to march me under escort to the nearest ATM? And I had already given them my credit card details when I made the reservation.

I sat down on a chair in the lobby and agreed to speak on the phone with the ownerís agent (the owner wasnít around). After I made it clear that I didnít intend to pay for the nights I wouldnít be using, the agent said that he would call the police. But when I replied that I thought that was an excellent idea, and that if he didnít call the police I would, he suddenly changed tack and offered me a different room. He actually thought I would continue to stay at the Silsila after the way they had treated me!

I did try to call the tourist police, having finally found the number on my tourist map (not in my guidebook), but I couldnít get service on my cell phone. So I waited. I travel with a convertible backpack, so I was wearing my luggage, and I knew that eventually someone would want to come in, or go out, and my jailer would have to open the door.

Iím not sure how long I waited, it seemed like a long time, but finally there was a knock on the door. The woman guarding it considered her options, then opened it. I jumped up, pushed my way out and set off up the alley. There was no pursuit.
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Feb 23rd, 2009, 06:30 AM
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OMG- that is some scary shit! Not sure if I would have pooped in my pants or gone DeNiro Taxi Driver on them, you handled it well. That said I would definitely report them to the tourist board. Is there a tourist board? Must be right? This is the riad that has good reviews on TA? Unbelievable!
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Feb 23rd, 2009, 07:22 AM
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It was scary, laartista! Fortunately (or not), I tend to go quiet and retreat when threatened, rather than flaring up - I'd probably not have lasted long in the early days on the savanna!

BTW, I've added a few pix from the Dar Silsila to my smugmug gallery - kwilhelm.smugmug.com/Travel/667854.

I had thought about reporting the Silsila to the Moroccan tourist board - I figured they'd at least be interested in the fact that the Silsila never registered me, and therefore were probably not going to pass on the tourist tax, but then Christmas intervened. Since Capital One has upheld the Silsila's charge to my credit card, I'm now annoyed all over again, and may get around to it.
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Feb 23rd, 2009, 10:13 AM
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Wow. That is seriously crazy. Trip Advisor is really not to be trusted, in my opinion. And what about Capital One - they are not taking your side in this? Was the charge for the full reservation or just one night? That might make me reconsider getting one for an upcoming trip. My bank charges the 3% foreign conversion fee but I've had them reverse a charge on a shady overseas purchase before so I do have faith in them.

I guess after the fact it's at least a good story to tell!
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Feb 23rd, 2009, 10:29 AM
  #68
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Leslie - I had paid cash (euros) for the one night I actually stayed there. I should have put a stop on the card I had used for the reservation, but I was traveling and didn't. The Dar Silsila put a charge through for the additional two nights. I disputed the charge, but Capital One allowed it on the basis of the reservation form I had signed acknowledging the cancellation policy. I just don't think I canceled, as I showed up on time, and left because I found the place sub-standard.

I certainly don't think Tripadvisor is to be trusted for Marrakesh! I did find them more useful for Rabat and Essaouira. Now I'm sure where to trust them.
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Feb 23rd, 2009, 07:05 PM
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Boy Oh Boy !!!!

What an experience.

Don't know how brave I would have been !!

Glad you made it okay except for the charges. What is Capital One ?
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Feb 24th, 2009, 05:10 AM
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Capital One (capitalone.com) is believed to be the only source for credit cards with no foreign transaction fee. In addition, mine even gives me 1% cash back, or you can get miles.
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Feb 24th, 2009, 07:33 AM
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Wow! I think I was holding my breath as I was reading the last entries. As I said before, I had a lot of trouble with various hotel staff on my trip.

I rely rather heavily on tripadvisor when planning my trip, I'll be paying much closer attention to those reviews in the future, and reading with an even more skeptical eye.

Kathy, as for taking pictures of the people, most locals were unwilling to have their picture taken, unless it includded the possibility of a sale or money departing my pocket by other means.

I don't think I will be returning to Morocco either, but in reading rave reviews, still wonder what I missed or where I went wrong.
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Feb 25th, 2009, 09:26 AM
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Thanks so much for your report. I had been thinking about taking Intrepid's Comfort trip to Morocco and then traveling on my own to Essaouira for a week or so. I have real doubts now after reading your report! As a serious photographer, I'm drawn to the country, but really, the Intrepid trip does not sound good.

I have traveled with Intrepid before (overland Thailand, Vietnam, Laos) and liked the Original style trip though a few of the accommodations were truly scary: they don't sound too much better on Comfort.

Anyway, many thanks for the wonderfully detailed observations and the fine photos. You may have saved me from a not-worth-it experience!
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Feb 25th, 2009, 12:03 PM
  #73
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WhitePelican - I've traveled with Intrepid in Asia, too, and aside, possibly, from the Transatlantique in Casablanca, none of the hotels in Morocco came close to the worst in Asia! (Although the absolute worst was on a Basix level tour in Indonesia.) I don't really think springing for Comfort over Original is worth it, and Comfort group was very sedate.

I think you can definitely do Morocco on your own, but the tour makes getting to the desert and mountain easier. If I were going back I might look into a private car and driver for a couple of days, especially for the desert, but I'd also go with buses and grand taxis.
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Feb 25th, 2009, 12:07 PM
  #74
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Nov. 25-27 - Marrakesh - Final Days

The staff at the Riad Hasna fed me tea and biscuits, and handed me the registration form to fill out myself (thatís how I know the Silsila couldnít have registered me without seeing my passport). I drew some deep if shaky breaths, unpacked, did a little laundry, and regrouped. I had lost a morning , but I still had a day and half to spend in Marrakesh.

Naturally, I explored the medina (the old quarter), starting with the tourist-filled souks (the main market sections). I found that the souks overflowed with the same souvenir goods I had seen for sale across Morocco, hawked by somewhat more persistent salesmen. While they werenít as in-your-face as some Iíve encountered, a few of them actually touched me to try to keep me from moving on. After the third or fourth time this happened, I actually slapped the hand of a young man who was holding on to my arm - hard. He let go, and I noticed a nearby stall-holder laughing his head off.

Away from the souks, the alleys were quieter, and the shops further apart. They were also more interesting. I didnít buy, but I did revisit the carpet-seller who had helped me with the Stylia. Once again, I didnít buy a carpet but admired both the carpets and the beautiful building (we had an interesting discussion about real-estate prices), and this time I was escorted up to the roof by a henchman. I duly tipped my guide, and noticed the seller checking with his employee to make sure I had done so!

I also did a round of the tourist sites - finding them easily in the north, and getting rather lost in the south. (Donít trust to the Lonely Planet map!!!) The buildings I visited were beautiful, the museum exhibits more missable. Once again, at the exhibition of African artifacts in the Maison Tiskiwin, I realized how hard life in the desert could be. I also realized, again, that my taste is for Europe and Asia, not Africa or Latin America.

On the day I escaped the Dar Silsila, the weather turned bad on me, and I spent a wet and windy evening eating dinner at my new riad, by the fire, a meal that included a rather good chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemon. The next day I abandoned the medina and took a taxi back to Gueliz for some excellent French food at Kechmara. A great salad with nuts and cheese and grapes, and duck confit with julienned veggies, served in a modern room with minimalist dťcor, made a pleasant change.

But for dinner on my last night I went back to the Djemaa el-Fna, although not to the stalls in the square itself. Even sitting by a brazier on the partially enclosed terrace of the Cafť Argana, I shivered a little in the penetrating night air. After yet another tough tagine I wandered among the little groups on the square, trying the spice tea (nothing special), tapping my foot to the beat of the drums, and discovering that tipping one of a drumming group didnít keep from me being dunned by other members.

The next morning the young man in charge of the Riad Hasna, the only staff member with any English, drove me to the airport, for two-thirds of the price the Silsila would have charged. He was wearing standard western dress, and told me that men didnít normally wear djellabas, that was for women. Only tour guides and souvenir sellers wore them for the tourists. I could see that was true in the cities, but I wasnít so sure about the countryside.

I had allowed time for traffic jams, but the ride to the airport went smoothly, and I checked in early for my Easyjet flight to Paris. I was glad to have visited Morocco, but I was ready to leave.
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Feb 27th, 2009, 09:24 AM
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Sorry that Morocco did not win you over to add Africa to your favorite places. Do you think particulars of your trip - some so-so lodging, the ugliness at Silsia, the forced shopping -- played a big role in that or was it just the overall feel of the country? Would a different type of tour or traveling alone with a driver instead of the Intrepid tour have made you appreciate the country as a whole more? Or is it just that your tastes lean to Europe and Asia?

I'm curious to know how you liked Egypt - not that they are the same - but did that kind of culture not wow you in the same way Morocco failed to? Maybe you did a trip report for that I could search for...

Anyway, welcome back, & thanks for the great report & pictures!
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Feb 27th, 2009, 09:42 AM
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Leslie - no, I didn't do a trip report for Egypt - that was back in 2000 before I started writing trip reports (those for the early 2000s are at www.wilhelmswords.com.) I enjoyed the market in Cairo, and the Coptic area, and the mosques. I loved some of the temples, although I'm afraid the pyramids left me cold - great big piles of great big stones, no spiritual vibes at all. I got, as usual, a bit bored on the boat down the Nile, although I enjoyed the short boat trip at Aswan (think it was Aswan!). I don't remember being all that excited by the food, and the museum in Cairo obviously needed a major renovation.

I don't think it was the tour that failed to turn me on to Morocco - the time I spent on my own didn't really turn me on to the country, either.

But I can't quite put my finger on why Asia attracts me more than Egypt and Morocco. It can't be that they're not "First World" countries - Cambodia is a whole lot poorer than Morocco, and I loved Cambodia. It can't be the architecture - I loved the Alhambra and the Taj Mahal (and other Mughal buildings in India). It can't be that there isn't activity out on the street, because there is. Maybe it's the people? Maybe it's the food? Maybe it's a sense of diversity, of possibilities, of excitement, that I get in Asia that I didn't get in North Africa? (And would that be related to religion?)

And I don't know that I've written Africa off altogether, although Tunisia certainly moved further down the list. I doubt that sub-Saharan Africa, or South Africa, or Madagascar, or Ethiopia, would feel the same as the north. But I'm not especially attracted to safaris...

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Mar 1st, 2009, 04:45 AM
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I haven't been to Asia yet (China trip coming up in November) so I can't compare at all. I think Egypt moved me so much because it was the most 'exotic' place I'd been. And I grew up loving the whole King Tut story - the museum tour came through when I was in school and I was hooked.

The Muslim culture and the desert - big parts of what made Egypt so different from home I guess - are making me want to visit Morocco. Altho', again, wrong to compare them - apples & oranges I suppose.

Hmm...it will be interesting to see how Morocco speaks to me. I will definitely be doing it on a tour so that will limit some of the experiences but I wouldn't feel able to enjoy if I had the worry of doing it independently.

Thanks again for writing a fascinating trip report.
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Mar 6th, 2009, 10:22 AM
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thursday -
doing prelim planning - trip not until May or June 2010 - but thought i'd ask your opinion --
One of the tours I'm looking at is with Isram. It spends 11,13,or 15 nights. The difference is an optional 2 extra days in Marakkesh at the end and then another optional two in Essaouira.

It seems like Essaouria is lovely - and different enough from the other areas that it would be a shame to miss. But I'm on the fence about going for that long. Might be difficult to get enough time off at work. If we did have to miss it would you think that was a huge mistake or not a big deal?

Also, the trip finishes in Marrakesh. You only get one afternoon and one full day/night there before heading to the airport. Doesn't seem enough. Would 2 more days be pretty much required to see it fully or is 1.5 enough if we only went for the 11 night package?

Any advice would be appreciated.
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Mar 6th, 2009, 04:22 PM
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Leslie - Essaouira is lovely, but it's also very touristy. As in, it felt less "Moroccan" than other places, in so far as a tourist can tell. Parts of Marrakesh also felt touristy, but Marrakesh is bigger, and you really shouldn't skip it. However, if you're pushed for time, I'd say that 1.5 days could be enough provided you're getting a good look at other places as well.

I haven't encountered Isram before. Where dd you hear of them? Which of their tours are you considering? (I have a prejudice against outfits that play music at me when I access their sites, but that's me...)

If you're into the planning phase, now might be a good time to start your own thread - you'll get more input that way.
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Mar 7th, 2009, 09:24 AM
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You're right - I'll start a thread. It's the isramworld section of their site (the music is not the only annoyance on their website - it's not stellar). The Splendors of Morocco tour.
Itinerary is the basic circuit, I guess: Casablanca, Rabat, Moulay Idriss, Volubilis, Meknes, Fez, Midelt, Erfoud, Todra Gorges, Ouarzazate, Zagora, Ait Ben Haddou, Marrakesh. And optional Essaouira.

I like what I've read from others who've used them. Heard about them here or maybe frommer's. I like that they guarantee departure with only 2 signed up.

Biggest decision I think will be if we should use the first-class hotel option or superior first-class. I'd rather be in nice riads than chain-like hotels which some of the superior hotels might be more like (also not close in to medina). But I'd also rather pay a couple hundred extra to have nicer hotels than not - so I'll have to think about that.

Sounds like we can probably skip Essaouira.

Thanks for your advice.
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