Hamam – anyone?

Yesterday was our hamam day. Pat and I choose one which has been operating since 1842 providing a range of services to clients (women at certain time of the day and men at others) and thus employment for women (at certain times of the day and men at others) as washers and masseuses. Jan went to a self-serve hamam with no services (women on one side and men on the other). She bathed in one very large room, supplied her own towel, soap, and washed herself with buckets of water. We all enjoyed our different experiences but this tale is about Pat’s and my afternoon at the hamam.

We undressed and were given tiny (very) wee paper knickers, sort of itzy bitty g strings. They covered next to nothing. Our clothes were placed into whisker baskets along with our glasses. We were then led into a series of small steamy rooms. The inner most was quite hot and we sat in there on marble slabs and got a good sweat going. We were led in and out of this room several times over the next hour and were, between steams, douced with buckets of water, lathered with mud, scrubbed (everywhere ) with a course cloth, showered, shampooed and eventually wrapped in heated robes and taken to loungers upon which we were required to rest. (Pat got up at one point during this resting time to access our locker but was chastised for getting off her bed.) The women working in the hamam seemed to find us quite funny as we didn’t know the routine but they were very obliging in ensuring we did everything correctly. The other hamam users were similarly kindly accommodating of us odd silly foreign ladies. Unlike the hamam in Turkey, the employees here were not naked and wore bathing suits as they performed their scrubbing and dousing duties.

After our rest period, during which we were served tea, we were led upstairs for our massage. This was a gift as we hadn’t paid for the added treatment but it seemed they wanted us to experience the full hamam hospitality. Our massages were lovely. We were well oiled (everywhere) then suitably rested afterwards. We got in a bit of trouble for talking during the rest period during which we were to lie quietly in small darkened rooms.

I followed all this steaming, scrubbing, oiling, massaging and resting up with getting a henna tattoo on my hand. I hope it lasts a week or so as it’s quite pretty. The old woman who drew the design did it free hand with considerable skill.

As with our hamam in Istanbul, we thoroughly enjoyed this experience. There are a number of similar aspects, such as the very personal nature of being washed and scrubbed (everywhere) by a stranger. There are also marked differences in that while we were there, this hamam was also being enjoyed by several local women. Here there was a tad more modesty and here and the steaming was hotter and more prolonged. 

While for us this is a novel experience to be tasted and some aspects chuckled about, for many women who live here, the hamam is an integral and very important aspect of their lives. Some homes do not have hot water, some don’t even have running water. Most women work very long hard hours and live in crowded demanding homes. The hamam is often their place of refuge from toil, and perhaps the only place where they can bathe or have privacy. We appreciate the opportunity to share this special time and place with them, and we thank the women who welcomed us into the sanctuary of their hamam.

Two nomads and three camels.

We returned yesterday evening (to a wind and rain storm) from a marvellous adventure in the Moroccan Sahara.

The bus trip south, over the mountains and down to the desert took 11 gruelling hours. It began pouring rain as we left the city and roadsides were flooded with running water. Most of the way up into the mountains was through rain and low cloud so we didn’t see too much of the passing countryside. The road was mostly very twisty and sometimes really narrow besides. The clouds were lifting and rainbows appearing as we drove out of the storm and down the south side of the range. The bus stoped several times and disgorged passengers until there were just five of us left. Night fell and we drove on under a now star studded sky. Eventually the main road ended, the bus stopped and we got off. We were met by a scruffy threesome and bundled into a small dilapidated vehicle and driven to a bivouac of adobe huts. Our beds – three dusty mattresses on a packed mud floor. Toilet a few huts away. Everything sandy and gritty. We fell asleep after a cup of luke warm tea served by one of the unwashed young men.

The morning revealed the place to be in even worse shape than we’d imagined. Breakfast was fine though and soon we were being met by a turbaned fellow in a flowing robe and driving a nice jeep. We loaded up and went into the village of M’Hamid. It really is an end of the road frontier place. The Algerian/Moroccan border is only a few kms away. The Moroccan’s have a military base here and the only other game in town is – why we are here – camel and or 4×4 trips into the desert. 

A few admin details were taken care of, we each picked up four metre lengths of light crinkly cotton and were shown how to make turbans. It’s time….

The wind is blowing, the sky has a distinct brown twilight tinge, the sun glowing dimly above. Palm trees are tossing and rustling their fronds and sand is blowing sideways into our faces. We tuck the ends of our turbans over mouths and noses leaving just our eyes exposed to the elements. We meet our guide – Ishmael. A charming young man with black turban and bright blue robe. Also our camel man – the delightful comedian, Mohammad – similarlyattired. Our three camels are still being loaded up with mounds of tentage, food and water so we don’t properly meet them yet.

We set off into the desert, two nomads, three women, three camels in a wind storm. The stuff of legends! It was awesome. Exillerating! After about two and a half hours of fast walking we stopped for lunch in the shelter of a tamarisk shrub. The camels, unloaded and hobbled, set off to nibble bits of sparse vegetation. Ishmael and Mohammad cooked us a delicious meal while we three reclined on mats out of the wind in the sun. Eat your hearts out Gertrude Bell and Freya Stark!  After lunch the camels were retrieved and everything was loaded up again and off we set once more for another couple of hours of walking. The landscape was constantly changing from loose and stony, to hard pan, to packed sand, to softer sand. Some was quite flat, but in other areas we snaked around steepsided small dunes. The vast open space was sprinkled with small shrubs and the slightly larger stunted twisted tamarisk trees. All the while the wind blew sand into everything!

We stopped for the night in the shelter of a large dune, near a tree “island.” In short order a large tent was erected, our reclining mats set out, blankets produced….. dinner underway. Our job was to wander around collecting fire wood. An arduous task in this land of little and small woody vegetation but we did collect a decent sized pile. Tea and a tureen dinner were produced on the fire our wood fuelled. We ate under stars so bright and clear that the Milky Way was easily visible as a broad white lace ribbon above! It was also very chilly so we sat under blankets which had recently served to protect the camels’ humps from their substantial loads. The camels meanwhile were roaming about nibbling and munching on whatever they scavenged from the desert. They also received our left over salad and vegetable trimmings. One of the camels helped himself to a large bag of dates – which he stole from inside the tent! This turned out to be the mischievous camel and he was always up to something! Anyone who has watched a dog mooch can perhaps imagine the hilarious antics of a large mooching camel!

Our tent turned out to be a nightmare to set up. It took all five of us to erect it and several of the camel’s lead ropes to secure it, but once up it was a good sized sturdy refuge, secure from the wind and small scuttling creatures of the night. We slept well and cozy under heavy sand ridden camel blankets. By this time we were so sandy anyway having a few more pounds of the stuff shifting into our sleeping bags, hair and clothes while we slept made no difference.

The second morning was clear and really chilly until the sun came up. Things warmed up pretty quickly and we ate breakfast in the sun, no wind plaguing us. Just the bluest of sky bowled over the browns of an undulating landscape. Glorious. Once again the catching and loading of the camels commenced. Soon we set off into an area of increasing dunes. We began to see ever larger mountainous dunes on the horizon which ever so slowly grow closer and closer. At one point we saw a fabulous blue lake mirage. It was incredibly realistic. Of course despite walking towards this beautiful sight for some time it never materialized! It just faded away, a figment of the desert imagination. 

I decided to try my hand at leading the string of camels. At first they seemed a bit puzzled by this change of command but being friendly good natured beasts they soon willing followed along without any fuss. Tired camels require some encouragement to continue walking at a reasonable pace and these three were becoming increasingly tired so a bit of gentle then more firm tugging ensued. Getting them to kneel upon arrival at our lunch stop was not as easy as it looked when Mohammad gave the order, but with considerable help from Mohammad I eventually managed to get one of the camels to comply!

We’d covered something in excess of 25 kms by the time we stopped in this lovely spot tucked down between the dunes. The place was so idyllic we decided to camp here for the night as well. So what to do on a lovely afternoon in the desert? Go for a camel ride of course! The camels were rounded up. It’s amazing how far they can scamper despite their hobbles. Jan was not into riding so she brought up a distant rear as we set off towards the largest dune. 

It was surreal. Magic. Ishmael stayed at camp to set things up for the night while Mohammad led us between and over the dunes, the camels slowly clambering up and swiftly sliding down through the soft wind rippled sand. Riding a camel is a swaying lurching business and requires some concentration! It had been over 40 years since my last camel ride. This was better than my memory of the others. The desert here is grander and more isolated than my previous experiences around Cairo and Ismailia. These camels were much more pleasant creatures than any camels I encountered while in Egypt as well. Pat also agreed that our present camels were much more agreeable to be around than those she rode in Nigeria. The ride created one of those “this is perfectly amazing” moments that I hope I’ll remember forever.

Eventually we came to the foot of the biggest dune which towered 300 metres above us. We dismounted and removed boots and socks. Our camels remained hunkered down, guardians of the boots, (hopefully not eating the socks) while we all climbed, barefoot, up the steep narrow ridges of the dune. The view expanded. We could see the black spec of the now erect big tent at our distant camp and across a choppy sea of dunes to the mountains marking the border with Algeria. The desert stretched out at our feet with sparse vegetation interrupting the various brown and gray shades of drifting sand. Finally at the top we sat for a while, catching our breath and watching the sun sink towards the western horizon. Clouds had formed and it became quite cool so we descended in a rapid series of jumps and slides. Jan on her butt, Pat and I run “skiing,” Mohammad leaping and rolling like a happy crazed child! 

We all rode back to camp (even Jan) as the sunset turned the world into tones of orange between deepening lengthening shadows. Once again our task was to collect fire wood and this proved to be quite a challenge as there was very little woody vegetation from which to harvest dead bits. It was fully dark by the time our task was complete. A fire was lit and while Ishmael cooked dinner, Mohammad made bread – from scratch – and baked it in the sand and hot ash of the fire. It was delicious! He then used an empty water jug as a drum and began singing Bedouin ballads, and reciting traditional nomadic poems. While cooking our dinner Ishmael told riddles and jokes and a couple of folk tales. We sat, once again under our heavy camel blankets, and soaked it all in. As Pat said – “How incredibly privileged we are to be able to experience this.” Here we were sitting in a wild camp, in the desert, about 50kms from the nearest habitatation, with two nomads and three camels. Pinch me! Is this a dream!

The mischievous camel had been wandering around but when our dinner was set out on the blanket between our mats he started sneaking closer. First he went behind the bush at our back and slowly he crept around it. Then he sidled out from behind, peering down, his nostrils twitching. A sideways shuffle, “They won’t notice me.” Shuffle. Head lower – “Oh yummy!” We called out to Mohammad just in time and he came rushing over to encourage Mr Moocher to go a bit further afield. That camel was a few seconds away from eating our entire serving plate of spaghetti!

Our sleeping tent went up with similar effort but more quickly than the previous night and pretty soon we’d added our mats and blankets and ourselves to it’s dusty interior. Once again we enjoyed deep sleeps, lulled to that state by the sound of desert wind moving millions of grains of sand and threading between the branches of the hardy tamarisk trees. And of course the occasional grunt and rustle from the camels who continued to forage then sleep around the tents.

Our third and final day dawned bright and sunny with no wind so it soon became quite warm. After breakfast the usual pack up took place with a now familiar rythem and soon we were headed back towards M’Hamid. We didn’t follow the same route so continued to experience a range of changing scenery. We walked along an ancient river bed that’s not seen water for years. We climbed a shale hill that had been completely scoured of sand. The big dunes shrank into the distance behind us. After a few hours we came to a very pretty lunch spot and once again the camels were unloaded, hobbled and we reclined and snoozed on our blankets and mats while a meal was prepared and cooked.

This, it transpired, was where our trip was supposed to end. We were to be transported back to town by jeep. No way! We were so not ready to end this adventure, so the jeep was sent packing, to return and pick us up  from wherever we would get to by shortly after 4pm. We would continue to walk until then. After a while I tried my hand again at leading the camels. They were more familiar with us by now so there was no hesitation. The lead beast followed placidly, looking down his long snout at me from heavily lashed eyes as if to say – “you’re a poor example of my nomad but I suppose you’ll do in a pinch.”

We walked through the late afternoon, each of us contemplating on our experiences of the past three days. Pat and I both felt we could continue this way for much longer. There’s something about walking that we both really love. This particular walk through the desert, where we weren’t confined to one specific narrow path, or destination, where the horizon curved, stretching and beckoning in the distance, seemed to epitomize the somewhat nomadic existence we’ve courted for the past three months. Mohammad actually called us nomads. At heart, perhaps we are.

As the jeep came into sight Pat, Jan and I each took a camel and asked him to kneel down. Amazingly they did. I think they rather liked us as we had often given them treats. Camels eat pretty much everything. They love oranges – skins and all. Dates are supreme. Spaghetti is also enjoyed as is bread….. these particular camels had excellent manners and always took  the treats very gently, using their big upper lip to softly nudge morsels out of our hands. Good thing too. We had ample opportunities to see inside their enormous mouths and they have scary teeth. Two massive curved canines in their upper jaw that a lion or tiger would be proud to have! Legend has it that if someone harms a camel, it will seek the opportunity for revenge and that a camel can easily kill a human. Sure glad these three were friendly!

We said good bye to Mohammad and “the boys” as we’d nic named the camels. They would continue for about three more hours on foot. The jeep ride back to town was a necessity, it was too far for to walk before dark. As it was we had coved about 75 kms over the past three days. (Bringing the total distance Pat and I have walked to about 1000 kms.) We stayed that night in a nice little Riad. Our much anticipated hot shower did not materialize but no matter, there was a trickle of cool water with which to sort of wash our filthy selves before we climbed weary and contented into bed. 

The next day (yesterday) we had an early breakfast and we’re on the bus back to Marrakesh by 6am. We drove past quite a bit of snow in the higher elevations and arrived in Marrakesh after ten arduous hours of sitting. As we walked to our fancy Riad (with lots of hot water) the rain began in earnest. We got soaked. It’s been raining off and on since, so today we are just relaxing – reading and blogging…..

I’ll send pictures of our camel adventure in a separate blog….. shortly.

Djemaa el-Fna Square

This is the great square of Marrakesh. It’s hard to explain what it’s like but here’s a few pictures. Beware – one of the pictures is of snakes. Note the fashion statement – ball cap worn with hijab being the most interesting one we’ve noted recently. Locals and tourists alike mill around drinking fresh made juice concoctions (avocado, orange and banana is our current favourite), eating at 100 food stalls which are set up and torn down daily, shopping for bargains, listening to street performers…… I know I’ve said it in a previous blog – but this place is like no where I’ve ever seen before. The first picture shows a small fraction of the square (which isn’t even remotely square).

Marrakesh marvels 

We’ve spent the past two days being tourists on a mission. Certain items were required as gifts for family and friends at home. All have been successfully procured. Of course I can’t say what we’ve purchased as that would ruin surprises, but I can assure you great bargaining fun has been had by all. Interspersed with the shopping we’ve visited a few places of historic interest, a palace or two, some long hidden royal tombs and the like. Finding these place required some wandering through a food market and past a busy weaver…. there’s always something to see and smell around every corner. And wonder of wonders – Pat and I found wine. We drank a bottle of the stuff at lunch today. Not bad (or were we just desperate?) Made here in Morocco too. Who knew. Jan had to navigate home!

The Atlas Mountains and false advertising 

Marrakesh is a pretty happening place and after several cities we felt it was time to experience fresh air. We booked a tour into the mountains for a four hour hike up to some waterfalls. We carefully read the outline, confirmed the duration of the hike and felt this was a good way to take a break from the city, its noise and constant pressures to buy this and that.

Our vehicle picked us up a bit late. The organizer freaked out that he had to make a bit of change when we paid. Cost was 150.00 mad. We each gave him 200.00 mad. So not a stretch to think he’d be able to make change as this currency has 50.00 mad notes. No one here likes to make change.

Off we went with five other tour goers – a nice number. Our first stop – to take pictures of some camels, for which one was expected to pay. Sitting on the camel also required payment. (We did not – sit or pay). Next stop a garden with medicinal herbs and plants growing. An interesting talk about the benefits of the plants – and then of course a visit to the shop to buy all the overpriced products. (We didn’t even enter the shop.) Then down the road to a women’s co-op weaving and embroidery shop. Information given as a strong overture to us making purchases. (We did not.) By the way there’re many so called women’s co-operatives in this country and we doubt many are legitimate. Next stop a traditional Berber house. And believe it or not – this travesty of “tradition” had a jewelry shop. By this time we were all pretty fed up and let the driver know it was time to move on to the trail head.

Once there we were met by our young and pleasant guide who explained he’d take us on our one and a half hour hike. Four of us had signed up for rather more than that so we let our dismay be known. Poor kid looked a bit startled. The first part of our walk was up a steep trail bordered on both sides by so many shops it was like being in a city Medina. There were also throngs of people. Finally we reached a little cafe perched on the rock slope where we had a break. Water, tea etc. As Pat had brought some peanuts she shared them around with our group as everyone was hungry. It was now lunch time…. our walk continued and became a scramble up a steep and rocky path into lovely rugged mountains. Ah! Quiet, fresh air, the sound of a rushing mountain stream and numerous waterfalls. It was a fabulous interlude! The hike culminated in a climb – which everyone except two of our group declined. I tried, but realized with no appropriate safety, to proceed was rather stupid. Our walk ended up being about two and a half hours. We think our young guide put his best effort into appeasing those of us who had expected a proper hike.

We were then taken to a rip-off restaurant which charged exorbitant prices for meals. Pat and I were hungry enough we both ordered small dishes. The food tasted fine but it was pretty annoying to be held hostage as it were.

All in all the day was a success despite once again be the victims of  willful misrepresentation of the facts. I have decided nothing anyone tells me in this country should be taken as the truth. Avoiding the truth appears to be a national past time with anyone involved in selling anything.

So a parting thought on that. How many of us really believe our western advertising? Creams to make us young forever, and even ones which will make us more slender? Foods that will help us loose unwanted weight? Viagra anyone? “I’d like to give the world a coke and live in perfect harmony.” Oh ya! Morocco is no different really. Just here we are struggling to understand the rules and the lies are a bit more personal as they are face to face.

Now in Marrakesh 

Yesterday we took the long train journey from Fes, via Rabat, to Marrakesh. About eight hours in first class so it wasn’t crowded. The train itself though was packed so we were really glad we’d paid the extra small amount for a huge amount more comfort. Both the Fes and Marrakesh train stations are clean, modern, and quite splendid. Much nicer than most (all other) train stations I’ve ever been in. Clean bathrooms too which is always a bonus.

Having sat all day, we elected to walk to our accommodation, a little more than two kms away. Of course Pat and I now have packs that have been getting a little more heavy over the past few days. We’ve done limited shopping but it all adds up. Those nice new leather purses, the spices, the bits of jewelry, my blanket, etc etc. Jan has more restraint so she was not extra burdened! For the most part we walked along well maintained wide side sidewalks through a very busy section of the new town. A few crazy congested wide roads to cross but police were on hand to stop traffic as said traffic seems to otherwise disregard the little green walking man or white crosswalk markings.

Our accommodation is just off  famous Djemaa el-Fna Square so we trudged through the milling throngs of humanity to the primal sound of throbbing drums, the delicious smells of meat cooking on smoking charcoal braziers, the sight of at least one snake charmer with his huge black cobra swaying. Pat’s not too fond of snakes so we detoured that section a bit. Finally into our street…. well the street upon which our accommodation is advertised. Before long we were past where it is marked on the map. Back track. Look around. Jostle. Sidestep. I ask a fellow in a shop – the shop is full of men – not one of them has the courtesy to acknowledge I’ve spoken. Clearly I’m not buying so why would they waste their time. Another shop owner does respond but only after being assured we have a reservation and we definitely aren’t going to some other place he’ll choose for us. He then mis-directs us. I like to hope not on purpose. 

Pat and Jan, walking just ahead of me, make the turn down a side alley as we’ve been told and another guy leaning on a wall says that it’s close, yes we are going to right way. I’m smiling and thanking him before the penny drops that he has no clue where we are going so how would he know? So I ask him this. It’s a phenomenon here – people giving random directions to places a person may not actually be going. He decides to look at my map and see where we are really going. As it turns out we should be going down a different alley. We head off in the opposite direction – this guy leading the way and telling us it’s just down here and down another side alley – both alleys are dark and covered with archways and vines. Sure enough we come to a low heavy door – our accommodation’s name imprinted in a dull plaque that can hardly be seen in the dim light. Thanks are said and he then asks for money. Gee. No surprise really. Why should I have been so naive to think this was a kind person rather than an opertunistic guy wanting to take money from stupid tourists. Fact is, we absolutely would not have found the place without assistance. In Fes, a man helped us find our accommodation out of kindness, but given where we are, I really had no grounds to assume the kindness would be repeated. We refused to pay (A mistake?  Probably yes. We should have negotiated the price first. But, as he initiated the conversation, where does one politely interject the potential price of the exchange? Difficult lessons being learned).

Our Riad is quite nice. Rustic with a central courtyard open to the sky and a large orange tree filled with singing birds in the centre. A sunny roof top terrace with the perfect amount of shad and breeze. We went out for dinner, then wandered the vast circumference of the Square avoiding the snake charmers, almost running afoul of a persistent henna painting lady who had Pat’s hand under her brush before she even knew what was happening, dodging beggars, restaurant touts, juice touts, souvenir touts, and lord knows what else, before heading back into the bowls of the medina and the quiet sanctuary of our Riad.

Today we’d not stepped into the main alley when we were being accosted by a fellow telling us about the special Berber appearance – today only, actually this morning only when we suggested we’d go later – at the tannery. Only happens every so often, today is our luck day….. Can you believe it – we fell for his nonsense. Off we went. The “just around the corner” was a total lie, it was quite far and around several corners. We ended up with a second fellow showing us the way but we wouldn’t go with him until we’d established the ground rules. He was happy to do this to have the opportunity to speak English. No kidding, we fell for that too, and he handed us off to the Tannery tout. Give us credit. We finally called a halt to the charade and left. The tannery tout walked with us harassing Pat for some distance before he finally got the message that we were not going to be taken advantage of at another tannery. I’ve no doubt those three guys had been in cell phone communication. The whole thing was too orchestrated to have been a coincidence. And by the way – there was no sign of any Berbers. A bit later another guy told us about a special opportunity to go visit Berber women and whatever it was they were supposed to be doing. Wise to the game we ignored him and carried on our way.

During our subsequent wander through the Medina we came upon a wonderful apothecary/spice/essential oils shop. Two knowledgeable charming young men were full of convincing ideas of what we might like – and they made some sales as a result. It was pleasant to shop without dodging insults. It’s pretty hot this afternoon so Pat is chilling in our room, I’m blogging up on the roof-top and Jan is off exploring. 

My impression so far is that the Marrakesh Medina is noisier (due to numerous motorcycles), the products for sale are similar but there seems to be more variety here, there are also many more tourists here. Part of that reason may be the international UN climate conference that is taking place at the moment. Another striking difference is that Fes Medina doesn’t have one vibrant central square like here and this square is a captivating focal point.

First picture is our roof top where I am right now. The others are the apothecary and a tannery. Bit of tannery trivia. First the skins are soaked in lye until,the hair fallls off. Then they are soaked in a concoction of water and pigeon droppings for a few days until they get soft. Next come the dye vats. Now you know as much as me. Oh – yes they do stink.

14 Nov – Fes – “How may I rip you off?”

The vendors and would be guides and touts may not say it in so many words but this town is all about getting money out of tourists without a perceived desire to be polite about it. No need to be truthful either. 

Oh dear. Do I sound jaded? Well we’re pretty sure we’ve not met many honest people here in Fes. Pat suggests it’s because we are three women and that perhaps having a guy along would change things. I don’t disagree. Very sad if that’s the case. I’d be willing to bet that women shop and spend more tourist money then men. This is clearly a mysoginistic culture but if tourism really is that important to the economy, I’d suggest that Moroccan men (at least those who ply the streets of this town) get over themselves and realize – this is 2016.

Specifics? I know you’re wondering what’s got me so ticked off!

Let’s start with our hotel. Upon booking I’d carefully stipulated that three twin beds were a requirement and also stated that a shared double bed was not acceptable. We arrived to a room with one double and one single bed. At first the owner thought this was actually fine. We told him no. So he set off to find us a different place to stay – no problem. But then he and his wife changed their minds and said we could have two rooms for the same price. After two nights the owner came and suggested I would want to pay more for the single room. He was very put out when I said no. He whined and got cross and did the loud man talking thing. And I said no. He found it very difficult to let the matter rest so I suggested we’d happily go else where. He grudgingly relented.

Today while out on a wander we were invited into a shop to look at the pretty ceiling with a promise there’d be no requirement to shop. The ceiling is glorious and we knew there’d be enticement to shop. The sales pitch to buy some jewelry was no surprise and quite slick. After some discussion Pat gives the vender her final price for a set of “silver” (tin) earrings. He takes a fit when she says it’s that price or she doesn’t want them. Calls her “difficult” and gets bent out of shape when she doesn’t want two sets. I’ve never encountered people like this before. It takes all the joy out of shopping. Pat did get the earrings for her price. I bought some too and we’re pretty sure we both paid way too much…. 

We’ve been exploring various parts of the old medina with a map and by following colour coordinated signs which take tourists on self guided walking tours through different areas. It’s a wonderful way of exploring as we’ve been down alleys we’d never have entered otherwise. Every once in a while the way gets confusing (I think the odd sign may have been removed on purpose). When this happens it would be normal to ask a person for directions, but not in this town. Either people deliberately direct the misplaced tourist into a high pressure sales pitch “carpet museum” “or leather museum” or they misdirect in some random direction that has no bearing on the desired route. They steadfastly refuse to identify one’s current position. The other ploy is to latch on and try to elicit payment for being a “guide.” Getting rid of the unwanted guide takes a bit of doing. Becoming very interested in whatever in a nearby shop works but then of course one is dealing with the vender. Yesterday though a young boy was very helpful and took us a short distance the wrong way to near where we wanted to go…. I decided to give him a small payment and the brat asked for double the amount. I offered to take what I’d paid him back and he ran off. Even the kids are leading the fine art of ripoff.

A fellow we were talking to today said tourist numbers are way down. No wonder. Tomorrow we are going to explore the new medina – it was built as late as the 1300s so we’re expecting all sorts of modernization! 

By the way, yesterday we saw the oldest and first indoor modern bathroom in Morocco while touring around a falling down Glaoui Palace. Now this palace is itself an amazing place. The family used to be one of the richest in Morocco but they backed the French and ended up having all their money taken. They still live in the crumbling place and show people around their home to make a bit of cash. It’s quite sad to see the dreadful state of a once incredibly beautiful and grand palace, and rather odd to see the family toothbrushes in the historic bathroom.

Here’s a few pictures of Glaoui Palace