The meeting time for today’s Magical Marrakech with Folkloric Show and Lunch was 7:30 am. Unfortunately, we left the port of Agadir an hour late, at about 8:30 am. The explanation provided was a delay in Moroccan clearance for the motor coaches.
As soon as we boarded the coach, the tour guide began telling us about the way of life of the Berber people. He explained that natives of the culture maintain stress-free living and are rarely on time. That means 7:30am and 8:30am are essentially the same time. Based on this explanation, who knows the legitimacy of our late departure.
It is worth mentioning that we did not need to change currency for the Moroccan Maghrib as local vendors readily recognized the Dollar on a (1 to 9 conversion), and the Euro on a (1 to 10 conversion).
The tour guide educated us on the economy of Morocco which is driven primarily by fishing, phosphate by-production, and tourism. The guide also remarked that the country works on several different calendars depending upon region and beliefs. In the standard calendar, it is the year 2017. The Arabic schedule presents the year as 1438. Finally, the Berber calendar reveals that the year as 2967 which commenced from the Christian year 950 BC.
On the road to Marrakech, we passed several herds of camels. Unfortunately, there are no pictures because the bus moved too speedily to get a decent shot. We learned that locals identify a caravan as 10 to 15 camels traveling together. Who knew!
As we rode towards Marrakech, the Atlas Mountains were off in the distance. It is on the other side of these mountains where the Sahara Desert resides. Unfortunately, the route on this journey takes you no closer than 75 miles to the Sahara, so there is no opportunity to see this incredible site. The Atlas Mountains, at 4,165 meters, impedes the sun from pounding upon the city of Marrakech all day long.
The landscape of the region appears arid and lacking for a source of water. After passing through the tunnel area of the A7 highway, the view shifted to barren with little vegetation. We learned that Morocco averages 355 days of sunshine per year with minimal rainfall. Everything looked pretty much the same out the window. On more than one occasion we saw people riding donkeys to apparently far off destinations.
One commonality throughout the journey was the small water tower and mosque in each village. The religion of the region requires parishioners to pray five times each day: pre-dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and night. The families here are also known to eat up to five times each day. This usually consists of two breakfasts, one lunch, and two dinners. The father prepares the first breakfast and the mother the second. The initial evening meal is a basic tea service with a bread snack. The final dinner is a full-course supper.
About two hours into the journey, we stopped at a Total gas and convenience store for a bathroom break. This newer facility accommodated the group, but our recommendation is to bring along some pre-moistened wipes.
Upon our arrival in Marrakech, we learned that the town named the three main streets after its great kings: Mohammed V, Mohammed VI, and Moulay El Hassan. We first stopped at one of 14 Medina entrance gates where caretakers open just two of the gates each day. By the roadside, a man sat selling intricate wood boxes for the price of one dollar. Upon offering the money, he instantly changed the price to two dollars, then to twenty. When we walked away, he pursued us all the way back to and onto the bus. This event foretold of things to come throughout the rest of the day.
The bus now stopped at the main square where we briskly made our way through a spice market. I presumed we would have a chance to visit this market in length after seeing the Bahia Palace, but this did not happen. Make sure to take your photos when passing through the first time.
The Bahia Palace belongs to the Minister of the Muslim people. Here the Minister resided with 26 concubines and four lawful wives. The palace had both a winter and summer room for entertainment purposes. At the center of the Palace was a grand garden.
At 1:00 pm, we left the Palace and strolled to Palais Chahramane, a local restaurant, responsible for planning a traditional Moroccan meal for our lunch. The service started with cabbage, cauliflower, beets, eggplant, lentils, cucumber, and some spicy sauce. Also prepared were large loaves of bread that we pulled apart and shared. The main course consisted of Couscous and Tandoori Roasted Chicken. Dessert was an enormous fruit plate, accompanied by mint tea, and a Moroccan Almond Cookie or Ghriba. During the meal, musicians played traditional music accompanied by several singers and dancers followed by a solo belly dancer.
Lunch completed at 2:30pm and we headed towards the Koranic school through the Medina. The temperature outside was now 97 degrees. It was difficult to maneuver through the narrow streets of the Medina without running into the shopkeepers and other passersby.
At 2:50 pm we arrived at the Koranic school, Medersa Ben Youssef (The Son of Joseph School). During the 14th century, boys and girls arrived from all over the region to study at this institution. Students listened for the audible announcement for prayer time, or deaf pupils observed the flying white flag. At night, a brilliant light indicated evening prayer time.
As we left the Koranic school, a minor scuffle ensued with the locals and our guide. The group yelled ‘just go home and do not return.’ Our guide worked to restrain the locals, but several individuals sought a confrontation. This taunting lingered on for several blocks and made the group a bit anxious. Eventually, the locals disbanded, and we returned to our tour.
With the conflict behind us, we quickly reached the Bazaar. We were told that a true Bazaar consists of an entrance and exit to each building. As we entered the Marrakech Bazaar, no obvious passage from beginning to end seemed to exist. For this reason, we suggest that you visit with an escort or guide to make certain you get to where you plan to go.
From our group, some people split off to shop with a resident guide while the rest of us headed for the central plaza. As we made our way through the Bazaar, it was a maze of shops, up and down different alleyways, all going in different directions. You could get lost here by just closing your eyes and opening them again. It took about 15 minutes to walk to the main square. During our walk, there was a plethora of textiles, spices, food items, and accessories for purchase.
After reaching the open-air market, we had about one hour to explore. We first visited the snake charmer for a personal show and promptly had a snake around our necks. To get the snake taken away required us to pay money to the vendor. We looked around a few minutes but chose to leave the area and head back to the Bazaar in hopes of making some purchases. Since we were now on our own, we learned a couple of things. First, browsing is not an option. Someone always wants to show you something or tries take you somewhere else. Second, bargaining is not our strength. We often offered 25% lower than the selling price but learned that up to 75% is more standard.
During our experience, we ended up in a rug shop where we got quite the show. The air-conditioned shop provided an excuse for us to sit and cool down. The shopkeeper showed us many beautiful carpets and he also provided documentation of his shopper ratings from several online agencies. After about 10 minutes, we said our goodbyes and kindly thanked him for the presentation.
We left the Bazaar and met the rest of the group at Le Grand Balcon Cafe Glacier, our meeting point, at 5pm. We purchased drinks at the café, but the staff cheated us on the transaction. I involved our tour guide and ended up getting Moroccan Maghrib in return. I advise that you carry only small bills on this excursion as breaking larger bills proved difficult.
By the time we headed for the bus, young children ages 8 – 10 followed the group and begged for our money. Then local helpers engaged by our tour guide also requested payment for their services. It all felt overwhelming and left us feeling uncomfortable.
All in all, we liked the tour, but you must prepare yourself to keep your wits about you and an eye on your valuables.
Our tour included a three-hour drive in each direction on an air-conditioned bus.
On the return trip, we made a 7pm stop at a gas and convenience store for restrooms and a drink.
Cruise Port: Agadir, Morocco
Cruise Line/Ship: Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas
Tour Operator/Guide: Abercrombie & Kent Morocco; Mustapha
Steps logged: 7,249