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Wednesday, 23 Nov 2005: The owners of the Ryad Tinmel are French and the continental breakfast was a good indicator of their origin…only bread and jam; even the orange juice was a mix of 50% fresh and 50% tang. We met Typical transportation at the entrance to the Ryad Tinmelour guide for the day…Mubarak. He made a nice first impression and we began our tour of the medina. We soon realized that his English skills were not good enough to explain what we were seeing. He kept saying we should walk on the left side of the street while pushing us to the right. He couldn’t provide and history or stats about the city, nor any of the cultural aspects of the medina. We did learn that anything hand made by Berbers was good and any construction by machine of a tribe other than Berber was bad. We quickly realized that we had made a bad decision to accept Fatah’s recommendation for a guide especially when he refused our request to visit the museum. We did see the tiny shops with men and boys making clothes, shoes, blacksmith tools, wrought iron doors and gates, wooden furniture and windows. We constantly had to dodge donkey carts, bicycles and mopeds. We eventually arrived at a rug shop where we were introduced to Omar. For the next 1 ½ hours we were entertained by one of the most theatrical salesman ever. His shop was a cooperative with an enormous selection from over 800 native weavers. He explained the major regions for Moroccan carpets: the middle Atlas, the high Atlas and the Berber Bedouin while displaying examples of each. These carpets were unique to any tribals we had collected and we particularly appreciated the colors and designs of the Berber Bedouin. After a very animated bargaining session, we agreed on a price for four pieces and had them packaged for shipment to Steve’s office in N.Y. Omar’s eloquence and style convinced us that we should dismiss our guide and continue on our own. We asked Mubarak to take us back to our Ryad where we explained that we no Omar explains his Berber Carpets to Becky and Robinlonger required his services. We made plans to continue our self directed explorations and took a taxi to the main square: Jemaa El Fna. After a quick cursory tour of the square to find our restaurant for the evening, we stopped at a terrace imbiss for some ice cream. We then walked back through the vendor carts and snake charmers to visit the Kasbah, which contains the Saadian Tombs, and the ruins of the Palace Bahii., this time we were under the direction of guide Robin and her Marrakech guide book. We ambled back to the Jemaa El Fna stopping along the way to try a phone card and visit an internet café. We arrived at the restaurant about ½ hour before it opened for the evening, but they allowed us to take a table and enjoy a beer until the official opening time. The meal was OK but not memorable. As we started our walk back across the square to find a cab, we were startled at the transformation; hundreds of small outdoor eateries had sprung up and the air was filled with smoke form the charcoal burners. Street musicians, fortune tellers and games of chance seemed to cover every square meter of the square. The activity really needs to be experienced to be appreciated.

The drive into the Atlas Mountains

Thursday 24 Nov 2005: We had reserved this day for a drive into the Atlas Mountains. As we left Marrakech, we noticed that we had just below ½ tank of gasoline and decided to make a stop after driving for an hour to fill up and use the facilities. After ½ hour of driving, we left the plains of Marrakech and started a rapid climb into the mountains. As we continued to climb the towns got smaller and the gas stations disappeared and the needle on the gauge was falling quickly. As we drove through the last town on the map, Taddert, our situation had become desperate as the needle approached reserve. We returned to the center of town and explained our situation to the locals. Enter Ahmed! We heard a voice speaking perfect English offering assistance; he said could provide the precious petrol. We asked for 15 liters which he had stored in 5 liter bottles that originally contained cooking oil. He fashioned a funnAhmed pours petrol into our tankel from a plastic bottle and poured the contents into our tank without spilling a drop. Ahmed next showed his hospitality by offering us mint tea and then he began to tell us about the area and its people. We had seen men alongside the road selling geodes and we asked Ahmed about them. He said they were all fake with artificial coloring and then he showed us a natural geode that had not been altered. We bought one while Robin and Steve purchased a sand rose. We paid for the gas, said farewell and continued the spectacular 16 kilometer drive to the Tizi'n'tichka pass, the highest road in Morocco. We would liked to have stayed long on the pass, but the ultra aggressive vendors were so repulsive that we only took a few pictures, then started back down to Marrakech, pausing to wave to Ahmed as we passed through Taddert. We stopped at the Metro Store as we entered Marrakech to gather supplies for snacks, happy hour and to supplement the breakfast. Back at the Ryad we enjoyed our purchase on the terrace along with some beers that Fatah served. Fortified with cheese, crackers, olives and beverages, we walked to the closest bank with an ATM machine to withdraw enough cash to pay our bill at the Ryad. From there we took taxis back to Jemaa El Fna to visit the souks for last minute shopping.

The Jamaa L Fna Square

Friday 25 Nov 2005: We supplemented our last breakfast at the Ryad Tinmel with tangerines, cheese and yoghurt from the metro store. We had enough time in the morning to visit the Museum of Marrakech and the ancient ablution rooms of the grand mosque. The museum is a modern art exhibition which was of little interest; however the building was a magnificent restoration of a very large home of a wealthy citizen. The tiles, ceilings and facades were worth entrance fee alone. We walked back to our Ryad to pay the bill and begin the 4 hour drive to Casablanca. The landscape was mostly desert but became agricultural as we approached the coast. Steve navigated us through Casablanca through some beautiful neighborhoods and along the coast by the Grand Hassan V Mosque (2 nd largest in the world) to the Meridien Hotel. We had planned to return the car immediately to Budget, but the concierge explained that they would come to pick it up. We should have followed our instincts Juice vendors in the Jemaa L Fna Squarebecause the runner who came to collect the car was an extortionist who tried to get an extra 50 dihrams for himself by claiming that the gas tank wasn’t full. We had filled the car about 8 kilometers from the hotel so perhaps one could add 200ml, but it wasn’t down the ¼ tank he claimed. After much heated discussion, Steve and Hugh walked back to the Budget office where a very nice agent was sympathetic to our situation and graciously accepted the car as we had delivered it. We celebrated our victory over Budget in the hotel lounge until it was time to walk to the Restaurant du Porte for a seafood dinner.

 

Saturday 26 Nov 2005: We had arranged a ride to the Casablanca airport for 8:30 to arrive in ample time for our 10:55 departure to Amsterdam via Madrid. Our driver was very interesting and provided entertaining stories all the way to the airport. We discovered that the departure time had been pushed back one hour but we still would have plenty of time to make our connection in Madrid to Amsterdam. We explained to the check-in counter agents that we had no checked luggage…only carry-on which did not seem to concern them in the least. We collected our boarding passes and started towards immigration, there we encountered an extremely obnoxious inspector who would not allow us to pass with our luggage. Ultimately we had to return to the Iberia Counter to get a little piece of paper to place on each bag that said “Approved Cabin Baggage”. After seeing the luggage tags, the inspector abandoned his previous unacceptable behavior and welcomed us into the immigration hall. The flight to Madrid was on time and unremarkable, bBecky in the Ryad Tinmel courtyardut please be warned dear reader that the Madrid Airport sucks. We were told by both the airline personnel and the airport information officer that we did not need to complete the immigration forms because we were in transit. But the immigration officer had a different story and required us to fill out the forms. With completed forms and passport in hand, we again approached the immigrations officer, this time he stamped our passports and threw the forms in the trash without ever looking at it. After immigration control we had to walk about 100 yards to a shuttle bus stop where we jammed on for the ride to the E terminal. Here we discovered the most unorganized, chaotic attempt to screen passengers and their luggage for security. Somehow we managed to claw our way through the ordeal and then continued to our departure gate. We tried to get on the moving sidewalks only to discover they weren’t moving. We had now been in transit about an hour and had to wait only a few minutes before boarding our plane, but wait we didn’t board a plane but were crammed onto a bus which took us out to the plane. We were very happy to depart the Madrid airport for Amsterdam. We will make every effort to avoid another transfer in Madrid.

The narrative of the RHATT tour to Morocco begins on page 1. CLICK TO RETURN TO PAGE 1
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