notyourmonkey: (Default)
2009-11-18 05:01 pm

Dang. The mojo, I still haz it.

Back in Casablanca, in my last hotel/maison d'hote of the trip. I admit, I was a little leery, because I'd previously seen more of the bleh parts of Casa, and I booked in a guest house that came well-recommended but with shared bathrooms and essentially in the top floor of the owners' house.

I shouldn't have worried. (Well, I probably should have, but knowing what I do now, the worrying wasn't necessary.) This place is faaaaaabulous. It might not be for everyone, but it's perfect for me. It's in this cute residential neighborhood that reminds me of something you might see in the south of France - all whitewashed buildings and copious walls of flowers. It's actually across the street from a very small shantytown (I am typing this to the sounds of donkeys and chickens), but it's gated and feels safe.

Mostafa was waiting for me at the train station, which is seriously, like, the greatest thing ever. I'm going to get spoiled. Then it was off to the guest house, where I was greeted like I was visiting friends by a lovely couple in their sixties, Jean-Pierre and Estrella, who are I'm guessing French expats. I have free run of the kitchen, with little snacks and everything from wine to bubbly water, and there's a tv room, an internet room, two bathrooms, and an enormous dining area. Much like my last hotel, the design's a bit of a mix: half Moroccan, half pan-Asian melange.

I did have the place to myself for about an hour, but it turns out there was a miscommunication, and there's another American family staying for a night or two. Pas de probleme; they take one bathroom; I take the other. It's all chill, and I am delighted.

Train travel was easy enough; I shared the compartment with three other Americans for the first hour. They made sure I knew that while two of them were from New York, their other friend was from, gasp, New Jersey. They were, um, a colorful bunch. The lady liked to read out loud from the guidebook; one of the guys liked to explain things (accuracy not necessary), and the other guy slept most of the time. (There was a lot of arguing. Who put what where, and why, and how they did it wrong, etc etc etc.) They dubbed me "super-intellectual" for having booked my hotel in Marrakech before having arrived. They'd been in Spain and decided to hop over to Morocco on a whim. Their stated reason? "Well, we missed the Marrakech Express in the seventies - we went to India instead - so we figured we'd give it a go forty years later." First Tangiers, then Marrakech, and now they're on their way to Fes.

Even with the incessant teeth smacking and raucous snoring and "hey there little lady"ing and extensive, authoritative opinions on the housing market bubble in Morocco based on that one empty building they saw that one time, I cannot entirely fault them - when my sandwich turned out to be nigh-on inedbile, they graciously shared their KFC with me. It's been years since I've had Kentucky Fried Chicken; who would have thought the next place I'd eat it would be on a train in Morocco?
notyourmonkey: (Default)
2009-11-18 11:27 am

Twenty minutes 'til the cab comes.

Or driver. Whatever. My train to Casa leaves at one; I should be at the station by noon, and we'll see just how well my packing of a ridiculous number of fragile things holds up over the next two days. (Note to self: do not swing backpack around quite so cavalierly.)

At this point, taking two days to get from Marrakech to DC is seeming a little ridiculous. I kind of want it over and done with, not this leisurely pace. However, I know when that alarm goes off Friday morning for work, I'll probably be glad of the time to rest in between. Still, Thursday's gonna be long. I'll leave my hotel at 8 am Morocco time and get home between 9 and 10 pm Eastern Standard Time. Bleh.

Yesterday's recap will have to wait for later. In short, cooking class was awesome, ran into a co-worker from the conference while in line at the Saadian Tombs, saw the Jemaa el Fna at night, then came back to the hotel, was greeted like a long-lost sister, and sat chatting with the owners and the Australian couple for three hours. I now have a place to stay in Sydney, should I ever venture thataways.

Okay. Last little bit of packing, including computer: go.
notyourmonkey: (Default)
2009-11-16 07:05 pm

That was epic like back-to-back viewings of the Lord of the Rings trilogy is epic.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeepic. Three hours at Les Bains de L'Alhambra. Hammam, rose petal bath, massage, with assorted extras sprinkled throughout. I was originally going to go to Les Bains de Marrakech, which were strongly recommended by my coworker, but L'Alhambra was marginally closer, cheaper, and advertised at my hotel. It's very new, very small, and very awesome.

Cut to spare those of you who don't care about spa-type things. )

The spa was a huge hunk of my day, but I also did a little meandering. I tried to go to the Saadian tombs but managed to catch them right at the start of the three and a half hour lunch break. Instead, I bargained for an hour's caleche ride through the medina (and only ended up paying fifty dirhams more than I should have, sigh), and traveled much of what I walked yesterday, only this time in a horse and carriage. We briefly picked up a friend of the driver's and her two children, and later my driver stopped to buy two cigarettes, and it wasn't anything new or particularly thrilling, but it was a nice, lazy hour in the sun, soaking up a little atmosphere without diving into the melee.

But I dived into the melee afterwards. I had the caleche drop me off at the Jemaa el Fna, and I strode off with purpose into the souks. I'd missed most of it yesterday, what with my enormous tannery detour, and I was determined to wallow in it a little.

Which I did. Really, the only thing I can think to compare it to is The Labyrinth, only with real people instead of Muppets and David Bowie. (I did see a monkey in a tutu today, though.) There is nothing straightforward about the warren of streets - and I use that word loosely - that pack into the area north of the Jemaa. Many of them are covered, which is a relief in November and an absolute necessity in July, I imagine, and then it's just city-wall-to-city-wall shops, selling god knows what. (I swear I saw the Swiffer souk this morning. Nothing but floor wipers and little rolly-brush sweepers.) Lots of repetition - hundreds of slipper stalls, leather goods, tagines tagines and more tagines, pottery, jewelry, and more knicknacks than I ever knew existed. My guidebook calls Marrakech the "land of 1001 interior designers," and they're not far off.

Sometimes it's piles of random crap; sometimes it's something the owner swears is a unique-one-of-a-kind when you can see its twin in the stall across the way, and sometimes it's something genuinely unusual. My guidelines have been "buy it because you like it not because it's special" and "you can always walk away." So far that has led me to a silver and genuine-but-deeply-flawed turquoise necklace that I got for a third the going rate (according to the fixed price shop), a carpet at again a third of the going rate (according to my guidebook and the fixed price shop, so wow), and some small ticket items that I got completely hosed on. Totally and completely. Like, double the fixed price shop. But that comes down to just a few dollars, and I more than made up for it on the other items. When knew I could bargain? I certainly didn't.

Tonight I'm having dinner at the riad again, since it's far cheaper and far better than most of the restaurants I've read about (and I don't really need belly dancers or fire breathers with my couscous). Tomorrow is the cooking class. Wednesday I leave! Shall try to fit in a little more culture and a little less shopping these next two days...
notyourmonkey: (Default)
2009-11-16 11:45 am

A few photos before I head out for the day.

(Say it with me now - I'm not getting sick; I'm not getting sick; I'm not getting sick. Bleh. Woke up this morning feeling like I'd been hit by a truck. Am hoping the sheer quantity of fresh-squeezed orange juice I'm consuming will have some sort of effect.)

Here's a whack of photos from my afternoon toodling around Rabat, gosh, almost a week ago now. The Hassan II mosque photos are plentiful and require a little sorting, so those will have to wait for another time. I haven't downloaded my photos from yesterday yet; they'll feature a lot of scenic(?) tannery shots as well as a passel of kinneared shots of the souk, aka my attempts to document things without bringing on a dozen requests for payment.

Anyway. Back to the photos. You can click on any of them to make them bigger, then click again to make them huge.


Across the river towards Sale.


The walls of the kasbah overlooking the sea.

More kasbah, a little souk, and lots of monument. )
notyourmonkey: (Default)
2009-11-15 11:19 pm

It's a gift, I'm pretty sure.

Yet once again, in yet another strange city, I have managed to undertake a relatively straightforward operation (go to dinner in a square I visited earlier in the day) and turn it into a trip to Parts Of Town What I Should Not Visit On My Own. When I mentioned to Lawrence where I'd gone and how swiftly the catcalls had gotten ugly, his eyes got enormous.

I mean, a week in Morocco and a full day wandering the souks - I'm used to a little hassle. I'm used to every third car or bike honking at me. I'm used to the "hey pretty lady" and "bonsoir" from what feels like three out of every four men (or little boys as the case may be) I pass or who passes me. I'm used to a polite smile and walking with purpose or just ignoring and walking (faster) with purpose as the situation calls for.

What I'm not used to is for every other catcall to turn into "fat whore" or "ugly slut" or other things that really don't bear repeating. I kept walking further and further, and things got less and less comfortable (though nothing actually physically threatening, and how sad is it that nothing short of 'physically threatening' is something to take especial notice of?), and I checked my map behind a truck so no one could see me not sure of where I was, and eventually I asked two policemen to confirm that I was still headed in the right direction (Time Out Guides maps = not exactly to scale, can I just say). The directions were straightforward enough: right out of the hotel down the main road, then right when that road deadends. Simple, right? (No.)

When I got to the square, I still couldn't find the entrance (signs, people. they help.), but as luck would have it, the lamp guy I had talked to earlier in the day was still there, and he herded me away from some of the more aggressive "helpers" straight to the restaurant door. It was gorgeous inside, and I had the strangest assortment of food (samosas shaped like spring rolls, actually really good sushi - fresh and tightly rolled, and chocolate fondue) that was nevertheless delicious. When it was time to head back, Lamp Guy flagged me down a taxi, for which I was egregiously overcharged (almost seven dollars!), but it was worth every penny in the end.

My hotel is tucked away at the end of an alley, and it is blissfully quiet and well-lit. I used my key to get in, but Lawrence was headed down for a smoke, so we chatted for a bit. He and Peter (brothers or "brothers"? hard to tell in Morocco, where many things are illegal) have been in Marrakech for fifteen years, and before that, Lawrence lived in Thailand for eight years. I also learned all about his rabies treatment after a dog bit him in Bangkok (Lawrence's doctor friend - "oh, it bit you below the knee? well, you have at least two days before you have to worry about your brain getting infected!"), some of the artifacts they've decorated the house with, etc. It seems that there's a little something with some sort of history from either Asia or Morocco tucked in every nook and cranny of this house.

There was chatting and discussion of breakfast ("we'll serve until at least eleven-thirty; don't hurry out of bed on our account!"), and Lawrence declared me "faaaabulous," and now I'm back at the computer, contemplating a shower and how exactly I'm going to get the pair of sneakers I wore today back home. They really, really smell like the tanneries.
notyourmonkey: (Default)
2009-11-14 05:13 pm

Ohmygod. Ohmygod? Ohmygod!

Okay, so I've been in Marrakech approximately an hour now, and I'm pretty sure I get it. I get why my coworker S was so rapturous over it and Morocco in general. Don't get me wrong; it has been really swell this last week. But let's be honest - Casablanca is kind of gross, the hotel on the beach was nice but nothing any radically different than I could have seen in the States, and the one afternoon in Rabat was just that - an afternoon.

But wow. The difference between Casablanca and Marrakech could not be more dramatic if they tried. The Casa station is in a verging-on-uncomfortable part of town, with one microscopic store filled with men who leer as I buy a bottle of water and some nuts (was it the nut-buying that was so provocative? hard to tell...). Things were chaotic and a little unclear. But Marrakech is gorgeous and terra cotta colored and clearly recently redesigned and just nice. It actually reminds me a lot of Phoenix - desert city with mountains near-ish, palm trees and buildings made of sand, and miles and miles of sky.

The hotel sent someone to pick me up, and we had a laughing French-is-neither-of-our-first-languages conversation as we drove through the new city - intensely deserty-pink, interspersed with flowers, palaces, and mosques. All wide, main thoroughfares (with several near-deaths for pedestrians, scooters, horses, horses on scooters, etc - Europe ain't got nothin' on the roundabouts here) until we turned into the kasbah, where I'm pretty sure we actually drove through some people's shops. Narrow, cramped streets lined with shops selling everything you could have ever dreamed of, but with two-way traffic on the equivalent of a sidewalk. (Some things you just try not to think too hard about.)

You can't actually drive up to my hotel; you have to park on the main street (parallel parking in Marrakech - it should be a new adventure ride in a theme park somewhere) and then meander down another, tinier back alleyway. This place takes the vague accessibility of Skhirat and chucks that right out the window - if you don't have good knees, don't even try. There are three sets of stairs to my room, and they're almost all verging on a ladder in degree of steepness.

But oh. Oh, it's gorgeous. I did my registration in the main salon, which is all low-slung couches, ornately carved ceilings, dim lighting from colored lanterns, and giant pillars. Peter, the elderly British gentleman who is my primary host here, met me at the door, escorted me to the salon, and offered me a cool towel and fresh-squeezed orange juice. After four hours on a warm, sweaty (but really quite nice) train, both were more welcome than I could have guessed.

Then up to my first room of the stay (I will change three times), right off the main (microscopic) courtyard, with Moroccan latticwork lights and decorated with - wait for it - Japanese artwork and artifacts. There's even a silk kimono for my use with the (microscopic) shower.

Right now I'm up on the very top terrace, which overlooks the courtyard of the riad next door, where dozens of birds losing their mind in the orange trees growing up through the house. I am contemplating a heartbreaking view of the Atlas mountains in the south, the setting sun reflecting off them. The call to prayer just started, and I can hear at least three four - just heard another - different muezzins. They echo off the whole city.

(We'll see if it's equally intriguing at dawn as it is at sunset.)

(Heh. There goes one more, after all the others have stopped. He's got the nicest voice so far.)

One more item of note/interest: I've not even really explored anything - just arrived at the hotel and unpacked - but already I've seen more Americans/Westerners than I have in the last week. Still just a few faces in the crowd, but exponentially more than I saw in either Rabat or Casablanca. Which makes sense - if I remember my reading correctly, the king is really pushing for a dramatic tourism increase for Marrakech, and I think part of it has already taken effect. I'll be interested to see if my opinion changes over the next few days, but right now it feels like what I've seen is what really good theme parks in the US are based on, and I can see how in a few years, it could start to feel like a theme park itself. I don't know. Will report back.

Okay. Dinner in a couple of hours. Time to go explore a little, I think.
notyourmonkey: (Default)
2009-11-13 01:35 pm

Transition day.

Well, we've just gotten back from our last official group shindig, and I am semi-officially On My Own. (The group is arranging to take me back to Casa tomorrow to the train station, which I will board for OMGMarrakech.) I plan on celebrating the On My Own-itude by ordering something foofy from the restaurant by the pool, maybe napping in the sun, and definitely sticking my feet in the ocean again. I keep idly contemplating the spa, but I think I'm holding out for a day at Les Bains de Marrakech.

This morning was pretty nifty - the tour of the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca. The first word that springs to mind is "big." The second is "ornate." I don't think there's a single unadorned inch in the entire place. (Third largest mosque in the world, largest minaret, built 3/4ths in the sea, etc etc etc.) We had an official tour guide, but I spent most of my time walking with the Dutch guy whose was born in Meknes. He'd been to the mosque many times as a worshiper, and his comments were way more interesting than the official spiel. I wore out my battery taking pictures; maybe this evening I'll get around to uploading.

Not too much else to report back. I said goodbye to several of the group who I'd gotten to know halfway well over the last few days, and I was very pleased to realize that I had several acquaintanceships conducted entirely in French. I have not spoken French this confidently nor this frequently in, I don't know. Ever? It's kind of awesome.

Tomorrow I will bid farewell to my workmates, who are headed back to Casa for a few days. (After our brief tour, I'm even gladder that I didn't make that my primary destination. Ooops.) I will bid a temporary farewell to the other woman from DC, but she and her mom will be in Marrakech my last night, and we've arranged to have dinner together. That's awfully pleasing.

Okay. Lunch, sun, nap. Go.

(Oh, and I did finish The Girl Who Played With Fire last night. I am so glad I have access to an international copy of the sequel. I don't know how you're supposed to wait another six months or so omg.)

(Oh x2, I also found out that the well-marinated, incredibly tender but slightly odd-textured chicken in this one cold salad we've been eating for the last four days is actually sheep brains. I'm debating whether or not to tell my workmates.)
notyourmonkey: (Default)
2009-11-11 11:20 pm

o.O

...I think I'm currently watching the Arabic version of that one Shania Twain video where she's in the desert wearing the leopard-print catsuit.

Why oh why didn't I turn on the tv for my first two days here? This is quality. I've got Arabic MTV, CSI:somewhere dubbed in French, a whole channel in Italian, and half a dozen soap operas split between Arabic and French. Oh, and BBC, but whatever. Arabic MTV.

Tonight I had two different kinds of couscous - one sweet with chicken and one savory with lamb and carrots, lamb with dried figs (amazing), roast mutton, artichokes the size of a grapefruit, more lamb, pigeon pastilla, seafood tartine, and that was about half of the options available. For dessert, there was this epic pecan tart/pie hybrid, a pastilla with milk, almond paste, rosewater, and honey, and my new favorite - oranges with cinnamon. There was mint tea and Ghanian dancers and Berber singers and there are pictures somewhere out there of me wearing a fez, possibly doing finger-guns at my tablemates (in my defense, they started it).

"Epic" doesn't even begin to cover it. Marrakech is gonna have a lot to live up to.

Now there are Arabic Rastafariwannabes on my tv. ...I don't even know. Life! Experiences!
notyourmonkey: (Default)
2009-11-11 06:16 pm

In which there are photos.


What a lovely hotel room. But what do I spy there beyond the curtains?


Why, yes! Yes, that would be beach! Right out the door!

More beach and Hitchcock underneath the tag. )
notyourmonkey: (Default)
2009-11-09 01:14 pm

I have no words.

(Actually, I have a lot of words. But the words are interspersed with a lot of nonverbal hand flailing.)

(Also, I just deleted a few hundred words of detailed recap of my last twenty-four hours. I promise you're not missing anything. My frozen chocolate muffin at three am was just not that exciting.)

To sum up: no travel hitches, landed an hour early in the driving rain, drove along the coast for an hour until the sun broke through, and now we are in the most ridiculous hotel I have ever stayed in, much less for work.

I HAVE A BEACHFRONT SUITE. SUITE. ON THE BEACH. LIKE, WALK OUT THE PATIO FROM MY SITTING ROOM THROUGH MY OWN TENT THINGY, DOWN FOUR STEPS, AND WHAMMO! BEACH. BEACH. RIGHT THERE.

This is what happens when you check in at ass o'clock in the morning - you get the first pick of rooms. AND THEY ARE NICE. I've got a single with soothing watercolors, a marble floor, and a purple faux suede couch. I have a shower and a jacuzzi and a bidet and a heated towel rack and A BEACH. When I got back from breakfast, there was a fruit plate and fresh flowers on the desk, as well as two different French newspapers.

I booked some stuff at the on-site spa for the afternoon - not entirely sure what, due to some dodgy translation issues, but it is mindbogglingly cheap and mindbogglingly awesome. The closest thing I can liken it to is the Canyon Ranch spa at the Venetian in Vegas, but I can get an hour's worth of massage for $30-40, instead of, well, adding a zero to that. They have EXPERIENCE SHOWERS. (or douches des experiences, if you prefer.) I'M NOT ENTIRELY SURE WHAT THOSE ARE, BUT I'M SURE I'LL TRY THEM OUT.

There's an infinity pool (cold) and a hot tub (also cold) and a massage tub (really cold), but I just ran out to the ocean (wait for it...also cold) for a little bit. BECAUSE IT'S RIGHT THERE. There was a guy surfing off to my left, and there was a shack with military guards off to my right, and this whole place is a little surreal, but I plan on thoroughly enjoying it. Pictures to follow, I'm sure.

(Speaking of surreal, my traveling companions have a hugemongous double with. um. a Hitchcock theme? Seriously. There's a series of prints of his face in a pop-arty sort of style, and two different giant oil paintings of him, and then in the bedroom there's a series of paintings of CREEPY BIRDS. I think there's such a thing as taking a theme too far. I also think I totally lucked out with my abstract watercolors. AND BEACH.)
notyourmonkey: (Default)
2009-11-08 02:34 am

It's two-thirty. Yep. International travel must be imminent.

And here I was thinking I was going to be all nice and relaxed and cruising on in to my eminently reasonable two thirty departure tomorrow. But the course of my trips never do run smoothly, so there was some last-minute work shenaniganing (shenaniganning?), and I didn't get home tonight until almost ten. Because of course I hadn't started packing.

Well, at least in the putting-things-in-a-suitcase variety. I had, like, three lists (total packing, divided out by day/activity, and non-clothes items - what? lists are soothing), several piles, and a pretty good grasp of what I wanted to do. It was just the stuff-putting that was left.

So, yeah, there are still piddly details left for tomorrow at this point (check depositing, new screen protector for the 'pod, but most importantly bodyglide, as chafing is no one's friend, especially in Africa (I presume?)), but I think I'm, um, sort of there? Almost? I mean, I have an elaborate schedule for the morning, involving trash runs and cd burning being at places right when they open at eleven, but the cab comes at noon, and like (almost) always, I'll be ready.

Hey, at least I'll sleep well on the plane. Planes. Whatever.

(Still haven't decided on a tag for this trip. Am currently resisting the urge for the painfully obvious - "marrakech express" - and just painful - "out of africa." I figure some sort of Bogart reference is inevitable.)