petite anglaise

March 2, 2007

souk

Filed under: single life — petiteanglaise @ 1:29 pm


“Enticing and intimidating in equal measures, the souk thrills the senses and jangles the nerves” – Lonely Planet, Morrocco.

I sit in the courtyard outside my room, sipping mint tea and chewing on a sweet, oily pastry. It is my first day in Marrakech and I’m trying to summon up the courage to leave the oasis of calm that is my Riad hotel, steeling my nerves for the thorough jangling which the Lonely Planet warns they are about to experience.

The maps in my possession offer little in the way of reassurance. Two or three main thoroughfares are labelled north of the place Djemma El-Fna, but from what I saw when the owner, Hamid, met me at the taxi rank and led me along a warren of tiny, unmarked passageways to the hotel, there are literally hundreds of snaking alleyways joining the dots. How I’d scoffed at the guidebook’s recommendation to bring a compass. Now I can’t help thinking I’d have done well to take it more seriously. Strolling aimlessly, surrendering all sense of direction can be quite liberating sometimes, leading you to places off the beaten track, revealing gems you wouldn’t have otherwise seen. But somehow doing all of this alone is less attractive. And more panic-inducing.

The heavy door swings closed behind me and I look back at the entrance, searching for distinguishing features. There is a number 8, but no name. I retrace our steps with care, trying to memorise the route I’d trodden with Hamid half an hour earlier. The passageway snakes left, under a dark tunnel, then right, left and right again. On the wall there is a phone number, an English mobile number it looks like, with the words “poute” below it. A misspelling of the French pute? A girl who led a local on, perhaps? I’ll never know but it will useful later. A marker showing me I’m on the right track home. Finally I’m delivered, blinking in the harsh sunlight, onto what I think must be the rue Mouassine.

My modest aim for the afternoon is to find my way to the Ali ben Youssef mosque and medersa, the Musée de Marrakech and the 12th century shrine which are huddled around a square to the east of my hotel. My destination should be only a five minute walk away, but I’m daunted all the same. And with good reason.

As I plunge into the narrow passageways my nostrils are assaulted by a million unfamiliar odours. Leather, scented wood and incense, sewerage, donkey droppings and spices. The heat and blinding light of the open alleyways give way to cool dimness; light filters through the woven ceilings in dusty diagonal stripes. The stalls are covered with a profusion of goods of all colours, shapes and sizes. They are grouped by trade, and I pass through the slipper souk, the jeweller’s souk, the tanner’s souk and a square where spices are sold and chameleons and tiny tortoises roam in cages. Through doorways I can see woodcarvers, blacksmiths and dyers at work, a man deftly gripping a chair leg with his toes while he files with his hands. It’s a sensory overload, a fascinating glimpse into a world which seems to have changed little through the centuries. If only I felt comfortable enough to linger, take pictures and soak up the atmosphere.

Sadly, I don’t. I move quickly, eyes hidden behind my sunglasses to avoid eye contact with the stall owners. “Some vendors are aggressive to the brink of assault”, claims the Lonely Planet. I wouldn’t go that far, but the constant onslaught of attention is exhausting, intimidating. As a tourist, and as a lone woman I am seen as a soft target, an easy prey. I can’t move an inch without someone trying to solicit my attention. The catcalls vary from friendly to impatient to annoyed if I don’t deign to stop.

Bonjour la gazelle!” “Hello!” My carefully calibrated smile is intended to seem friendly, but disinterested. “Venez par ici…” “Non, merci, je me balade seulement, je n’achete pas aujourd’hui…” “Mais venez quand même, regardez un peu…” If I pause for long enough to take a photo shawls are wound around my protesting head, bracelets slipped onto my reluctant wrists, handfuls of dried flowers held up to my nose. Browsing without intent is not a concept the sellers want to understand. Every passer by is an opportunity to be seized. Tourists are fools who can be cajoled, badgered, even bullied into parting with their cash.

At first I’m blithely unaware that I am being followed. But when I turn, I see the boy who’d muttered “fish and chips” as I crossed the carpet souk square. Wrinkling my forehead as I study my map, trying to understand just how it is I’ve managed to walk in circles for the past fifteen minutes without getting any closer to my destination, he circles like a vulture.

“Where you want to go? I show you.”

“I’m looking for the medersa. If I take this street will it take me there?”

“I show you.”

“You don’t need to take me, it’s fine.”

“It okay. No guide. Lovely jubbly.” He scampers off, looking back over his shoulder and motioning to me to follow. I’m still smirking at his odd vocabulary, but this isn’t what I wanted at all. What appears on the surface to be gallant assistance for a damsel in distress will probably end with a request for a tip. But I’m all souked out, I need to find a way out of the chaos. I can spare a few dirhams if need be.

If I’d studied my guidebook more carefully, I would have seen the oldest trick in the book coming sooner. I follow the boy into a shabby courtyard, home to a modest looking scarf shop. Powdered dyes in wooden bowls are spread across a low table, and the vendors make a great show of asking me to guess the colour of the dye before they wet a piece of newspaper and dip it in. A green powder is violet, a deep red powder produces indigo. Every time I turn to leave they block my way. “Why hurry? I show you… You on holiday.”

“I need to go now,” I say firmly. “Thank you for showing me this, but that really wasn’t what I asked for. I don’t want to buy anything today.”

I turn, brush of the restraining arms and walk away.

“You give me twenty dirham? For guide.” He follows, overtakes me, blocks my way.

“You said no guide.”

“Ok, you give me kiss.” He gestures at his unappetising, pock-marked cheek.

I shake my head, push past him and turn on my heel, heart beating at a hundred miles an hour. I fall into step with some tourists I don’t know from Adam, finding their presence oddly reassuring. Turning the next corner, stepping out of the path of a speeding scooter just in the nick of time, I see a sign for the Musée de Maroc. I head towards it, gratefully, losing myself in the tourist throng.

Marrakech, I think to myself as I flop down in the museum café and order my second mint tea of the day, is not for the faint-hearted.

souk1.jpg

93 Comments

  1. Fantastic post Petite. It felt like I experienced the event with you. Take care over there, but have a mind blowing experience. See you when you get back

    Jez

    Comment by JNH — March 2, 2007 @ 1:56 pm

  2. I’m sure you did anyway, but keeping arms and legs covered makes a huge difference to the amount of hassle you get. My Morocco holiday wardrobe consisted of those horrible tiered peasant skirts and long tunic tops. I looked like a total hippy, but got no hassle, whereas vendors and ‘guides’ made a beeline for the tourists wearing shorts and tshirts.

    And sunglasses so you don’t make eye contact!

    Hope you enjoyed your stay!

    Comment by beck — March 2, 2007 @ 1:57 pm

  3. I am back, by the way. And I wore only the most demure outfits, believe me.

    Comment by petite — March 2, 2007 @ 2:01 pm

  4. when are you meeting up with m fog & co?

    Comment by roisin — March 2, 2007 @ 2:23 pm

  5. sorry – that should of course be ‘m. frog’

    Comment by roisin — March 2, 2007 @ 2:24 pm

  6. Sounds like Bangkok. I was chased by a tuk tuk driver, who mounted the footpath to chase me (!), and was demanding a ‘kangaroo dollar’ for his efforts. Give me a break.

    But, it’s always the oldest tricks that we read about the night before that we get hit with the next day, before we even know it.

    Comment by Little Miss Moi — March 2, 2007 @ 2:47 pm

  7. Well, at least I know the going rate for a kiss in Morocco–20 dihram. I wonder how much that is in real money?

    Comment by homeimprovementninja — March 2, 2007 @ 2:48 pm

  8. While you were still eating a pastry at the the hotel I cringed for you… knowing what was to come. I admire you certainly, but I also got a sick feeling in my stomach because you wrote so well and I was there with you in my mind.

    This kind of environment is so stressful to me! Not only because it would be stressful to anyone, but because I’m such an anal type A personality, I like my space, I hate crowds and I’m always on the look out for pick pockets and scammers, etc.

    It’s just exhausting! LOL.

    Comment by meritt — March 2, 2007 @ 3:24 pm

  9. Sounds great!

    Did you manage to get, “We’ll always have Paris” into the conversation?

    More pictures and stories please – we’re probably going later in the year, when Mrs Albion takes part in a charity walk across the Atlas Mountains.

    Comment by Damian — March 2, 2007 @ 3:36 pm

  10. Glad you escaped your guide…I felt really tense reading this as I had a lot of experiences like that when I was travelling alone – quite wearing after a while!
    Sounds amazing, though – love the way you write so richly and evocatively about the souk. Having a pang of wanderlust now!

    Comment by Lucy Diamond — March 2, 2007 @ 3:55 pm

  11. That’s a holiday? No thanks. Especially solo, I wouldn’t have lasted a minute in that place. Give me a calm relaxing tropical beach with a contant flow of alcohol, and several books to read. Glad you made it back ok. Is that a dangerous place in terms of crime?

    Comment by Adam — March 2, 2007 @ 3:59 pm

  12. I found Marrakesh to be quite unpleasant actually, in the type of hassle that you get. I don’t mind hassle or being approached per se, I’ve had more than enough of it in central America and Vietnam, but it’s different in Morocco, I found it much more threatening, intimidating and unpleasant. And I was there with a ‘male escort’! I can only imagine how it feels when you’re on your own …

    Comment by kate — March 2, 2007 @ 4:26 pm

  13. Those colors are marvelous. I agree with Jez- it made me feel like I was there with you. Just beautiful.

    Comment by Katherine — March 2, 2007 @ 5:12 pm

  14. This reminds me of an almost identical experience in the souk at Marrakech several years ago. I went with a girlfriend (who was blond, even worse) and naively we pooh poohed having a proper ‘guide’. We were seriously hassled by two young locals, but were relieved when they were chased off by an older stall-holder. However, it was only so the older man could usher us into his own den. We eventually escaped but had great difficulty finding our way out. Sad to say, but never again would I go there without a male in tow. Anyway, thank you so much for the memory.

    Comment by Chazel — March 2, 2007 @ 5:32 pm

  15. You brought it all back. I was with my husband but we still had to fight off offers of help. The one time we didn’t, we ended up in a shop selling rugs.

    Comment by Linda — March 2, 2007 @ 5:33 pm

  16. Beautifully written – and I thought the market stall holders in Otavalo, Ecuador were full-on, piling artwork into my hands, making me unravel yards of lace, wrapping scarves around me. Now I see they were mere beginners in the game!

    Comment by Sarah — March 2, 2007 @ 5:51 pm

  17. My husband and I had a very similar experience in Morocco and were very glad to be trying to regain our sense of direction together- can’t imagine doing it alone. Despite the chaos of it all, however, we did end up at a lovely little restaurant and had what was probably one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life. Your post brought back that day, thank you.

    Comment by quinn — March 2, 2007 @ 6:08 pm

  18. Bloody hell Petite, did I not warn you? I knew everyone thought I was being a horrid kill-joy but one of the best bits of a holiday is to stop and stare, sit, sip and people watch but in a place like Marracech the culture just won’t allow it. This is what I told you my friends found so exhausting when they went to Fez. If only one could make oneself invisible like Harry Potter or indeed Muslim women. I don’t think that Western men fare that much better, although they don’t have as many demands for a kiss perhaps. But then…

    Comment by Welsh Cake — March 2, 2007 @ 6:14 pm

  19. I’m with you on the smell.

    There is nothing quite like it.

    Glad you had a good time, even if it was slightly intimidating.

    Comment by gerbil — March 2, 2007 @ 6:18 pm

  20. “Lovely jubbly”

    PMSL!

    Nice one Petite. Made me smile at a time I needed to be made to smile.

    Thanks.

    TT.

    Comment by TryingTimes — March 2, 2007 @ 6:44 pm

  21. Great post. Sounds exciting and envigorating if a tad scary.

    Comment by Cheria — March 2, 2007 @ 6:54 pm

  22. I’ve just added my marrakech photos to flickr (click on top photo for link) and the essaouira set will follow.

    On balance, I did have a lovely break, because I had wonderful authentic hotels to retreat to when the outside world became too much.

    But it feels odd coming home and feeling proud that I coped on holiday. Surely that isn’t what holidays are supposed to be about?!

    Comment by petite — March 2, 2007 @ 6:58 pm

  23. It’s not the middle of Cambodia for goodness sake! You clearly didn’t do much solo backpacking during your university days.

    Glad you had a good break but I sense you may be being overdramatic for the sake of some of your less adventurous readers?

    Comment by Jamila — March 2, 2007 @ 7:39 pm

  24. Well, my last holiday to Paris in 2001, before I moved here, wasn’t exactly what I was expecting either… I came over to celebrate a milestone birthday and ended up getting pickpocketed in the metro. It proved to be more of a learning experience than a holiday. But I still had some fun along the way… just not THAT afternoon.

    Comment by The Bold Soul — March 2, 2007 @ 8:28 pm

  25. What an evocative description, I almost felt I was there.

    In the past I have used holidays – cycling or short trips backpacking alone – almost as a way of proving something to myself. It can be a big confidence booster.

    So too can interactions with other holidaymakers, who don’t hold stale preconceptions of you as a friend/colleague/daughter/(famous blogger, in your case!;-) ) but accept just you as you are.

    I visited the Mosquee when I over in Paris six weeks ago – the little walled garden where mint tea and oily pastries are served is the closest to experiencing that sort of thing.

    Best wishes.

    Comment by LKH — March 2, 2007 @ 8:34 pm

  26. Oops – if my last parargraph reads oddly, I meant the closest I’ve come to experiencing that!

    Comment by LKH — March 2, 2007 @ 8:38 pm

  27. A friend and I were followed around for a while in Athens, until my friend put her coke bottle in her shoulder bag and thwacked the follower with it! Dangerous!
    We found the narrow lanes of Mykonos were easy to get lost in,too. Once, we found a nice little coffee bar – then it took us 3 days to find it again! after that we became lotus-eaters, and worked there for several weeks!

    Comment by anno domini — March 2, 2007 @ 11:10 pm

  28. Great photos, Petite.I especially liked the one of the donkey that seemed to be having a nap leaning against the wall!

    “Surely that isn’t what holidays are supposed to be about?!” Perhaps not, but I don’t imagine you will ever forget this one.

    Comment by Peg — March 2, 2007 @ 11:36 pm

  29. Loved it. It brought me back to my trip to Marrakech and going alone through the medina to please Tonton: http://cyberfrance.blogspot.com/2006/09/more-moor.html.

    Comment by Lost in France — March 2, 2007 @ 11:57 pm

  30. What a beautiful, evocative, downright scary post! I have had many similar experiences throughout various parts of Indonesia. Having to live there forced me cover myself in order to find some small measure of anonymity. Hopeless really. The blonde hair, as in your case, was a dead giveaway…
    Glad you had a wonderful time. Welcome back!

    Comment by claire — March 3, 2007 @ 12:42 am

  31. “Marrakech…is not for the faint-hearted.”
    And especially, not for a single, white female.
    Still, my hat’s off to you for stepping out of your comfort zone to experience new things. Very Hemingway-esque…

    Comment by Isabella — March 3, 2007 @ 12:50 am

  32. Jamila – I don’t think my backpacking days are really relevant. I’m not the carefree person I was in my twenties – when I thought I was pretty much invincible. I’m a mother and that changes a lot.

    I challenge any single female to walk around the souk in Marrakech and not feel spooked.

    Comment by petite — March 3, 2007 @ 1:21 am

  33. Oh Petite, be careful! That was a nerve-wracking post. My (new) husband wanted to go there for our honeymoon but I think we’ve decided on Europe instead. Whew! I can’t wait for the next instalment. The Straight Poop

    Comment by Tamara — March 3, 2007 @ 1:46 am

  34. It sounds very like the casbah in Sidi Bou Said in Tunisia. I was travelling with a group, so felt quite safe, but it’s a very jarring experience to have the vendors be so agressive. It doesn’t have to be Cambodia to be unnerving. And being blond doesn’t help us, either. It’s like having a beacon on your head that screams, “Tourist!”

    Glad you enjoyed your trip.

    Comment by Dawn — March 3, 2007 @ 3:01 am

  35. I’m reminded of my trip to Kenya. For some reason I found it very sad that the natives in tourist areas had abandoned their traditional acitivies in favour of attacking tourists with wooden animal carvings, but I guess trade is trade, whether it be with tourists or locals.

    Comment by Ignorminious — March 3, 2007 @ 3:43 am

  36. My internal soundtrack during that adventure in the market would have been Year Of The Cat.

    Comment by xl — March 3, 2007 @ 5:05 am

  37. Geez Jamila, over dramatic? that’s a bit unfair.

    I have not been to Marakesh but i just did through some words, and frankly they were bloody good words.

    Thank you Petite for your so good descriptive words, and i think you probably find that you actually need a holiday after that holiday.

    Hmmmm, i think you will probably have that feeling of un-easiness all over africa, and most of all it will be related to your skin colour.

    one just has to follow your instinct, and have eyes in the back of your head

    love your posts!!!

    Comment by Suzanne — March 3, 2007 @ 9:22 am

  38. Great post.

    “…If I’d studied my guidebook more carefully, I would have seen the oldest trick in the book coming sooner…”

    More pictures and stories please…

    Best wishes.

    Comment by Azazelo — March 3, 2007 @ 11:32 am

  39. Gorgeous pictures!
    You’re right about the sunglasses too, they’re great to hide behind.

    Comment by FB — March 3, 2007 @ 12:03 pm

  40. At least it wasn’t Mr Frog trying to kiss you!
    http://www.helenafrithpowell.com

    Comment by Helena Frith Powell — March 3, 2007 @ 12:14 pm

  41. Great photos and a wonderful post. Pleased you are back in one piece and looking forward to hearing about the dinner with Mister Frog and friends. . . .

    Comment by sablonneuse — March 3, 2007 @ 12:30 pm

  42. sound like you need a holiday …

    Comment by mad muthas — March 3, 2007 @ 1:08 pm

  43. This reminds me of my trip to Sri Lanka. Although having discarded shorts in favour of more modest sarongs, I could do little to hide my pale skin and red hair. Everywhere I went, I was hassled, followed and on occasions proded. The fact that I was travelling with a male companion did little to deter the locals. Even a hastily purchased baseball cap didn’t help. We ended up socialising with other Europeans rather than discovering local culture. It was a great shame. Maybe I was too young and lacking self-confidence. I’d happily do it again, differently. Marrakech sounds intriguing…

    Comment by Ariel — March 3, 2007 @ 2:13 pm

  44. That was a great post. That sounds stressful but also memorable. I’m glad you got through it ok, lovely jubbly.

    Comment by Doug — March 3, 2007 @ 5:02 pm

  45. i feared something like this when you first wrote you were going to Marrakech alone. i had a similar experience 20 years ago. politely saying no thank you did nothing to deter the rug seller who grabbed my hand and forced it to his crotch before i could yell to my tour guide for help. he soundly told the guy off (at least it sounded like it. who really knows.) and ushered me back to our group, which included a red headed dwarf who usually drew attention away from the rest of the women. i’d always thought of myself as an adventurous traveller but the two weeks i spent in morocco humbled me a bit. there are places a lone, blond, north american woman is not welcome and i now know better than to spend my hard-earned money going to these places. i’m glad you got out alive and didn’t end your days as a domestic slave in a desert tribe. (that’s the story our tour guide gave us to encourage us to stay with the group.)

    Comment by nancy — March 3, 2007 @ 5:39 pm

  46. I lived for several months in the Middle East with some fellow students, some of whom were blond. At first the women had these problems also, in the souk, but after some advice from friendly locals, they began to wear lightweight but opaque scarves over their hair; their problems were reduced to curious questions about their religion, to which they were able to answer truthfully, and were still respected and never touched.

    Comment by eric — March 3, 2007 @ 5:51 pm

  47. So easy to get lost in the Souk, I got accosted by a woman who drew a henna tattoo on my arm before I could protest. She then tried to charge me £20 AND it burnt my skin!! But it’s a fabulous place. If anyone else goes I would recommend going outside Marrakesh and walking/mule ride up the Atlas mountains to this place http://www.kasbahdutoubkal.com/kasbah/index.html

    Comment by Sister Louise — March 3, 2007 @ 7:30 pm

  48. like Little Miss Moi, this sort of reminds me of bangkok, too: sensory overload, everyone looking to sell you something or offer you “assistance” for a (sudden) fee, and kids who look innocent but can swindle you in a heartbeat. not for the faint of heart, it’s true! your ability to survive it is inspiring.

    but i don’t want to sound like bangkok is a horror show — it’s a gorgeous place, and many of the people were warm, gracious, and very gentle. and the food!

    Comment by franko — March 3, 2007 @ 7:38 pm

  49. Unfortunatly you get the same problems all over middle east/ north africa. It is possible to get used to it but i think you need to have grown up there as I did to realy be able to tolerate it (and knowing how to scold them in their own dialect does of course help). Hope it didn’t put you off too much, there are loads of wonderful places to see in that part of the world!

    Comment by Ellie — March 3, 2007 @ 8:31 pm

  50. Wow – it hasn’t changed a bit since 1968!
    I must go again to see if the years have made a difference for me as an older traveller. They certainly have in other countries – not that that is much comfort to you now, Petite.

    Red-heads get the hardest time in the Far East, because devils have red hair, so locals are doubly curious.

    Anyway,if you can stand to wear one of those chiffon-y scarves over your head and shoulders in the heat, it will completely change your experience… worth doing at least once.

    Comment by Ruth — March 3, 2007 @ 8:44 pm

  51. I too had the oldest trick in the book played on me, but in safe old Islington, when a little gypsy boy came in to the pub where I was sitting – in an alcove by the window – and asked me complicated directions, spreading a tube map out on the table between me and my friend. When he left, my phone was gone from the table… I even KNEW about that trick! Fortunately I reported it the minute I realised (using my friend’s phone) because when the bill came it had £40-worth of calls to Romania on it.

    In other words, hope you had a swell time! It looks stupendously exciting.

    Comment by Ms Baroque — March 3, 2007 @ 9:07 pm

  52. Loved your description and loved this line in particular,
    “Browsing without intent is not a concept the sellers want to understand.”

    I’d be proud, too, of such a holiday.

    Comment by Molly — March 3, 2007 @ 11:47 pm

  53. Istanbul was like this too- although this sounds worse. . . It was exhausting being hasseled every 5 feet.

    Comment by Nicole — March 4, 2007 @ 12:06 am

  54. Your trip to Marrakech sounds like one of life’s little experiences. I really loved your pics. Especially the contrast between the chaotic street scenes and the tranquil interiors.

    Comment by AussieGil — March 4, 2007 @ 2:36 am

  55. Glad your back and had a safe time. On the bright side at least life will never be boring for too long when you have a few adventures up your sleeve to reflect on. Lovely writing.

    Comment by Cleopantha — March 4, 2007 @ 2:48 am

  56. This is the first time I’ve commented. I got back from Marrakesh myself two weeks ago, and I was so glad to get back. I was travelling with my husband, but still got hasseled loads. We spent two days trying to get to the Medersa, and day two, as we were being led off to the tanneries, which the person we were with assured us was en route to the Medersa (!), I spied a French couple with an apparently superiour map. I’m not a big fan of the Guide du Routard, I find the style really annoying, but it did seem to have an excellent guide to the souks, and with the help of this couple and their map we did find our way. We too were staying in a Riad, and it was too central. We ended up in Guéliz a couple of times just to get away from it all! Bought a great handbag too, but from the craft centre near the city walls rather than from the souks. I was put off buying things in the souks by the person at the hotel telling us it was like Tati!

    Comment by Jane — March 4, 2007 @ 9:42 am

  57. Hi, I’m a new reader (in the past few months) and I had the same experience when I went to Marakech last spring. I have red hair and it seemed even more exceptional to Moroccans then blond hair! I was even with a group of French students and a guide and I was still harassed. That being said, I still loved the experience. I did have a problem taking pictures however, which was unfortunate because I don’t have much to remember the medina by! I just didn’t feel comfortable taking pictures of people living their lives, almost guilty for treating them like a zoo. But, Essaouira was much calmer and the people were much less agressive. And the beach was amazing! I just loved it. Anyways, you really made me remember my experience… definently took me back in time. :)

    Comment by starcloud9 — March 4, 2007 @ 9:53 am

  58. Did you dine in your hotel? Eating at restaurants alone is always intimidating (the thing I disliked most about some solo holidays I went on a few years back), but in these circumstances it sounds like it would be horrendous!

    Comment by old school friend — March 4, 2007 @ 12:41 pm

  59. “I’m a mother and that changes a lot.”

    I am a long time reader and a single mother of a 4 years old myself.

    I agree we are no longer the intrepid ones of our twenties and that having a child changes everything, so why did you choose Marrakesh? I assume that as a “mother” you did your homework and got good information about the place before buying a ticket, didn’t you?

    There are several touristic alternatives on equally exotic, but less intimidating places, in the same price range.

    I must add that I know and understand very well that motherhood doesn’t prevent you from being a human being and that moms are entitled to make unusual travel choices simply because they want the thrill of an unknown exotic place, but then you must assume the responsibility of the decision without hiding behind a “I am a mother” shield giving patronizing answers to beligerant readers who questioned your choice. You don’t need to justify yourself like this.

    Actually, you don’t need to justify yourself. Period.

    Comment by Francesca — March 4, 2007 @ 12:46 pm

  60. I did eat in the hotel while I was in Marrakech, yes. It was such a lovely place, and the owner just asked me what kind of tagine I fancied eating, and served me a three course meal in an alcove in the courtyard… It was heavenly. The dark corridor leading to my Riad was the main factor in that decision, but when I moved on to Essaouira, I did eat out alone. I can do anything with a book in my hand.

    As for choosing the destination, I wanted some sun but without going on a really long haul flight (I don’t know why, but I can handle being a three hour flight away from Tadpole, but not a ten hour flight away) and a (blonde) friend had been recently and couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Admittedly she stayed in the sort of hotel where you meet fellow travellers and went on some group expeditions too, so she wasn’t alone much.

    I booked before reading the guidebook, and did feel slighly apprehensive about some aspects of it, but I would agree with the Lonely Planet’s assessment that it’s intimidating but not actually dangerous.

    Comment by petite — March 4, 2007 @ 1:03 pm

  61. Marrakesh intimidating? Because some people really want you to buy their things when you go to the most touristy area in the most touristy town of Morocco? If you wander around 10 MINUTES from Djemaa-el-fna no one bothers you (at least, no one bothered me, a lone blond). Most moroccans are really respectful of women, and the best part of the medina is getting lost in it. You can always ask someone the general direction of the main square to find your way back.
    But I’m glad you found such “authentic” riad hotels, Petite.

    Comment by Claire — March 4, 2007 @ 1:06 pm

  62. Er… this is a bit harsh Francesca. Presumably, by saying “I am a mother and that changes a lot”, Petite just wanted to remind us that she now has another person to consider in addition to Number One (and that perhaps, former Number One has even been relegated to Number Two!). Hence having to rein in potential impulses and be responsible at all times. This doesn’t strike me as a mother making excuses, just a responsible mother putting her daughter first. This however doesn’t mean that Petite should relinquish cultural holidays in favour of package herdathons to the sun where the undiscerning are flown en masse to spend two weeks in a gated village sitting by a pool daytime and perfecting their Cheesy Wotsits tan while drinking themselves into oblivion at night, reminiscing of Mayawrca and waddling along to 90s hits…

    Comment by Ariel — March 4, 2007 @ 1:08 pm

  63. Reminiscing about. Grammar, grammar. Sorry!

    Comment by Ariel — March 4, 2007 @ 1:11 pm

  64. Your market experience sounds quite unnerving. It reminds me of the markets in Cairo and the Old City in Jerusalem. I’ve been hassled by stall owners in markets in the Caribbean and Mexico, but it was nothing compared to the hassling in the Middle East. In the Caribbean and Mexico, it almost felt like a game – the looking, the fake interest/disinterest, the haggling, etc. In Jerusalem, though, it often took on an almost sinister quality, and definitely didn’t have the easy-going feel of the other markets.

    I’ve done the Jerusalem market alone, but only because I live in Israel and feel comfortable with the culture. It doesn’t sound nearly as intimidating as the market in Marrakech, so I’m really impressed that you tackled it on your own.

    Comment by Liza — March 4, 2007 @ 1:34 pm

  65. Ahh! Adventure! You are braver than I am. The hotel looks absolutely scrumptious.

    Comment by Sophmom — March 4, 2007 @ 5:37 pm

  66. I’m blond haired, blue eyed and fair skinned and I wouldn’t be in the least bit offended if a bumptious young Moroccan rug selling lady were to grab my hand and force it to her crotch

    Comment by Trevor — March 4, 2007 @ 7:22 pm

  67. You described it so vividly, it actually made me shudder and remember why I made a vow never to go back. It´s another culture and people behave very differently but you don´t go on holiday to be hassled and intimidated, on the other hand I can understand completely the reasoning behind you not wanting to be too far away from Tadpole… that feeling goes on longer than you might imagine. Once a mother always a mother. Here´s to motherhood and the courage to go on exotic holidays especially by oneself! Sometimes it´s good to ¨feel the fear and do it anyway.¨ Glad you enjoyed the experience overall.

    Comment by Sue — March 4, 2007 @ 10:37 pm

  68. You really are brave, I thought about going to Marrakesh but I travel alone too and I just couldn’t do it. I was proud of myself the first time I managed Gatwick on my own!

    Comment by Jules — March 4, 2007 @ 11:01 pm

  69. Mother was stunned when,in Marrakech with a group of friends,a shop keeper made an offering (to the lone male in her group)of several donkeys in exchange for her. She was not amused when instead of telling the keeper what he could do with his asses, he pretended to contemplate the offer. Upon initial rejection,the keeper upped the stakes:a ride in his Mercedes.

    Many years later,the offer remains,a threat by my siblings and myself whenever we feel the need to put er in her place ;)

    Comment by Belle — March 5, 2007 @ 12:08 am

  70. Can you get those particular ‘rugs’ through customs or must you simply enjoy them in situ?

    Comment by claire — March 5, 2007 @ 12:22 am

  71. If you want some sun but without going on a really long haul flight, and don’t want to be hassled, I can heartily recommend Malta. I went there last October and thought it was a wonderful place. Have you been?

    Comment by Andria — March 5, 2007 @ 12:35 am

  72. (Although it may be a bit cold in March…)

    Comment by Andria — March 5, 2007 @ 12:36 am

  73. Aaah Trevor, you make my day!

    Comment by Welsh Cake — March 5, 2007 @ 9:15 am

  74. that was in reference to what Nancy No 45 said. I was drunk again with the whiskey. I apologise.

    Comment by Trevor — March 5, 2007 @ 10:54 am

  75. So… how was the meeting with Mr Frog’s friends?? :)

    Comment by petit_litchi — March 5, 2007 @ 10:58 am

  76. Wonderful description of a fascinating place. We had a few days in Marrakech and found it enthralling but exhausting. We moved on to Essaoiura for a further few days afterwards and loved it. Very laid back, stunning beach and hardly any hassle.
    Like you, we found it difficult to explore the souks, as soon as you stopped you were pounced on. We got lost on countless occassions and also got suckered by some urchin offering to show us the way – straight to his uncles’s spice shop

    Comment by Gumpher — March 5, 2007 @ 11:32 am

  77. I visited Morrocco about 18 years ago.

    I couldn’t get over how blatantly sleezy they could be. The men would have no qualms about taking any excuse to touch you or grab money from you. A pool attendant once said to me once “Have you got sunburn, when I had gently but firmly pushed him away”. “No I replied, I just don’t want to be touched by you.” I was sitting there with my husband at the time, but that certainly didn’t seem to be a deterrent for him…..

    As for the guide thing, apparently, we were told, the best thing to do is to employ a guide a the beginning of the day as a “minder” from other guides. I resented that approach though, and after two weeks there vowed not to return!

    Going to the market took on a very different meaning in Morrocco!

    Your post brought those memories flooding back! I’m glad you had some good times on holiday- but I do sympathise with your market experience!

    Comment by Sally Lomax — March 5, 2007 @ 4:20 pm

  78. I’m a bit blond sensitive as well. Sometimes I feel like I could wear and big brown paper bag and still get harassed on the streets if I’m traveling alone. It’s very scary when it happens. I use to take it so personally, all the cultural assumptions about what kind of woman I must be if I’m blond. It still is very jarring, but I shake it off a lot quicker.

    Comment by Sam — March 5, 2007 @ 4:32 pm

  79. “a big brown bag”…should of proof read my post.

    Comment by Sam — March 5, 2007 @ 4:33 pm

  80. Sorry to be cheeky Petite but can you help me and my pathetically challenged little brain? I have started my own blog and have tried to follow the adsense instructions but it’s bloody well beyond me. I just can’t do it. Would you mind if you or your ‘posters’ offered advice?
    Anyway blog is http://www.alicebandsblog.blogspot.com

    Comment by Welsh Cake — March 5, 2007 @ 5:29 pm

  81. Jamila is a bit harsh, I think. Why does she assume the middle of Cambodia is worse than Marrakech? The middle of Cambodia is a doddle – not scary at all. But everyone I know who has been to the souks of both Turkey and Marrakech says that the level of pressure-selling is greater there than they have experienced anywhere else. But also that the generosity of the people, and the quality of experience is greater than anywhere else.

    Sounds to me like Petite was quite realistic, and handled herself with aplomb.

    Comment by Damian — March 5, 2007 @ 5:51 pm

  82. This is ONE post I will NOT show my husband… I keep nagging him about going to Morocco with our kids and he’s like, what and get hounded all day long over there in the bazaar? glad you got back and had a relatively good time ! What did you bring back for Tadpole !?

    Comment by magillicuddy — March 5, 2007 @ 6:39 pm

  83. As I sit here in Oklahoma City, wishing I was able to travel abroad, the post about your Marrakech adventure makes me think that perhaps I’m not as adventurous as I thought. Perhaps back in my younger days …. *sigh* I’ve been enjoying your blog for several months now. I look forward to each new entry.

    Comment by Sugarcube — March 5, 2007 @ 7:52 pm

  84. Crikey. Travelling is hazardous, isn’t it?

    Sounds like you handled yourself impeccably at the hands of fabric stall pimps, though.

    Comment by Morgan — March 5, 2007 @ 10:27 pm

  85. I can understand the experience you had, Petite.

    My skin is very pale and I have light hair and very blue eyes. When I went to Egypt with my folks, I was about twenty at the time and we went for a stroll in a market in Cairo. A strange, somewhat sleezy-looking, guy kept following us around, looking at me all the time. I can’t say he actually was threatening because he remained somewhat at a distance but he made me extremely uncomfortable and nervous. I made sure to stay close to my parents.

    On the other hand, when we were puzzling our way through the metro in Cairo, trying to make sense out of the squiggly lines of Arab writing for the metro stations, a young Egyptian stopped and gave us directions. No hassle, no demand, nothing, just kindness. Then again, he did look like a young man you’d find in the Paris metro, all dressed up in a business suit and on his way to work.

    Comment by Corinne — March 6, 2007 @ 9:57 am

  86. I find that an afternoon in Brixton is much the same experience as Petite’s.

    ‘Skunk, weed, pills, coke’…

    Comment by David in London — March 6, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

  87. Petite, do you mind if I just cut and paste your post into an email for my mum, minus the kissing scene of course. I just got back from Marrakech yesterday and your description exactly describes the experience. Intimidating but not actually dangerous. And that Marrakech Museum was impossible to find, until we stumbled onto it. The maps were of no use at all, as the stalls created their own alleyways and I swear the map maker was an impressionist.

    We played Russian roulette and had dinner in place Djemma El-Fna one night. Naturally, we were served expensive things that we hadn’t ordered, had to argue the bill like every other tourist for additions we hadn’t had, and paid proper restaurant prices, but we managed to avoid food poisoning. So it’s was a great experience.

    Did you not try the 3Dh freshly squeezed orange juice ? The best bargain in Marrakech. And today it is wet and rather colder in London.

    Comment by Camshty — March 6, 2007 @ 2:56 pm

  88. I agree with franko, although I said I was hassled in bangkok it was a great place. Would hate for people to think I’m dissing it cause it was fantasmo. But could be full on.

    Comment by Little Miss Moi — March 6, 2007 @ 3:52 pm

  89. I spent a month travelling around Morocco by myself (pale skin, green eyes, redhead)and I really rate it as a great place to visit. It probably helps to view places like that as a travel experience rather than a holiday – fewer expectations. Also, that I was pretty well covered up, learnt enough arabic to say “no thankyou, not today”, and I hung out with some young professional, educated Moroccans. I met a family who insisted I stay with them but it took a slightly awkward turn when they couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to marry their brother to get him into the UK….
    It’s a massive culture shock and I think that is more apparent in a short and/or first trip. I do dream of going back one day – it’s a completely different world.

    Comment by honeybee — March 6, 2007 @ 6:27 pm

  90. Well that’ll be my next stop then ;-)

    Comment by fjl — March 6, 2007 @ 9:11 pm

  91. I love Marrakesh. It’s a magical place. Getting lost in the souk is the best part.

    Comment by Banana — March 6, 2007 @ 10:25 pm

  92. Damn, I’m glad you came out okay…I was starting to get a bit nervous reading this post.

    Thought you might have to “layeth the smacketh down” on his “candy ass”.

    Okay, I’ve obviously been watching WAYYYY too much WWE.

    Comment by Mlle Smith — March 7, 2007 @ 5:23 am

  93. Yes, sometimes you simply have to learn to experience a place, before you can really start to enjoy it.

    But I’ll tell you what – it sure as hell beats a day shopping in Croydon …

    Comment by Roads — March 8, 2007 @ 5:31 pm


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