Saturday, February 20, 2016

[MARRAKECH] Dead in Marrakesh

I knew that the 3 AM train was a bad idea but given my strict schedule, I had no choice. I mean, you just sleep on the train, right? It was quite difficult to find a full row of four vacant seats not because there were a lot of passengers, but rather because most of them were already asleep lying on those seats. I found one right across a shady middle-aged man who won’t stop talking to himself. I thought hard if he was going to stab or mug me while I slept, but I was just so sleepy that I lost consciousness really fast.

I woke up an hour later to the voice of the ticket inspector. I showed him my ticket, end of story. NOT. Mr. Shady Middle Aged Man had no ticket and had to put on an Oscar-worthy performance of “My Ticket Should Be Here Somewhere” which took around 15 minutes or so. Or maybe it took longer but I wouldn’t really know because I succumbed to sleep once again. When I woke up two hours later, we were already near Marrakech. A family of four entered the carriage, which meant sleeping time was over for me.

Wikitravel said that taxi drivers in Marrakech are not as nice as their counterparts in other Moroccan cities. I only had one taxi ride here and I don’t want to generalize but I will do so anyway. He asked for MAD 30 (~PHP 150) where half that price would have sufficed. Dude, I live in Rabat. It’s not as if I’m totally clueless when it comes to taxi fares here. Doh? But I was still in zombie mode so I was, like, shut up and take my dirhams. He was cool anyway and kept on giving unsolicited trivia about Marrakech that fell on deaf ears.

And so it was 9 AM and I was half asleep. Wake up, sleepyhead, we have to go sightseeing. Let me sum this up really fast for you: I spent an hour each for each palace (El Badi and Bahia) and the tomb. After that, I had lunch at KFC, took a really short stroll at Djemaa El-Fna, located my Airbnb place, then slept like a baby. I was planning on checking out the night life for which this city is popular but my Airbnb room was really, really possessive. Like, so much. And that was Marrakech for me.

This does not mean to say, though, that there is nothing to see here. The city itself is a well-known hangout spot for tourists. I mean, you’ll know it’s popular if you see more than ten clueless Asians roaming the streets. I even sat next to one at KFC. Even that is a rarity in Rabat, and Rabat is the capital! For many travelers, Marrakech serves as their gateway to the south, a stopover before heading to Essaouira along the coast or inland to the desert in Merzouga and beyond. As for me, I just slept in Marrakech. Hooray, me!

The taxi driver dropped me off near the entrance of Badi Palace. I asked him in my broken Darija to choose among the two palaces and the tombs. He replied with his best “Doh, you mad?” smirk and told me that all three are within walking distance from one another. Cool. Marrakech seems okay to me. It looks like the perfect combination of the chaotic and the tranquil. I know that statement failed to make sense, but I have tons of photos and a lot of space to fill up so I really can’t shut up. Sorry guys.

The first stop was Badi Palace which felt like a repeat of Chellah but with the sight of construction workers as a bonus. Yes, the place is under construction and you might have to rely on Photoshop if you want to edit out all the scaffolding and shit. On a more positive note, kudos to the Moroccan government for their dedication in preserving their country’s heritage. The Philippines can learn a thing or two from these Moroccans. Oops, I’m badmouthing my country again. I digress. Apologies.

It was 9 AM and the storks were starting their hash session early at the rooftop. What makes the place look so Chellah is the abundance of peach hues. These ancient walls seem to subscribe to just one template. Well, the country has vast deserts and I can imagine how it might have been the inspiration for the choice of color. Aside from that, of course we have the storks. There are more of them in Chellah but them groupies here in Marrakech also made sure that their presence is felt. Marrakech, represent!

The place does not have a lot of hidden areas, which means once you go out to the main area, you’ll get to see almost everything at once. But what I suggest is that you start your trip by going underground, where what were once guest rooms of the royal palace have been converted to a museum of sorts, with photos and text providing a brief Marrakech history lesson. The region boasts a proud heritage that rivals that of Fez, if I may say so. So yes, it’s legit. That exhibit was a better alternative to Wikipedia, really.

And then you can go up to the terrace to see the storks as well as an overview of that area of the medina. You are bound to see colorful rooftops, more storks, and a panoramic view of the palace grounds. After that, go to the other side where you will find a well-decorated bathroom, a viewing room playing a video of what the place looked like in its prime, the minbar of the mosque, and an underground getaway that used to be a prison. Oh wait, there’s also a museum of sorts with a changing theme that perhaps changes every month.

Another worthy photo-op would be the spices that they sell everywhere in the medina. They come in different colors and are piled up right next to each other as if depicting sand castles of varying shades. I saw such a store on my way to Bahia Palace but I only managed to get a quick video before I almost collided with some rando pulling what seemed like construction supplies. Anyway, it won’t take you more than five minutes to get from one palace to another.

I’m sorry to say but the Bahia Palace kind of bored me. This is the more popular one of the two and most of the attractions are inside its walls. It’s fancy-fancy ceilings galore in there, and you have to contend with 100 camwhores to get a good selfie. It’s a good thing that most of the good photo-ops are way up there. These camwhores haven’t evolved fast enough to keep up with the demands of their camwhoring activities, which means nobody would be levitating anytime soon to get a ceiling selfie. Harness, maybe?

The downside is that you’ll probably get a stiff neck because you will be looking up a lot. But the design of those ceilings are just so intricate and the patterns are quite hypnotic, which makes me want to say that it’s all worth it. I think I even spent 15 minutes just sitting on the floor and pointing my phone upwards. Sometimes, you just can’t get enough. The rooms inside the palace are all empty, by the way. As I said, the main attraction is always the ceiling, whether it be painted, carved, embossed, what have you.

Moving on, Badi Palace is the one in the middle, so the walk from Bahia to the Saadian Tombs took a bit longer than expected, but nothing really exhausting. I’ve noticed that it’s hotter here in Marrakech than in Rabat and I had to take off a layer or two because I was beginning to sweat. But the breeze was cool and it was a beautiful day. Oh yeah, tombs. Given the zombie state I was in, I think it was just fitting. The difference? They were dead and fabulous. I was dead, disheveled, and having a bad hair day.

The queue to the main chamber can get a bit long but still tolerable. There is no time limit but do not stay for more than five minutes as a sign of respect for the others in line. Besides, they are just fancy tombs inside a fancy chamber. You can’t really do anything else aside from taking a photo or a video. Even if you can talk to the dead, I don't think the long line of angry tourists behind you will appreciate your talents. If anything, you might end up literally dead if some of them happen to have violent tendencies.

We’ve reached the last paragraph! Oh joy. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have the capacity to write 1500 words per hour. To cut the story short, I had lunch at KFC after getting lost at Djemaa El-Fna where there were a lot of good photo-ops but I was beginning to lose consciousness again that I just stopped caring. But since I haven’t been to the south much and I intend to go in the future, I think this won’t be my last time here. The 10-hour cumulative roundtrip by train was really exhausting, though. Plan better next time!

[MARRAKECH] Dead in Marrakesh

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