Marrakesh: fully of gypsies, snake charmers, and shady hotel operators

Marrakesh has got a vibe. The vibe is chaotic, cosmopolitan, exotic, but a little shady like a beautiful gypsy.  And it’s everywhere. It’s in the woman with their long sexy black hair and bare arms.  It’s in naked fish and preserved boar heads available and on display at restaurants in the night market.

It’s in the fancy suburbs with pink high-rises and chic cafes. And it comes alive like a heartbeat in the Place Djemaa el-Fna, the large square at the center of the city. This square is crowded and populated with real live snake charmers, performers, palm readers, and story tellers. I felt like there should be fire breathers and traveling caravans surrounding the square. Horse drawn carriages tell you you’re getting near and then carpet of people weave like seaweed as you pass.


Our group arrived in Marrakesh on Monday night, the last stop on our very descriptive “Colours of Morocco” Intrepid Tour. I’ll actually be here until Friday. On the same day the tour ended, Bethany, my best friend from business school, rolled in from Geneva Switzerland. Unfortunately springtime in Morocco means lots of allergies for me. I think the pollen and ragweed counts are off the charts, so my first night and day here, I spent taking it easy and going to bed early. It was not a serene return to the hotel, my nose started to itch and get plugged up and soon my eyes were itching and puffing up. I ran into the hotel with tearing eyes and a stuffy head, looking like a sobbing female. Luckily two Benadryl calmed down my allergies and the next morning I was fine.

I held off on my sightseeing during the free day with Intrepid because I wanted to sight see with Bethany when she arrived on Wednesday. I had a lovely salad lunch, but then the Benadryl took effect and I was out for the afternoon. Elizabeth had gone with M, who on his day off took his favorite traveler around the city, and came back sweaty but exhilarated with the sights of Marrakesh. She told me that she’d gone out a little bit the night before with M and had heard Mica was bugging M all night on my whereabouts. You may remember me mentioning Mica, who was a cool guy, but his unibrow was a major detractor for me. I could not get past it. Still, I was very flattered to hear that he’d actually come to the hotel looking for me the night before to try and see me. It’s nice to feel that beacon of “there’s other men out there who may like me,” never mind their facial hair situation.

Elizabeth and I met downstairs at the Hotel Le Caspian and started to drink some beers and cocktails. They were way too expensive, but I justified the expense because they were really tasty in the heat. Slowly the other group members joined us and it was 8 p.m., our final dinner for the tour group. It seemed our group had lost a little energy over the last couple of days, I couldn’t tell if it was fatigue from being on the go so much or from each other. We decided to stay at the hotel’s restaurant for dinner and then leave for a drink. M moved our group to a garden bar across the street and Mica and another friend whose name escapes me joined us. The group only lasted for one more beer and then we had some good byes. I really will miss traveling with Elizabeth, we got along so well that people thought we knew each other before the trip. We’ve talked about South America, so InshAllah we’ll meet again.

For once on this trip, I was actually ready to stay up past 11 and followed the three guys to a Marrakesh Nightclub. It was very posh, but another one of those places that I would never go to alone. The Black Diamond club was dark, thumping, and had lots of booths surrounding the dance floor. Drinks were expensive ($8 for a Smirnoff Ice) and I had really no desire to get drunk at a place like this. Men in tight shirts danced for themselves in front of the mirror wall on the dance floor and women in tight dresses (working girls not surprisingly) joined them occasionally, but really they seemed to be into their moves.

M and his friend were not subtle at all when, after finding a table and getting a round of drinks, they left Mica and I alone. It was so loud that we had to talk close into each other’s ear and even though I think he’s a really interesting cool guy (Guitar player, runs own business, speaks three languages, tall, and well traveled throughout Europe) I was just not feeling it. Maybe I’m not feeling anything right now because of my healing heart or maybe I’m that shallow that it really was just the unibrow. Oh well, another time and another continent.

The smoke started to get to me so M and I walked back to the hotel. He was nursing his own broken heart a little after saying goodbye to Elizabeth. Nothing happened between them, just unrequited love and unanswered feelings. But, as he said, he’s a strong man, he’ll get over it. On the cab ride back tot he hotel, I almost started to sob because M said, “You’re such a good person, you don’t deserve any bad days in your life.” I mean, really, who says stuff like that and why did I want to cry?

The next morning I woke up with a slight headache and congested chest and met M for breakfast, he officially done with the tour but was going to help me visit the post office and then find my new hotel for when Bethany arrived that night. The post office was easy and after a coffee and more chatting, we loaded up my bags and taxi-ed it to the old medina. I refused to pay a guy $6 to haul my bags so M and I set out in the windy, tiny alleys to find the new hotel.

Don’t stay at Hostel Riad Marrakesh Rouge – it’s a scam

Several directions, wrong turns, and entry into a private home later, we knocked on address #40. It was the correct Riad, or historical-home-turned-hotel, but the Mexican intern who opened door was clearly surprised to see us and had to call the owners to check on our reservation. The hotel was a little run down and I was not hopeful for the $60 price tag per night for our double with bathroom. A young man showed me to the terrace and then to my room – a box of a room with dirty walls,  two mattresses on the floor and no en suite bathroom. It was very India backpacker not Marrakesh hotel. I refused the room and got on the phone with an English woman, she said that this one was cheaper than what I reserved, but this particular hotel had no double rooms en suite like my reservation.

Instead, they had another “property” that had a double room en suite and Ali, the young man would take me there. Ok, I said, but I still felt a little weird about this whole thing. M and I followed Ali and I told him that I don’t like this sort of sh*t, it doesn’t fill me with confidence about the operation. We got to the second “property” and a young woman showed me a very tiny double room with a very tiny bathroom, both dingy. I said that it wouldn’t work out. Back at the desk, I talked with Fran the English woman and told her I couldn’t stay there, I just couldn’t picture Bethany and I being comfortable there. When I told her that we wouldn’t pay a cancellation fee, she agreed with attitude and we hung up. I asked the desk worker for that in writing and the gal got on the phone again.

This time, I talked with Abdullah, the actual owner who barely spoke any English. I handed the phone to M, but then M quickly handed the phone back to me saying, “This guy doesn’t like to talk to me.” Abdullah was really unreasonable and just was interested in me paying the money for the night, didn’t care about any bad reviews or satisfaction. Fran got back on the phone, was a little more reasonable and said they’d be over in 10 minutes. While we’re waiting, M has a cigarette and calls me outside. He shows me the makeshift paper sign of “Hostel Riad Marrakesh Rouge II” posted to the doorway of a whole other hotel – the Hotel Hayat. I take a picture and realize that Bethany and I have been victim of a “bait and switch” ruse.

M and I waited and this big body builder Moroccan shows up with a backpacker tatooed lady. Abdullah starts to get angry at M, he thinks that M is directing me to another hotel. I say to Abdullah, calmly but firm, “This is our issue, you talk to me about this.” Abdullah ignores me and talks with M. After a few sentences, M says,”I’m going to wait outside.” I try to talk, but Abdulah gets more angry at me until he can’t express his feelings in English. Fran comes over and calmly explains that there are two properties, this is a backpacker hotel so I can’t compare it to Europe, pictures on show the place (they show everything but the rooms note to self to be wary of that in future) and other blah blah blah.

I stopped being nice and say, “The place is not what we expected, you don’t have our reservation at the right hotel and this one is dirtier and dingier than any pictures. I can’t see me and my friend being comfortable here.” She looks exasperated. I stand up and say, “Let’s just forget this happened, I don’t expect to be charged for a cancellation. It’s early in the day, you can rent to other people.” Abdullah understands this and says, no we will charge you.  I say, “whatever, we won’t pay it, I’ll call the credit card company and say what you did and we’re not paying.” I leave. M has all my bags outside the hostel and rushes me away. He’s clearly agitated. As we hustle out of the Medina, M explains that Abdullah threatened to call the police on him and get him kicked out of the tourism business. I felt just horrible, M said everything would be OK, but I was still worried. We went back to Hotel Le Caspian where he got me two nights at the intrepid rate and I knew that B would be much happier here. I rested a little until it was time for the airport pickup. B had arranged an airport pickup with Fran and Abduallah through the original hotel but I had cancelled that and needed to pick her up. On the way, I got two Casablanca beers for a welcome to Morocco treat.

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