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Morocco, More Than Meets the Eye

By Lisa Collins-Haynes

San Antonio Informer

A culture shock is inevitable when landing at Marrakech-Menera Airport.  Disembarking the plane onto the tarmac on a 105 degree day may be a bit of a change, but let’s remember that you’re here for an overall experience and this just happens to be part of it.  Hopefully you’ve arranged for a driver to meet you, but if not a taxi will be happy to cart you off to your Riad (hotel).

 Helpful Tips: 1. Negotiate your rate before you get in the car.  2. Exchange your money for Moroccan currency (Dirham) and get small bills to pay taxis and street vendors.

Villa Guest Riad in Targa

Once you’re all checked in to your accommodations (the Villa Guest Riad in Targa is highly recommended) you’ll be ready for your first day of sightseeing.  As you jump into a taxi the experience begins immediately.  By simply turning onto the street Muhammad V Avenue, animals that you are accustom to seeing only in a zoo or wildlife park are all curbside for petting, riding and photo ops.  Camels, mules, monkeys oh my.   As your taxi whizzes through traffic along side bicycles, mopeds and tour buses you will see when the old Medina meets with the new Ville Nouvelle in a distinctive shift as the historic parts of the city intermingle and coexist with the modern lavish sections of town.

The main focal point that you’re automatically drawn to is the beautiful and ancient Koutoubia Mosque which dates back from the 12th century.  It is the largest mosque in Marrakech and stands over 220 feet tall (non Muslims are not allowed inside however).  The Marrakech Mega Mall – Almazar with its scores of designer shops and boutiques are laden with bright flashy lights, billboards and fast food chains is most comparable to what you would see on the Vegas Strip; not what you think of when you imagine the land of enchanting Morocco.

Medina

To embrace the culture wholeheartedly, skip the mall and head straight for the Djemaa El-Fna.  It is a large square in the Medina (old city) and where all the action takes place.  During the day, tourists will find acrobats dancing and performing through the streets, as well as snake charmers and the monkey handlers trying to entice (swindle) you to take photos with them.   Women walk around offering Henna tattoos (beware if you have ink allergies) and there are hundreds of Souks (shops) throughout to make purchases of souvenirs, spices, hand crafted items, clothing and household goods.   The best part of Djemma El-Fna is the open air food market where fresh beef, chicken, fish, goat and fruit and vegetables can be hand-picked and purchased for mere pennies.  This takes the saying from farm to plate to a whole new level.   You won’t find any Styrofoam trays and plastic wrapped meat here.  If you see a chicken you like, you tell the shopkeeper and he rings the neck, plucks the feathers and hands you your dinner.  This is not a sight for the faint of heart; but a unique sight to witness nonetheless.

Berber Village

Tip: All prices are negotiable through haggling. 

At night the Djemaa El-Fna really comes alive, street vendors will be peddling everything: candies, cigarettes, false teeth, live animals and more.  Then there are the food stalls that prepare anything from mint tea, to couscous, to lamb head, to chicken and beef kabobs on a skewer.  If you find yourself hungry you will definitely locate something to satisfy your appetite here.

Your next few days in Morocco should be spent trekking the Sahara Desert and exploring the Berber villages of the snowcapped High Atlas Mountains for a true to life Land Before Time experience.  The lifestyles of the impoverished Berber village people are simple and antiquated to say the least and will make you think twice about taking modern conveniences for granted.  There is a valuable lesson to be gained here and only those lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit will understand that there is more than meets the eye in Morocco.

Lisa Collins-Haynes

Lisa Collins-Haynes is married and the mother of one daughter. She is currently working as a Freelance Travel Journalist and has had several articles published.  Lisa is a self-professed out of control travel spirit (O.C.T.S) and she invites everyone to follow her new travel blog at www.octsblogger.wordpress.com.  

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