Thursday, July 23, 2009

Guelizing in Marrakech

If you get tired of hustling and bustling life of medina, head out to Gueliz, the new and fancy part of the town. Gueliz is the opposite of medina – modern and relaxed, less people and more open spaces. If your budget allows you can relax in some of the super trendy restaurants or cafes. But if your budget is not as kind, you can stroll the endless avenues, read a book in some gorgeous park or just walk around and enjoy the weather. No worries if you get lost, just ask a random person for “main square” or Djemaa el-Fna and they will point you to the right direction. Or grab a taxi back, it will most likely cost you around 10-20 DH (provided that the taxi driver isn’t giving you a city tour).

Majorelle Gardens is a nice place to visit also, admission is 30 DH. It’s filled with rare plants, birds and vivid colors. There is also an Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech on the garden grounds. The garden itself is like a chill colorful haven in that city of heat and crowd. Most of the visitors are tourists, but not the obnoxious XXL T-shirt wearing fat American kind. You can sit on one of the benches and read a book all day long if you want to, you're not going to get hastled like in public gardens. They also have a cafeteria on the premises, but i found it greatly over-priced. The garden was much smaller than i expected, but quite relaxed and nice nonetheless.

On the note on recommending things i'd also like to mention that Cafe de la Poste has very good mojitos, though with matching prices.

Every time i go walking in Gueliz something funny or absurd happens. Last time a guy followed me over 3 hours on his bicycle. In the beginning he drove next to me, but when i got tired of it and told him to fuck off, he crossed the street and continued his mission from there. At first his persistence was slightly creepy, but i quickly got used to with him tailing me and he became just a background noise. When i reached back to medina, where my hotel is, i took extra care of getting rid of him. Whatever his motivation was for following me, i didn’t really want him to camp out in front of my hotel or something.

At the end of the Avenue Mohammed VI (on older maps it’s named Avenue de France) there is sort of an empty grass field with some bushes. People use it for picnics or other gatherings. There are also 4-5 football courts and every evening some teams are kicking each others asses. I found this place one evening quite accidently, but now I go there regularly to see them play. It’s actually a great entertainment because some of the teams play very well. The best time to go is around 6 pm, the match usually ends a bit after sunset.

Football is a popular game in Morocco, you can see the local youth playing it everywhere throughout the city. When me and Kaidi were visiting Fes in last October, we went for a late evening walk one day and somehow got drafted to a local youth football team. We had very much fun, so we made a deal we’ll meet again the next day. The next night we played for some time (I even scored a goal, haha) then some of the guys started playing for money and we just sat back and made small-talk with the ones who weren’t playing. I remember one moment we were talking and making jokes with the guys and the next there was something round and hard impacting on high speed with my face. My head snapped sharply and there was a bad sounding crack somewhere in my neck. It took me some time to realize that I got kicked point blank in the face with a football. Kaidi had been sitting next to me and the kick was so well aimed that part of her face was also grazed. Two tourists with one blow :). I’m glad i was watching aside at the time of the kick, otherwise it might’ve ended with a broken nose and now that would’ve already been a bit uncomfortable. The guys were actually much more afraid about the little mishap than we were. If I would’ve demanded to be taken to the hospital, they looked like they were ready to carry me on their backs J. I went to sleep that evening with fingers crossed that I wouldn’t be blue the next morning. The kick also kind of broke my glasses, so I ended up walking around most of the next day with my optical sunglasses on, just to see anything. The fact that there was no sun made me look like a wannabe gangsta, but it would’ve been even more ridiculous if I’d walk into a wall, because i was borderline blind.

Nightly photo of our funny little football team. Quality is of course atrocious, but the guys were posing so hard and were getting into little arguements about who can stand next to us.

Partying in Marrakech

Me and Houssam went for a club-touring one night. Houssam is a friend of one of my Estonian friends, very protective and an excellent guide for a Marrakech nightlife. We started in Pacha, the most celebrated and talked about night club in Marrakech. I had heard stories and read praises about Pacha, how this place is the trendiest and coolest ever, so i guess my expectations were somewhat elevated. Frankly, i didn't see what all the hype was about - i found it lacking any character and atmosphere. Pacha is supposed to have many clubs inside on building, so maybe the one we visited was not the greatest of them. The crowd drinking and dancing seemed to have been more concerned with looking posh and hip, instead of truly enjoying themselves. I don't know, it seemed a bit like a place to show yourself rather than have a really good time, forget your daily worries and dance like crazy. But this is of course very personal observation, i actually like my dance music versatile, not the same 10 sec beat segment repeated over and over again for hours. Those few drinks i tried in Pacha were either really small or watered down to such extent that vodka with Sprite became just Sprite. The dancing area was surprisingly small and the light effect on that particular night made me think of an animal testing facility - let's see how long can a pack of intoxicated homo sapiens withstand bright lights flashed in their faces in random sequence before showing signs of agression.

The next club Teatro was more to my taste. It was actually a theatre before it got converted into a nightclub. Luckily the designers didn't go all modern with the interior and preserved a lot from the old style. I liked the dominant red color, shaded lamps and three-four different levels for dancing. The decor gave a bit of a naughty old style cabaret vibe, wasn't hard to imagine that there could be some nice cozy rooms back somewhere for getting more intimately acquainted. The people were really dancing and having fun, not just "moving along with the rhythm" and trying to look cool while doing it. One girl actually fell on me, she had been dancing on the higher level dance floor and i guess lost her balance because at some point i found myselt attacked by a falling body who was too stunned to know what was happening to her.

I don't know why i so much disliked Pacha, but i was definitely glad that Houssam knows the door-guys in most of the places and we didn't have to pay for a ticket anywhere (usually around 100-150 DH). Pacha also locates outside the city and the taxi-ride back can get very expensive, whereas Teatro is about 20 minute walk from Djemaa el-Fna or 8 DH taxi ride.

That was a fun night, Houssam gave in first, i would've gladly danced until the last club closed. We left after 5am, but it didn't look like the party was ending any time soon yet.

The dangers of Marrakech

Some people have asked about the dangers of Marrakech. I don't really know how to answer that. It's a bit of a subjective thing and it depends first of all still of your own sensitivity towards other people and weird situations. I very rarely team up with anybody while traveling, so most of my comings and goings are done alone. There have been few spooky/creepy situations, but it is a city with roughly the same amount of people living in it as the whole population of Estonia, so some creepiness is greatly pardonable.

Latest spooky situation was when i was coming home after that same night of clubbing. Taxi dropped me off around 5 am and i had about 5 minute walk to my hotel. During this time some guy lurking in the side street somewhere had noticed me and took an active interest in me. He was following me quite tightly while talking something in Arabic. Since the streets were totally empty, i didn't stop to inquire what he wants, i just kept walking without paying any attention to him. I was exceedingly glad that i had chosen a hotel so close to the main square and not deeper in medina. It was creepy enough having him tailing me on the wide (though empty) shopping street, it would've been times more unpleasant dealing with him on the small secluded streetmaze of medina.

I've gotten few times into a late night argument with some brick-headed horny guys who don't take no for an answer. I know it's pointless to steep to that level, but i really resent being grabbed. Once i slapped a shop-guy for sticking his hand under my shirt in a too active attempt to help me try on a jellaba. Funnily enough he got offended on me because i had touched him and that was not supposed to be acceptable. I haven't laughed so hard for a long time.

So far the weirdest and i guess potentially most dangerous situation i had was when some guy sort of attacked me on the ATM queue. He was taking out money and i was standing behind him in a queue, we were about a meter apart. I was turned away, pretty much with my back to him. Suddenly he kicked me with a leg and when i turned around he was running towards me with his hand up in front of his face and fingers spread. He was screaming something and jammed his spread fingers into my glasses, kind of like trying to stick my eyes out with them. I had to jerk my head back not to get my glasses slammed into my face. All this time he was screaming something in Arabic and people around were translating later that he had thought i was watching his PIN code.

Generally a rule - the later the hour and the less crowded the street, the more seedier people are hanging about. So make your own conclusions in choosing where, when and how you walk.

1 comment:

  1. Ragne,
    Interesting observations on Marrakech, particularly the late night dangers. Gueliz sounds interesting and peaceful and I'll check it out next time I'm in town.


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