Country Profile: Morocco

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Country Profile: Morocco

One day in Marrakech, a passports courier's job...

City facts (money, climate, what to wear, what to see, useful numbers) at the end.

The first time I saw Marrakech it was in 1949, shortly after WW2, I was 4 and my parents were French settlers living in Agadir. There was a very important US military base close to the city, an Air Force one with two big runways and many fascinating planes. American friendly pilots who apparently loved being there were at the café terrasses (I adored them, big ,relax, handsome, I guess they gave me the vocation for I flew 29 years in my life !), music was boogie woogie , the percussions of Berber drums on Jemaa El Fna square and the metallic transe music of the Gnawas,.The cars were mostly Desoto, Chevrolet and Cadis, mixed in the streets with donkeys and mules carriages, camel caravans from the desert nearby, mounted by spectacular proud R'Guibat blue men tribe, completely clad and hidden in an indigo costume...in my child's eyes it was just normal, like having at home a huge Westinghouse washing machine and fridge. Europe was reconstructing itself slowly and painfully after 5 years of war and destruction, food was still scarce there, no showers neither comfort, while economy in Morocco was booming , taking a daily shower was an irrevocable and basic habit, food was plentiful and magnificent, fresh and organic (like it is now); in Marrakech, French were building the « New town », the old one was as busy as always, and the most inticing place for me to be...

Fifty four years later, very old Chevys are still in the run, now blue collective taxis, going South West to the desert or the high Atlas mountains with full loads of people and I am still fascinated by this city...The « New town » is a memory of the French colonial urbanism, and the Medina stands behind its walls, still donkeys and mules in the streets, but caravans are gone with the winds, and the Mamounia Hotel holds the vibrations of Winston Churchill memory, he who loved its rose gardens so much...

This town is pink, mellow yellow and sometimes red now. The pink came in the old times from the ocre in the earth, getting red progressively with the heat of the sun, a patchwork of pink camaieu. Like Fez is green and white, Essaouira white and blue, Marrakech is pink all right (but I fear that this pink paint won't get nice like natural ocre when getting old !), with typical and beautiful Moroccan green tiles on the rooves.

I remember the first passports group I took care of, a few years ago, I smile when I think about these very young teenagers (12 to 14) and their great teachers, Georges Ann Parker and Jane Bazemore. They arrived at the Menara International airport, direct from Alabama, Atlanta Paris Marrakech, long journey, they were exhausted. It was a burning day of June(50° celtius in the shade, F), a desert wind was blowing, a sand storm was getting into shape, the sky was yellow.

I took right away my melting group to the Café de la Renaissance, in a pure buiding of the Fifties, where, for a small fee you can take the lift to the terrasse and have your first mint tea and your first severe stroke of « Stendhalismo »...

The sky was turning totally red with the reflection by the sand particules of the sun, an enormous red bowl . The city, all around us, was red, 300° view , the muezzins were calling from all the mosques around to the late afternoon prayer. My very young group was speechless, dazzled, in a state of awe, they could have been on the moon it wouldn't have been a greater cultural shock ! In the distance you have the Medina with the Koutoubia tower (built in the 12th century by the Almoravids) watching over, the walls and the palm groove. Marrakech was a palm groove before becoming the capitals of the Almoravids dynasty in 1062 (who colonized Spain too and built the Giralda in Sevilla, twin sister of Al Koutoubia, from koutoub, book). And in the distance, the high Atlas mountains, crowned by everlasting snows, dominated by Mount Toubkal (4165 meters, feet) and all around you the « New » town.

I took my fainting group then to « Chez Ali », where they were welcomed « en fanfare » by the Berbers friendly people ; they were served Moroccan tasty food in the sound of flutes and drums, watched a noisy and spectacular « Fantasia » before we drove back to the hotel...incredible full day, in the heat, the dust, colors, smells, sounds, food, clothing totally strange to them. I promiss you, they were not the same afterwards, tired yes, but enlighted too...

Their plane was late, a pity, for after La Renaissance, we would have taken horse drawn carriages, linger along the old golden brown walls in earth, with stork nests on top of the battlemants, in the fresh Agdal gardens (always orange trees in fruits, either « Bigarade » bitter and for decoration, or sweet oranges), along the Royal Palace, the old jewish Mellah, to the Jemaa El Fna Square. The best is to climb on the terrasse of another café, Le Café Glacier, have an ice cream, and watch Jemaa El Fna, the vibrating heart of Marrakech, and the turn over day-night. During the day, on this huge square, acrobats, story tellers, snake charmers, musicians and singers, « doctors » and herbal remedies and « dentists », many small stands serving delightful and so cheap orange juice...then all the sudden, at 4.30pm they are gone and then rushes in an army who assembles and makes function dozens of tiny restaurants, tables, benches, and vegetal coal stoves. Eating a « brochette » or fryed fish or couscous there, along with Marrakchi cheerful families is enchanting. It is magic, there is always something going on there, and behind the square starts one of the finest Moroccan souk (market).

This was a first day of a group in Marrakech, I made it kind of dry, matter of facts.But I know how one gets carried away, short breathed, almost fainting, smiling in beatitude etc.I can't emphasize all the emotions, the feelings, the urge to come back you will have as soon you have left this inspiring place.It is a city of arts, of fragrances, of colors, of sounds, of mouvements. Should you not know what a stroke of « Stendhalismo » is, well, it goes like this : the Italians named it after Stendhal (1783-1842) a good and reputed French writer who discovered Italy with exaltation and marvelling in 1800 , wrote « Rome Napoli and Florence » and « Memory of a tourist ». One day he was in Florence, in front of Santa Crocce, he was taken away by the beauty and the harmony, almost fainting, he couldn't breath, emotions overtook him ! In Florence, every year, doctors say that at least a dozen persons suffer still severe cases of « Stendhalismo » and have to be hospitalized...So, be ready and prepared (not to the extent of the hospital though !), in Marrakech there is enough true beauty to remember and dream about in one's life.

Come and join us, passports, and Hassan, great Moroccan courier, and myself, Maryse. We will share our love and knowledge of Imperial Marrakech and beautiful friendly Morocco, in great hotels and safety.

Maryse Adams, passports courier.

Money Matters  Easy, if you go there with an International credit card (Visa etc. with a pin number) for you can find money tellers everywhere in the city, nearby the banks, plentiful.

For the students, it is very practical and safe to apply for a Passports cash travel card, the parents (or themselves if they don't have an international card) can put the amount they wish on a count and then draw cash with a pin number from all the money tellers.

I strongly recommend this method, you carry in a money belt the cash you need, it is safe, no worries getting around anywhere.

Traveller cheques are very highly commissioned, you can change them only in the banks with a passport and the receit of the cheques purchase, not advisable.

You can change dollars everywhere, it is easy, 10 Dirhams are almost one dollar( now a bit less because of the low dollar), so you can figure (how cheap !) the prices are ! But if you carry a lot of cash, afterwards you worry in the hotels (where nothing more happens than in any other country, it is the same, don't give temptations), not advisable either !

Climate and What to Wear  Travel light ! you will find everything in Marrakech, and cheap, you will be tempted by so many items, and limited by weight in planes..., either Moroccan or casual wear or classy items of latest fashion.In the hotels, laundry services are good and fast and not expensive.

From April (and May, very nice) to October, the temperature grows up to 40°C, 45°C ( F ?) during day time in June, July, August, then decrases, pleasant in September October, then it becomes chilly at night and cool in the shade during November, December, January, February. In the day, you still can sunbathe and get a nice tan (and even burn if you are not creamed !)by a swimming pool, but at night it can go down to a mere 3-5° celtius, F, so you need warm clothing.

Marrakech is very influenced by desert Sahara, not too far and its mountains, white from snow in winter.

So, during hot season, take light, ample clothing, in cotton or silk or anything light, cool slacks to wear in old towns and crowded markets, everybody will feel more comfortable, Morocco is a very spiritual country, based on family life, they are tolerant and nice, so it is good to respect them. Shorts are OK on the road, in the hotels. Take light shirts with long sleeves for the same reason, it protects from the sun too. And a good sweatshirt if you are going hiking in the desert or the mountains.

Of course, don't forget the hat, the sun cream, sun glasses, bathing suit, sandals and good walking shoes.

During the « cold » season, still bring a bathing suit, sun cream and hat etc., some summer clothing and winter ones, like pullover, coat or warm jacket, socks, because the nights are chilly (which is a good thing for the green oranges, it is the cold that turns them orange, otherwise they wouldn't sell, even ripe !).

If you go hiking in the mountains, take a survival blanket, it is always helpful, light and reliable (in the winter it is better to ski than hike, el Oukaimeden, winter and summer resort is 1 hour ½ drive).

Useful Numbers

US Ambassy, Rabat, 2 Av de Marrakech tel 037 76 22 65

Tourist office Place Abdel Moumem ben Ali tel 044 43 61 31 in the new town

(very friendly, don't hesitate to go there, but they have no maps, these you have to buy in one of the hundreds of press and tobbaco kiosks, everywhere in the streets)

Main post offices Place du 6 Novembre (Gueliz)

Bureau de la Medina, place Jemaa el Fna

Health SOS médecins, doctors on duty 24 hours tel 044 40 40 40

Pharmacy on duty in the firemen department , rue Khalid Ibn el Oualid

General clinic (in Gueliz) 2 rue de la Yougoslavie tel 044 44 79 99

Telephone

AT § T 00211 00 11

MCI 00211 00 12

For the operator 16

To call USA 00 1 and full number with the area code

To be called from the USA 212 and no number 0 before the number

(for example, US Ambassy : 212 37 76 22 65)

You can buy in the press kiosks international phone cards, and in all the privately operated telephone stands too. In these stands you can phone directly from their phone cabins, it is cheap (don't telephone from the hotels, horribly expensive), and the person in charge is always helpful.

Electricity 220 V and French type plugs

Taxis best way of transportation in crowded Marrakech, the city taxis are small cars, black and orange, they work with a counter, and are very cheap, give a little tip, always appreciated in Morocco if you are happy with the service. Even if you want to go somewhere in excursion, go and negociate the full or half a day with a big blue taxi, it is sometime cheaper than renting a car and safer.

What to See (just some of it, otherwise Marrakech deserves a few weeks stay)

Jemaa El Fna square, you can live there !

The souks, linger there for hours, and watch how fantastic crafmen transform and work colors, leather, wool, silk, cotton, wood, iron, tin, copper...

You find everything in the souk, from fresh mint to babouches (local convenient shoes) to stove or lamps etc., everything I tell you !

Jardins Majorelle, created by the French painter Majorelle, now property of Yves Saint Laurent who let it be visited, green and cheer blue, a lovely small museum inside of Berber's crafts.

Jardins Agdal, for the olive, pomme granate, citrus and palm grooves...jasmin and Bougainvillier flowers, and the birds !

La Menara garden and water Pavillion, for the charm and serenity, and the olive groove ! Saadian tombs, so calm, preserved, serene in the rush of the Medina

El Badj palace, flamboyant ruins of once one of the handsomest palace in the world, almost dismantled in 1696 by Moulay Ismael for his palace in Meknès.

The old jewish Mellah, once lived in by thousand of jews, who lived in peace with Berber people for thousands years...

If you are rich enough go and have a mint tea in the Mamounia hotel, too heavily restored in the late Seventies, but the gardens are still charming...

From Marrakech you can go to:
Imilchil village
Telouet kasbah
Ait ben Haddou kasbah
Ouazazate
Dades Valley
Draa Valley, Zagora
Ziz Valley
Chebbi sand dunes
Oukaimeden winter and summer resort
and to Agadir (via 2 roads), Essaouira, Casablanca
Marrakech is a cross road for North South East and West

There are a train station, a big coach station and an International airport.

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