Day 1: Marinating Marrakesh

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Bone rolled out of the sack around 9:30, refreshed and ready for action. He decided to get some Merkle work done while he waited for Mike. The Hotel told him that the Driver would pick him up at Noon for the  45 minute drive to the Airport, which more than enough time since Mike didn't land until 1:30, then having to go through customs. 

Earnest, Early, and Anal

However around 10:30 Bone met one of the interesting cast a characters that would make up the Trip with the name of Khalid. Khalid was a very earnest but jumpy cat whom would be the driver for Mike and Bone for the next two days) and was nervous about not wanting to miss Mike at the Airport, so insisted that Bone and he leave by 10:45. (?!?)

Of course they got the airport 3 to early, arriving at 12:30. Then for the next hour he paced back and forth checking the monitors ensuring that the flight arrival did not change!  at 1:30 sharp (despite the fact he did not consider going through customs) Khalid insisted that they stand by the door waiting for Mike. 2:00 came and went, Bone got a text from Mike that he was waiting in line in Customs at 2:10, it did not matter. Khalid started walking back and forth between the two gates at the airport (about a 1/4 mile apart) making sure that they did not miss Mike. Finally, around 2:45 a whipped and frazzled Mike finally existing out the Gate that Bone had been standing at for damned near an hour and a half.

Apparently after the long day before for Mike and the long flight from Istanbul, the locals were acting like savages in customs, cutting in front of people, getting in to shouting matches, pushing in shoving, while the local Moroccan Police just let the crowd go crazy!

However it didn't matter, Mike and Bone were now ready to Moroccan Roll into Marrakesh and Rock the Kasbah !!

On the Marrakesh Express

During the drive down, the Boys talked about the song, "Marrakesh Express" written by Graham Nash during his final years as a member of the English rock band, The Hollies. The band rejected the song as not commercial enough, but it found a home with Nash's new band Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Nash recalled his inspiration for the song occurring during a Moroccan vacation he took in 1966. On the trip, Nash traveled by train from Casablanca to Marrakesh. He began the journey in First Class, surrounded by people he found to be uninteresting - as he described it, they were all "ladies with blue hair." Observing these "Squares", he decided the compartment was "completely fucking boring", so left his seat to explore the other train carriages. He was fascinated by what he saw. The song mentions "ducks and pigs and chickens," and that, according to Nash, is actually what was there. He recalls the ride by commenting: "It's literally the song as it is — what happened to me." As Mike and Bone sat and pondered Nash's state of mind during the trip through the rolling (but not awesome) countryside they figured that that old Hippie was either fascinated by the chickens, ducks, and pigs or was tripping on Acid! 

With three hours in front of them, they then dickered with Khalid on the interesting melting pot called Maroc!

Berbers, Romans, and Arabs, Oh My!

Mike and Bone learned a lot from Khalid (who is a Berber) about the history, culture. and dynamics of Maroc!

It is a country that reflects its geographic position as a cross roads country between the waters of Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and the land of Europe and Africa. It is a History starting with the Berbers, whom have been there for over 10,000 years that have been invaded and settled by Phoenicians, Romans, Portuguese, Spanish, and French. But the one group that came and stayed were the Arabs.  Morocco was conquered by an Arab Caliphate in the early 8th century AD, whom brought Islam to the country. Since then Arabs and Berbers have battled back and forth for control with quite frankly the Arabs essentially running it for most of its twisted and turning History.  How the demographics of the country now look is that in major seaport cities like Casa Blanca, it 50% Arab, 50% Berber. In central and southern cities like Marrakesh it is 60% 70% Berber. Once you get into the Sahara and the Atlas Mountains it is all Berber. Through the Boys entire visit you got the sense that most Berbers resent and do not like the Arab leaders (including the King) all that much. The Berbers that Mike and Bone met tended to be much more friendly, and less ardent about preaching Islam to the Boys, much like Khalid.

After the heavy conversation on the way down, they came up to a Government Checkpoint which surprised the heck out of Mike and Bone, who found themselves in the ancient city of Marrakesh!

Mike and Bone's Rockin' Riad!

As Mike and Bone wound their ways to their to their "hotel", they ruminated on the long and sordid history of the red city of Marrakesh! .

The history of Marrakesh is truly the history of Morocco. Situated in southern Morocco, Marrakesh history stretches back nearly a thousand years, in fact Morocco itself is named after it.

Founded in 1070 by Abu Bakr ibn Umar, of the Almoravid tribes, Marrakesh is situated on the plain south of the Tensift River in southern Morocco that had been inhabited by Berber farmers since Neolithic times.

As the story goes, before the advent of the Almoravids in the mid-11th century, the region was ruled by the Maghrawa from the city of Aghmat (which had served as a regional capital of southern Morocco since Idrisid times). The Almoravids conquered Aghmat in 1058, bringing their dominance over southern Morocco. However, the Almoravid emir Abu Bakr ibn Umar soon decided Aghmat was overcrowded and unsuitable as their capital. Being originally Sanhaja Lamtuna tribesmen from the Sahara Desert, the Almoravids searched for a new location in the region that was more consonant with their customary lifestyle. After consultation with allied local Masmuda tribes, it was finally decided that the Almoravids would set up their new base on neutral territory, between the Bani Haylana and the Bani Hazmira tribes

 The Almoravids rode out of Aghmat and pitched their desert tents on the west bank of the small Issil River which marked the boundary between them. The location was open and barren, it had "no living thing except gazelles and ostriches and nothing growing except lotus trees and colocynths". A few miles to the north was the Tensift River, to the south the vast sloping plain of Haouz, pastureland suitable for their great herds. About a day's ride to the west was the fertile Nfis river valley, which would serve as the city's breadbasket.

Abu Bakr and the Almoravid chieftains pitched their tents and made it their home, and that it remained a desert-style military encampment until the first stone building, the Qasr al-Hajar ("castle of stone", the Almoravid treasury and armory fort), was erected in May, 1070.

In early 1071, Abu Bakr was recalled to the Sahara to put down a rebellion, and it was his cousin (and eventual successor) Yusuf ibn Tashfin who erected the city's first brick mosque.  More buildings were erected soon afterwards, mud-brick houses gradually replacing the tents. The red earth used for the bricks gave Marrakesh its distinctive red color, and its popular appellation Marrakush al-Hamra ("Marrakesh the Red"). The layout of the buildings was still along the lines of the original encampment, with the result that early Marrakesh was an unusual-looking city, a sprawling medieval urban center evocative of desert life, with occasional tents, planted palm trees and an oasis-like feel.

The High Atlas range south of the city was and has always been of vital concern to Marrakesh and a great determinant of its fate. Ownership and control of the Atlas mountain passes could sever Marrakesh's communications with the Sous and Draa valleys, and seal off access to the Sahara Desert and the lucrative trans-Saharan trade in salt and gold with sub-Saharan Africa (al-sudan), upon which much of its early fortunes rested. The Almoravids are said to have deliberately put the wide plain of Haouz between Marrakesh and the Atlas foothills in order to make it more defensible by having a clear view of the distant dust clouds kicked up by any attackers coming from the Atlas, the city would have advanced warning and time to prepare its defenses. Nonetheless, repeatedly through its history, whoever controlled the High Atlas often ended up controlling Marrakesh as well.

Marrakesh was originally unenclosed, and the first walls were only erected in the 1120s. The walls were 20 feet tall, with twelve gates and numerous towers where Mike and Bone stayed in the Medina were right by those now crumbling walls.

It was during Almoravid and Almohad times that Morocco received its name in foreign sources. Marrakesh was known in western Europe in its Latinized form "Maroch" or "Marrochio", and the Almohad caliphate was usually referred to in Latin sources as the "Kingdom of Marrakesh" (Regnum Marrochiorum). Down to the 19th century, Marrakesh was often called "Morocco city" in foreign sources.

Once through the Checkpoint and into the City proper, Khalid took the Boys into Marrakesh Medina Quarter. A medina quarter (Arabic: al-madīnah al-qadīmah "the old city") is a distinct city section found in many North African cities. The medina is typically walled, with many narrow and maze-like streets. The word "medina" (Arabic: madīnah) itself simply means "city" or "town" in modern day Arabic. Most medina's contain historical fountains, palaces, and mosques. Because of the very narrow streets, medina's are generally free from car traffic, and in some cases even motorcycle and bicycle traffic. The streets can be less than a meter wide. This makes them unique among highly populated urban centers. One of the design features of a medina was to confuse and slow down invaders because of how narrow and winding the streets are.

Of course, once there, Mike and Bone pledged to part in the "Funky Cold Medina!"

A few minutes after driving into Medina the streets became to narrow and the Boy had to go on foot with Khalid into what looked like a sketchy-looking area, with garbage strewn around crumbling building and arab teenagers playing some version of street soccer, It was in this neighborhood that Khalid dropped the Boys off at their hotel or their Riad. A Riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. The word riad comes from the Arabian term for garden, or "ryad." 

Mike and Bone's doing Shots! (of Mint Tea!)

Fortunately the interior of the Riad was much different than the surrounding buildings. Looking around from the Lobby, it was apparent that this was a very traditional riad, that had recently been renovated.

One inside their host Mohammed immediately offered the Boys a Moroccan specialty, a cup of hot Mint Tea, ! Expecting the worst, the tea was actually sweet and refreshing.

A Really Raucous Riad !

Mike and Bone could tell that the soft-spoken Mohammed took great pride in the restoration of the building as he showed the Boys around the different floors of the building. He thought the Boys would like an outdoor experience and had them on the top floor in on the Patio. The stairs however were VERY narrow and the Boys noted this to avoid embarrassing spills after one too many beers!

The Boys Adobe Abode!

"Where do we store the Beers!?!" Bone

A Room with a View

The Boys found their accommodations was very traditional, a little too Spartan, and totally lacked a fridge for adult beverages! Mildly disappointed the Boys went out to patio on top of the Riad to check out the Medina!

The Marrakesh Medina, from the top of Mike and Bones Riad!

Bone, ready for Berber Beers !!

Checking out the awesome view, Mike and Bone could see the entire city. It seems that three floors were the limit in Marrakesh except for Mosques. Being that much of the City is thousand year old crumbling adobe, it made sense that most of the building were only three floors !!!  Regardless you could see ancient building spreading all around you with desert and the beautiful Atlas Mountains beckoning in the background. After a few minutes of checking out the Medina from the top, bottom feeders like Mike and Bone decided to check it out from the bottom, where they could walk around with the locals and be "fed" since neither had eaten that day !

Mike and Bone investigating the Funky Cold Medina of Marrakesh!

Mohammad was a gracious host, but English was not his strong suit. So with a mix of English and French (Bone knows a little Francais) the Boys lit out with bad directions for the Medina looking for the very famous Marrakesh town square.

Shopping ! Shopping !! Shopping !!!

Now late in the day, with the shadows darkening the passageways, Mike and Bone strolled by all the little shops in the Medina while trying not to be killed by the lunatic motorcycles and scooters that rode crazily through the as advertised narrow streets!

Jammin' in Jamaa el Fna !

After wandering for 20 or so minutes through the narrow Medina alleyways, Mike and Bone stumbled out into an international treasure:  Jamaa el Fna!!!

Jamaa el Fna is Marrakesh's very famous square and market place, it is both the center of the Medina as well as its heart and soul. To this day it remains the center of the City for both locals and tourists.

The origin of its name is Jamaa el Fna remains unclear:

Thus, one meaning could be "The mosque or assembly of death," or "The Mosque at the End of the World". A more likely explanation is that it refers to a mosque with a distinctive courtyard or square in front of it.

During the day it is predominantly occupied by orange juice stalls, youths with chained Barbary apes, water sellers in colorful costumes with traditional leather water-bags and brass cups, and snake charmers who will pose for photographs for tourists. As the day progresses, the entertainment on offer changes: the snake charmers depart, and late in the day the square becomes more crowded, with Chleuh dancing-boys (it would be against custom for girls to provide such entertainment), story-tellers (telling their tales in Berber or Arabic, to an audience of appreciative locals), magicians, and peddlers of traditional medicines. As darkness falls, the square fills with dozens of food-stalls as the number of people on the square peaks.

The square is edged along one side by the Marrakesh souk, a traditional North African market catering both for the common daily needs of the locals, and for the tourist trade. On other sides are hotels and gardens and cafe terraces offering an escape from the noise and confusion of the square.  

Jamaa el Fna became a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity came from people concerned about the preservation of the Square's cultural traditions. The place is known for its active concentration of traditional activities by storytellers, musicians and performers, but it was threatened by economic development pressures. In fighting for the protection of traditions, the residents called for action on an international level, to recognize the need for the protection of such places — termed "cultural spaces" — and other popular and traditional forms of cultural expression.

Jamaa el Fna has maintained its rich oral and intangible tradition well in to the modern era.  The square was featured in the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). An interesting account of the place in the 1970s can be seen in Esther Freud's novel Hideous Kinky. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant recorded some songs and their DVD "No Quarter - Unledded" here. 

Mike and Bone however wanted "leaded" otherwise known as 'beer" ! Being a North African Muslim country, there ain't a lot of Irish Pubs filled with Guinness! So by dickering with the locals, Mike and Bone were directed to a place call Hotel Tazi, that, supposedly had good food and equally importantly beers !!! Now the challenge was to find the Restaurant that was just off of the main square.  While trying to find Hotel Tazi, Mike and Bone were simply soaking in the whole bizarre scene! 

The Palace Wall in Jamaa el Fna!

Chicken (?) Bar-be-que Family Style !

The Square was filled with tourist (but not many, due to the time of year), Berber's from the Atlas Mountains bringing in raw materials, Arabs trying to sell you pretty much anything, from tin tea kettles to Islamic Fatima hands, open air barbeque, grilling Allah knows what! 

As the Boys tried to politely fend off the aggressive peddlers, a religious experience overtook the Boys!  No, not a Mosque, even though there were a lot of them around, but the Grand Hotel Tazi!   

A place of good beer, the Grand Hotel Tazi !

The Boys walked into a dirty, dilapidated Restaurant, filled with cigarette and hookah smoke. Bone saw that it had a second floor open air Balcony, so Mike checked of they would be served up there, with some level of nodding and broken French, it seemed OK, so the Boys scurried up the stairs to an awesome view of the Main Mosque in Marrakesh, then Koutoubia Mosque and the Medina.

Mike and Bone Especialley likes Casablanca !

The good news was that Mike and Bone were the only ones on the second floor Balcony, the unfortunate news for the poor server was he had a bunch of tables downstairs and had to run up and down the stairs for Mike and Bone!

When the Boys asked him about the beer selection, you gotta understand, Morocco isn't a brew pub ("its the Islamic thing!"), he stated there were only two brands, so Mike and Bone ordered two of each ! The Casablanca was so-so, but the Especiale, was especially good! Kinda a poor man's Pilsner Urquel.

Koutoubia Mosque answered the Boy's prayers for Beer !

Just then there was a blood curdling howl over the load speakers all over the Medina, it was the evening call to prayers, and since the Boy finally got their beers, their prayers had been answered! Now it was time with both apprehension and appetite, to figure out what to eat in this ancient city of Marrakesh!

The Boys wanted to taste local fare and asked their tired (from up and down the stairs) waiter what should they try, it was an easy answer for him, Beef or Lamb Tangine!

Bone, waiting for some food !

A Classic Moroccan Meal: Beef Tangine !

A tajine or tagine is a historically Berber dish from North Africa that is named after the type of earthenware pot in which it is cooked. The traditional method of cooking with a tagine is to place the tagine over coals. The slow cooked meat simply fell apart with the potato's carrots and other veggies. The meat was marinated with cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon for a very, very tasty and filling meal. You can simply picture the nomadic Berbers sitting around a campfire in the Desert cooking tagines!  

Mike and Bone in their Element !

As the Boys filled their stomach, the Desert air was rapidly dehydrating them, so the waiters beer runs were increasing as the evening grew later! Finally around Midnight the long day for both finally caught up to them, and they gave the waiter an awesome tip (for which he was extremely gratified and humbled by) and woozily tried to figure how to get back to their Riad!

"Errr, Which Way !?!

Getting back and forth to Jamaa el Fna from their Riad proved to be a complete pain in the butt for Mike and Bone, since the twisted, confusing, and narrow streets lead into the alleys of the Medina quarter really did not follow any pattern. Mike and Bone knew the general direction, but not the exact alleyway to take. They really weren't paying enough attention, being gawking tourist on the way to Hotel Tazi, but now they were definitely perplexed!

Finally after twenty minutes of stumbling around, they were able to communicate sufficiently with a officer on which direction to go. By sheer serendipity and stupidity they were on their street and only 4 blocks from the Riad!

Getting back around 1:00 AM, Mohammad let them in, where they quickly passed out. They had a big day head of them in the Atlas Mountains!!