Sunday, November 25, 2012

We're Home! (and Marrakech)

We're Home!

We arrived home safe and sound two weeks ago. We both went straight back to work - it's a bit of an adjustment from our trip, but we're both happy to be back!

Now that we have a real computers and access to all of our pictures (all 13751 of them!), posting to the blog should be a lot easier.  We're going to continue on posting from where we left off and we'll probably post additional pictures for some of the previous blog posts.

One thing we're going to be doing differently from now on:  we'll include just one picture in each post along with a link to our album on Google+. Google+ makes looking through the pictures a lot nicer, and allows us to upload more pictures.  If you have trouble seeing the albums, please let us know.


After an early morning departure from Bologna, we arrived in Casablanca and headed directly to Marrakech by train.  In Marrakech we met up with my cousin Sabine (featured in our Lausanne post). Sabine's fiancĂ©, Redouan, is Moroccan and she's visited a few times before. Sabine did all of the planning for the Morocco section of our trip and they both helped us learn about local food and culture.  We were really happy to have them with us.

We spent most of our time in Marrakesh in Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square of the Medina (old city) and in the Souk (market).  The Souk is unlike anything I've ever seen before.  It's a huge (the largest traditional Berber market in Morocco), but there's no obvious order to how things are laid out.  It's full of twisting alleyways and dead ends. It didn't take very long to get lost (although after enough wandering around we were able to find our way out).  The merchants in the souk were selling all sorts of stuff:  herbs, spices, fruit and vegetables, leather bags and babouches (a moroccan style slipper), scarves, carpets, ironware and lanterns, clothes.  Along with the merchants, we also saw many leatherworkers making bags and pouffes, wood workers, and the wool dyers (which you'll see in the pictures).  We ended up buying a pretty cool looking wooden chess set.  It's made in a neat way so that twisting the top of the board reveals the pieces stored beneath it.

One of the lowlights of Morocco was that Laura and I got gypped at the leather tanneries.  We were exploring the souk and a one of the merchants suggested that we check out the berber leather tanneries.  He pointed out someone that "works" there and told us to follow him.  We were under the impression that the tanneries would be fairly close by, but they ended up being fairly far away.  This is the first tannery I'd ever seen, so it was pretty interesting (although smelly and pretty gross). They put the raw animal pelts in several foul smelling pits in order to remove the hair and other residue and to soften leather.  The first pit is filled with lime, the second with pigeon excrement (used for the ammonia), other pits are later used to clean and dye the leather. They gave us "berber gasmasks" (a bunch of mint) to help fend off the smell. As expected, at the end of the tour we were brought to a store.  Although they tried pretty hard, we made it out of the store without buying anything.  At this point a couple of the guys that took us around the tannery, as well as the guide that brought us there and asked to be paid. They asked that we pay them 200 dirhams (approximately $23 USD).  They said this money would be split by the tannery workers.  While this seemed like a lot by Moroccan standards, I figured this amount was ok, given how bad their work.  At this point they insisted that that we need to double the amount - they claimed that the 200 dirhams was for the berber workers and we need to add another 200 for the arab workers.  In the end, I ended up relenting and giving them 100 more.  At this point, the guide that brought us to the tanneries demanded that we pay him as well - we assumed that he was part tannery workers and therefore would have been paid from the 300, but he insisted that he wasn't and that he'd done more work than the tannery guys, so should be paid more.  In the end we paid him 200 as well - which is way more more than he should have gotten.  When we later looked up the tanneries in tripadvisor, it seems like a lot of other people had similar experiences.  Next time we'll have to be a lot more careful to make sure we don't get into these kind of situations.  Oh well, you leave and you learn...

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