Subject: Re: Morocco / Sahara Trip
Hey Debbie,

Yes that does sound like a wonderful trip :D. From what I have heard Sahara is completely breathtaking.

I spend some time in Marrakesh ohh, about 10 years ago I think. I visited some local friends I had the good fortune of getting to know and stayed 2 weeks in Marrakech.

Here are a few things generally that I learned from my trip there. It will probably be a bit different for you because you are going with a tour organizing company.

Generally you are going into a country with a lot of poverty, and they see everyone from the western world as very rich. As a friend of mine explained it to me - they are poor to the point of starvation. We come from the west, we can imagine even having money to travel, they see us as bags of money.

1. The restaurants actually have 2 different printed menus. One for locals and one for tourists. It takes a local "friend" to get to their cheaper menu's.

2. The locals seem to be tougher on tourists than on local girls in far as how you dress. It is westernized enough to wear "normal" clothes - just dont dress too revealing.

3. Women alone out at night is not a good move! I went for a walk in the evening once alone, and boy did I get in trouble! I got tailed by 6 or 7 different males. Some of them yelled at me for being a stupid tourist out alone at that time, and claimed to be my "brother" wanting to take me home. Others were clearly after something very different. WHen I got back in my local friends continued the yelling, and told me I was lucky to be in one piece. I was young and stupid - but its one of those situations that now looking back I am just grateful nothing happened to me.

4. Shopping! Ohh, its great shopping there. The prices are so cheap, and the wares so excotic. It can be fun too. The big market in Marrakech certainly has all sorts of stuff for the westerner to buy. Generally the sales people there will set the prices so high that its almost funny from their perspective. They are very good at negotiating. Our general rule was - if they said 100 we said 1, and you can usually settle at 5 - 10! Also pay attention. When you go to the market there you will be innundated with "guides" who wants to help you negotiate and find your way around. These guides do this for the tips but more importantly they get commission from each stall they take you to, and you buy from. Sometimes it can be good for you - these guides want you to see the best stalls so they can make commission, but sometimes it is just a bit "too much". The guides also simply takes you to the stalls with the toughest negotiators - more commission for them! If you choose to not have a guide then pay attention during any negotiations you are doing, if you look up and scan around you will probably see a guide standing at the entrance waving at the person you are negotiating with. They are trying to claim they are your guide. Make sure to tell the negotiater that this guy is not your guide!

5. To have fun shopping - lean back, take your time, get to know the people you are negotiating with. This is a great way to get some local flavor, and talk with some folks in the area. Smile - its a game - its supposed to be fun! The person you are negotiating with is certainly having fun. Be ready to walk away - the best deals are usually made if you have walked away from the item a few times, maybe over a few days. No matter how badly you want the item dont let them know that.

I remember Marrakech as having some great culinary experiences. I especially loved the tahini's - they were so flavorful. It is a beautiful city. In spite of its poverty it feels like stepping into history. The people there - if you get to know them are gracious hosts.

The hotels and restaurants have tables and chairs. However, the locals pretty much live on the floor. The tables are just raised a bit above the floor, and along the walls are tons of pillows and blankies. THey eat with their hands - no utensils, and you are only supposed to use your right hand when you eat. The locals dont use toilet paper - they use their left hand and wash it afterwards. Thats why eating with your left hand is really rude.

Generally what I have later heard from other Morrocans Marrakech is known as one of the most dynamic, but tough cities to shop in. Even Morrocans can become a bit overwhelmed by the negotiators, and the toughness in the Marrakech market.

The country side is gorgeous. Camels and donkeys are everywhere. The buildings are low and square, and colored like the desert sand in a deep red / orange color. I remember wondering if they actually used desert clay to build the houses. It felt like stepping into the "Ali Baba" story. I came away fascinated by the country and the experience. I also appreciated the poverty they lived under, and why the western world has such a draw on them. Finally, I was deeply appreciative of having gotten close to such a remarkably different culture from the ones I was raised in.

Hope this helps.

Warm regards, Malene Sonoma CA