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JEMAA EL FNA SQUARE
The biggest attraction in Marrakech
is the Jema‚ El Fna
(also called Djemaa el Fna). This is a square
and market in Marrakech's medina quarter (old city). Itís a trip, with a totally different feel at night from the day. I prefer nighttime: Itís more mysterious and crowded, and the snake charmers arenít out. During the day these out-of-their-mind snake charmers go right up to passersby, and try
to put a water snake
around their necks. Iím not a big fan of these creatures, so the dude who attempted it twice really pissed me off (difficult to do). I walked away from him, but wanted to take a picture of the insane guys charming
After snapping a picture of the cobra charmer, the water snake guy put his hand over my camera and demanded money for taking a pic of his colleague. Of course I had been planning to tip the guy I shot (It is customary to tip performers),
but not when I am practically assaulted or to that ass.
The main attractions (besides the snake charmers) are fortunetellers, male dancers
(females are not allowed), dentists
(the man will pull out your sore tooth with pliers but no novocaine), women applying henna tattoos, traditional water sellers
in colorful costumes with leather water bags and brass cups (I donít think they even sell water -- and if they do I wouldnít drink it), and people with chained monkeys. The key is to take pictures first, then pay them; otherwise they charge you by the photo.
All kinds of street food
is available at night in the square: dried fruit, nuts, spices, seafood, goat heads (yes, goat heads), meat, escargot, and my favorite, orange juice. Everyone is very friendly, and you donít need to tip them to take their picture (be sure to ask first). The orange juice was the best Iíve ever had. Itís served in a tall glass (to be enjoyed in front of the vendorís stand) for only 3MAD (35 cents). Is that incredible? Open till 3 a.m. (1 a.m. in winter).
Next to Jema‚ El Fna Square is the Marrakech souk
(traditional North African markets serving both locals
and tourists). The narrow streets
are lined with shops, lead into alleys
of the medina quarter filled with stall after stall. The place is packed. You could get run over by people riding scooters, taking their mules
through, sometimes even cars. You can buy everything from fine cookies, antiques, magnets, pottery, shoes
tea sets, key chains, fezzes
Moroccans are friendly, and donít really hassle visitors. However, once you walk into a Marrakech store they can become aggressive salesmen. The key is to be friendly, smile, and always barter. Haggling is expected, and is seen as a game (thought not at food stalls). A good rule is: If the starting price is 100, offer 30, then settle on 40 to 60. You have to be prepared to walk away, and let them know it. Usually after a few steps they will come get you, and meet your reasonable price. If they agree to your price, itís rude not to complete the purchase. TIP: A government-operated store with fixed rates (no bargaining) called Ensemble Artisans is located on Muhammed V Avenue. This is a good place to do some initial research before shopping at the souk. I went to one of these stores in Fez, which I will tell you about next week.
SENDING POSTCARDS: Postcards cost only 2MAD (.23 cents); a stamp to the U.S. is 7.80 MAD (.91 cents).
BUYING A RUG
I couldnít leave without buying a rug. My guide Said (Hereís how to hire a guide) took me to Chateau des Souks (44, Souk Semmarine, Marrakech; tel.: (212) 24-42-64-10), one of his friendsí shops inside the souk. (Tour guides get commissions for bringing shoppers somewhere. I have no problem with that as long as we are not charged more, the prices are fair and the quality is good.) This place has over 10,000 rugs, and they rolled out the carpet Ė literally -- for me and my friends. We were greeted like all potential customers, with cookies and tea. The owner
must have showed
us 30 rugs. He taught us everything
we needed to know, and more. One thing he said: The French buy quantity, while Americans buy quality (Iím sure they tell the French customers the opposite). Arabian rugs have fringes on both ends, while Berber rugs have them at just one end. The rug
I bought goes for 6,000 MAD ($725). It was made in the High Atlas mountains by the Akhnij tribe, and took around three months to make.
I also learned that silk
is not produced in Morocco; rather, it is brought in by Hungarians.
SHIPPING A RUG
Shipping a rug to a U.S. airport costs about $250; if it goes to your house, figure $400. Delivery to your Marrakech hotel is free. My rug is 8 by 5 feet, but these guys rolled and sewed up
the package so small and tight that it fit in my carry-on.
Hereís a 3-minute Johnny Jet Video of my trip to Marrakech. It's also on YouTube, so it takes only a few seconds to load (though the quality is not as crisp). We also have all the JohnnyJet Videos ever made on their servers.
Next week: Fez!
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Jema‚ El Fna Square
35 Cents For O.J.
Inside The Souk
Buying A Rug