Entry to hostel's alley

Marrakech: a week in the Kasbah

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Blind alley to this hostel

Monday of my second week, I changed hostels, with a fellow traveler’s help getting my luggage to the square for a taxi. When I had come to check this hostel out, I had met tourists who’d parked their car right outside, so I knew that cars can get to that address. But the taxi driver – whom I’d paid generously – pulled the same routine I’d experienced in Istanbul: he let me off rather far from the hostel, claiming he couldn’t go there. But he was worse than anyone in the past, because he called the hostel – at least so he said – and when he put me out on the street he told me that someone from the hostel was coming to help with my luggage. I said I understood but would start walking. Well, good thing, because no one was coming and when I got to the hostel – quite a long walk – they didn’t know what I was talking about. I could have walked the whole way, without the taxi nonsense, and it wouldn’t have been farther. As it was, when I was within a couple of blocks of the place, a fellow came along and grabbed a suitcase and insisted on walking me. Once in the hotel lobby, he demanded to be paid. I gave him just 20 dirham ($2) and he was not happy, but I told him that was all. Two blocks!

Rue de la Kasbah

When booking online, I was charged a fee and told I’d pay the balance at the hostel by credit card … Right. No cards. Luckily I had just enough cash; the fellow calculated at 1 euro = 11 dirham and collected 550 for my week. We put my suitcase into the storage room and he carried my carry-on upstairs for me, to a women’s dorm, with the info that the advertised en-suite shower was not working. The good and unexpected news was that there is a fridge guests can use, although there is no use of a kitchen. Too bad I’d given things away at the other hostel; but I can shop again.

Staying up the night before for SuperBowl had brought back my sore throat and sinus congestion, and with the cold weather, that was not to clear up all week. In the hostel room, everyone is sneezing and coughing and sniffling off and on through the nights.

Breakfast was included here, and in a way it was an improvement because they serve an egg (or might it be two?), but it is terribly overcooked. There is a cup of sweet tea, no coffee. The first day there was sweet fresh oj with pulp, but the next two days ordinary and pulpfree, and after that I stopped trying it. They also give a msemen dusted with sugar, a tough mini pain chocolat and a chunk of white bread I had them just remove from my tray. The egg is edible with added salt. At least it’s a bit of protein.

Tuesday I went out in the afternoon to look for somewhere decent to eat close by, and chose Zeitoun Cafe opposite Badi Palace. I was settled on a nice cushioned bench and had ordered when two French women sat down at the next table and pulled out their cigarettes. I moved to a table just inside the building – where there were other unpleasant odors. I had ordered juice, soup and a lentil salad. It was more than I needed and I was anxious to leave, so I took half the lentil salad to be the next day’s meal. US$14 with tip, perhaps double other street cafe meals but at least double the quality as well.

Kasbah Avenue

There has been a lot of coming and going at the hostel, with a few new roommates every day. Mostly friendly, some very interesting, and a few other solo travelers. We all agreed that while people may say the Kasbah is less safe, we feel better on these streets than around the Medina. None of us feel like things are really unsafe, no one has had any problems, we just like the wider passages. It’s a jumble; there are stretches where it’s one little shop or sidewalk stand after another, the streets filthy with bits of produce and piles of smelly fish trimmings, and then you go around a bend and it’s just empty.

In spite of the lobby signs about no smoking, there are ashtrays on nearly every table upstairs as well as all around the roof terraces. And of course there have been smokers every place except on the ground floor where it really isn’t allowed, and around the three tables on the balcony overlooking the check-in desk, though tobacco is in the air by the breakfast counter as someone is always smoking at the first table in the lounge. These traditional buildings have a central living room open to the sky, with balconies on each floor, rooms off the balconies, and then roof terraces. So they are cold … And the cold air of course sinks into the central ‘well’ of the house, making the only smoke-free area the coldest area.

So, not much improvement in comfort here. I have come to a few conclusions. First, I realized I have to step up my food spending, because the cheap eats have been lousy. Next, I need to step up my lodging choices and try a hotel. I really need this month to be as cheap as possible, but – misery enough already. I would say Morocco, while it can be a bargain destination, is a place tourists will be enchanted with only if they treat themselves to a bit of luxury. There are beautiful properties here, no question. But at this level – well, in the hostels we have all been saying we are tired of being cold and uncomfortable, and are not enchanted with the city although it’s interesting to explore.

I did have a good day out on Thursday. I went with two dormmates, and we shared a taxi up to a shopping mall in Gueliz. I hate shopping malls, so it’s incredible to be saying that’s what we did, but two of us needed an ATM, and didn’t want to get cash on the street and then be walking around; we all wanted internet without freezing; I wanted wine again from a Carrefour; and we hoped to find something decent to eat. Online I had checked out Carre Eden, and it seemed it would answer all needs, so off we went. Great. We went to a cafe called Roast, and I had my first good tagine, lamb with prunes for US$7.50, and a carrot-orange juice. We got cash, we shopped. We separated a while, and I went back to Roast and overspent on coffees and a crepe that turned out to be another thick msemen. After a while the others joined me. We didn’t head back till close to 9 pm. The taxi did not let us off in the closest place, but at least we were three together and okay walking back.

Friday, not up to going out. I had found a delivery app here, Glovo, and from a place called Black Pan I ordered a pizza to have with wine that night, and a salad to save for Saturday night. Dry pizza but filling enough; salad with overcooked eggs.

As I’m writing, it’s Saturday evening, and I can say it’s been a week of nothing much at all because of my bad head cold. I have booked a cheap enough hotel for next week, the other side (that is, to the north) of the Gueliz neighborhood, and I’m looking forward to moving on Monday. Tomorrow I plan to see Bahia Palace with a dormmate. We were out briefly today, but my head cold was too annoying for me to stop at a cafe, so I just brought some cups of coffee back to the hostel and had them with a banana and a couple of cookies. Haven’t even had my yogurts or the salad delivered yesterday. Hardly an exciting account to share, but this is the truth: travel is just my version of ordinary life now, and occasionally days are ordinary indeed no matter the locale.

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