It was only a matter of time, and frankly I’m a bit surprised it took this long. That’s right, Laynni’s finally had her requisite insect-episode that seems common to all our trips. At least each time seems to vary as to type and location of bites. This time around we suspect bedbugs, probably from the blankets in the desert. On the plus side there is added entertainment value (for me only, of course) in watching her struggle so valiantly all day to ignore the itching, only to finally have her will power collapse sometime over the course of the evening in a frenzy of angry scratching. Good stuff, I tell ya.

So I have to admit that we were feeling fairly adventurous after our desert experience, and even better after adding a couple mildly strenuous hikes in Todra Gorge. As usual, however, when that happens something soon comes along to bring us back down a notch. This time it was the bus from Ourzazate to Marrakesh. We got hooked up on CTM, a full cut above the rest of the bus companies (and only an extra 5 dirham, or $0.80, go figure), and as we were checking our backpacks I couldn’t help but notice the women in front of me in line. Joining us en route to Marrakesh were a couple sultry blue-hairs, with proper British manners and accents, combined age nearing 150 and with, believe it or not, carry-on knitting. Welcome back to the mainstream, tough guy.

One interesting note from the bus ride: you know how people often leave something to hold their seat while they’re gone; a jacket, a book, a bottle of water? Well apparently in Morocco some guys leave grain scythes.

Djemaa el-Fna; the heart and soul of Marrakesh. One of those place that exceeds expectations and, as cliché as it may be, really has to be seen to be believed. It’s strange shape is outlined by roughly 60 portable stalls, about 3/4 of which sell orange juice squeezed while you wait (not apple, or grapefruit, or a tropical mix, or any other type of juice; nope – orange). The other 1/4 sell nuts and dried fruit. Stall after stall, side by side, all selling the same thing and, judging by the full barrels of peels, all doing pretty well. In fact, the keep-your-competition-close theory seems to apply to basically all aspects of Moroccan commerce. There are the carpet sellers, the silversmiths, the leather workers, the butchers, the herbalists, and the list goes on. One that still threw me for a loop, however, was Beggar’s Row (my name, not theirs) – a dozen ratty old men seated side by side, all placidly holding a hat, bowl or some other charity-procuring device. That’s it. No hungry child, no sick dog, no pleading sign, or even a red jacket like the girl in Schindler’s List. Which leaves us with the question: How the hell do you decide to give money to, say, Number 5?

There is always something going on in Djemaa el-Fna but it really comes alive late in the day and into the night. Musicians, story tellers, snake handlers, magicians, henna women, abused monkeys, and charlatans dressed as traditional water-sellers. It’s like watching a low budget variety show (such as recent Saturday Night Lives). Nonetheless, watch it we did, for hours at a time from cafes and terraces surrounding the square. It’s as hypnotic as it is idiotic. Some samples of the incredibly intelligent dialogue which ensued:

“Nothing beats a picture of a family and their monkey”

“I guarantee you that guy is about to say – Hey, check out my snake”

“I think that guy’s telling a story about a man’s tragic obsession with his pomegranate…..and his burro.”

“The water seller looks like a fag”

The star of the show as far as Laynni was concerned was “Hat Guy”, a lively entertainer who spends his afternoons impeding tourists on their way through the square with his own unique little shuffle-dance, all the while creating a bit of a tune with his finger-cymbals and strategically bobbing his head in a way that made the tassel on his hat spin. Not as impressive as boob-tassel-twirling maybe, but it still provided an added effect. He would spot his prey, jump into their path, perform his dance (seemingly patterned after those toy monkeys that clap the cymbals while shuffling across the room) for upward of 2 to 3 seconds and then – ta da! – off comes the hat to be used for accepting your generous payment for entertainment rendered, “Please to be paying for the pleasure I’ve provided, Madame” said his pleading eyes. And every so often when he felt the need for some more enticing dramatics he’d suddenly, and without warning, throw in a single death-defying twirl, leaving the audience gasping. And you would not believe how many people tossed this guy a dirham or two. I mean, I can appreciate the effort to a degree, but c’mon…..

At about 5 pm the square fills up with food stalls selling harira, couscous, brochettes, tajines, desserts, etc. At each of which several energetic folks actively try to talk you into choosing THEIR harira over the 20 other hariras. The prime selling feature, however, especially if you are in the brochette business (basically a meat kebab) is to have a grotesque, hairless sheep’s head prominently displayed at the front of your stall. “Hey, how can you pass up the roasted carcass of this beauty, huh?”. And if they really had something to prove they’d line up several rotting skulls.
Top that.

Well, tomorrow morning we are off to the High Atlas mountains for a 3 day trek, so don’t expect to hear much until after that. A good weekend to all, and to all a good May long.

Let me know who survives Clint’s stag (and Jamie’s stagette).

p.s. I picked the Flames to win the Cup right at the beginning of the year, ask anyone….