Marrakesh Airport Passport Control – Government 2.0?

Controle des Passeports Marrakesh Airport Sign
At the airport of Marrakesh, Morocco, as we were leaving, I snapped this photograph (above) of the “official” sortie. The Passport Control desk has a sign above it in three languages. The French is given prime real estate. I trust the Arabic is spelt correctly. Meanwhile, the person who approved the English neeeds to revisit his or her spelling (yes, one ‘e’ too many). And, for that matter, one ‘s’ too many as well. I failed to find a “Suggestions & Complaints” box, so had to resort to the blog.

I do wonder how much the world could be a better place if there were open channels of communication for accepting people’s voluntary comments, etc. Aside from figuring out the logistics, one of the problems would be: how many of the suggestions would be right and/or appropriate (cf Wikipedia)? A government 2.0 site for fixing ‘errors’? It could speak volumes for a co-creative relationship between citizen and state?

Do you think life would be better if people had the opportunity to write to the government every time they had a constructive criticism?

Food & Restaurants in Marrakesh Morocco – Part 2 of 3

The culinary experience of Marrakesh and environs

Al Fassia Restaurant MarrakeshMarrakesh.

We had to miss out on the famed Hotel Mamounia because it is [still] under refurbishment. We splurged on two “exclusive” dinners, one at the Jardins de la Medina, 21 Derb Chtoukah, Kasbah Marrakesh) which featured excruciatingly slow service and a waiter that told us that had we wanted a dressing for our salad, we should have spoken up at the beginning. That said, the cadre, inside this deluxe hotel, is attractive. The other “prime” address we visited was Al Fassia in Guéliz (“new” Marrakesh) where we had to reserve two days in advance to get a table. Owned and run by some Moroccan women, Al Fassia (+212 5 24 43 40 60) was well worth it; we gave it top marks for its service and décor and we particularly enjoyed the “pastilla de pigeon” (pigeon patty).
For more local fare in Marrakesh, we had a delightful Tajine at la Gourmandise (151 rue Mohamed el Beqal), also in Guéliz as well as tasted some fine local pâtisseries (Adamo, 44 bis rue Tariq Ibn Ziad, and Al Jawda, 11 rue de la Liberté). If there is one thing I learned here is that Moroccans don’t do good chocolate.
The other eating Marrakesh experience is of course at night in the Jamaâ El Fna square (picutred below). Once you get over the heckling, you can find a jolly good meal. Best advice: find the one where the majority of clients are Moroccan.
Jemaa el Fna Square Marrakesh Morocco

Ourika Valley.

For lunch on our trip through the Ourika valley, south of Marrakesh and a Berber heartland, we aimed to eat at a well-regarded spot recommended by the Guide du Routard; but, apparently, there have been too many Marrakeshis (and tourists) visiting this establishment, so the owner left to seek refuge and rest at a nearby 4* hotel. Clearly, the crisis has not dropped the shoe down here. Our attempt to go to nearby Dar Piano was thwarted as it too was closed, so we hit a lively, open air spot overlooking the river, in the buzzing town of Oulmès. Being the only non-Moroccans, we were the entertainment for the Moroccan patrons of the restaurant. We enjoyed in turn watching nervous Moroccan women wobble across a shaky wooden bridge. As with virtually all local meals, you can have a full family meal (for four) for around 150 dirhams or 15 euros ($20). Tajine (or couscous) is sold for between 7 and 35 dirhams (70 cents to 3.50 euros) depending on where you are. If the prices are not printed, you may end up paying at the higher end of the scale, but for a maximum 3.50 euros, a tasty tajine is still a great deal. In this particular restaurant in Oulmès, we got to learn that people still use the old rials to calculate prices (much like the old French franc). For the record, you need to divide by 20 to get from rials to dirhams.

Tahanaout, Route to Asni.

We took the children to Terres d’Amanar (on the route to Asni, near Tahanaout, about an hour due south of Marrakesh) on the one dismally rainy day of our holidays. The Terres d’Amanar is a large natural reserve featuring a resort hotel and a number of rough and tumble activities such as all-terrain bicycling, tree climbing, hiking, etc. We had made a reservation, but upon arriving, found no one at the welcome desk. Apparently, they didn’t expect us to make it through the drizzle. The kids played for twenty minutes on the wet slides, etc., before returning to the car satisfied for having invested an hour of driving time to get to the destination. The kids’ park is rather small. This is more for people (especially adults) wanting to do a full day of outdoor activities. It looked nice enough, other than the rain!

Ouarzazate.

Another day trip was out on the much less frequented eastern route toward the oasis town of Ouarzazate. We stopped off en route at Aït Ourir where we were fortunate enough to hit the weekly (Tuesdays only) souk. Unplagued by tourists, the vendors were decidedly less pushy and cloying. We profited by picking up some local fruit (tomatoes, chickpeas) as well as a local [crushable] hat for 10 dirhams. We ate a savoury lamb tajine at a local pitstop for the whopping price of 40 dirhams. The route to Taferiate provided for a few pittoresque moments, but beyond, the road desintegrated in quality.

Some advice.

When you want to eat at the local restaurants, the key is to check the food before sitting down. That means asking to take the lids of the clay pots to make sure that the food looks fresh and smells good. Generally speaking, on food, there is not the same threat of having to negotiate. That doesn’t mean that you won’t necessarily get a little tourist taxation, but prices are often printed.

Holidays Visit to Marrakesh Morocco Part 1 of 3

For our six-day visit to Marrakesh (or Marrakech if you prefer) en famille, we stayed at the not-even-opened Beldi Country Club Hotel (+212 (0)624-38-3950), on the route to Amizmiz, in Chérifia just 6 kilometres outside of Marrakesh.  Founded by Jean-Dominique Leymarie, the hotel is charm personified with a magnificent rose garden, splendid views of the Atlas mountain range (on clear days at least) and an entire infrastructure built from scratch using only local artists and talent. There are also myriad little cozy rooms in which to go and lounge about.

Beldi Country Club, Marrakesh Morocco
If the pools are not heated (a tad chilly for the April climate) and the tennis pro was more of a tennis am (as in pro-amateur), the lunchtime scene at le Palmier Fou around the Beldi’s southern pool was very Marrakesh haute société. The rooms are well done with lovely little details (cushy towels, soft cotton sheets and local “green” shampoo and body cleanser). The kids took advantage of some pottery classes (although 100 dirham per child per hour was a rather steep rate) with a transplanted Chilean artist. We benefited from the clay tennis court that was “unveiled” the morning of our arrival.  A second court is under construction.

Every day, we went into Marrakesh, visiting the hotspots as identified in the “Guide du Routard” including the visit of the trilogy of sites: Museum of Marrakesh in a 19th century traditional mansion, the Ben Youssef Medersa Koranic school, and some antique latrines.

On the 12th century latrines, one can literally take a pass. Not wanting to take the piss out of the historic site, there is not much to see here. The latrine’s explanatory board itself is almost out of sight. The visit of the 16th century Koranic school, on the other hand, is very worthwhile, especially to see the mosaics and lovely latticework in the stone and wood. Schooling up to 900 students at one point, this medersa is the largest in North Africa.

The stroll through the Medina souk with the jabs, taunts and enticements of the veritable carpet sellers does not diminish in stress over time. If this was my third visit to Marrakesh, the harassment in the winding souk is no easier to deal with. Yet, the magical buzz and clamour on the Place Jemaâ El Fna is no less enchanting than before. Between the snake charmers, the imprisoned monkeys and the charlatan magicians, the experience is remarkable. I can only imagine the strong imprint on the children’s minds.

We were spoiled by being invited to dinner in an absolutely magnificent Riad just outside the walls of the Medina, west of Marrakesh. The grandeur of the open skies, the multiple coves hidden away in the many corners, the ex-harem’s quarters and exquisite kilims, not to mention the wonderful food, made for a most memorable evening.  (Thank you to our local hosts)

Okaimeden Ski Lift Morocco

We made a number day trips, too.  We hit the valley of Ourika on two occasions. The first was tempered by heavy fog and rain, so we scrambled home to find the sunshine decorating our Beldi temporary residence. On the second – and substantially more successful – visit, we hit the town of Ourika (views), Oukaimeden mountain (skiing) and the village of Ourtes (lunch). The standout experience was surely the chairlift up the Oukaimeden mountain (3,200 metres peak), situated just 75 kilometres from Marrakesh. It was April 12th and we saw some thirty or so Moroccans swishing through the slush in equipment dating back to the end of the 20th century. Most authentic. The chairlift (25 dirhams per person round trip) is operated by the “Office National de l’Eau Potable,” translated to the National Office of Drinking Water. The ticket (see left) warns you that, in the case of stoppage or temporary closing of the slopes, you have no recourse on your 25 dirhams. While extremely slow, the ride was peaceful and offered some great views on the way back down.  Hard to believe that in April, you can ski in Morocco, but we have unadulterated proof. Nonetheless, not much would have tempted us to rent the archaic equipment to struggle through the thickest, wettest snow you are likely to see.

We took the kids to the water park Oasiria (route d’Amizmiz), run by a man from Toulouse, to enjoy the local attraction along with a mixture of French and well-to-do Moroccans. On balance, there were not many people and there were certainly no lines for any of the rides. Oscar (12) enjoyed the “camel” ride, a booming water slide.  On the downside, the wave pool takes 15 minutes to generate its waves. Unless you know people, you can’t last much more than four hours, especially if the weather is not too warm (only one heated pool).

I will write again with a review of food (part 2) and some commentary on Morocco (part 3)!  Watch this space.  In the meantime, your comments are, as ever, welcome.