Paulo watched his daughter at the top of the slide and knew he was in love. In love with this tiny creature, just two years old, with dark eyes and braids. A slow half smile formed on his lips and stayed there. He was quite surprised to realize he hadn’t fully loved her until now, but it was true.
It was a quiet love, quite unlike the love he had once felt for her mother. That love had been a drama, building day upon day like water behind a dam. A dam that eventually would be overtopped and breached – the release both a relief and a catastrophe. His love for this child was different. It was sustainable. He would nurture and grow this love.
Morning sunlight filtered through the trees sheltering the small park where the slide was located. A gentle breeze cooled the air. The small café near the playground provided a pleasant background hum. The hum of laughter, voices and food being served. The hum of life.
Arrived late at night on September 29 into Marrakech’s very new and modern airport. Our entire group was in one apartment complex this month very close to the airport, so the trip to our new home was quick!
It’s hard to admit, because Marrakech was one of the 12 host cities on our itinerary we had most looked forward to visiting, but we were disappointed. It’s a great place for a 4 or 5-day tourist visit, but not a place (in our opinion) to live for five weeks. Our great memories and experiences from the month are mostly about our trips OUT OF Marrakech, to the mountains, coast and desert.
Another issue was feeling like 90% of the local people are trying to cheat or steal from you, and the other 10% excuse it as a “cultural thing”. Our time in Marrakech was a stark reminder that not everyone in the world loves Americans or tourists in general, even though many of them rely on tourism for their livelihood. In most places where we’ve traveled, the local people overall seem pretty happy with life, even despite huge poverty and income disparity challenges. While this seemed true in the other parts of Morocco we visited, people in Marrakech seemed generally unhappy.
The local dish of note is Tajine (spelled about 5 different ways) – typically meat and/or vegetables with fruit (usually prunes or lemons), nuts and other spices roasted in a special covered terra cotta pot. The meat stays very moist, but gets so tender it basically falls off the bone. My favorite was beef with prunes and almonds, but there were many varieties. Chicken with lemo
n and olives is another that is widely enjoyed. The French also have a history here and influenced the cuisine, especially the breads. Another big hit was pastilla – savory meat filling in a sweet pastry. Overall, the food was tasty and well prepared, but there wasn’t a huge variety.
Marrakech is sometimes referred to as “The Red City” because the traditional dwellings were fashioned out of the native red soil. The City now REQUIRES all buildings to be roughly the same color. The uniformity has a soothing and tourist pleasing effect, but also makes every street tend to look alike!
French and Arabic are widely spoken, English less so.
Water is delivered by gravity from the Atlas Mountains, 30 km away.
There are a lot of stray cats, which are tolerated and even fed because they control the rodents.
The area most people think about when they think “Merrakech” is the medina. The medina is the older, more traditional part of the city. It’s a bit of an Indiana Jones type place. Jemaa el-Fna is the large central square in the medina, from which a maze of small market streets (souks) br
anch off. In the daytime, the square is full of carts selling produce, spices and other products, as well as snake charmers, monkeys – you name it. In the evening, much of that goes away and hundreds of small portable lunch counter type businesses set up, serving tajine, snails, seafood and a huge variety of other foods until late into the night.
Mosques, Gardens and Palaces
There are, of course, many mosques – each with a tower that is usually the tallest structure in the vicinity. Non-Muslims aren’t allowed inside, but there is a call to prayer 5 times each day. The specific times of the call are determined by the relative positions of the sun and the moon.
There are many pretty gardens in courtyards and small parks, but even with irrigation the flora is limited – date palms, figs, pomegranates and a few varieties of flowering shrubs are common. There also seems to be a fondness for roses.
The royal family has palaces in many cities throughout the country, but those aren’t generally open to the public. We did get to see one very opulent old palace that has been preserved and turned into a museum (Bahia Palace) and another (El Badi Palace) that is actually a ruin of a massive royal palace built in the 16th century. This huge complex was only occupied for 100 years, when a different king decided to build another palace elsewhere. El Badi was simply abandoned and its marble and other features were used for other purposes. Today, storks build nests on its crumbling walls.
The streets of market stalls, called souks, are fascinating and frequented by both tourists and locals. There seem
to be about 10 basic businesses replicated hundreds of times and selling mostly the same stuff (shoes, general leather goods, spices, textiles, metalware, ceramics, painted glass etc.). Not sure who buys all that stuff! The interior streets are very narrow and used by motorcycles, bikes, donkeys and pedestrians. Cars are prohibited during business hours from souk areas and are supposed to be used only for off hour deliveries, but there are always a few that seem willing to test that.
Transportation was one of our biggest struggles. The buses are so overcrowded they aren’t much use. There is no Uber or similar ride sharing service. There are taxis everywhere, and they are not expensive, but the cars are in poor condition. Also, meters are rare (or, rather, every car has one but the drivers refuse to turn them on for foreigners), so you are faced with having to know what is a reasonable fare to pay and negotiating to something reasonable EVERY TRIP. This got very tedious. I found that claiming to be Canadian made negotiations easier. There was an immediate 10-15 dirham (10 dirham = $1) reduction without the “rich American” surcharge!
Regarding weather, October started out hot, but cooled down significantly over the month. High temperatures hit the low 90s many days early in the month, but were down to low 80’s by the end. Most days were dry with a good breeze and it was quite comfortable in the shade. We had a few thunderstorms without any significant accumulation of rain, and even had a minor dust storm one day. Temperatures along the coast were several degrees cooler. The desert was what you might expect – hot in the afternoons and chilly at night.
Cost of eating out was reasonable and tipping limited to more upscale restaurants, where 7-10% seemed common. We had expected alcohol to be expensive, since it is primarily consumed by tourists, but it wasn’t way out of line (although higher than other places we’ve lived so far). Groceries also were higher than our previous 5 cities, but probably comparable to the US. The availability and quality of fresh produce was spotty. We didn’t investigate apartment rental rates at all.
Other Stuff We Did
The highlight of our month was a camel trek into the Sahara. It took us over a day to ride there in a bus, but was well worth it. We mounted our camels and rode out into the desert for nearly two hours, then spent the night in an oasis in the middle of the sands after catching the sunset during the ride. We climbed up a huge dune (300’ tall) to watch the stars and the guides made us dinner. Then they sat around a fire and played traditional Moroccan drum music until late into the night. The stars were amazing, and it got very cold. It’s impossible to convey the vastness and serenity. We woke up early to catch the sunrise and then made the return trek, back to a big breakfast at the hotel. By the time we got there my feet were almost thawed out!
On the way back from the Sahara we journeyed to the city of Fez, which took us through the Altas mountains. We stopped to see local monkeys in the forested part of the mountains and spent the night in a beautiful riad, which is a traditional opulent house built around a courtyard. The night included dinner and entertainment right in the riad. The people in Fez were all very nice and we didn’t feel any American bias there like we did in Marrakech.
Barbara also made some side trips that she really enjoyed to a surfing beach (Agadir) and to the mountains. I wasn’t able to make those due to a brief illness.
We also spent a great week in Lisbon as a break from Marrakech for my birthday. Beautiful architecture, beautiful people, beautiful weather. It’s one of my favorite world cities since our first visit there in the summer of 2016.
When we returned to Marrakech we made a stop in the Moroccan capital city of Rabat and toured the blue medina there – apparently the blue painted walls repel mosquitos. We had a memorable lunch in a small local restaurant, where we had salad, bread, tagine, dessert, bottled water and mint tea. The proprietor came by our table to show us the proper way to pour our tea and helped us with the currency when we paid our bill. The total? About $8 US for BOTH our meals (not each!), including tip! In general, we found the people in Rabat far friendlier than in Marrakech.
Arrived on November 4 – it was an overnight flight from Africa, so we arrived in South America in the daylight hours. Our entire traveling group was in one apartment complex this month, in the Palermo neighborhood. It was exciting driving through this beautiful city in the bright, spring sunshine. The abundance of trees and greenery was an immediate contrast to Morocco.
We were here three years ago and loved it, so we had high expectations. We weren’t disappointed! It’s a fun, vibrant city with lots going on.
The native language is Spanish, but English is widely spoken. We only had to rely on our rudimentary Spanish a few times a day, usually with cab drivers or store clerks.
Buenos Aires is a very green city, with lots of parks and open spaces. Many of the street trees in our Palermo neighborhood were huge, dating back to a city beautification program over 100 years ago. The jacaranda trees were in bloom!
Dinner starts no earlier than 8 here for most, so it tends to be a late lifestyle. The night life is crazy. Barbara and I weren’t big participants, but nightclubs many times aren’t even open until midnight and the fashionable crowds don’t show up until at least 1:00 am. It isn’t unusual for people to be out until 5 or 6 in the morning – not sure when they sleep or work. One morning I went up to do some work poolside at our apartment complex at about 7:30 am and there was a guy sitting by the pool who’d just arrived home from a nightclub.
Grilled meat is the big thing here, and it is good. Beef is most common, but pork, chicken and various sausages are widely available, and all good! It’s similar to Texas – but the local barbeque is called asado and the grill a parrilla.
There’s also significant Italian influence in town and that cuisine is common. But with a city population of nearly 3 million and an overall MSA of over 14 million, just about any type of food can be found.
The Rio de la Plata
Buenos Aires is a port city. The Rio de la Plata is the primary waterway that separates Argentina from Uruguay. The Rio is very wide and carries heavy sediments, as well as pollutants, from upriver, so there are no real beaches near Buenos Aires. Even though it has vast waterfront, it has not been developed as a public amenity. In fact, the domestic airport is located right along the water. One of the largest delta systems in the world is located an hour or so upriver from the city.
Argentina has had a turbulent past since becoming independent from Spain in the early 1800s, and it is very evident, with statues, monuments and park dedications all around the city. The years between WW II and the most recent democratic elections in 1983 were particularly hard. Juan and Eva Peron are still remembered as an advocate of the working class. Eva Peron’s tomb in Recoleta Cemetery still attracts many visitors. The low point was a military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983, which implemented 8,500 confirmed “disappearances” to suppress communist sentiment. Some believe the true total to be 30,000.
There’s an interesting mix of architectural styles. We were told that around
the time of the Paris World’s Fair when the Eiffel Tower debuted, Buenos Aires became infatuated with all Paris, so many of the buildings built around that time have a French influence, as do the wrought iron entrances to the subway. However, the actual subway system follows the English model – we got confused a few times because the trains (but not cars!) run on the left instead of the right and we mistakenly waited on the wrong side. There’s also Italian architectural influence but, surprisingly, there didn’t seem to be much Spanish.
Buenos Aires is the capital city of Argentina, so is the seat of government with all of the associated buildings and other features.
Argentina has undergone several financial crises over the past 30 years. This has resulted in a variety of new taxes, especially on imported goods, that have taken a toll on the local population. Inflation has been in the range of 20% per year. Even measured against the US dollar, things are much more expensive than when we were here 3 years ago – a bottle of wine in a restaurant is double 3 years ago (in US dollars – more in pesos!). Although, based on the number of people eating and drinking out at night, everyone seems to have figured out a way to deal with it. And restaurant price for a bottle of good domestic Malbec is still a bargain at around $20 USD!
There is a good, affordable transit system, with both buses and several metro lines. Taxis are plentiful and affordable. Uber is not officially sanctioned, but does have a significant presence. We found that for short trips the taxis were less wait and not significantly more expensive. Uber did seem a cheaper option for longer trips.
November is spring in Buenos Aires. We had nearly perfect temperatures the whole month and only a few days of rain. Typically, highs ranged from the mid-70’s to mid-80’s and lows around 60. We often needed jackets at night and early mornings. We’re told summers are generally hot and humid, and winters have no snow or freezing temperatures, although can get damp and chilly.
Costs for food and beverages have gone up significantly since our last stay here 3 years ago, but are still affordable by Austin standards. A glass of wine usually ran $5-6 USD, and we could usually find a bottle of Malbec for around $20 USD in a restaurant. Our best dinner out, which included one huge steak, one huge pork chop, an appetizer, a bottle of wine and sparking water was about $70 USD with tip. Tipping was 10-12% for waiters, but cab drivers and others generally weren’t tipped. Anything imported, which generally includes electronic goods and clothing, is very expensive – probably double what we’d pay in Austin. We couldn’t get a handle on rents – they seem to vary widely based on location and terms.
Other Stuff We Did!
We took the opportunity to hop on a two-hour flight and visit Iguazu Falls, which is located at the junction of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The falls and the associated park on the Argentina side are huge and amazing. We weren’t able to get to the Brazil side due to visa restrictions and costs.
We took a day trip to “The Delta” where we relaxed, kayaked and ate asado. We had a great day at a polo grounds a few hours outside of Buenos Aires, where we learned a little about polo, watched a match, tried our hand at playing and then went on a trail ride. We ate out more than our budget allowed and drank a lot of good Argentinian Malbec.
We also celebrated a fantastic Thanksgiving with our traveling family and some local guests, thanks to our Remote Year city lead, Santiago, who managed to find us an affordable place with an oven big enough for 2-25 pound turkeys and space for 50+people, and Barbara who led the kitchen crew.
Because of national financial issues, the amount of cash you can withdraw per day is limited. Consequently, people visit ATMs so often the machines tend to run out of cash. In addition, a lot of places don’t accept credit cards. We felt like we were continually in a cash crisis ourselves – one day I had to try seven ATMs to get the cash I needed. There are a lot of dogs in Buenos Aires, and a lot of irresponsible dog owners. We really had to watch where we stepped!