Moroccan Henna: The Branding of a Gullible Tourist

moroccan-henna-branding-gullible-tourist-turf-to-surf-travel-blog

After hours of walking through the winding maze of narrow streets that branch out from the center of the Marrakesh Bazaar, we finally reach a wide open space surrounded by tourist restaurants, snake charmers and roaming vendors who try desperately to push their trinkets into our hands in an effort to make an impromptu sale.

It’s here that I know I will inevitably end up paying too much money for something I don’t need.

moroccan-henna-branding-gullible-tourist-marrakesh-travel-blog

Center of the Marrakesh Bazaar — view from above

Getting ripped off is something I always budget into the cost of visiting a new country, no matter where in the world it is. I like to think of the excess money I spend in those first few days in a new place as my “foreigner’s tax” – the price I pay for my ignorance until I learn my way around the exchange rate, the local economy and what the real costs are of certain basics like bread, beer and taxis.

I remember vividly every experience when I was conned traveling to a country for the first time – the taxi driver in Cairo, Egypt who agreed on a price of ten Egyptian pounds to drive me to the Pyramids then said, “Oh, I meant ten British pounds, not ten Egyptian pounds,” and then refused to let me out of the car until eventually I kicked my way out, threw 15 Egyptian pounds at him and ran off in such a hurry that he managed to hold on to my favorite music CD. There was the bartender in Montreal, Canada who reversed the exchange rate of the U.S. dollar to the Canadian dollar so that I paid twice the normal price for my drinks. There was the Russian babushka who sold me a bag of ordinary sticks and convinced me they were a special type of Russian tea. And there was the bus driver in Turkey who charged me ten times more than the local passenger rate, assuming I wouldn’t know the difference.

morocco-markets-branding-gullible-tourist-travel-blog

Marrakesh Market is full of eye candy

In Marrakesh, my foreigner’s tax comes in the form of an unwanted henna assault, which happens while I am trying to prevent a strange man from wrapping an enormous python around my neck.

As I try to peel the ten-foot-long reptile off my shoulders while nodding and smiling in an effort not to spook the snake, I notice my friends Kristi and Meg are having their hands stroked by two Moroccan women covered from head to toe in traditional garb. I use my friends as an excuse to escape the python and his handler but, before I can ask my friends what they’re doing, a woman grabs my arm tightly and starts drawing floral designs on my fingers with plastic tubes of brown henna.

moroccan-henna-branding-gullible-tourist

Meg is both amused and unsure of what is happening

“Wait…no…what does this cost?” I ask Meg and Kristi, who have succumbed to the entrapment of the smiling, crooning Moroccan women sat squeezing brown paste on their hands as though they are decorating a cake.

Kristi looks particularly unimpressed as her covered assailant works quickly and forcefully, drawing brown, squiggly designs all up Kristi’s forearm. She laughs, “I don’t even know how this happened. I told her to stop…”

The henna-drawing assault is over in a few short minutes, by which point Ryan has wandered over to me to see what is being done to my arms. “What in the…did you want this?” he asks as I shake my head vigorously. “What is this going to cost?”

“Sheep! Very sheep price!” The henna lady responds. Five hundred Dirham only!”

I stand up from my stool and shout, “Five hundred Dirham? Are you crazy?! That’s fifty dollars!”

“Very sheep! Beautiful!” The woman smiles, holding my defaced arm up to Ryan, who looks like he might turn the woman upside down and shake her.

I grab Ryan by the arm and tell him I’m absolutely not going to pay five hundred Dirham. Yes, I was forced into getting a henna tattoo, but I would give the woman what I feel is a reasonable price. I pull out a one-hundred Dirham note and hand it to the woman, who immediately spits and swats my hand away. “No one hundred! Five hundred Dirham! This nothing for you!”

I walk away from the woman as she screams after me, and I slow down my pace, as I’ve been in this situation many times before. The feeling of being conned never absolves me from the feeling of guilt that comes with knowing that such desperate tactics are born of a need and a struggle to survive, to put food on the table and to make a meager living off the wealthy tourists that pass briefly through these countries, their pockets lined with cash to spend on good food and souvenirs to bring home.

I turn around and face the woman shouting at me. “I will give you one hundred Dirham or I will give you nothing. Your choice.” I wave my arm at her and say, “This was not my choice. One hundred Dirham is generous.”

“No good!” The woman screams. But she grabs my one-hundred Dirham note and spins on her heels, walking away to grab another unsuspecting tourist in the market square.

Meg and Kristi walk up next to us with their heads hanging low. “How much did you give them?”

“Two-hundred fifty Dirham.”

“Twenty-five DOLLARS?!” Ryan explodes.

Kristi and Meg shrug their shoulders sheepishly as they say, almost in unison, “I felt bad!”

moroccan-henna-turf-to-surf-travel-blog-morocco

Our gullible tourist stamps on full display

I laugh, sympathizing with how the henna transaction has made us feel; like we’ve been violated and branded with the tattoo of a gullible tourist, which we would wear with shame for the rest of our time in Morocco.

But, mentally, I reconcile our over-payment as a donation to local families in need. And I write off my foreigner’s tax as a necessary lesson in navigating the markets of Marrakesh: never let a man wrap a snake around your neck and never let a woman tattoo your arm without your permission.

morocco-baskets-turf-to-surf-travel-blog

I prefer the beautiful things I choose to buy over the ones I’m forced to pay for

 

Save

Morocco Markets: Objects of My Desire

morocco-markets-objects-of-my-desire-turf-to-surf-travel-blog

Sailing into Rabat, Morocco

It was hard to focus on helming as we pulled into the harbor in Rabat, Morocco, as I stared with wonder at the ancient stone structures lining the right side of the entrance and the colorful wooden fishing boats bobbing up and down on their moorings. I sensed that we hadn’t just left Europe; we’d sailed into another era from the distant past.

Fishermen working on their little boats stopped for a moment to stare at Cheeky Monkey as we motored past. A few men smiled and waved and I wondered whether they were transfixed by the arrival of a foreign vessel or the spectacle of what appeared to be a female-run boat with me at the helm and Kristi and Meg preparing the fenders and lines for docking at Bouregreg Marina. Ryan, the male minority on board, was on the radio getting docking instructions from the marina while I looked around and noticed the lack of women on the many boats we passed in the harbor. I smiled and waved at the fishermen as their mouths hung open, their jaws involuntarily unhinged.

sailing-to-morocco-turf-to-surf-sailing-blog

Our jaws also hung slack as we pulled into this cute harbor in Rabat.

We weren’t sure what to expect from a marina that only charged $15/day for a 44-foot catamaran, but we definitely weren’t expecting a welcoming committee of eight officials to step on board bearing gifts of baseball caps, pens and key chains emblazoned with the marina’s logo for each of the crew. Two of the officials excitedly thumbed through our passports and asked us questions about ourselves and how on earth we could all survive without jobs, while the other officials on board looked around silently. I wondered if the extra men were having a dull day in the office and so they decided to tag along just to have a closer look at the boat and its crew.

Our amusing clearing-in experience motivated us to get off the boat and go explore what Morocco had to offer beyond the waterfront of Rabat. So once our French friends, Morgan and Xavier, arrived from Paris, ready and packed for the Atlantic-crossing, we shut up the boat, rented a car and hit the road on a mission to go see Casablanca and Marrakesh, two cities that were near enough to explore in the three days we had spare before sailing away to the Canary Islands.

morocco-cheeky-monkey-sailing-around-the-world-blog-turf-to-surf

Xavier and Morgan were thrilled to join us in Rabat for our Atlantic crossing.

Morocco markets: Shopping in Casablanca

I’m sure Casablanca has a lot more to offer the keen tourist than just bazaar shopping, but as we only had a few hours to stop there on our way to Marrakesh, we dove into the heart of the traditional marketplace in an attempt to absorb our surroundings in the most efficient way possible. We were aiming to shock our senses and dive into the experience of our sudden departure from Europe.

morocco-markets-food-travel-blog-turf-to-surf

The best way to dive into any foreign culture is to EAT!

The crafts displayed in tiny market cubicles formed a tapestry of colors, textures and smells that drew me in as soon as we walked through the gates of the Casablanca Bazaar. There was silver jewelry with colored stones, carts piled high with roasted almonds and dates, handmade leather bags and slippers dangled above our heads, all of them too beautiful not to reach out and touch. Vendors pleaded for us to come have a closer look at their wares in their direct but gentle way, looking us in the eyes and smiling as they held out pretty objects to entice us into their shops as we walked past.

morocco-markets-objects-my-desire-travel-blog-turf-to-surf

“Must touch…so pretty…how much are they?”

Before we even got a few steps into the market, Meg and I were drawn to a stall that was intricately stacked with polished wooden boxes of all shapes and sizes. The boxes begged to be touched and opened and held, and the vendor took full advantage of the power of his beautiful handicrafts by encouraging us to try and open one of his many “magic boxes,” clever little cases with hidden keys that required puzzle-solving skills to find. Without knowing what we would need a magic box for, and before Ryan could complain that little wooden boxes have no use on a boat, Meg and I bought three of them.

Resisting the irresistible

It’s moments like these when I long to be able to collect things, when it seems like a shame that I can’t keep much on a boat. I ran my fingers through the multi-colored woven cloths and reached up to touch the gleaming brass lamps above my head and, for a second, I wished I had a house I could fill with unique objects from Morocco. But then I remembered that being free to roam means being able to carry everything I need in one bag or on one boat. I remembered that shedding objects and leaving the weight of possessions behind is what has allowed us to keep moving from one beautiful experience to another.

morocco-markets-brass-lamps-turf-to-surf-sailing-blog

So many beautiful things and so little room to keep it all.

And with that thought, the shiny brass lamps, though beautiful, transformed into heavy burdens that would require somewhere to be housed and someone to polish them. So I pulled my hand away, smiled at the vendor and kept walking.

 

morocco-markets-objects-desire-turf-to-surf-sailing-blog
This is Meg. She has a large family and 3 sisters, so she bought everything.

post-line-divide

Update from Tasha

Hey everyone!

Thanks so much for reading and having patience with the lack of postings while I’ve been moving around in areas with poor WiFi. Life on a boat means we’re often not connected, which has its pros and cons. But from the perspective of a blogger and YouTuber, they’re mostly cons. I have learned to switch off and be patient every now and then, but it’s a struggle – I’m constantly chasing down SIM cards and data in remote islands.

In any case, if you didn’t catch our video about Morocco on Chase the Story Sailing, catch it here:

Thanks so much for reading and watching – don’t forget to hit the red subscribe button on YouTube so you don’t miss an update!

Love,

Tasha

 

Save

Sailing to Morocco: Stress in the TSS

sailing-to-morocco-strait-gibraltar-sailing-blog-turf-to-surf-thumbnail

As we quickly tidied up the boat to get ready to sail from Gibraltar to Rabat, Morocco, I examined the charts closely to understand the route we would be taking across the busy traffic channels in the Strait of Gibraltar. There were so many frighteningly large ships moving across the screen on AIS that our chart plotter looked like an arcade game of Frogger with red-outlined vehicles moving in two organized streams, threatening to squash me as I tried to move across the strait.

sailing-to-morocco-tss-frogger-comparison

If you were a child of the ’80s and ’90s, you might remember the game Frogger.

We would have to pull in with the traffic flow going west, then nudge ourselves slowly south until an opening appeared wide enough for us to make a 90-degree bee-line across the hectic traffic separation scheme (TSS) to the north side of Africa. But I’d been watching the cargo ships moving quickly across the screen for the last half hour and there didn’t seem to be many opportunities for our small cruising ship to cut safely from one side to the other.

There are few places in the world where you can find commercial traffic as heavy as it is in the Strait of Gibraltar, a narrow conveyor belt running ships between Europe and Africa. But New York Harbor, where I first learned to sail, is one of those busy ports, so I wasn’t overly concerned about the traffic we’d be encountering. After years of sailing in and around New York City, we were used to being constantly vigilant, tacking and weaving between cargo ships and ferries as we made our way out to Sandy Hook to anchor for the weekend or headed up the Hudson River for the day.

sailing-to-morocco-stress-tss-turf-to-surf

Ryan, keeping a lookout for oncoming traffic to avoid.

When we first started sailing, we conversed with every experienced sailor we met, collecting tips on weather, navigation, engine trouble and sailing to faraway places. And we were surprised at the number of times we were told “never sail at night if you can help it; it’s very dangerous.” We laughed because night sailing in New York Harbor was one of our favorite pastimes. With the famous Manhattan skyline lit up along the Hudson River, our boat was always blanketed in the glow of the city as though we were sailing under a hundred moons. What was everyone talking about – “sailing at night is dangerous”? Sailing in the busy traffic of New York was all we knew at that time, so it hardly seemed dangerous to us.

It wasn’t until we sailed out of New York to the Bahamas and the Caribbean in 2012 that we realized how little boating traffic exists out there when you move away from New York Harbor. If you jump out on the ocean, you see less than a handful of boats a day. If you stay inside the Intracoastal Waterway, you might spot a few more boats, but between ports, traffic is scarce compared to the areas around New York City.

As I nudged the bow of Cheeky Monkey out into the Strait of Gibraltar, however, I was reminded how heavily surrounded with traffic I once was and how blissfully spacious the seas have been since we left New York. Pulling into oncoming cargo ship traffic in the strait was suddenly foreign and stressful and required being vigilant to the movements of hundreds of ships who all had right-of-way over our slow-moving vessel.

sailing-to-morocco-tss-cargo-ship-sailing-blog-turf-to-surf

These ships may look heavy and slow-moving, but they bear down quickly.

Kristi and I sat at the helm, examining the AIS information of oncoming vessels and ships who approached quickly from all directions, trying our best to navigate a path that would be the least nuisance to the priority commercial traffic surrounding us.

As we traveled west along the south coast of Spain with the flow, it seemed like there was never going to be a break in the shipping lanes to get us cleanly from one side of the purple TSS band, which was marked clearly on the chart plotter, to the other. So we took the first small opening we had to turn Cheeky Monkey at a 90-degree angle to the TSS.

To me, the TSS on my chart plotter looked narrow and easy enough to cross, though the traffic on either side of the purple band seemed to still be speeding densely at us in both directions. TSS traffic flows like a highway – the north line of traffic moves from east to west and the south line of traffic moves from west to east. My challenge was to get across the traffic moving west to east at speeds three times faster than Cheeky Monkey so that I could continue moving southwest along the coast of Africa without getting in the way of anyone.

So once Cheeky Monkey’s little ship icon reached the other side of the purple band on my on-screen game of cargo-ship Frogger, I breathed a sigh of relief and turned the boat to head southwest again. Which is when a loud, stern voice came over VHF channel 16 saying, “Cheeky Monkey, Cheeky Monkey, Cheeky Monkey, you are to maintain a 90-degree angle until you cross the TSS!”

sailing-to-morocco-strait-gibraltar-sailing-blog-turf-to-surf

Bird’s eye view of the Strait of Gibraltar from a scenic point in Gibraltar.

I looked at Kristi, confused. “We crossed it, didn’t we?” We zoomed in on the chart and looked again at the purple band marking the traffic zone. I was pointing to a purple line running across the screen when Kristi zoomed out and pointed to a second purple line running across the bottom of the screen just north of the coast of Africa.

“Whoa! I thought that purple band there was the TSS! It goes from that band to the other band?” I said, with my hand moving up and down the length of the screen. “Shit!”

I had suddenly realized my mistake when the radio piped up again, “Cheeky Monkey, Cheeky Monkey, Cheeky Monkey, what are your intentions?”

“Um, we want to go to Morocco?” I responded into the radio, flustered, as Kristi laughed hysterically at the ridiculousness of my answer. Put on the spot, I had no idea what the yelling man meant by my “intentions,” but it probably wasn’t a diary of my day’s plans, or what I was craving for lunch.

Having realized I had not, in fact, crossed the traffic separation scheme, I turned Cheeky Monkey back to a 90-degree angle and continued on a hair-raising path cutting between cargo ships, putting both engines on full throttle and speeding towards the North African coast as fast as I could go to avoid being hailed on the radio again.

sailing-to-morocco-sailing-blog-turf-to-surf

Cheeky Monkey, pulling into the harbor in Rabat, well away from the TSS traffic.

99% of the time we are out sailing, regardless of the waters we are in, there is ample room to maneuver, deal with mishaps, change course and relax, allowing the direction of the wind to dictate the course towards our next destination. It’s often a peaceful, slow-moving process with our boat sailing along comfortably at a humble 6-7 knots with no one else on the horizon.

But the traffic separation scheme in the Strait of Gibraltar jarred me out of that peaceful reverie and reminded me that vigilance and precision are paramount where traffic is dense and strict rules govern a safe crossing. We’d been sailing in empty waters for so long that I didn’t properly anticipate how heavy the traffic would be getting from Spain to Morocco.

If sailing in the New York Harbor was like getting to Level 3 of Frogger, then the Strait of Gibraltar was Level 10. And I didn’t have enough practice in this game to remember how not to get smashed by an oncoming vehicle. Luckily, we got safely across the TSS and pulled into Rabat with no harm done. But next time I might just review my book of navigational rules before diving into the shipping lanes again.

sailing-to-morocco-turf-to-surf-sailing-blog

Once we got south of the TSS, it was smooth sailing all the way to Rabat, Morocco.

 

Save