After a year in Marrakech it turns out finding your way around is easy. Finding fixed locations? Not so much.
I am pretty savvy when it comes to getting around a town, and for the first few months I was here I made it my business to get to know this town. If for no other reason than to protect myself from accidental kidnapping when taking a taxi, I learned pretty quickly the lay of the land. Part of my survival repertoire when traveling, like many people, is to find the important landmarks and to get a good overview (city tour). So naturally I employed my mental mapping skills when I arrived here.
Marrakech is not a big city, and one or two good long looks at a map will get you oriented. There’s New Town and there’s the Medina. I spend a lot of my time north of the Medina and east of the Gare. (As in train station, not Guerre, as in war. Laura) I can get to Doha and back in a taxi mostly on my own, but I almost always have help. I venture further abroad all the time. Slowly and surely I am starting to understand what lies down “the road to Fes,” “the road to Essaouira” and “the road to Casablanca.” If these rue’s have names they are not used.
I have written before about taking a taxi
. It’s useless to mention road names really. Unless it’s a major Mohamed like V or VI or a major Hassan like II, don’t bother. Why? I don’t know. For one thing maybe there are too many languages for everyone to settle on one for street naming. Also I suspect that literacy rates, three alphabets, lack of maps and other oddities about Morocco have made street names useless. Like most places, there are rarely any signs indicating the street name anyway. So even knowing what to look for you’ll be SOL. (Shit outta luck) And numbering? Are you kidding me? There are numbers sometimes but not consistently used. And not well marked. And I don’t even dare to assume anything as organized as odds and evens on opposite sides or blocks laid out in sections. No. Numbering is not a thing here. For example, apartment buildings have no street numbers. Only names. My apartment unit is #12. On the 3rd floor. But you have to know it’s on the 3rd floor or you just ride the elevator like a cowboy in the Wild Wild West.
Now that I well and truly live here, I am digging deeper into my experience. I am attending business meetings and looking for a dentist. Marrakech is no match for Google Maps
as I noted earlier this year. No, you need to know certain things that don’t fit on business cards. First, you must know the building name. And you must know that unless it is primarily a residence, that name is not going to be posted. Anywhere. It’s also helpful to know any other thing that might exist nearby. Trees, fountains, signs, other businesses. Any landmark will do. Triangulation is an essential skill here.
It’s best not to go to Google straight ahead for these matters because ….seriously…no match. First go to Facebook and find the nearby business listing and then look for the map that this business has hopefully plotted on their page. Then you can usually rely on this information. Usually.
Once you locate the building your problems have just begun. Now you have to go inside the building and look for the right door. On the right floor. Because the door numbers and the floor numbers are not remotely related remember. Hopefully you have clear direction from someone English speaking as I did recently for a dentist office. Up the street behind Carre Eden on the Starbucks side to the first corner (check), locate the Italian restaurant (check), locate the dentist building (check) (on the third attempt because it’s around the corner and up three doors), find the dentist name on the front of the building amongst a bunch of randomly placed signs in various languages (check). Then you “speak” to the Guardian outside the building who will inquire as to your intentions but doesn’t speak English or even French sometimes, so you just point in three random directions and mumble shokran, ham’dullah, dentiste, allo and be on your way to the elevator.
So I did this all the other day. I was pretty sure I had it licked (as my dad would say). I got to the fifth floor and found doors. A whole lot of doors. Many many doors. None of them marked but one. No numbers. No signs. No cave drawings. Just one door in the middle of them all that had a sign. In Arabic. Now remember I’m looking for an English dentist and I’m also pretty good at that kids game Concentration. I’m pretty sure I saw the matching sign downstairs on the wall, but it was not the one I was looking for. Being my only option I rang the bell and got a dentist to answer, but alas, no English. So. Onto the next one.
Another recent experience in finding a physical was the most ironic ever. EVER. You see I am throwing myself headfirst into ranking our business on Google. I eat, breath, sleep, and burp keywords, SERPs, PPC and every other thing I left behind in a cloud of dust somewhere back 2011. SO. I signed up for a seminar on Google Search strategies. “How to Make Sure Your Business Gets Found.” Riiiiggghhhht. So they sent out a ton of emails leading up to the event. Ensuring good attendance. Making sure you remembered. Be there. Don’t forget. I was really excited about attending this very “western” style event in Marrakech. Practically unheard of and hopefully a learning experience. So here is the information that they sent me to find this place.
“The event is taking place at:
13 Boulevard Al Mouzdalifa
Apartment 13, 3rd Floor
Marrakech, 40 000.
It is opposite Patisserie Le Votre – if you Google this/Facebook this you will find a map with the exact location.”
The day of the conference comes and I head out with an umbrella because of course it was the one rainy day Marrakech has seen in 4 months. I had great luck finding the Patisserie Le Votre on my Google Maps app so that was a good start.
I hailed a taxi and the cabbie was fascinated by my new fangled technology when I showed him “the dot” on the Google Map app. I got in the front seat, there was a woman in the back seat already. Off we go. He’s looking at my phone because it moves you know, the blue dot, towards the destination. He was entranced. We drove along, he pointed and said some words in English and I nodded like I had invented the damn thing. I eventually heard the woman in the back speak up. I don’t know a ton of Darija but I know enough, and I know about situational hand gestures, voice undulations and common sense to know that the women had literally taken a back seat to the white girl with the shiny toy. I was embarrassed by this but helpless to do anything so I said nothing (but I did thank her directly when I got out for coming along on my ride).
At the destination, I had anticipated it to be on the outskirts of town, so I knew it would be less dense. I knew generally where we were and I knew getting a taxi home would mean a good walk to another major street because I was kind of in the boonies.
I spot the Patisserie, which is permanently closed so I’m really hoping they offer coffee when I arrive at the meeting.
I look across the street. There are three tall buildings. One is clearly a residence. One is a school. One has commercial space. So that’s the one. I approach. There is a pack of about 9 Moroccans students gathered in the doorway. No one helps. I look at the signs. Nothing. Arset Sinko is the ….name of the building maybe? I have to assume. I stand back and look up at several signs. Nothing. I go inside. No directory. I go to the third floor. There is no apt 13. Of course. Some of the doors are actually marked, in the 3 and 5’s, not 13. I go back downstairs. I enquire with someone who looks promising. They point to the Patisserie across the street. Got that, yup. They point to the elevator. Yup got that too. Then they tell me that I can go to school with them and learn English. Aw, thanks. One man took me around the corner on the first floor to a hair salon. Nope, not today but thanks.
I leave. There is literally no other viable option in sight. Nothing to even investigate. I walk one way to check.Parking and an empty field. Turn around walk up the street the next way. Nope. Nothing. I’m done.
I spot a major street quite a way up that I know to be the main street back towards Majorelle were I can get a taxi. So I start walking. Texting the conference people all the while. With no reply.
Then, across the street about a block up I spy a number on a building – 20. Well then, where is 13? I stop and look around. I spot no other numbers. BUT – there is a building that has SINKO written on it, with a large entry into a courtyard. Could it be? I approach.
There is a Guardian behind a desk and three Moroccan women in the lobby. In a combination of French, Darija, English and hope we discuss my quandry. Yes this is in fact Sinko. Spelled Cinko but let’s not split hairs. What is this 13? A long discussion ensues with pointing, head scratching and staring at me, head to toe (that’s a thing here). Finally the Guardian walks away with a shoulder shrug and a lady says “follow me”.
We walk in to a huge courtyard in what is CLEARLY a residential complex. She takes me into a building block entry marked “17”. It was quite a walk back into the heart of the complex. Uh, ok. She takes me to the bottom of the stairs and points up indicating that if I ascend to the 3rd floor I will surely find apartment 13 with a conference table and hot coffee. I am not so positive.
She disappears, leaving me quite alone in a place on earth I could never find again, no one knows where I am, there is not a single sign of life in sight. I go up one floor just in case. I find 5 doors. FIVE. Not one of them has a marking, a number, an X , nothing. I turn around and leave.
I later found out that no one showed up for this meeting. “WOW REALLY?” Because apparently it was hard to find. They were lovely and offer a quick refund with the addition of cab fare. I had a little adventure and some fresh air. No harm, no foul.
All the time I was searching though I was recalling past conferences in Canada. The giant hotels with sandwich boards every 10 feet, bug huge signs in large font with balloons attached, and polite Interns that encourage you along the way with guiding hand motions. And some idiot invariably can’t find the right room. So really – the chances of finding a place in this city, without a uniformed escort, GPS, solid command of 4 languages, a sniffer dog and photos for visual backup? Yah – good luck.