Posts Tagged With: MARKET

Casablanca; Morocco not the movie!

Not only was it the cheapest flight we could find from Sao Paolo but also the most convenient, as we had a 24 hours transit at Casablanca waiting another airplane. Diner, 4 stars hotel and breakfast offered by the flight company. So what for most people is a ‘no-go’ is for a low-cost backpacker a ‘can’t-refuse’.  Another stamp on the passport an here we go for our “Blitz-visit”.

With a population of almost 5 million, Casablanca is the largest, most liberal and progressive of Morocco’s cities. Its past interactions with different cultures, -founded by Berber fishermen around the tenth century, used by the Phoenicians, Romans, Merenids, to be destroyed and rebuilt again by the Portuguese who abandoned it after an earthquake. Then rebuild again at the hand of a Moroccan sultan but plagued by Spanish traders who established trading bases there and to finally get occupied by the French in 1907-, taught this city to cope with change and evolution.  Nothing in this city is truly endearing and that’s exactly the reason why you should visit it.  You’ll get the right idea that nobody expects travelers as other cities already serve very well that purpose.  Casablanca has a “medina” or walled old city of winding alleys, except here it’s smaller than most and quite run-down, with most shops devoted to day-to-day items that are of little interest to the tourist so do not expect immense labyrinthic medinas like Rabat, Fez or Marrakech have.  It does not offer a walk through the High Atlas and neither overnight camel ride through wavy, deep reddish-orange dunes. It’s not as characteristic as the blue city of Chefchaouen. It’s the unpretentiousness together with modernity, Moresque and Art Deco architecture that are the true delight.

Wandering through the city a traveler gets to see the real Morocco and not the well prepared tourist theaters as in other towns.  We haggle for some leather souvenirs without the typical scenes. At the Medina we try olives, dried fruits and spices without having to buy any.  The unforgiving nature of time forces us to go back to the hotel, the airport and eventually home.  Casablanca, it was nice to meet and greet and do not worry sooner or later we’ll be back!

Recommendations:

  • The Old Medina is nice cozy
  • The Hassan II mosque, one of the biggest mosques in the world and just at the waterside. Unlike most mosques in Morocco, non-Muslims are allowed inside, but only on guided tours for 10€ a person.
  • Mohammed V Boulevard, lined with buildings from the 1920s and 1940s, (2km from the Old Medina)
  • Square of Mohamed V
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Categories: Morocco | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ecuador: a new country, another story.

27-28/11/2013

Time flies by and standing here at the border we have a month of Colombian beauty stored in our memory and a bright Ecuadorian future in front of us.  The border crossing is easy and fast at both sides and very tourist friendly at the Ecuadorian side.  At the border control we find an improvised tourist office with in formation and maps from the whole country.

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Here we take, together with the German girls, a taxi for 3,5$(per ride) to the bus station of Tulcan and together we take the bus to Quito.  They get off at Ibarra and we get off at Cotacachi (2418MASL) where we are hosted by Holger, a friend of a very good friend of me.  Holger guides as a bit around in Cotacachi and invites us on ‘humitas.  This Native American dish from pre-Hispanic times is in Ecuador prepared with fresh ground corn with onions, eggs and spices that vary from region to region, and also by each family’s tradition. The dough is wrapped in a corn husk, but is steamed rather than baked, toasted or boiled. Ecuadorian humitas may, not in our case, also contain cheese. This dish is so traditional in Ecuador that they have developed special pots just for cooking humitas. Ecuadorian humitas can be salty or sweet. In general: very tasteful and savoury.  We talk a bit about everything at the humitas diner.  We make the plans for tomorrow and go to bed early to have a good night rest.

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The day in Cotacachi starts early so after a fast breakfast we are ready for the road.  Together with the wife of Holger we go her work: The natural reserve of Cuicocha, containing the Cotacachi volcano. At 3100m altitude there is a path of 14km long marked at the very edge of the crater.  It is the first time on our trip we feel the altitude affecting our physical conditions, this is a friendly welcome from the 7000km long Andes mountain range.

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Ascending the ‘Las Orquideas’ trail for about 350m does force our hearts beat to go faster and the respiration get tougher.  We make several stops to enjoy the view, popping out of the morning mist, and to recuperate from the physical effort.  The day awakes when greyish mountain shades turn into every colour nature contains and while we walk high above the side of the lake, the many different birdsongs around us seems to receive us happily in their splendid habitat.

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At noon (because 14km walking takes a while at these heights) we hitchhike back to the village.  A truck brings us to the central place just in front of the local ‘comedor’, a roof covered terrace with several daily menus to choose out.  Different chefs shouting their best dishes at sharp prices make it difficult to choose. And the worst part of it is that we are not familiar yet with the names of the dishes neither with the Ecuadorian way of cooking.  So we chose what sounds the best… and get: first some Indiana Jones soup (mine of blended liver and Giorgia apparently had chosen the lung soup) and then a first class rice with chicken (we are lucky here that it isn’t the legs or head) for 1,75$ each.

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Cotacachi is small but cosy. This city even holds UNESCO medal for being free of illiteracy. In 2000 the entire canton was declared the first ecological county of South America.  So nice to spend a day of wondering around and for those who like shopping, it is the place to buy leather goods.  Handbags, jackets, leather pants, bracelets or ever just the leather itself are exposed in vitrines in a range of colours.  We enjoy the village and go late home and are already asleep before our host arrives at home.  Again an early day in north Ecuador as today we go to the market in San Luis de Otavalo at 2250MASL(or simply Otavalo), the largest indigenous craft market of Ecuador (of whole South America some say).  From every corner from the country sellers come to the ‘Plaza de Ponchos’ or ‘Plaza Centenerio to sell their colourful merchandise.

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We can find literally everything here.  Bracelets, earrings or necklaces and other ornaments, food, drinks, snacks and even a kind of caramelized bug, there are all kind of first hand or second hand typical handwoven clothes, toys, garden tools, kitchen electronics, alternative medications and even enchantment powders, car replacements and tires… you name it and if you look long enough you‘ll find it.  It is an everyday happening but Saturday is the day to be and Sophia and Lara where thinking the same obviously as we come across with them in one of the many streets full of stands.  We have a nice lunch together and split up again for the shopping.  We have a hard time bargaining prices for the many presents we buy for our families but finally as the time passes by the prices get a bit lower and closer to our budget.  So after a day of discussing prices at the local and touristic market at the same time, we sit satisfied in the bus back to Cotacachi.

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A first positive impresion… so pleased with our new destination, we pack our backpacks to continue the trip to Quito, capital of the republic.

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Our recommendations:

  • If possible, try to combine your visit to Cotacachi at the annual fiesta of San Juan, San Pedro and San Pablo, also known as ‘Inti Raymi, or the “Sun Festival” in Kichwa, in late June.  Definitely worthy we think as there are many different ceremonies and a parade that sometimes degenerates into a rock-throwing expression of hostility between members of the indigenous Kichwa tribe and the mestizo majority population that co-exist uneventfully throughout the rest of the year. The ritual is a temporary enactment of social upheaval via the symbolic storming of the city, remembering ancient rivalries.
  • There are many trails to discover and there are no entrance fees
  • To and from Cotacachi everything is easy to plan as busses are regular and just cost 1$ for each hour of bus drive.
Categories: Colombia, Ecuador | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The art of purchasing, Chichicastenango Martket

30/08/2013

We can do Chichicastenango as an excursion but that is very touristic.  A shuttle bus brings you there around 10 in the morning, you have 4 hours to see the biggest handcraft market in Central America, according some travel guides, and the same shuttle takes you back at 2pm. That is 4 hours tourist rush as all shuttles from different cities and villages have the same time table.  70Q a person is a good price for those with less time and a nice opportunity to buy some souvenirs from Guatemala.  We decide to stay here a night so we can see the market with and without the tourists and compare both, and also have some time to visit a bit of the town itself.  After leaving our bags into a 100Q cheap hostel (Mini Hotel Chichicasteca) near to the Arco Gucumatz at the very center of the town, we enter the streets full of small market stalls.

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Our first stop is the indoor fruit and vegetable market, loaded with indigenous Guatemalan people selling their garden green.  The two posts with ring are the only indication that this is actually a basketball court.  The freshest and cheapest vegetables are to be found here, just a pity that we don’t have a kitchen in the hostel. Because such an offer gives the mind inspiration to cook a decent meal.

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A bit later we pass the Santo Tomás church which has its stairs covered with flowers, some are for sale others are for oblation and it’s difficult to tell which is which.  In the middle of the stairs just in front of the entrance there is a small fire glowing, used for incense.  A familiar smell is entering our nose and reminds us to the church of San Juan de Chamula.  (See post San Christóbal, Mexico) San Thomas has the same native cult under its roof as Chamula but today is definitely not a busy day for the Gods as there are just some few praying for a good day of selling and most of the offerings and donations are done on the stairs just outside.   We even have time to pass by a well know viewpoint and take some pictures of the cemetery which is surprisingly colorful.  The graveyard view is just a view but an unexpected one, as it looks like a multicolored dwarf village with their small joyful polychromatic dwarf houses so definitely worth the walk.

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Four hours of watching tourists coming and going with plastic bags full of handcrafts just acquired pass by fast for us and even more for the salesman who are constantly shouting prices.  Then suddenly no more tourist, no more white people waving with holy dollars, no more easy sales at very high prices. The clock shows us 14:00 hours.  After a late lunch, about 3pm we notice that most people left walking, comparing prices and looking at the fine goods are from Guatemala or neighbor countries.  The price shouting still goes on but prices are slightly changed.  We get some strange looks as sellers suddenly notice us while shouting their new reduced prices.  We keep on waiting to do our buying as we are convinced that the price tags will get lower as the night comes closer.  So later at the afternoon, with the first drops of rain falling we give it a try.  Purchasing here at a good price is quite an art.  We ask the price for two trousers… “600Q is a fair, honest price for this nice trousers made by hand”, is the answer outpointing the ‘features’ of the clothes. “It has a gummy and a rope to adjust them to your size.  And the side has a special part, particularly from here in the area” The advantage of having more time is, for example, that we had seen before a shop selling woven material on big spools, typical from the area at big scale and very cheap.  We say it is quite expensive and an uncomfortable silence fills the emptiness between bargain hunter and merchant.   I, as making a joke tell Giorgia that we have had bad luck, that with all the choice between all the different market stalls, we had picked out the most expensive.  We thank the ladies, make one step and there is immediately this wicked question flying through the air straight in our ears: ”How much you want to pay for them?”  A question without any possible correct answer.  We can’t price to high and neither can we answer “nothing.”   The psychological pressure of the first 600Q offer is undeniable and everything we want to say seems too low.  This is one of these moments you decide if you step into the trap or you make the trap yours.  “ Ufff, dangerous question to ask me! ” I reply, “If I can choose the price you won’t earn too much.  But I will give you 50Q for both.”  The lady looks at me and says that 300Q is a better price.  300Q is the half of the first 600Q and seems good but the simple fact that 50Q did not shock her, did not even surprise her a bit, it rings the alarm bell.  There is no sign of disillusionment of the underappreciating, the underestimating of the work in her eyes.  If this pair of clothes costs about 300Q and I tell her to pay just 50Q I should have seen a sign of indignation but nothing… So probably our 50Q is closer to the end price as her 300Q.  Suddenly I consider I even might find these pants cheaper in Europe … so I ask her in a funny way and with a laughing tone, for not breaking the ‘auction’ down, if she tries to steal from us with those high prices.  No, she would never steal from us, 300Q is the real price for those two trousers.  “Well just before you said 600Q was a fair honest price and now 300Q is… that’s already a steal from 300Q!” I reply amused.  No answer is coming after this. “So I will pay you 60Q for both clothes.” 2oo she follows, 70 I offered, 100 she goes… to find finally a middle point not quite in the middle at 80 Quetzals for the both pieces.

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Five o’clock has transformed in half past five as half an hour passes by and 600Q has transformed into 80Q and a few drops has transformed into a proper rain drench.  We still buy a small bag and some oven gloves all made by locals in the typical multicolored woven material so recognizable and characteristic for Guatemala.  Back in the hotel we take a hot shower to warm up again.  We eat delicious tacos in a nearby restaurant for 54Q.  Next day we take the bus to Antigua happy with our buying and happy that we stayed longer than just the 4 hours of tourist rush, to see the real Chichicastenango, the real market and its real price.

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Categories: Guatemala | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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