To write about Marrakesh feels a little like writing about the Universe, a vast body of space and time that will never fully be explored in all of its facets. So, the best I can do is share from what really stood out for both Jeff and myself and which we feel will be lifetime memories.
Marrakech and the promise of exotic spices and cuisines called to me. The cuisine that has evolved in Morocco has many influences as it was a trading post which invited the likes of the French, Moorish and Roman, to pass through its borders. It’s fitting to start this post with Jamaa el Fna, the most prominent Medina. The Medina’s and Souks of Marrakech are most popularly known for their spices shaped in deep earth tone cone formations. I had no idea what to expect apart from this promise. As we walked into the mouth of the beast, we were greeted and tempted with snakes, elaborately displayed fruits, henna tattoos and the entry to the Medina maze.
I quickly learned that photos taken of stalls just aren’t appreciated. Perhaps partly for religious reasons, but mostly the culture seems to expect payment from tourists for just about anything. So, stall owners expect payment for photos taken. Enter the art of sneak photography. This photography style looks like Jeff standing in front of a photographic setting just enough so I can zoom past him and focus in on the subject. Now don’t get us wrong, we respect this culture and we also understand what a manipulative hustle looks like. So we recommend to be very careful with the photos you choose to take here. Either be prepared to pay or to feel like you have just entered someone’s house without asking. You have been warned.
Upon entering this circus of senses, the impact of various souks or departments displaying leather bags, shoes, belts, rugs, pillows, jewelry, lanterns, books, spices, animals, sweets, tea pots, knives, furniture and the list just doesn’t stop..... we found that getting lost was the best part of the souk experience. To have all of our senses sparked at every turn was incredible for Day 1. Day 2, we actually felt ourselves fatigued with over stimulation. Day 1 isn’t over yet, oh no, we have just started.
We had spent a solid 2 hours weaving through the various covered walkways and corridors, some of which were luxuriously decorated and others which were a likeness to a fort you would make as a kid. Once we had a taste of the span and assortment of goods, we began the game of haggle and purchase. Jeff was my bodyguard and backup. The good cop/bad cop thing worked to our advantage. Jeff would look at the haggler and say, “She is the boss, don’t look at me.” This still makes me smile a little on the inside.
I have to give it to these guys, they do this for a living. They must have a fine tuned awareness of the list of personality trends that come through their doors. I would imagine that every customer will require a slightly different haggling angle, I am not sure if they were prepared for ours.
Have a price in mind you are looking to pay and go 1/4 lower than that price.
It helps to have another person there so you can refer to the other for confirmation towards or away from the deal. You can play off each other. If I showed that I LOVED something, it would be that much harder to get the price down. So I would try to show a slight interest, ask Jeff, do you like this? Walk around a bit..... you get the idea.
NEVER be afraid to walk away. Walking away will usually knock 25% off.
Expect that they will be charging more than double of what they actually need to make a profit. For example, we bought a handmade leather jacket for Jeff. Final bargain price was $250, down from a discounted price of $600. The tag which was on the actual jacket was $970. Some obvious price surging here.
In between bargaining sessions we found another amazing experience would take place. On the occasions that we asked for an item, color or size that wasn’t “in stock”, we would then be invited and led through a more personalized magic carpet ride to another souk that would be some family connection of the first. This invitation and game of follow the leader is one of my favorite parts. If you dare to accept, close your eyes, hold your breath and buckle up for the ride of colors, corridors, lights, dark, stairs, souk owners and finally a whole new location of sold goods. It’s worth it!
Through this exact experience, we met a man named Rashid. He had a beautiful leather jacket on. We told him we wanted to find one like it. He took us on this very wild carpet ride, to the souk where we haggled for Jeff’s jacket. When we were done, Rashid invited us to share in Moroccan Mint tea and a spice tutorial the following Christmas morning.
This is the perfect example of where this attitude impacts our lives. There is something to be said for safety, using your intuition and having some experience under your belt in terms of travel and safety. Once that is settled, this is the PERFECT opportunity to take a chance on a unique experience. A happenstance of meeting this one man, in this one souk, who led us to this one location, and sent us one invite on Christmas Day. Marrakech, Morocco, Christmas Day, local spices, experiences, and new friends. All of these lead us to a HELL YES! When life presents you with a unique experience, as simple as it may be, it’s an opportunity to ask yourself ¿Porque no?
Rashid welcomed us into his spice and medicinal shop in the heart of the Medina, on Christmas morning. Over some Moroccan mint tea, Rashid shared uses for the most popular Moroccan cooking spices including ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, sweet paprika and saffron. Locals would come in for a remedy of sorts for anything from a cold to skin issues. Rashid, would grab a tincture or powder off the shelf and treat clients on demand along with sending them home with a spice or medicinal goodie bag. Rashid had carried on his father's practice of selling spices, as one of 7 children. His family had their hands in a variety of souks which sold rugs, leather goods and spices.
Learning from one man, who had such a story and a personal history with spices both for cooking but also for their medicinal and Ayurvedic properties, was a total gift in and of itself.
The Medina that is Jamaa el Fna is just one corner of the Universe which is Marrakech. There are numerous other galaxies to explore which we will leave to you or for the next time Marrakesh graces our travel list.
Until then, we will keep in time with the ¿Porque No? mentality, and say “HELL YES!” to these moments that open their doors for our experience appetite.