Friday, February 13, 2015

In the souks: Marrakech day two continued

When we had finished with the madrasa and museum, we decided to do some more intensive wandering around the souks.

The souks are mainly semi-covered (remember what I said about shade in the last post), so although you're sort of outside, you won't catch a lot of sun spending a day moseying around in them. The souks were historically divided into different specialities, such as the tanners' souks, wool souks, jewellery, spices, lamps, etc. We definitely did notice different concentrations in different areas, but there are also many places, especially nearer to the main Jemaa-el-Fna square, which are just a random mishmash of all sorts of things. Most of the time we were either lost or just wandering around with no real purpose, so although over the course of our time in Marrakech we ended up walking past some of the same places several times, I couldn't really tell you where anything is in relation to anything else.

I mentioned the insistent "guide" trying to get us into one of the tanners' yards in my first post - you can see why I wasn't really too keen to go in to one of these places in sandals (big mistake), especially since the yards are apparently literally full of dung and urine and rotting carcasses and chemicals.  For once I was glad that I had a horrific cold, but even so some of the smell got through.

Peeping into a tannery

Looking on TripAdvisor, it seems we actually got off lightly - it's full of review after review of people who say they were bullied into taking a lightening-fast "tour" of the tannery before being pressured into buying overpriced goods or tipping way over the odds for their guide. So yay for the impractical sandals!

Leather drying in the sun
Ironically, we did actually want to at least look at some handbag shops, but they seemed really thin on the ground - it seems they are hidden away inside the tanneries, the better to strong-arm tourists into after they've had their "tour".

A spice shop aka "Berber pharmacy". I didn't want to touch the spice pyramids, obviously, but I think they're just thin layers stuck on to a cardboard cone or something
After we had seen the tannery area, we ended up outside the medina and walked around the city ramparts for a bit trying to get a good view of the distant snow-capped Atlas mountains. I would have liked to take a trip out to them (they are about 60 km away) or at least go somewhere where you could get a proper view of them, but Liz didn't fancy it and, although I had a full day by myself after she went home, I couldn't be bothered joining an all-day group excursion by myself. Still, we did manage to get glimpses of them throughout our trip, with these being the best views. (Unfortunately, my plane home flew first over the mountains to Agadir, with apparently spectacular views out of the other side of the plane from me.)

Once back inside the medina, it was time for lunch. This was probably the only really tasty/memorable meal we had in our entire trip, unfortunately. I'm not sure whether the food really is bland, or they just make bland food for tourists, but you'd think with all the million spice shops they're always trying to drag you into, the food would have a bit of flavour!

Yummy bubbling hot kefte/egg tagine. I bought a kefta spice mix at the spice shop above, so I'll have to see if I can recreate something along these lines. It's apparently called a Kefta Mkaouara.
Fortified by our tasty lunch, we returned to the souks in search of lamps. Actually, I don't know if either of us actually was in search of a lamp, but we both ended up getting one, after an epic negotiation by Liz. Liz is an amazing negotiator, who manages to do it with good humour and a smile. My only job in these situations is to shut my mouth, since we both know I'm the weak link who is liable to crack at any moment and blurt out an offer higher than the asking price. First up was picking the lamps, which took a long time in itself before we settled on two - I wanted one of the big rectangular ones, like I'm sitting next to in the photo below, whereas Liz went for one of the tear-drop shapes. Negotiations started out at 3000 dirhams for the two, about 300€. After a long, long, negotiation, we eventually ended up walking out with two lamps of the same style but a smaller size for 550 dirhams, or about 55€.

I lost patience with it - honestly, I don't know how long the whole process took, but easily an hour - and just said I didn't care, I didn't want a lamp any more, but Liz, bless her, kept going for the two lamps. The guy at one stage offered her lamp at x dirhams and mine at about 3 times the price, since he obviously found my lack of enthusiasm offensive! But we finally got there in the end, and everyone seemed happy with the outcome. The guy approvingly referred to Liz as a "Berber woman" - funnily enough, this wasn't the only time this happened at the end of a negotiation. I guess they have a reputation for being tough operators, unlike your average Western tourist. This was one of the occasions where we were having a laugh and a bit of banter with the guy and it did feel like we were being treated as equals, which admittedly is not exactly a high bar, but just to put that in there that not everyone we met came across was a horrible sexist. Liz then got them to rewire the lamps for us (to put in cables with on/off switches) and test them with lightbulbs to show that they were working. And refused the suggested tip for this service! Definitely a lot more backbone than I have!

Happy the negotiations are over!

It still works!
By the way, on the way back to the hotel there was another little incident I forgot to mention in my first post. This guy physically bumped into me like three times within the space of a few seconds in the crowd in the Jemaa-el-Fna square, which I thought was weird. And then when, a minute later, he somehow circled back around and bumped into me again, I definitely knew something was up. I told Liz what had happened, and we saw him circling around the back of some stalls and walking towards us again, so I pointed and said that's the guy. He saw this and, realising we were on to him, disappeared. The only things of value I had with me were my camera and wallet, zipped in an inside pocket, which I checked on. Liz suggested he might not be after my possessions, which didn't really make me feel better about things. So anyway, another dodgy little memory of Marrakech...

After all that, it was good to retreat to the roof terrace at the hotel with a bottle of wine. We brought a few bottles over with us in our suitcases. You can buy alcohol at the supermarket and at a couple of bars (which always tried to get us to come in for a never-ending "happy hour") but other than that, not so much. It was actually really weird sitting down to dinner without being able to have a glass of wine, and, without sounding like an alkie, I could have killed for a nice glass of rosé while having a long lunch on a sunny terrace...
Mmm, Chinon


  1. Thanks - you went so we don't have to.

  2. Well, Morocco's off my bucket list.

  3. Note to self: Stay clear of any and all tanneries. I can't see myself enjoying a visit to one of those!

    I really liked the food I had in Tunisia, and my host mom when I studied in France often made Moroccan couscous that she learned from her former in-laws who lived there. It was always so so yummy! Maybe the food geared towards tourists just isn't as good? It seems that way everywhere. Even in France a really touristy restaurant isn't that great.

    And I'm glad you spotted the creepy guy and he left you alone!

    1. Yeah, I think the only time I've had a decent meal in Paris is going with someone who lived there, not right in the centre.


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