I’ve spent some time now in Morocco and Turkey, two places where the prices you see/hear are merely suggestions. If you are feeling unadventurous, go ahead and pay the ridiculously inflated prices. But, the only way to get the good deals on the scarves, shoes, pants, carpets, lanterns, etc., etc., is to talk talk talk and barter your way to those goodies you know you want to cram into your backpack.
An excerpt from the Journal of D:
22/6/10, Tuesday, 9:00 p.m.
I keep losing track of what day it is.
San Ambrosio was hardly a month ago, and yet it seems like an eternity. I’m sitting tonight on Riad Medina Azahara’s rooftop terrace in Marrekesh, listening to Moroccan music, mixed with the music of snake charmers in the square which occasionally wafts over to me in the night breeze, mixed with the calls to prayer from the mosques tucked into squares, alleys and elsewhere in the medina.
I had been warned ahead of time, ignore people on the streets in Morocco. They will talk to you, befriend you, then demand money when you go your separate ways.
Oh yeah, I was going into Morocco armed with so much knowledge about what to do, how to act, what to wear (cover your body, no flip flops, don’t get your name hennaed on your body because then everyone will haggle you by name, etc.)
I was a bit apprehensive at first, wanting to stay in the safe confines of Spain a few more days.
Peter and I had spent the day together at La Alhambra (ridiculously romantic if you ever go with a guy), and then I headed from Granada to Tarifa via bus the next day.
Tarifa was lovely, a beach town straddling the Med and Atlantic with hourly views of the ferries whisking people from Europe to Africa.
I boarded one of those ferries a few days later.
As the ramp went down, connecting the boat to Tangier, my heart raced.
Was I ready for this?
I walked off the boat, head held high, shoulders back, trying to exude confidence in every step.
Immediately, I was hit with people who just “wanted to talk to me.” One man walked with me the entire way to the cab and when I got to the cab, demanded money for his company.
When someone went to take my luggage out of the cab at the bus station, I pulled a total Spanish move, wagging my index finger at them and saying “n-n-n-n-no.”
The local buses in Morocco are … interesting little tin can death traps. For three hours, I sat, smashed against the window in a seat too small, dripping sweat and watching as the glass rattled dangerously close to popping out of its setting.
And, then I arrived in Chefchaouen, a magnificent little city draped over a hill in the shadows of the Rift Mountains.
Once I arrived into the powder blue and white medina, I swiftly sidestepped anyone asking me if I knew where I was going and clung to my wits (and the instructions my cab driver gave me when he dropped me off at the medina after I exited the bus).
But, then I met Abdul, an older man, covered in time and filled with heart, who stopped me on the street after hearing me tell a guy on the street I knew where Pension Souika was located.
“I am going there, I will take you there,” he said. “No guide. I will just take you.”
A breath of fresh air.
I allowed him to walk with me the few hundred feet to the pension, thanking him when I arrived.
A few hours later, as I was walking out, Abdul was there.
“Where do you want to go?”
“Oh, I am just going to walk around and take photos,” I told him, avoiding any inclination I wanted a guide, just in case he was going to try to ask for money this time around.
“Come with me. I am so happy to have you here, I want you to see the city and tell other people about it. No guide. I will take you to my family’s carpet factory and for food. ”
Ah, the catch.
Yet, I obliged.
Together, this kind Moroccan and me, a wide-eyed American girl, traversed the streets of the medina, climbing upstairs, walking down cobblestone streets, until we stopped at the carpet factory.
Walls of carpets, piled to the ceiling, in a rainbow of colors, greeted me as soon as I walked in.
“This is my shop,” Abdul said, guiding me into the space.
Suddenly, carpets were being laid over the entire, intricate tiled floor. Sweet, delicious Moroccoan tea was being offered.
“Hello,” said an older man, stepping between the carpets. “Welcome. One-thousand welcomes.”
“Hi,” I said, smiling. I wasn’t sure if this was all a ploy for something, but their kindness and hospitality was a nice relief from walking about the streets solo.
I wandered about the store for a few minutes after being told, even if I didn’t want to buy, we could talk price, and then if nothing was agreed upon, we would still smile at each other following the bartering.
“I will go eat and then I will come back,” I said, eyeing the carpets, doing swift budget calculations in my mind.
Then, I was taken to a tiny restaurant, covered in blue and white carpets. For 40 dh I enjoyed an amazing and huge mixed salad, along with some veggie couscous (also amazing and huge), a whopping plate of fruit and Moroccan tea.
Before the meal was served, Abdul got up, informing me he had to go, but he would get his brother, Yassin, to come keep me company and then take me around town. (“No tour guide.”)
Minutes later, Yassin, probably close in age to me, was joining me at the little table.
After a lovely meal and a quick shisha, Yassin was taking me through the twisting, climbing, dipping streets of Chefchaouan, intent on providing me photo opps and general awe at the beauty of this mountain town.
We wandered up, up, up through the medina and out a gate, which took us down to a waterfall and a mountain stream where women were washing their clothes as the sun set behind the large crests above and around us.
“Wow,” I said to him. “This is … it is just amazing.”
And, it really was.
“I want you to see this,” he said. “One thousand welcomes.”
From there, we went back to his family’s carpet shop, where I learned the art of bartering.
It wasn’t anything like I imagined or have done before.
“We take a tea, and we go through three rounds of talking,” the older man from earlier explaiend as he sat me down and went through all of the various types of carpets he had — bourbor, nomadic, camel hair.
After he had unfolded and laid out about 15 of the world’s most beautifully colorful carpets, all hand-woven, all colored from nature (poppy flowers, saffron, etc.), he poured the tea and cheers-ed me.
“Now, you tell me which ones are maybe’s as I fold them up.”
I left four remaining carpets — three camel hair, all with intricate detail and colors, and one nomadic carpet the color of the Adriatic Sea.
Then, the man took a piece of paper, numbered each carpet, and wrote down prices, handing it to me to review.
“Now, you write down what you want to pay.”
I more than halved it.
“I’m so sorry. These are beautiful, but I am backpacking and don’t have a lot of money,” I said, handing him the paper with my terribly low numbers shamefully written.
“No, it’s ok.”
He wrote down new numbers.
“I’m sorry …” I offered, again writing low numbers to counter his high.
“OK, I will go ask the family,” he said.
A minute later, he came back, hand extended with an offer 100 dh higher than what I had wanted.
I bit. Mind you, the carpet is completely not functional for me. I have no home. I have two cats when I do have a home. It will likely sit in a box in the bedroom in my parent’s house, which I will occupy briefly when I return from my trip.
But, I did it.
Armed with my carpet, Yassin and I headed back to my pension. He offered to take me out for beers, but I was enjoying the idea of detoxing for a week and declined. Plus, I just wasn’t interested.
The next day, we made plans to go and tour the city some more before I headed to Fez via bus. A proper bus this time.