A Day in the Souks

Trip Start May 04, 2011
Trip End Oct 08, 2012

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Where I stayed
Riad Murat

Flag of Morocco  ,
Monday, May 16, 2011

It is definitely beginning to feel like a vacation. We leisurely made our way down to breakfast the next morning; which consisted of yogurt, Moroccan crepe, tea, coffee, fresh baked chocolate croissants and a peach. Next we put on our tourist faces and headed for the Souks. But within moments we were approached by Ahkmed, a licensed tour guide, who for a mere 20D which is equivalent to $3 offered to be our guide for the day. He was a god sent in the end. We followed him through the labyrinth streets of the souks, to corners we never would've encountered even with Lowell’s good internal GPS. The beauty of traveling with Ahkmid was two-fold. We didn’t have anyone else bugging us for the remainder of the day and he took us to wholesalers for special treatment. Sure, there was the thinking that these guys get a kickback on our purchases but without Ahkmid we never would’ve had the experiences we did. Aware of the schedule of each place, he planned our day accordingly. We started with the Herbologist, who gave us a lesson in every remedy and herb, demonstrating what cures which ailments. The herbologist’s name was Buder who took his time pulling every jar off the shelves: first squares of musk and amber resins, scrubs and oils; an array of the most pure smelling spices and one particular seed that was a must buy for us; something guaranteed to cure snoring and migraines. We made it out of there for a mere 1600D, roughly $200. But that included the seeds, which if they help with Lowell’s snoring and my migraines are worth every penny. I also picked up a nice size bottle of Aragon oil for my hair which is 3x the size of the Moroccan oil I purchased in the states for the same price, $16.

On to the next vendor, the carpet manufacturers. Ahkmid knocked the special code on the closed door and we were welcomed into a large room filled with rolled up rugs. They sat us in another large open space, served us their specialty tea and proceeded to pull out at least 50 rugs throughout our visit. Lowell had intentions to buy an 8’x5’ until he heard the prices. The salesman went through his pitch, showing us the difference in quality between the Berbers, the Arab and the  ?. Their biggest shtick is holding a lighter up to the rugs and showing that the flame doesn’t penetrate the wool. He also burns off a strand from each to have us smell the difference between quality hair and a synthetic. There were a total of three men whose sole job is to lift, roll out and refold as many rugs as the salesman instructs him to grab. Prices ranging from 10,000D to 35,000D, close to $4,500, which had we been serious buyers and engaged in haggling, we may have walked out with one at a reasonable price. Thankfully Lowell was growing hungry and I restless, so we managed to escape without a purchase. 

Ahkmid led us to a stall to eat a lamb in a pita style sandwich. Lowell ordered one with a tomato, avocado and onion salad. Wearied eye, after tasting Lowell’s I wished I had ordered my own. Next, Ahkmid steered us down one alley, turning several times and ending in an antique shop. As gorgeous as the large pieces were, the price and shipping was prohibitive. What caught Lowell’s eye were these hand blown perfume bottles with sterling silver filigree and in an array of primary colors. He purchased four with help of my negotiation skills, including one in the shape of a man’s bust as a gift for his gay friend.

The only thing left was to hit the leather factories. Ahkmid chose one that got us in the mood but had nothing in my size. We had fun in the process though as it was Lowell’s turn to be dressed up in the local garb with hookah in hand and captured on film. Now in the theme of leather, Ahkmid saw dollars signs and was sure to bring us to yet another leather shop. Within seconds of entering I pulled down a cute brown, cropped jacket with buttons and a nice cut across the back. Not loving the fact that that it had buttons rather than a zipper, I proceeded to try on 10 or so other versions; even considered having one made custom. In the end, I fell in love with that first brown one and combined with a beautiful brown one for Lowell, I haggled a deal for us to leave with both at a decent price, including shortening the arms.

Nicknamed "Berber Woman" for my ability to haggle as tough as a local, we concluded that haggling is my new sport. I continued to go for the gold medal after an hour of trying on shoes at one place. The trick is to decide on a price, practically exchange the money and then renegotiate. I think that time I took them down so low that even Ahkmed was pissed. Of course, I have since worn the shoes and one is too small. Unfortunately, there is no return policy in the Souks.

Completely done with spending and left with no money, we took care of business. I got a sim card for the phone and used the ATM. We parted ways with Ahkmid, who had to go home to his kids and grabbed a petite taxi back to the Riad. We cleaned up and headed over to the New City to a recommended restaurant called Al Fassia. The write up in our guidebook raved about the food and how it is an establishment run solely by Muslim women. The atmosphere was perfect and we were pleasantly surprised that Said from the Riad had already arranged for us to enjoy the house specialty, lamb with aubergine which requires a day in advance notice. We started the meal with 12 different small plates of vegetables.

The night was young, even though it was approaching 11:00PM. We had to make a decision if we were going to book an excursion to Ouzoud Waterfalls in the High Atlas Mountains or go see the largest complexes of traditional packed-earth buildings of Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou, hence its place on the UNESCO World Hertiage list. In the end, we opted to forgo all tours and enjoy the night in the city. We learned of a fantastic night club called Comptoir from some local patrons at the restaurant. The club was multi-level, filled with trendy, good looking Europeans and bottle service. Lowell and I blended in the best we could in our tennis shoes, as we sucked on a hookah and danced the night away. Lowell placed bills in the belly dancer’s pants as I jumped around to hip hop, it was a great night.
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