Marrakech is so vibrant and full of life. The first and last days we’ve done some shopping in the souks in the medina, and boy is it a challenge. Haggling is such a rush, although I’m definitely not that good at it. When they refuse a price I’m happy I’ve stood my ground, but when they agree to a price relatively fast (still takes a good 10 minutes) I’m worried that I’ve just been had! There’s no winning…unless you call spending far too much money and creating live-long memories as winning! Regardless, I’m very happy with my purchases, and will always remember this trip fondly whenever I look at and use them.
I got a wallet that I’m positive I overpaid for as my first purchase. I’m not a complete rookie (thanks Chichicastenango, Guatemala) at haggling and markets, but I kept trying to buy the first thing I saw instead of shopping around for better quality and/or prices. For the wallet, the guy threw in another pink leather pouch type thing at the last minute, a big hint that I’d just been had (they rarely throw in something for free). The wallet has already broken, but the pouch is actually coming in handy as an iPod holder. Go figure.
As we were wandering around we ended up in a spice shop. The medina is mostly artisan crafts but you also find spice, (raw) meat, and vegetable stands scattered throughout. In the spice shops there are jars and jars of spices and the merchant tells you how each one acts as a homeopathic-type remedy. It’s interesting how people use things differently in different parts of the world. In Central America chamomile is used more like a diuretic, but here it’s used to settle your stomach (one place it makes you go, another it makes you stop). I bought a spice blend that is used on chicken and Randy bought some mint because he’s fallen in love with the ubiquitous mint tea (a blend of mint and green tea).
I ended up browsing the rest of the day, because, as I mentioned, I tend to buy the first thing I see. I knew I wanted something ceramic, and wasn’t sure what else. We found one store that was just piles of ceramic pieces that were unorganized and dirty. Probably a tactic to make you feel like you are getting a deal, searching through things that other buyers have overlooked. The plates, bowls, cups and everything else had great patterns representing the different tribes of Morocco. They had these cup/mugs that I hadn’t yet seen anywhere else, but I held off. We also happened into a store that sold some pretty cool fossils. Morocco is a great spot for fossils, especially ammonites and trilobites. After discussing things with the shop owner (different quality, and of course many tangents involving the other minerals he sold) I decided to think about what I really wanted. I think another tactic is to overwhelm the shopper so that they don’t know what they want anymore and just start buying things. For example I had one fossil I wanted, and even while we’re discussing prices he keeps putting them in my hands, showing me samples with multiple trilobites, and plates with ammonites, and other things, trying to get me to buy more and more stuff.
A few days later I had to spend the rest of my dirhams, and I thought back to these shops and knew just what I wanted. But how to find the shops again? It’s like a needle in a haystack. I’m not sure how we did it considering the souks are literally a maze of shops (Randy’s sense of direction is much better than mine), but we managed to find both shops! I ended up buying four of the cup/mugs because I hadn’t seen that style anywhere else in Marrakech, and then bought two of the trilobite fossils.
I also ended up with a Moroccan shirt and a knockoff Longchamp bag, which is funny to me because I am super anti-knockoff, but when you’re shopping where Puff Daddy, Jacques Chirac, and Jimmy Carter (and many famous European footballers and actors, I saw the photos with the owner, totally legit…) have shopped, you know it’s quality fake stuff.
Our other big experience in the medina was going to the tannery. We weren’t really planning on it, and in fact were trying to leave the medina so we could experience a little bit of normalcy. There were a few roadblocks to this though. As you walk around the medina people are always telling you you’re heading the wrong way, or “it’s closed that way”, or you have to go to someone’s brother’s uncle’s cousin’s shop. So, as we were exploring and heading to an exit (I wanted to find an artisanal ceramic shop to get a better handle on prices before haggling…never ended up finding it) someone asked if we were looking for the tannery. Since we were ‘lost’ (you’re technically almost always lost), we said sure. We ended up touring the tannery, learning about the processes that turn skins into leather. Everyone talks about the smell, but it wasn’t any worse than regular farm smells. They gave us sprigs of mint (the Berber gas mask, anything ‘backwoods’ or ‘lowtech’ is the ‘Berber’ whatever) to combat the smell. The skins get soaked in lime (the acid, not the fruit), then pigeon poop, then the fat is scraped off, then they’re dyed with natural colors (indigo, mint, cherry). It was pretty neat to see. Then we were obligated to go into the leather/carpet store (leather from the tannery into leather good, camel hair is turned into beautiful carpets), where I almost ended up purchasing one. The prices were great for what they were, but I just wasn’t ready to commit to a purchase of that magnitude, and this store was only open once a week. Oh well. They’ll be in White Plains, NY this January, maybe then I’ll be ready to buy. As we left the ‘manager’ of the tannery extorted about 100 dinars off of us…we didn’t have any small change (10 would have been fine, but he wasn’t giving us change). Live and learn.
All in all, quite an exhilarating and exhausting experience. You lose track of time, and don’t even realize how tired you are until the shops start closing…around 11! Takes shop ‘till you drop to the next level.