Posts Tagged ‘monkey handlers’

Touring Marrakesh – Day 1 – Souks and More

April 29th, 2008 at 7:33 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Seeing as I needed to come up with something of a different way to post since my phone data connection still isn’t working, and because I had a bit of extra time today, I’m going to go with a more visual blog entry for today, our first full day in Marrakesh.

After breakfast we went to the Lindblad/National Geographic hospitality desk, got a quick orientation, and met a few fellow early arrivals for our upcoming tour. Among them was Diane from Chicago, a wonderfully nice and charming woman who ended up joining us for the day’s adventures.

The morning consisted of going out on a private mini-tour of the Koutoubia Mosque area, the souks (windy and maze-like paths through a covered area with shops) and the big open market place, with Mohammed, a guide Lindblad made available to us.

Jake and Diane pose with Berber water sellers in front of the Koutoubia Mosque tower
Jake and Diane pose with Berber water sellers in front of the Koutoubia Mosque tower

Marrakesh is rather touristy, and lots of folks go to various extremes in order to be candidates for tourist photos (for which they charge) including wearing traditional Berber water seller outfits, taming snakes, pulling teeth (or at least implying such), and offering monkeys for shoots.

Once in the souks – the area where diverse goods are sold from stalls and small buildings, typically a covered meandering path with lots of noise and people traffic – we looked in on a few shops, both ones that were of interest to us as well as ones where our guide Mohammed knew the owners. It’s a well known thing too that guides get a commission on sales made to people that come into their shops with the guide, and Mohammed confirmed that he would get an end of year “bonus” from such shops, but added he only recommended shops with reputable merchants and goods.

Colorful spices in the souks of Marrakesh

One of the places Mohammed brought us to was a carpet shop, where we were presented with fine examples of hand woven Arab, Berber, and Ajakoub (Moroccan Jewish) carpets and rugs. The seller who took care of us was Aziz, and he explained (and Mohammed previously also indicated) that his carpet shop represented a number of women’s cooperatives which make the carpets and rugs, with the carpet sellers acting as a clearing point for their wares.

Krystyana, Bas, and Linda examine rugs at the carpet sellers’

The rugs and carpets can be made of wool (camel, goat, or sheep – sheep is most common) or cactus fiber.

Bas tests out a carpet at the carpet sellers’ in Marrakesh

We ended up finding several rugs of interest to us, and learned first hand the art of Moroccan haggling. We ended up narrowing down to two pieces, one for Diane and one for Krystyana, paying about one-fifth of the original asking price – quite a steep price drop, leaving me convinced that we still might have paid a bit too much (especially as we then added another similar rug/covering for Bas). But, if we did, we can chalk up the excess to the price for an great show – what the carpet sellers do is a real theatrical performance (and enjoyable for at least one sitting).

Bas is not sure about the water snake around his neck as Krystyana looks on

After the souks we walked back out to Place Jemaa-el-Fna, a huge open area market place with a variety of things on display, ranging from dates and figs to snake charmers and monkey handlers.

Jake has a monkey on his back

We got back to our hotel for lunch and meeting some of our newly arrived tour compatriots, and then at 4pm met up outside to take a two hour ride in a carriage drawn by a pair of horses. The ride brought us to the Majorelle Garden, owned by Yves Saint-Laurent, which had the most amazing cactus collection we had ever seen, then past the old city walls of the medina, and then to the La Menara gardens which features a grove of thousands of 500 year old olive trees (not very visually impressive, alas).

What was amazing was how the horse drawn carriages were just part of regular traffic, along with crazy bicyclists, moped handlers, motorcyclists, and automobiles of all sorts and sizes. Glad it wasn’t me driving the horses, as otherwise the results would likely have been messy.

Diane, Krystyana, Linda, and Bas in the horse carriage in Marrakesh

The horse carriages are just part of the regular traffic in Marrakesh

Camels hang out by the side of the road in Marrakesh

Yes – there are camels in Morocco. We saw several sets hanging out with their owners by the side of the well trafficked roads – a fascinating visual contrast in modes of conveyance.

At dinner later this evening we also met some of the Lindblad staff which would be educating and shepherding us – quite a diverse bunch. I’ll try to get around to writing up something about them as I get to know them.

Tomorrow’s plans are further exploration of the souks and the rest of Marrakesh, and on Thursday we go into the High Atlas mountain range for the day.