The Souks of Marrakech
14 October 2008 | Marrakech, Morocco
Connor and Ziggy
We got up rejuvenated, the sun pored in as we opened the shutters and we had endless hot water for our showers and breakfast was made for us and there were no dishes. We had coffee and hot chocolate, freshly squeezed orange juice and fresh jams, crepes and bread. We decided today we would do our shopping; we would meander the souks until dark. We had several things on our list - early Christmas shopping, some thank yors, some souvenirs. We took our usual route until we reached the crooked tree where we made a right to the leather souk.
Let the bargaining and bartering begin! Mom was looking at belts, dad at bags and the prices were getting lower by the minute. Dad was first to strike a deal and with help from Dad, mom was next. We tried our best to find the silk market but stumbled upon some wood shops instead. The man at the wood shop was making chess pieces using a bow in his hand to spin the wooden circles and with his other hand and foot carved the chess pieces. We admired his artistry and with his small audience he quickly carved two pendant necklaces for Jenny and me. The pendant resembled a two-headed chess piece, but the really remarkable part are the two rings that float around the middle shaft. From this nice man we purchased small and large Puzzle Boxes which appear to be securely locked until you figure out the secret behind their hidden key and key hole. We passed by the Souk des Teinturiers where men dyed the wool in large vats turning out vibrant indigos, yellows and reds. We sought some peace in Bougainnevillia Café where we dined on kefka, a sausage made of minced meat, kebabs, pizza and goats cheese salad.
To the untrained eye the souks seem to be a maze of alleys and warrens, but over time, we discovered their routes and order. Closer to Jemaa El Fna, the stalls are a mish-mash of knock off purses, spices, lamp shops, carpet shops, scarves, wood and silver. But as you get further away from the square, the souks form small specialized groupings - all the leather in two rows traversed by an endless row of babouche shops, the traditional leather pointed toe, backless shoes of Morocco. From there you pass countless silver shops selling tea pots, tea sets and hooka pipes. Further on, nothing but wood shops with the thuya wood carvings from Essaouira.
We had to go see about some snake charmers in Jemaa El Fna. On the way however, Mom spotted a scarf shop, the prices there were high but Mom was all smiles when she learned the entire street was scarves and after the typical haggling, left with a few cashmere scarves. We made it to the square just on time, for the performers were just returning. Mom spotted a snake charmer but became side tracked by a henna tattoo artist to whom we paid far too much money, but Jenny, Mom and I all left with the traditional black patterns on our arms and legs. Next were the rip-off snake charmers who allowed us to photograph the man and the black cobra he charmed but thought that 20 dirham was not charming enough. We thought differently and after paying him, headed back towards Riad Dar Hanane, stepping over skinny kittens and garbage piles all the way home. While we hung out, Mom went for a hammam, a traditional Moroccan steam and massage.
(Ziggy's Hammam Experience: I walked the 200 meters to Riad Tzarra, the sister riad of Dar Hanane. Three young boys helped me find my way and I promised them upon my return to give them something for their efforts. I was greeted at the door and led up the narrow stairs to a massage room. With little words and none of the privacy of a North American spa, the woman told me to undress, handed me a robe and a pair of shoes. There she led me down the stairs to the private hammam, a room no bigger than a closet with a bench at one end and deep basin at the other. Once again, I was told to undress and be seated. With no formalities, she began to scoop deliciously hot water from the basin and pour it over my head, shoulders, back, stomach and legs. Then she left me alone to relax in the tepid misty warmth of the room. Returning five minutes later, she rinsed me off and then scrubbed me down from head to toe with a rough loofah. She completed the cleansing with soap, then led me once again to the massage room where I drifted off into a dream state in the warm, soothing rose cream. At the end of the massage, I once again dressed and returning to our riad, picked up some candies and note pads for the boys who had helped me.)
The adults had booked another restaurant for the evening, the only catch; they did not book for us. So back to the Jemaa El Fna Square for dinner. I cannot complain though, my favorite fish, sole, is quite expensive in the Med and in the market they were a plenty and cheap. After dropping us back at the riad they continued on to Le Foundouk, a fashionable restaurant with a roof top terrace and serving traditional French and Moroccan cuisine.