The agency we booked our holiday through is called Naturally Morocco. It only does Morocco, nothing else. So they really know their stuff. They have an in-country base in Taroudant. The staff there are so lovely. The house is run by Latiffa, and the outings are supervised/organised by her husband, Said. Latiffa has a degree in English and Arabic Literature. Said has one in Geology and one in Biology. Everywhere we went with Said he spotted birds. He would spot these things way off, whislt driving. It was amazing.
We were in Taroudant for 6 days. If you're thinking of heading to Morocco, I definately recommend skipping all the regular stuff and heading to Taroudant. You can fly into Agadir or Marrakech. They're both big cities with little charm. Taroudant, however, was full of charm.
Perhaps the most charming bit was the souk. Most Westerners have a strong dislike of bartering and haggling. It's no longer part of our world, so we're not really taught how to do it. However, once you get your head round the thing, it's not so bad. What I dislike about the process is not the actual haggling itself. I dislike being badgered as I walk through the market. If they'd just leave me alone to look around and not pester me, I'd probably buy more! Fortunately the souk in Taroudant is more subdued than that of Cairo, where I'd done most of my bartering before. Chalk up another point for visiting Taroudant!
Said took us through the souks to make sure we went to reputable people. There are all sorts of different qualities available in the souk. It definately helps to have an insider who knows who sells the quality stuff and who doesn't. We started out in the Berber Market. That's where all the locals go to buy household and everyday sorts of items. We saw all sorts of things being sold there. One of the coolest, and saddest, things we saw was a Senegal Chameleon. We had two Senegals as children: Gucci (leather that costs that much had better be Gucci) and Rascal (he lived up to his name). We therefore recognised this little guy right away. I just happened to see him as we rushed past the shop. He was in a little cage with a couple tiny tortoises. I stopped, being rather surprised to find a Senegal here, and the shop keeper came out and opened the cage and handed him to me. He really liked Lois . . . guess she was warmer than me! He 'growled' at me (lizards growl by sticking out their dewlap -- the bit of skin under their chin -- and opening their mouths threateningly). Said told us that they're sold for magic spells. So sad, since they're killed for the spell. And of course it doesn't work. But fun to play with for a moment!
Of course, no visit to Morocco is complete without visiting the spice market. That was the reason we were in the Berber Market to begin with! The spices are all piled into cones and the merchant scoops out what's needed and puts it into a little bag, or bottle, if you've brought your own.
You can buy the spices ground or whole, mixed or individually. It's all sold by the weight.
They also sell Henna and an olive oil soap. It's super soft, so they can't sell it in bars, but rather in scoops. The henna in this photo is the green-ish bit, and the soap is just behind, sort of an orange-y brown colour.
Saffron, however, is special. It too is sold by weight, but it's not kept out in great heaping piles. Literally worth its weight in gold, it's far too valuable to be left where just anything could happen to it. It's kept in a box behind the counter. Then, when you ask for real Saffron, they take out the box and sell it for 20 Dh per gram. No haggling. We each bought 2 grams. You know they used to grow Saffron here in Essex? Up near Cambridge there's a town called Saffron Walden. They used to grow Saffron up there.
The souk was full of things that I would loved to have photographed. Sometimes I couldn't get the shot because I didn't see it in time. The one that I wish I'd got was this little old man sitting on the side of the market selling shelled walnuts. He looked like a walnut himself! He had this tanned craggy face all wrinkled and really did look like one of his walnuts. I didn't see him till I'd already past, and I was trying to help Grandma keep her balance, and Said was up ahead, and all in all, I couldn't stop easily at that point. The other inhibitor to photographing in public is that people will come up and demand money for taking photos. Now, that little walnut seller I'd have happily have payed, or bought some of his walnuts off him, but when you're just photographing the general scene, it's kind of frustrating! So I didn't get some of the photos I wish I would have. Never mind. I did get a lot of good ones. One of my favourites is this one: It was meant as a photo of the date stall. But what I caught in the background was this: A woman dressed in the traditional wrap in the traditional colour of Taroudant. Each area has their own colour. It's more or less a long strip of cotton that a woman wraps around her from head to toe.
Taroudant's colour is a gorgeous dark sky blue. Many times the clothes they wear underneath these wraps are quite modern. It is falling out of favour, though. Kind of sad, but you can understand. It's quite a lot of work to keep everything together, and then you don't have hands for anything else. However, it does keep the sun and dust off.
Lois was quite keen to get some beads. Africa is well known for making interesting beads. Especially those beads which were historically the form of African currency. Known as African Trade Beads, they now are collector's items. There are many different versions of the beads. Some are modern imitations. They're often glass with a speckled glass patina on the outside. 'Real' African Trade Beads were hand painted, and are quite expensive. So Said took us to a bead seller. Entering into his domain was a bit like entering Aladdin's Cave or finding the stash of Ali Baba's loot. Beads hung from every wall, and even the ceiling. You had to be careful where and how you moved, because you might upset a basket full of loose beads or knock a string of them off a hook. Or maybe catch some in your hair!
Our host, the stall's owner, showed us how the Berber jewelery works. You get these enormous earring things that I'd been seeing in various places. I kept thinking, how on earth could you possibly wear something like this? It would be so heavy it'd just be too painful to wear. Our host showed us the trick. And yes, there is one. The hoops don't go through the earlobe, it goes around the whole ear! And then there's a chain that goes up the cheek into the hair, where there's another hook thing that grabs into the hair to help support the weight of the jewelery. Pretty slick! And it looks so cool on. He put it on as he explained it, and I asked if I could take his photo. He said, 'Well, it's supposed to be for a woman, but . . . go on, then!' So I took his photo just as he finished speaking, as he started to laugh. Turned out to be one of my favourite photos of the trip.
So Lois got down to business choosing out the beads she wanted. I was so overwhelmed by all the beads, I'd never have been able to do it! Have no idea how she decided which ones she wanted out of all those available!
But she somehow did. Then she had to do the dreaded bargaining! Because the African Trade Beads are not uniform in size and shape, they're not sold as an individual bead price, or even a strand price. They're sold by weight! Just like the spices. But they're not weighed on these newfangled electric scales. Nor even on a scale which rests on a table. Instead, it's one of those scales that hang. I'd seen hanging scales before. Most people have I suppose. But I'd never seen anyone actually use them!
Welcome to the world of Moroccan Souks!