Our riad in Marrakech happened to be short walk from the perimeter of the souks allowing me visit the souks every small opportunity I had.
It was very handy as unlike other Marrakech attractions like the Badia palace or Ben Youssef Medersa or Jardin Majoralle, it is not an item on the itinerary that you can visit once and strike it off.
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One lazy morning in Marrakech, I arrived at the Ben Youssef Medersa to find that they did not open for another hour. With time to kill, I walked up to a nearby shop and asked the owner how to get to the souk. He looked me up and down as if wondering which planet I came from.
“Go left, Go right. Stop anywhere. It is all souk”, he said carving his teeth with a toothpick.
I bit my tongue and slinked away. That is so true. The souks are everywhere The typical Arabian/Berber markets with their little shops and sheds, selling virtually everything, are situated in narrow labyrinth of crisscrossing alleys between Ben Youssef Medersa to the Koutubia mosque running alongside Djemma el Fna. The alleys are public roads, so despite the crowd and the lack of space, it is not uncommon to see a moped zipping by, rider shouting at the top of his lungs for people to make way or a truck backing in to deliver goods.
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This permanent market place by no means is a “souvenir mall”. As much as it is part of the tourist beat who come here for the “cheap authentic Berber artifacts” – silver lanterns, colorful babouche, Toureg hunting knives, Tagine serving dishes, and carpets; it is as frequented by the locals for their weekly grocery. So it is not surprising that the prices are highly elastic and depend on skills you posses and the time you have and to haggle and negotiate. Your nationality is invariably queried as they know the buying patterns and spending capacity by country!
Frankly, I did not haggle much. Much of the goods are high quality compared to the typical riff-raff on gets at touristy places. Competition has forced the base prices to be aggressive. I haggled only to not miss the experience.
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Stalls after stalls have similar looking goods at similar price, unless you are a connoisseur. The process is fairly uniform. As you saunter nonchalantly by a stall, the proprietor stirs – sometimes, or gets up – once in a while. (He has already sorted you out when you were at the previous stall.) He waits for an eye contact and then he is all over you until you step across the boundary of his shop to the next. He tries his best to break ice (“I love Shah Rukh Khan”, “Best babouche in Marrakech”, “I make you a deal”). If you slow down, he will immediately hand you a mint tea. If you drink his tea, there is an unwrit obligation to buy.
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Buying in the souks is a matter of chemistry. What makes you stop at one place and not another, has nothing to do with karma or the quality of goods or price. There are stalls you peep into, and the shopkeeper ignores you, There are stalls you could have walked past, except that you looked at the stall owner and he looked at you and a connection was made. The shopkeeper then knows best how to leverage it completely.
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There is no standard rule for a photographer in the streets of Marrakech other than to not click unless you have a permission. The best way to get a permission is to point to your camera and nod. The permission comes by the way of a (no!) angry shake of the head or (yes, of course) a a smile. Typically, I found Moroccans to be unhappy posers unless one is in a souk.
Photographers are suddenly welcome in this microclimate, obviously it helping the ice-breaking process. I still made sure I asked.
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Weather in Marrakech right now: