Marrakech, Morocco: Souks, Shag and Storytellers

Walking through the Marrakech souk. Photo by Moroccan National Office of Tourism
Walking through the Marrakech souk. Photo by Moroccan National Office of Tourism

Souks are not as intimidating as they are rumored to be, unless you consider the unrelenting activity, the crowds, the constant barrage of sounds and smells intimidating. I find they pulsate with a life and energy most shopping malls lack.

Whatever the asking price, offer half and work up. A little disinterest on your part goes a long way to reaching a price you’re willing to pay. On the other hand, don’t over-bargain: most times, you’ll be arguing about pennies which surely have much greater worth to the merchants.

Travel to Tahanaoute

To get a first-hand feel for the life of the Berbers, most of whom live much the way they have for centuries, we visited Tahanaoute, a small, 150-year-old village about a 1-1/2 hour drive up the mountain from Marrakech.

As we neared the entrance, we were greeted by the local transportation: two mules to take us up the narrow, rocky dirt path to the village. The hour ride through forests and mountains, past olive and fig trees and centuries-old houses made of red clay and stone –  with goats, chickens and pigs occasionally demanding the right of way – transported us much further back in time. This is not a place that sees a lot of tourists.

A girl tending sheep in Morocco. Flickr/ Evan Chu
A girl tending sheep in Morocco. Flickr/ Evan Chu

A visit to one mud-colored dwelling found our host, Fatima, dressed in varicolored attire, preparing mint tea, the Moroccan beverage of choice. We were led up stone stairs to a sparse room, where we sat leaning against small pillows on rugs, sipping the hot, pale and very tasty liquid while admiring hand-made baskets and pottery Fatima displayed with pride. A single bulb hanging down from a wire attached to the wood-pole-supported bamboo ceiling provided light, this year bringing the first exposure the village had to electricity.

The modern world also has intruded in other ways. Upon leaving, I spotted an impish four-year-old girl tugging on the sleeve of her 80-year-old grandfather. Upon the click of my camera, one very-small and one very-gnarled hand reached out its palm. Still, it’s a small price to pay, indeed, for the many riches of the Marrakech experience itself.

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Author Bio: Fyllis Hockman is a multi-award-winning travel journalist who has been traveling and writing for over 30 years – and is still as eager for the next trip as she was for the first. Her articles appear in newspapers across the country and websites across the internet.