a learning curve

Everything you could ever need and less.

A monumental understatement. From the moment you set foot outside of the terminal at Menara you are hit, simultaniously, by the heat and the bustle. Taxi drivers jostle for custom and you needn’t be surprised at the highly animated arguments that inevitably ensue. Walk on, just walk on, I can only assume it seems much worse than it is. We’ll call it Moroccan temperament because if one thing is for sure; if I tried that back home I’d likely end up getting a lift from an ambulance and not a taxi.

Your fist Maroccan lesson starts here, by the way, and no it won’t be Arabic or French – you will be taking it in the pocket rather than the classroom. Seventy diram for daytime trip to the medina, a hundred if it’s dark already. Try as hard as you can to pay no more. You may fail, but don’t get disheartened, many more painfully similar lessons are just waiting to befall the unwary. I know, I have the massage oil to prove it. And the mint tea. And the belt. Worst comes to worst it is six kilometres and no more than a half-hour walk but, perhaps, don’t quote me on that.

Not that I can even pretend I took that advice. I’ll level with you; I paid double and smiled whilst doing so. Thanks to my over consumption of in-flight miniatures, and familiarity with right-hand steering, I also attempted to drive But try not to judge me too harshly; I didn’t have any accommodation reserved so instead bargained with my driver to take me to a couple of riads from which I could then choose my preference. Sue me. Settling on a hotel, mainly for the wifi and air-con but more on that in due course, I deposited my bag and headed into writhing mass that is the Jamaa en Fna. I’m still unsure if this is the superlative of Marakeshi experiences for one so new to the whole eco-system and especially so when more than a little drunk. We’re not talking culture shock at this point so much as sheer other-people overload. There is your usual shite; flashing remote-controlled toys, knock off designer labels and other assorted tourist-bait but what is likely to really stagger you is the sheer volume of shoulder-to-shoulder, moped-dodging, sweating human bodies.

Wander dazedly around the square by all means, soak it up, but know that if you are going to point a camera at one of the performers, snake charmers, monkey worriers or drum-beaters but you will certainly need some spare change to hand lest it become a very expensive experience.

Perhaps it’s time for something to eat too. If you’re headed to one of the food stalls aim at the one in which you need elbow an elderly german tourist who has very nearly finished eating out of the way at, as a general rule; if someone needs to ask you to sit, and especially if you’re one of a very small number of customers, you’ll probably end up wishing you went elsewhere. Once you are seated, take your pick; tagine, cous-cous, kebabs and kofta abound and each, if you’ve chosen wisely, will be fantastic. This brings me nicely to the mint tea. A Moroccan delicacy and with good reason for being so, believe me, it is fantastic.

If there was ever a place to learn the basics of bartering; this is not it. Take your pick and then argue the back end off the price. Find it all to be getting too much? Walk away, if they’ll let you. If not; they will sell. As much as it may not seem it, this is the ultimate in buyers markets. No single stall is selling anything that isn’t offered by at least twenty others and they all know it. Much of the merchandise is bought in dirt cheap from regional artisans or collectors and most can be found of your own accord with a short trip out of the city and a little local knowledge.

Soon, and not for the last time, you’ll find yourself invited in to ‘just look at goods, no pressure’. Whether you accept is entirely up to you but I guarantee you won’t be making a habit of it. Unless of course you are hell-bent on making yourself poor. Once inside the vendor will usually treat you to a masterclass in pressure sales, don’t be fooled that buying some small niknak will get you off the hook either; all you’ll have done is tagged yourself as a soft touch.

before long you’ll start to learn the patter yourself; put a lighter to it and it doesn’t burn? Obviously best quality. Just look, no buy… These people seem to have a preternatural sense for anyone green, straight off the plane or otherwise incapable. Of which, of course, I was all three and I have the belt, the argent oil and the mint tea to prove it.


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