By: Anita Draycott
In seems that everyone in Marrakech has something to sell and shopping in the souks of North Africa’s largest marketplace is another experience you’ll never forget. Beyond Jemaa el Fna square is the famed Medina, where the newcomer can be enticed, enthralled and exasperated all at the same time. “Lady I have best price for you,” the youthful huckster lures me into his stall of painted pottery. I carry on through the souks of the tanners, past the sparks of the iron workers, past the looms of the carpet weavers, past the souk of used televisions. At every turn in this maze I am being hustled, jostled, hassled.
I pass on the miniature leather camel, the cheap metal bangles and a teapot decorated with camel bone. I am intrigued, however, by some small tribal carpets, wooden boxes carved of lemon-scented thuya wood and some chunky silver and amber necklaces, but decide to return after I have done some comparative shopping. I follow my nose to the Herboriste du Paradis where I am lured by the mingling scents of jasmine and lavender. I enter a room crammed floor to ceiling with jars filled with herbs, spices, teas, cosmetic concoctions, rare perfumed oils, henna, kohl eyeliner, saffron. Can I resist the green tube of mint and jasmine lipstick that, when applied. turns pretty pink and stays on for hours? Or the muslin bundle of a black potion that the herbalist guarantees when snorted will cure migraines, colds, snoring husbands?
A word to the wise about shopping in the souks. Bargaining is a way of life here, so even if you’re feeling hassled try to be polite. As a rule of thumb, expect to pay about thirty per cent less than the first price. Examine the goods thoroughly. As the guide I hired from the hotel warned, “We have good stuff and tourist stuff. You decide. All that glitters is not gold.” Not only will a guide prevent you from becoming lost, but having him around will dissuade all the young men and their relentless offers to be your guide. Mind you, anything you buy with your guide will include his “commission” from the store. All this is not to discourage you from shopping in the Medina. It’s a Marrakech must.