Travel Stories

Hunting for Treasure in Morocco

A Trip to Flea Market in Azrou

Entering the souk is daunting for me, it wreaks of bad deals and spending excessive money for trinkets, Laura on the other hand has a knack of coming out with enough furniture to fit out a grand palace and seemingly had enough for it all from the change in her sock!

There are some principles of bartering that I may understand, but unfortunately my comprehension is purely academic.

The first rule is choose the right market.  And Morocco is ideal training ground.  The old town of Fez is a colourful and atmospheric network of small cobbled roads with tinkers and tailors and candlestick makers.  The aromas from soap and spice street drift past and out past the gentle tinkling sounds of the coppersmiths shaping a bowl or plate.  The sounds of which can be heard as you look over the men dipping hides in the colourful pots of dye at the tannery.  All whilst you sit in the sun on a rooftop drinking mint tea served in a clear tulip glass.  The idyllic scene takes one back to time now forgotten, and that beauty and romance comes at the price of inflation.  In a quote from one my favourite films, “Beware, there are vultures everywhere! Everywhere!”

A better market to start finding fair prices and the odd bargain is the weekly flea market in Azrou.  If you don’t have your own transport it is inconveniently located about 20 minutes walk out of town.  But for us the weather was good and the rain had decided to take a day off, to which we thanked it sincerely.

The market is dusty and mainly selling plastic containers, second hand clothes, rusty nuts and bolts and other bric-a-brac that had carried by African swallows returning from Europe.  The stalls are canvas tents, held up with timber, so the feeling of entering one is much like one might of expected to meet a Berber tradesman 100 years ago, except perhaps that he didn’t bring his produce by camel.  There is still a healthy livestock market where one can inspect the animals kicking up the dust and adding the own song to the melody of trade and bargain.

I find an man sitting on the ground carefully taking out his stash from a sack, and polishing the metal items meticulously before laying them out on sheet of material which was notably red from the dust kicked up off the thoroughfare he had chosen.  I did my best to get him to part with a bag of old coins but he seemed quite content not to sell except at extortionate rates.  I sighed and gave up, and Laura looked at me like the all knowing Cheshire cat.

We walked on after my failing to make a purchase and Laura bought me a new pair of trousers for 50p.  Which even as I write this now I am wearing 3 years later.  The reason we had come this far away was for one reason.  To buy a carpet.  I had done my best googling to find out what a good carpet is, and easy tells.  As we approached the 4 stalls of carpet sellers, who have larger tents and notably better canvas and structure to the other sellers, my heart sank as I realized that the only thing I was qualified to do at this point was to take photos.

Laura got stuck in straight away, laughing off the first three prices of the carpet seller each of which was half his previous one.  Now that the initial maneuvering was over and both trader and purchaser had weighed up each other the real bargaining began in earnest.  It seems to me that the best deals are had when the other party doesn’t feel threatened, and this is Laura’s weapon.  She simply makes little jokes at the trader and with a laugh that keeps him placid, he succumbs to a fraction of his price.

At this point the man must be thinking, that seems like a reasonable price, when Laura then plays her final ace or perhaps in this case joker;  She asks me if she is allowed to spend the money.  Now, anyone who knows Laura, knows that she is in control of her own destiny and finances and need not ask me for anything, however, to the patriarchal Berber culture this seems perfectly reasonable.   I tell her that at that price we can only afford one carpet and not two, another 10% comes off the price. Alas for Laura I was bemused by a man trying to fit 30 chickens on the back of a bicycle and reply if you think it is a good price then that’s fine.  Laura didn’t extend the humourous tactic when trading glances with me.  But a fair deal we got and are now very pleased with handwoven carpets with their geometric patterns and bright red and yellow colours.

We leave the market, Laura ahead with me in tow lumbering away with three carpets on my back.  Laura tells me to wait whilst she dashes away to pick up some water, 5 mins pass and I regret allowing her free rein in a market.  But then she arrives back with a small bag of old coins!

For more description of the rugs you can find, visit Berber Rug in our Treasure Trove.

A tip for bargain hunters: With all this haggling and tricks it is important to choose your tactics to suit the occasion.  A Moroccan carpet seller is a hardened trader, used to any ploy and gives as good as he gets.  When at some stores it is quite obvious that the trader is not in such good times, often seemingly willing to sell at any price, probably requiring a sale to pay for food or rent.  Then we stay off our harder methods and settle for a higher price.  The idea of trade isn’t to sustain poverty but to create wealth and to enjoy this ancient mechanism of sharing fairly.