Well, we didn’t restrain from buying completely. We did spend over $250 to send a box home, though (filled mostly with our no longer necessary winter clothes that won’t fit in our luggage anymore). Damn is DHL expensive, but we were advised against the standard post as “they can’t even get national mail reliably to the destination.” We did pick up a few items in Essaouria and Marrakech (outside the souks). Overall, the Medina (old town of Marrakech) was a recipe for stress, since the winding roads make your intended location often difficult to locate, and google maps is useless, all while every person you pass calls out “madam, madam, bonjour, hello, excuse me, madam!” in order to sell you something. I’m utterly lost without google to guide me, and feel bad ignoring people, so I became a mess.
However, on our last morning in Marrakesh, we left our riad to check out Bahia Palace, one of the oldest (and most elaborate) structures in Marrakesh, with a winding pathway of its own. On the way there we followed the easy directions given by our amazing Riad host/innkeeper. The path to the Palace passed many shops similar to those found in the Souks, but with much more chill people, and better prices! It’s like the holy grail of Marrakechi shopping. No yelling, good prices. Done. We still had to do a good bit of haggling for our sandals, but ultimately came in just 30dh over our goal of 100dh for 2 pair (a top price suggested by our innkeeper), which was still about half the price most places offered us in the souks. I suppose the same way shoppers in the souks are aware they’ll see the same items at the next five shops, the shopkeepers are aware there will be five more tourists willing to accept a higher price coming in the next 10 minutes.
Essaouria was a bit different, more laid back, but not entirely so. It was well put by our innkeeper that “they aren’t as angry” in Essaouria as in Marrakesh’s souks, “but you still need to negotiate. They look sweet, but they’re not.”
We had a short and delightful time in Essaouria, after taking the long bus ride from Marrakech. The overall vibe is much more laid-back and beachy under a hot sun. It felt like an old-timey movie set, where we’d often duck into the cooling shade of tiny entrances to shops that occasionally opened up to winding labyrinths of carpets or women’s dresses.
We were happy to have, by chance alone, purchased all of our Essaouria finds from women. Perhaps it was that we found them to be more pleasant to bargain with, or perhaps they’re just more prevalent in the beach-city than in Marrakech. Either way, supporting local women was a cherry on top of our visit westward.
The sleepy bus ride back took us again past miles of Argan trees (we didn’t see any goats in the trees, unfortunately). Once back in Marrakech, we made quick business of catching a cab back to the Medina, and moved through the bustling night-crowd back to our riad.
That innkeeper I mentioned earlier is of Belaatar Abdelkarim the Hotel Riad Marraplace. He was so immensely helpful, and along with Fatima, their housekeeper/ breakfast server, made our stay absolutely perfect! He stopped to talk to us when we ran into him in the square, and suggested a few price ranges for the items we were looking for, as well as giving us the simplest directions back to the riad. On a few other occasions, we went to him for directions, advice or assistance. He went way above and beyond each time, and even took my postcards to send out so that we wouldn’t need to make a post-office stop with armfuls of luggage! Most useful though, was his suggestions for cab fares, since Marrakeshi cabbies have no qualms quoting you double or triple the reasonable rate. We once got a quote of 150dh for a cab ride we only paid 40dh for (to another driver). Knowing how much you should be spending on any item or service really eliminates the stress of a wholly negotiation-based system.
As for the riad itself, we couldn’t have been more pleased. The interior is so well decorated and furnished, with sitting areas on each level, and hand carved walls. The staircase winds up to the terrace, well set-up for breakfast and midday relaxation in the warm Moroccan sun. The location is perfect, a short and simple walk from the square (from one road out of the square, you just take every left until you see it). The proximity to the square allows for great views of the Medina’s smoky night sky and you can always hear the sounds of the market from the rooftop terrace, but never from your room. If (when) I do return to Marrakesh, I will absolutely stay at Marraplace again, even if it is in the Medina! Though, I’d also likely divide my time up, allowing for more time in Essaouria, a visit to Casablanca, Fes and/or Ouzoud waterfalls, with less time spent in Marrakech. Perhaps some time in the new-town area of Marrakech, as well, since transportation to-from there is much simpler, and it’s a nice juxtaposition to the Medina.