Out of all the prep for my trip, the thing I´m most happy with was the French I´ve learnt.
So as usual with something recently learnt you try and impart this knowledge to other people. Clive, being the only one who would listen, seemed like the best student. I noticed one day whilst speaking with some locals that he was sort of acting strangely though. He kept swinging the conversation in certain directions and took great pains to try and explain certain things using hand gestures. Finally he managed to ask the fisherman if he had caught any fish knowing full well the answer. No. That was when Clive reached his point.
Leaning back, a pleased grin on his face as he glanced at me, he uttered “ahh, c´est la vie”. I suddenly knew what it had all been about. He had been dying to say that one French sentence in context since arriving in Morocco. Nice. And then he went and destroyed all kudos he had gained by walking into a store, buying some things, and saying “oui, oui, gracias”.
That fisherman though, what a guy! We were driving up from the Sahara and decided to stop at the most beautiful lake for lunch and a swim. Just as we were getting out of the car three fishermen rode up on their scooters and straight away asked us if we´d like to join them for lunch. A few days into Morocco so we immediately thought “ok, what are they trying to sell?” But no, they gave us some whisky Berber (mint tea) heated over an open fire, and made some pita pockets with tuna and salad for us. Unbelievable!
There we were sitting by an awesome lake drinking tea and sharing food with some locals. They seemed quite worried when we went for a swim, apparently most of them can´t. Anyway, we left there feeling pretty good. Man did that change on the very next leg of our trip.
After meeting the friendliest locals so far, we went and ran into the most conniving, sneaky, underhanded, and downright pushy salesman I´ve ever even heard of.
All throughout the country we had been looking for gas for our cooker, but to no avail. We stopped at a petrol station for fuel and once again asked for gas. Nothing. However the Berber salesman from hell overheard me.
“Hey, you look for gaz. I have in store near me, you come, look at my hotel and I give you business card to make promotion back home!”
“No thanks, I´m heading further north so don´t need a place to stay”
“No no, you not understand, you look at hotel, I get you gaz, and then you go”
By this time Clive had joined me and we decided if he got us gas we could look at the hotel.
“You follow me, is on main road”
“If he goes off the main road I ain´t following” I muttered to Clive.
We actually were in a hurry; we were trying to get near Fes that night. He did stay on the main road thankfully.
“Ok, let me look at your fitting” and before we knew it he had given our cooker to a little kid and sent him running. Smooth, very smooth I must admit. Now he had our cooker and we were in his power.
The fact we were only there to try and sell to was cemented when we were led into a room with hundreds of rugs. “You want some whisky Berrrrberrrr” said the man with the hugest rolling of ´r´s I´ve ever heard. Our mint tea in hand he was off and the floor show was about to start. In came the friendly rug sales guy or Denzel Washington lookalike.
It was about this time that our mood really changed. We recognised the signs and knew exactly what the deal was so we just wanted to get out of there, but we were stuck because of the cooker.
“My family take camel across Sahara and trade with Touareg for these rugs”. Yeah sure, so does 90% of Morocco apparently. I was actually not happy at all so I just sat there. Clive on the other hand decided to have some fun.
“Ahh I see from the pattern this weaver was married”. See what I mean about seeing lots of sales pitches? We even recognised the weaving patterns and interpretations.
“Yes, she is. You want to buy?”
“Na not really, we´re not interested”
“We have other patterns” he says, brining out another armload.
“Ahh, cactus silk”
“Yes, you like? I give you special price!”
“Oh, na”. Times must be tough; he was almost begging us now. “So I hear July is a big wedding season here?”
“Yes yes, but what you think of rugs?”
“So do you go to many weddings?”
“Oh yes…you like this pattern? You take two…”
“So it must get really hot here in summer?”
“Yes, but look, these beads, is nice…”
“Oh yeah, we´ve already got some. Do you go to the Atlas mountains much?” I think he was the only sales guy that gave up on us in the end.
Anyway, eventually we had to drive the guy to the store to find the kid with our cooker, drive him back, negotiate our way past their boss who practically trapped Clive in a small room, drink copious amounts of mint tea, and then force them out of our car as they were still trying to sell stuff to us. Boy, what a difference between them and the fishermen!
Compared to the previous days escapade Fes was a breeze. We knew exactly what to say and how to handle people. We bought three rugs and paid exactly what we wanted to pay, which was what a local would pay as we had asked our landlord the night before.
“Three rugs? Sure, I give you best price of 630 dirham!”
“Or not, our Moroccan friend told us locals only pay 65 dirham each.”
“What! No no, these good quality!”
“Sure, so we give 195 dirham ($45).”
“No, maybe 600 but that’s lowest”
Eventually we reached a settlement of 210. What’s 15 dirham more? We even bought a carpet from a guy who had sold one to Dave Dobbyn, showing us his delivery address in Grey Lynn. Awesome.
I love their mint tea though, and we certainly had plenty that day. Each time we got tired or thirsty we´d go into a shop, act interested, they´d bring tea and then we´d walk out not buying anything. Free tea, perfect. Fes was amazing though, really medieval. Leather workers and craftsmen practically living in these dim little hovels made of bricks. Kind of depressing to see actually.
Don´t you love it when completely randomly you come across a really cool place that you haven´t heard or read about anywhere? Larache was that for us. It’s on the coast just south of Tangier and seemingly has no attraction whatsoever. For us though it was a breath of fresh air in a country that can so easily stifle you.
The only reason we stopped there was because we were driving to Tangier from Fes and we got hungry. We ended up spending the night there and met the friendliest people, and most of all, nobody accosting us for sales! People would just stop and talk to you; apparently not many tourists go there so we were something of a novelty. One guy had the funniest cockney / Moroccan accent ever. He had spent a few years in London and had met his NZ girlfriend from Wellington over the internet. Interesting, internet dating is everywhere.
Larache was the final stage in my French confidence. I was now completely comfortable walking up to anyone and speaking French. Probably not correct French, but at least we understood each other. So, for dinner I spoke straight away to the waiter in French. A stunned look, and here I am thinking my pronunciation is off. I try again. Nothing but a wry smile. What do I find out? Everyone in Larache and north speaks Spanish, not French. Awesome. Time to get my Spanish ear in again.
The next morning was taken up lying on Paradise Beach near Asilah, then onto Tangier. This was the most European of cities with plenty of large hotels, buildings, and touts offering us hash.
The beach in Tangier was beautiful and white and probably nicer than Paradise Beach. Weird. We stayed in a pension and spent the afternoon trying to find where Jason Bourne beat the heck out of one of his enemies. Clive was suffering quite heavily from some ulcers and we were both at the worst stages of Moroccan stomach.
The city itself was pretty easy going compared to the interior and was a good time to recount all we had experienced in Morocco. What a country! High snowy mountains, huge canyons, dry barren desert, beautiful beaches, and hugely entertaining and interesting people. One of the things we´ll never forget were the sales pitches.
Here is a slice of the most common ones tried on us. And believe me, this is practically word for word:
“I give you good price, you like a brother to me”
“This is not tourist price, is same price for Moroccan”
“This is best price”
Often if they didn’t have what you wanted they´d take you to a different shop and try and earn some commission off the sale. So they´d say “I take you to my cousins / brothers shop”
“You offer me democratic price”. I still have no idea what they mean by that.
“Is best quality”
“I love NZ so I give you good price”
“I not try to sell you something, you just come look at my shop”
“My family is Berber, we trade across Sahara for these”
“Is genuine Rolex / Gucci / Armani / other brand”
This one we only heard once from a guy in Casablanca but it sounded so funny I have to mention it… “Where you from?”
“Ahh I love New Zealand!”
“You know where it is?”
“Yes, near Australia. I just have Australian in my shop. You come, come, just look, I not try to sell.” So we follow him. “Yes I have many NZ friends.”
“Yes, I know Tony and Richard, and Mark, and Joe.” Clive and I exchange sniggering glances, but when he said “I also have good friend Bob from NZ” I nearly burst out laughing. I felt like saying “Yes I have many Moroccan friends also, Mohammad, Ahmed, Yusuf, Ibrahim…” but I didn´t.
Like I said though, what a place. Only in Morocco.