On the road, midway between Rabat and Meknès, stands a small city that stretches along the road. Many restaurants are scattered on both sides of the main street with charcoal burning to cook tajines and brochettes.
However, this is not why I am writing a tip. A few years ago (it might well have been in 2002), I was driving from Rabat to Meknès. The entrance into the city is a straight road lined with fields and orchards. No houses, no cross road. However, right in the middle of this strait line, there was a large traffic light.
When I arrived close to the traffic light, it turned red. Of course, I braked and stopped. From behind a bush, there came a traffic policeman that ordered me very politely to park on the side of the road.
Unique Suggestions: He said "You drove too fast and I must give you a ticket" He had several counterfoils books hung at his belt. They looked rather worn out, as if they have been used for a long time. He took a pink one and said "this will cost you 1,000 Dirham" (about 100 Euros).
While he searched in his pocket for a pencil, he nicely asked "is that the first time you come to Morocco". I answered, "no, I come often to Morocco and enjoys your beautiful country, etc" (which was true, BTW!).
He then answered "oh, then, if you are a friend of Morocco, you are welcome and (he let fall the first counterfoil book and took a green one, equally worn out) I would be sorry to give you a 1,000 Dh ticket." He held the green counterfoil book and said "for a friend of Morocco, that will only be 500 Dh".
He had not yet found his pencil and kept talking while looking for it. "Are you visiting Morocco as a tourist?" I answered, "no, we here one week for work. We have a 4 years cooperation program with the University in Kenitra and come several time a year. When we have some spare time, we do some tourism."
The policemen said then "as you are here to work with my country, I must be nice with you". He took a third counterfoil book, printed on yellow paper and said "as you are a very good friend of Morocco, that will be only 250 Dh".
Though he had visited all his pockets, and he had many of them, he had not found yet any pencil. He grumbled, "I hate all this paper work we have to perform!" I agreed.
After a while, "Do you really need a receipt?"
I said "oh, I don't really care for a receipt. I will not get any refund, nobody will pay for me!"
The policeman : "forget the whole thing, give me 100 Dh and we will not have any paper work to do!".
Guess what I did!
Fun Alternatives: I learned later from my Moroccan friends that the traffic light had been set up especially for that purpose and that each of the policemen used it, one after the other. That was why the counterfoil books were so worn out: they actually were never used and were only part of the trick! I learned also that the trick went to an end when the authorities heard about it. The traffic light trap is not in use anymore!
I have been to several bazaars and medinas in Muslim countries. Some travel books advise hiring a guide, but I do not think that this is always a good idea. When I was in Fes I hired a guide. A guide will keep beggars and others away. And you will not get lost. But that guide will take you to shops where he will get a commission from the shop owner for everything you buy. My guide first showed me many historical things throughout Fes. But then he started taking me to carpet shops, leather shops, clothing shops, etc. FInally, I got sick of it and told him I had a train to catch.
Unique Suggestions: If you do hire a guide, tell them EXACTLY what you want to see and/or do. If you do want to go shopping, tell them what you want to buy. If you do not want to buy a carpet, them tell that. Repeat it more than once, making sure they understand this.
The guides just want to earn a living. I cannot fault them for wanting to support their family. So I would let them know that you will give them extra money if they only take you to historical sights and places YOU want to go.
Fun Alternatives: Learn how to say "Where is the exit?" in Arabic. If you are looking for a specific place, have someone at your hotel write the name in Arabic script. Then ask shopkeepers where you can find it. You can even give some coins to a child to walk you to the place you are going.
At the traditional Moroccan Evening, there was an offcial photographer who took lots of photographs of us dressed up.
From my journal:
'He is outside the hotel the next morning with his prints spread out on the pavement. 20Drh each, and he won't come down, which is his loss - we offer him 100Drh for six, but in the end we only buy two. So now he's stuck with all those other pictures which are no good to him at all. But I would not buy on principle!'
From my journal:
'Before going in to the tanneries, we are given a pice of mint each to hold in front of our noses. I don't find it makes any difference whatsoever, but some people swear by it'.
Unique Suggestions: If you are bothered by strong, unpleasant smells, maybe you should invest in a mask, or rub some Tiger Balm under your nose.
From my journal:
'A couple of "unofficial guides" follow us around, looking after us, making sure we take the right turning etc; and one of them gets well and truly "ballacked" (see Warning and Danger tip) by a particularly wide donkey load.
Maybe we were missing something but.. this museum featured a few rooms of pottery and that's it! Maybe the other works were on tour somewhere because there were plenty of empty cases.
Unique Suggestions: The ornamentation of the building itself was beautiful and I'm sure the garden is pretty in the summer.
If you do go and the cases are full of precious artifacts, you got lucky.
If you (it's probable) hire a guide (he will find you, don't worry) to lead your way through the whole Medina (and he will do it well), he'll take you at least once to a "Berbere House" of a "friend of his", which is nothing else than a big carpet or handcrafts store.
These stores he takes travellers into are usually at some particularly narrow and messy or dark point of the town, where he presents you to people who are working and - without you noticing it - leaves!
So the situation is: you are inside a store, surrounded by gazing workers (leaded by a seller who insists on showing every model he has to sell with inquisitory eyes), where you don't want to buy anything (you didn't even choose to go in!) and without your guide, who is the only person you supposedly trust in, and who doesn't appear for at least 20 minutes. All this in the middle of a dark street in the center of the labyrintic medina!
So my tip, if you are wandering around with a guide, is to tell him to never ever leave you alone, either on a store or somewhere eles. Acutally I don't know if this works, otherwise I wouldn't have had the experience I just told you!
Unique Suggestions: When and if alone with the seller, he (in my case) only wants to sell you something, not harm you. But the situation gets stressier as time goes by and you feel more and more left alone, so you may tend to be either agressive or a compulsive buyer.
Don't do none of them. Keep refusing, keep asking for your guide, keep saying you really DON'T want their (acutally very good) mint tea and their carpets.
Fun Alternatives: Don't smile, be firm. He's just a seller and just tried to make some money out of you, helped by your guide.
Take it as the survival option of an underdeveloped economy. You'll know waht I mean when you enter Fes.
Just to avoid the continuous and persistent offers of every possible service from local people, I decided to let a man play as "guide", being very clear I did not want to go to any shop. Well, with the excuse to visit an ancient house he brought me to what he pretended to be his home, where a dozen of kids started to play the role of being his poor children, with the final aim to get some money from me...
I'm not sure it is a trap, but it is something which I felt as being completely out of place, something which did not fit the atmosphere. Beside the main entrance of the Central Market there are five/six food stalls offering unusual products: lots of them are imported foods, which are not commonly consumed in Morocco, but they are in high demand by part of the tourists. Well, you may find those shops alleviating some basic instinct, but they gave me an unpleasant feeling. More than that, they are a point of concentration of poor people and beggars, who are attracted by neon lights and fancy people buying
From my journal:
'You might think this is a traditional market mainly for the locals, but right in the heart of the medina the shops have a PDQ credit card machine! Always eager to take your money!'