Morocco is a land with every landscape imaginable. I had no idea until I boarded a 18 seater van-bus at 8am after a quick breakfast of various breads, mint tea and fresh squeezed orange juice. My travel buddy Lisa and I spent weeks planning our trip to Morocco and decided a visit to the Sahara desert and riding a camel was a priority. Our friends, Juan and Matt, whom we met on the train, joined us on our international van-bus of Americans (3), Spaniards(8), New Zealanders (2), a Japanese couple (2) and a French couple. I should mention, I’m not the type of traveler that is quick to hop on tourist tours. I usually avoid tourist things as best I can as they are usually tourist traps but if you want to ride a camel in the Sahara, joining a tour is about your only option. Or so it seems.
We talked to staff at our hotel in the morning and bargained as best we could on the price. We told them we’d think about it and left for the day. They obviously heard this tactic before and didn’t seem concerned when we paid them at 10pm that night and were on the bus the following morning. Only in Africa. They gave us a very brief itinerary but honestly I had no idea what we’d see or where we were staying, aside from the fact we were riding camels for an hour and half into the Sahara and an hour and half out the following morning. And we’d stay in tents. And it would be very cold. That’s all I knew.
I don’t like to generalize but one thing that has been constant in my travels in Africa is: if you don’t ask, you can’t assume. Yes, that’s good advice for most everything but what you may assume in the USA, you certainly can’t assume in Africa. It doesn’t matter which country in Africa you’re traveling in, if you don’t ask, even basic questions, don’t expect that you know. It’s a different mentality. I don’t think they choose to leave out information, they just don’t seem to think it’s important. It’s simple, if you want to know, you’ll think to ask; yet you don’t think to ask because you don’t realize you need to! A good reminder at how easy we humans assume things in life.
First pit stop to take photos:
Next stop: Visit a women’s cooperative where they make Aragon oil.
Movies filmed here include, Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, The Four Feathers, Prince of Persia and The Jewel of the Nile… Did you know they were filmed in Morocco?
After our “unexpected tour” with a “guide” we didn’t know we had until we got off the bus, of course, expected a tip. A “tip” of 1-2 euros depending on the person (he seized people up and asked for a different amount from each, astute? yes. Fair? No.). Now yes, it’s not much but don’t expect me to tip you when I didn’t ask or want your services.We were forced into tipping him (in order to get back on the bus).
We were all brought to a tourist trap restaurant and we dodged it by going elsewhere but were left hungry after a small sandwich.
It started to downpour.
You could say it wasn’t too surprising this road flooded and we had to wait.
We waited for 30 minutes and witnessed a 4-wheel drive get stuck after crossing and immediately someone towed them out. No one was hurt. I was also reminded how everyone reacts differently. A Spanish woman in our bus was telling our driver, “You’re not going to cross, you can’t cross.” I thought, “We’re in Africa things happen differently here. We’ll be ok.” I seem to have a laid back, no fear attitude in Africa even when situations would be perceived as dangerous elsewhere, they somehow seem acceptable and ok in Africa. They just have their own way of doing things.
But we crossed without problem. Our driver has been doing these tours for over 7 years. You could call him an expert. He knows the roads. I doubt this was the first time he’s dealt with a flooding of a road.
Adventurous bikers in the rain!
Several hours later, we made it to our hotel. We were welcomed to a delicious dinner of couscous and soup and never-ending bread. We were cold but thankfully had extra blankets to stay warm.
We had another 7 hour day of driving ahead of us with a few pit stops.
A pit stop at a farm “with a guide.” This time our driver told us he was apart of our trip but he still expected a tip. Surprise, Surprise.
Then our guide brought us to a man who ran a rug shop. This was apart of the plan but our driver didn’t bother to tell us. He lead us into a cosy room where a woman was demonstrating how to weave camel or lamb wool on a loom. She only spoke Berber. She couldn’t understand what the man was telling us in English, nor in Spanish. (She didn’t speak Arabic or French, imagine how limited she is and easily men can take advantage of her and her skills). He was charming, telling us stories about the Berber people and throwing in jokes about Americans and the English. We enjoyed sugary Berber tea (it’s not mint like typical Moroccan tea) and after his story telling led us up stairs to see various rugs.
He said as he began showing us the rugs, “Don’t worry, this is only to show you. We have plenty of business men who come from all over Morocco to buy them and resell them. We have good prices here.” I was forewarned.
He showed us over 20 rugs.
With no intention of buying a rug, I found myself debating whether I should buy a beautiful turquoise rug (in photo). I’m not sure why but being a different place does that to you. Truth is, I didn’t feel any pressure to buy. I felt bad bargaining because he had stated numerous times it’s a good price. I attempted to bargain. I asked Juan to help me. The man didn’t budge.
I should have known better when I asked the price of a silk scarf, which I had considered buying in Marrakech. I bargained from 130 dms ($15) to 60 ($8)dms (and didn’t buy it). This crook started his silk scarves at 600 dms ($70). I was startled. I told him the price in Marrakech was 60dms and he was quick to say, “well this is handmade, those in Marrakech are machine-made in China” Oh really. So I asked, How can I tell the difference? He had the nerve to say, Well you can tell because if you put it near a flame or fire, it will burn really quickly.” Yes, because that’s always a good way to tell if something is hand-made or machine-made. Burn it and see what happens. Too bad, I didn’t find a match and test it in his store. That would have been funny!
I bought the Berber rug (supposedly made on the loom). The price was fair after all, right? Who knows. I’m sure I was ripped off because if he’s charging 1000% of the price on a scarf, you know he’s not charging me a fair price for the rug. When I paid, another savvy business man appeared. When I asked, if the women who made the rug get the money, they appeased me by saying “yes,” but I don’t believe them for a minute.
But I should have taken his rug and thrown it at him and ran out of his shop. But I’m too kind. I only dream of revenge after the fact. And when you’re pressed for time because and your bus driver doesn’t forewarn you, sometimes you get swept up in what’s going on around you.
Unfortunately, my travel buddy fell for it too. She bought a blanket at an outrageous price despite him “cutting the price” in half. He inflated the price so high that when he cut it in half, it was still high. Fair price, ya? We’d later see the same blankets in different colors for a quarter of the cost she paid.
Thanks bus driver for bringing us to tourist traps. Thanks Morocco for thinking us tourists are made of money but then again I can blame the tourists before me who act this way. There’s a reason why they have this opinion.
When you’re in towns or not in tourist hotels and restaurants, this is a common “bathroom.” In Muslim culture, your right hand is for eating, your left is for…. you guessed it, wiping!
Stay tuned for Camel riding in the Sahara!
Have you been in touristy places before and felt you were always having to get a fair price? How do you react and deal with the situation? Have you been on a desert tour to the Sahara before? Was your experience similar?
Leave a comment below.