Desert Souqs

I’m not usually a fan of shopping, but the souqs in Morocco are a delight, especially as you come further down south. Just before reaching the desert we stopped off in Erfoud where we experienced the joy of three souqs next to each other. Some kids surrounded our van as we parked up and clamoured for biros, sweets etc. We went in the back of the van and put our jellabahs and turbans on. When we opened the door, the kids, ready to pounce, gasped and moved away – they were shocked by our transformation, which seemed to instill an instant respect. They let us through without a single ‘donne-moi’.

The first souq was quite full of tourists, and we instantly acquired an unwanted guide who ignored our protestations that we didn’t need help finding our way around.

The second souq was another matter altogether, it was like a vegetable wholesale place, and the third one was for chickens only. This is not for the fainthearted, especially if you’re also vegetarian and I’m bordering on being both fainthearted and vegetarian! Chickens are held in the back of shops, you choose one, it gets killed, drained, quickly put in a boiling vat, then in a kind of centrifugal, hoovering type of spinner that sucks off all the feathers and bingo you have your fresh chicken, faster than a haircut. We forewent the chickens in this souq, mainly because they were all of the white, fast-growing type that never sees the outside. We shall wait until we find a free-range chicken.

After our desert time, the next Souq we experience is Rissani. Here you dive into a densely built area of houses where in little alleyways all sorts of vendors offer their wares. Frank is looking for a haircut and starts bargaining in various shops. After going into a bazar and managing to come out without having bought anything (it was a narrow escape, it felt like we might be taken hostage until we bought something), I’m tempted by the smell of berber pizzas wafting from several wood-fired bakeries that have their doors open to the alleyway. We point to a freshly baked one asking for the price, which is followed by 10 minutes of negotiations and then a half mile walk back to the restaurant where they are trying to give us an older one. Why can’t we just buy from the bakery? Well apparently they are all spoken for. We leave the restaurant and end up instead having a delicious bean soup and Berber whiskey (Moroccan tea) from a friendly street stall. Frank finds his barber where he can have a haircut for 10 dirham (one Euro) while I go in search of wooden clothes pegs and a box of matches.

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There is no shortage of things in this souq, I find many hardware stores and plenty of plastic clothes pegs and cigarette lighters, but not what I’m looking for. People look at me in a strange way when I insist on wood in preference to plastic.

It is New Year’s day and everywhere I go people wish me a happy New Year, even though they themselves mainly operate on a different calendar.

We buy some good quality lamb for a tajine and we drive on to find a quiet place in the middle of nowhere to cook it on our bbq (we have to take care about how much gas we use, to ensure we have enough for 3 months. There aren’t any GPL outlets in Morocco as far as we know – if anyone knows of one, please do get in touch!!!).

For more pictures of this chapter, click here


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