Kaftans, Cous Cous, and Carpet Scams in Morocco

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We should have known something was up when half of us were taken into a separate rooms.

“No problem, No problem. You just sit here with us, and they in there. Room not big enough. Would you like some apple tea?”

We all looked around at each other, shoulders hunched and nervous grin showing slight amusement.

We were adorned in traditional Moroccan dress and couldn’t help but feel like we were being played. I’m sure the Moroccan carpet seller in front of us was laughing hysterically on the inside at us all sticking out like ostriches at the race course.

Travel Mystique

Secretly, I really enjoyed the whole mystique of the moment. This is the stuff that travel is about, getting into bizarre situations that make you inwardly giggle and give you those memories that are worth sharing in years to come.

Aren’t we just Moroccan princesses?

And really we looked great in our brightly coloured kaftan robes with their ornate swirling patterns, stitching, and beading, accentuating the bronze the colour our skin had turned after a couple of months spent touring Europe in the summer. I felt like Jasmine waiting patiently for Aladdin and his genie to appear and rescue me.

The boys in their  djellabas, long loosely flowing hooded robes looked like they had just stepped off the set of Joseph and his techni-coloured dream coat.

From Europe to Africa in a Day

We had just ducked over to Morocco for the day from Gibraltar. Europe is like that, you can just duck over to a new country for the day or afternoon. You could just duck on over to a whole new continent even. Totally unlike my island home Down Under, where there is no ducking, only hours of flying to get anywhere other than the Great South Land.

My first time stepping on African soil, a dream I had for years. If only it was much longer than a day.

We came over with the “Teletubbies” and “The Big Rig“,  the two campervans we had spent the last two weeks travelling through Spain with.

I ran into Mark in Pamplona, in Lisbon and then again in Lagos, where we decided we might as well all just travel together. I grew up with Mark; he played cricket with my brother for years. It was great reconnecting with him during this time in Europe.

Our time together was coming to a close so for a final farewell celebration we decided to catch the ferry over to Morocco for the day. Something different than celebrating in the Gibraltan bars that one evening lead to the piercing of my belly and the travel tattoo on Davos ankle.

We arrived at the port of Spanish Cueta, not really knowing what to do. We had no map, no bearings and absolutely no idea of even what there was to do in the country.

Whirlwind Tour of Tetouan, Morocco

So we did what anyone would do, let the nearest tout convince us that a one day whirlwind guided tour of nearby Moroccan city of Tetouan was worth it. And as any professional traveller would know we got well and truly ripped off with the price we paid, but the experience that lives on in my mind of that day makes it completely worth it.

Wandering the Medina

I was in an ancient land, being led through the labyrinth of narrow alleys that twisted and turned throughout the town and market places where people performed their craftsmanship, like weavers, jewellers, and  leather workers.

Snake Charmers

Snake charmers played their flutes and tambourines convincing the hypnotized cobras to uncoil themselves from their sleeping boxes and come dance for us, causing us to step back several feet in fear.

Only, Kahn and Pedro were brave enough to allow the man to place the snake around their shoulders once the dance was over.

The snake slithered down Kahn’s top.

A cobra?

Wait a minute, is that really a cobra?

Cous Cous

A delicious serving of chicken and cous cous for lunch was placed before us at a Moroccan restaurant. It was the first I had heard of the dish, but I would never forget the soft flakiness of it as it kind of just melted into my mouth. Now every time I eat cous cous, my mind darts back to that time inTetouan , when I first tried its cinnamon goodness. As I said priceless memories.

Our excited guide could not contain himself any longer after our filling lunch. “Now we go to see Moroccan carpets, but first you get to wear traditional Moroccan dress. Come follow me.”

Moroccan Carpet Scams

He lead us to the Carpet markets and straight up to the rooftop for hazy views into the clustered white walled Medina below and African mountains in the far distance.

We all looked at each other knowing that this indeed was where the real fun begins.

Which then led to us being in the rooms, sipping apple tea and being conned.

Out came the carpets one by one in elaborate colours, designs and sizes. We learned all about how they were created using the best natural fibres you could ever find. Each carpet was unique creation based on basic or intricate designs passed down since the beginning of time.

They were hand woven on wooden looms or laboriously knotted by handed by the mountain Berber people of North Africa, each carpet took several months to make and would last for centuries.

These carpets were so amazing you could spill anything on it and it would not stain, just an easy wipe away. You could even light it with a match and it wouldn’t burn. True story, he even proved it by taking out a lighter and putting it to the carpet. It did not catch, not one lick of flame.

The whole time I was watching and listening in my fancy dress, feeling very much like the “authentic” traveller having a moment no one else could ever be lucky enough to say they had, I had my eye on the beautiful pink carpet in front of me.

My sister was getting married in just a few months’ time. Imagine if I gave her a Moroccan carpet for her wedding gift.

Each of us were then taken into a separate room for harassment bargaining. I started to get a little concerned and angry. The magic of the moment slowly washing away.

“For you I give you special price. 900 pound”

If I still had my apple tea I would have spat it all over him. No wonder the interrogation was happening on our own. I needed back up.

He would not take a no or my last price of 100 pounds. He marched me out of the room, so Rob could be next, and demanded I sit on the stairs and not talk to anyone.

The sellers were running around me going from one room to the next in a fit of crazy bargaining. With great daring,  I snuck off the stairs and crept into some of the rooms to find out the prices. Mark and Dean gave in at 200 pounds.

I really wanted the carpet for my sister, actually, I think I wanted to buy it more for the story. Despite freaking me out with their you buy or else approach, I could not help going in for another round of bargaining, inspired by Kahn, Colin’s and Jumbo’s price of 15o pounds.

And that was that. We settled on 150 pounds.

He wrapped it up and gave it to me.

Now we were allowed to come together for photos in our traditional garb.

Moroccan traditional dress
What a fun day

Time was running short and we were brisked back to the port, the last part of the tour we were promised now suddenly all forgotten.

I carried my heavy carpet so proudly back onto the ferry to Gibraltar and lovingly looked after it for the remaining 6 weeks of my European campervan tour.

I took it back to London to show all my friends my amazing Moroccan souvenir and then flew it all the way home to my sister for her wedding present.

“Oh wow! I love it. I can’t believe you bought us a Moroccan carpet. We love it.”

“And it is made from the best natural fibres by the Berbers, you can spill anything on it and it won’t stain you can just wipe it away and you can even put a match to  it and it won’t burn.”

When I next returned home to Australia, I couldn’t find the beautiful Moroccan carpet and asked my sister where it was.

“Oh yeah Ca. I’m not sure if it was the real thing. We spilled red wine on it accidentally and then it when we tried to fix it; it all shrivelled up and was destroyed. Sure did look good though.”

“Don’t tell me you burned it too?”

“No but we should have. That’s all it was probably good for in the end.”

Ahh, just another Moroccan memory.

Have you ever had a whirlwind day like this that was lots of fun even though you were scammed? Would love for you to share.

More Resources for Morocco

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5 thoughts on “Kaftans, Cous Cous, and Carpet Scams in Morocco”

  1. It’s funny. If you want to buy something expensive and artistc in Morocco, they’re all made (apparently) by berbers. Or even sold by berbers and made by their family. But the real thing is the majority of berbers live in a farming, Self- sustainable way of life 😛

    What a nice article! thanks a lot, even for a non-english reader!

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