Frommer's Morocco author Darren Humphrys joins host David Lytle to argue why Morocco makes the perfect introduction to North Africa for any first-time traveler. From the modern outskirts of Casablanca to the rugged Atlas Mountains to mud-walled medinas, this rapidly changing country is moving beyond visitors' expectations.
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- Time Constraints: There is a large variety of things to see in Morocco, give yourself 7 days at the very least, even up to 2 weeks to see the country.
- Casablanca: Not typically what tourists expect from Morocco. Casablanca is more Europeanized and has become the economic powerhouse of the country.
- Marrakech: Fly into Marrakech, if you can. Start your journey in Marrakech and then branch out.
- How to Get Around: Railways are generally good, Gran Taxis, Petit Taxis. Driving yourself can be difficult.
- Language: Many people in Morocco can speak both Arabic (MSA), Moroccan Arabic and French.
- Culture: Morocco is primarily an Islamic nation. Keep proper manners in mind when traveling in Morocco.
- Where to Go: Marrakech, Casablanca, Essaouira, Atlas Mountains, Antiatlas Mountains, Oukaimeden Ski Resort.
- Haggling: Haggling is a tradition in the country, don't be afraid to haggle for a lower price in the local markets.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.Announcer: Welcome to the Frommers.com Travel Podcast. For more information on planning your trip to any one of thousands of destinations, please visit www. Frommers.com.
David Lytle: Hi, this is David Lytle. I'm the editorial director of Frommers.com. Today we are talking with Darren Humphrys who is one of our authors for our new first edition Morocco guide. Hi, Darren. How's it going?
Darren: Good, thanks David.
David: Great to hear from you. You're in Capetown, South Africa right now, right? That's where you are based?
Darren: Yes, I'm in the Rainbow Nation and enjoying some nice southern hemisphere summer at the moment.
David: Yes, very jealous of that. It's a crisp 43 degrees Fahrenheit day here in San Francisco. I would like summer temperature myself. So a lot to cover here in Morocco. I think it holds a place in travelers' minds as a very mysterious magical place.
But it is also accessible. We want to let our listeners know how to go about traveling through Morocco. What they can do when they're there. You've been there time and time again so let's get started on what somebody, as a big picture view, what should they expect for their first time to Morocco? What's a suggested itinerary for them to get a view of the country?
Darren: David, the one thing that never surprises me with Morocco is how it manages to definitely meet, and more often that not, exceed everyone's expectations, when they get there. The images of the camels and of the oasis and of the locals dressed in traditional dress of cloaks and Moroccan slippers and Marrakech, never fails to meet every travelers expectations reaches, which is really quite unusual because some expectations can be quite skewed or high.
But if you give yourself a bit of time, Morocco is becoming an exotic destination for European and British travelers because it is being discovered and the cheap airlines were allowed into the country only a couple of years ago by the new king. So there are very cheap airfares from a lot of European and British destinations and people are traveling to Morocco just for a weekend. That being the case, then people really just have to set their sites on one city, be it Marrakech or Fez most of the time.
Especially for travelers from North American, that's just not possible I would think to pop over that quick. So to give yourself a bit of time, I always suggest at least a week, if possible 10 days or two weeks to see the country. There's a lot to Morocco. Its big, big advantage, huge advantage from other North African/Arabian countries is its compactness.
I do say in the book and it's not a lie, it can happen that in one day in Morocco you can literally wake up with the sun and go for a surf or a swim in the ocean, get yourself up into the higher mountains and see some snow or do some nice alpine hiking for lunch and then keep pushing it and by sunset, if you have traveled well, you can literally be on the back of the camel, going out over the Saharan sand dunes, watching the sun set. That's pretty awesome in this day and age, I think to still be able to find somewhere with all of that.
David: Yea, that actually sounds fantastic. It sounds like a non-western version of California.
Darren: [laughing] Yes, it is, give or take a few mint teas and a little bit of couscous.
David: Yes, exactly. For a first time visitor where do you suggest somebody start? Do they start in Fez? Do they start in Marrakech? Or somewhere else?
Darren: Marrakech is on everyone's lips nowadays, if not before, isn't it? It is a great place to start. It's very conveniently flown into by a lot of international destinations from North America, you are still struggling a bit. You have to fly into Casablanca. I've grown to love Casablanca. It is an amazing city, but most first time travelers actually arrive in Casablanca and think: hang on, this is not what I was expecting. Casablanca is a new city. Only about 200 years ago it was an abandoned village. It's growing very quickly to become the economic powerhouse of the country.
It's still not the capital. Rabat, about a hundred kilometers to the north of it, is the political capital. Casablanca, for all intents and purposes, is where every Moroccan wants to go for a short break, those with money and all that. It's very European. The French built it almost from scratch, and it's a beautiful city. It's got some of the best art deco architecture still left in the world, but again as I say, it doesn't seem to be people's expectations of Morocco.
I agree with perhaps flying into Marrakech, getting there, getting to Morocco straightaway, and the Marrakechi, the local people of Marrakech, they have switched on totally to tourism sometimes too much. You've got to deal with that in much of the developing third world prices, but at least people can arrive and receive some sort of service and expect that service to ease themselves into Morocco.
I think, if possible, especially from Europe and the Brits but North America as well, get yourself into Marrakech and either start yourself traveling from there and return there to then by the time you return there you're a bit of a seasoned Moroccan traveler. You can get into the souks and do some haggling, or again, just spend your time there for a few days to ease into Morocco and enjoy the exoticness of Marrakech and decide where you want to travel from there.
All of the public transports, the buses, the trains, all travel through Marrakech so it is a good habit to perhaps ride in and then travel out from there.
David: So, you would say a ride in Casablanca or Marrakech, but then get out and see the rest of the country is a better idea.
Darren: Absolutely. Absolutely, David. That compactness that I was telling you about is to be seen, but you do have to get out there and see it. Again, unique to Morocco is the Atlas Mountains. They are spread right the way through, going diagonally right through the heart of the country from the Atlantic coast on the west right the way across to and continuing on into Algeria.
Those mountains are what make the difference to Morocco because they are all, for all intents and purposes, a physical barrier of the Sahara going all the way to the coast. So, you've got these amazingly high mountains. Jebel Toubkal is the highest mountain in North Africa. It's there in the High Atlas. You can see it from Marrakech, and in the winter it's amazing to me - Marrakech with these palm trees and the mud walled Medina. You are looking up at snow-topped mountains, fantastic.
Those mountains are stopping the Sahara, so you've got your fertile coastal strip which is an Atlantic coastline going right the way around. You also then have the Mediterranean coastline, and then you've got this stretch of Atlas Mountains. Also, there is another mountain range called the Riff Mountains, which is on the Mediterranean side. Go up in either of these mountains and then you are into what you, perhaps, visualize Morocco to be, which is your mud walled kasbahs, your camels, your blue roads, a bit of the nomads and that sort of thing.
I do believe you've got to get out and about - get into those mountains, get over the mountains onto the other side, travel around the desert regions a bit, but then you come back over the mountains up to the coastal strip which is where all of the main residential progress has been from the dachas where all of the tribes and all of the dynasties and all of the clans have progressed from because it's the fertile strip.
All of your imperial cities, your four imperial cities which have been capital cities at some stage in the country's history, are all on that fertile strip. So, you've got to be on that side to get your culture and history. Get up into the mountains to get, perhaps, a bit of nature. Then down onto the other side to get out into the deserts to get on that camel and into the sand dunes.
David: Wow! That's really incredible so to the west it is a wash and then we have the mountains that separate everything and then we have this sort of dry Sahara to the east.
David: It is possible to see all of this within one day if somebody really wanted to force themselves to get...
Darren: If you had your own transport you could do that in a day, definitely.
David: Great. Which leads into the next question. How does one get around the country? Is it easy enough to rent a car or is it better to hire a guide, and if so, how do you go about finding a guide to take you around?
Darren: Yep, good question. It really is the nuts and bolts of getting around Morocco. Independence from the French in 1956, the French had pacified and ruled Morocco since 1912 to 1956. In that time they did build a lot of infrastructure. They built railway lines, they built roads, they blasted tunnels through the mountains so they did do a lot. The northwest of the country and the far north of the country that was a Spanish colony, it had all been divided up way way back when the scramble for Africa was happening. The Spanish didn't build as much infrastructure which is why I don't dwell on that area too much in the book because if you do have to chose it is the area that is the least easiest to get around and has the least cultural context in the whole country.
We're talking about a lot of infrastructure that the French built. Those trains are still being very well run rather than in some other African countries where that infrastructure is just slowly degraded. Those trains are still running pretty well. For the most part they are still air-conditioned which is desperately needed in July and August, in the hot months. They link up with some national bus networks. There is the state carrier called, CTM but, there's a couple of other private national carriers. Then supplementing them, tens and hundreds of smaller, private operators operating in smaller distinct areas, both in buses and in smaller transport, that's called Gran Taxis. A lot of descriptions in Morocco are still the French descriptions and the Gran Taxis are public taxis that run between towns. They're normally big, old Mercedes sedans and literally yeah, just drop on and drop off and hop on. You put your hand out on the road and get on if there's a spare seat. In the towns, normally at each bus station or a train station, these Gran Taxis will be congregated and everyone shouting out their destination. When the taxi's full off it goes.
Even then further, further traveling when you get into most towns, even small villages which are of somewhat of a size, you've even got Petit taxis which are your small, small just inner city and inner town taxis. They don't go between the towns and the cities, which fit a maximum of three people. They'll then scoot you for really a very, very small price for maybe one or two U.S. dollars or one or two British pounds. They get you from the train or bus station to your hotel of choice. As you can see, right away, from entering at the airport you'll be catching a train or a bus into the city or the town center or to the bus station, and then moving on from there. As I've said, a lot of it is still French orientated so, yes, if you don't know any French then you're having to...it's just like traveling through Europe, you're going to have to stand there and try to decipher a few words. It's still very, very possible. It's not as if you're stuck out in the middle of Arabia and only having to read squiggly lines and try to speak Arabic. You still can, if you have some traveling still very easily travel around Morocco on public transport. You mentioned a hire car.
David: How good are getting at speaking Arabic.
Darren: Yes, I'm starting to get a little bit of a guttural sound to my Arabic. I have been told that I do pronounce the words well, but as everyone knows, there is difference between pronouncing the words and sounding like you speak the language and then someone replying to you in that language very quickly. All of a sudden...
David: Right. Right. Because they are so you understand.
Darren: Yes. I've got to the stage that I can understand a bit of Moroccan Arabic. You mentioned Arabic. There is a local dialect in Morocco. Modern standard Arabic - MSA - which is spoken throughout the Arabic world, is used in the newspapers and then on the television and news broadcast.
But there is a Moroccan Arabic, which is spoken in Morocco and just some slight differences and in the book I've really made an effort. A young linguistics student that I met a few times back now in Essaouira, he helped me with the language in the book because I really wanted to put some viable language in there which is going to get you through and yeah, there are just some slight changes from Arabic to Moroccan Arabic.
All I say is I say in the book just try to speak the language, just like anywhere. Try to speak the language and you're straightaway on side with the Moroccans. Even though when you first converse with Moroccans, because you are western looking, a lot of Moroccans will immediately revert to French to speak to you. Then it's up to how much you have studied as to whether you can say in French or Moroccan Arabic or in English saying I'm actually English speaking and let's see how we can go then.
But David you did mention hire car there. I finally just recently got to the point I would drive myself in Morocco. Again, in the book I mention the amount of road fatalities in Morocco is devastating. For such a laid back culture of people, which does seem to happen in a lot of developing world, once you get them behind the wheel of a car they are seems to be no common sense at all.
And it can be quite disturbing driving in Morocco, just with the way the people overtake and nighttime driving and that sort of thing. If you are a confident driver you can... I would say that if you are a confident and aggressive driver, even though you have to drive passively there to get through one day to the other, but to have the confidence to beep the horn and dodge right through, then it actually makes Morocco even more compact to be able to drive on your own rather than rely on public transport.
But definitely for the first time traveler, I really wouldn't recommend it. It's just adding a stress to the trip, that with the standard of public transporting in the country you really don't have to put yourself through first off.
David: What sort of cultural immersions can people, you know, throw themselves in. I know there's an Arabic culture, the Berber culture, there are French, Spanish influences. What should people do to prepare themselves to do... to do Morocco, basically. You know, how do they...
Darren: Yep. I understand what you are asking. It's actually also one of the first questions people ask. How do I dress? What do I say? What I say to everyone is that we're not talking Iraq here. The Moroccans, since time millennia, have actually been invaded and have had other cultures on their shores.
They are not ignorant to the western world. And daily the majority of Moroccans will be at least seen, if not coming into contact with some type of Western traveler. As I've said, it was a French colony from 1912 to 1956, which is not that long ago. The French still come there in droves to travel the country because they can just speak their normal language, speak French, and get by no problem whatsoever in the country.
So for the greater part of anyone's travels around Morocco, you're dealing with Moroccans that definitely, there isn't that huge culture shock of kids running away scared of seeing the white person walking around the corner or something like that.
Having said that, at times I am absolutely aghast with the lack of knowledge that some Western travelers of the country that they're in, Morocco. We are talking an Islamic kingdom here. The king is considered the commander to the faithful. He's king of the country but he's also, for want of a better description, king of Islam. He's in charge of Islam in the country as well. 99% of the country is in some shape or form Islamic.
I say some shape or form because the Berbers, in difference to the Arabs who only came with the invasion of Islam in the 700s. Before that, the indigenous people, the Berbers of Morocco had their own animist religions and dealt in separate gods, and spirits and saints and that sort of thing. To this day, your dedicated, full on Berber still tweaks the religion of Islam to their own liking.
But yes, to put people into a box, 99% of the country do follow Islam. So there has to be - I've written a lot about it in the book - there has to be some idea of the workings of Islam to fully take in Morocco. To walk around Morocco in a singlet top and short shorts and to try to drink alcohol on the streets or something like that, you're really not going to enjoy your tour, your holiday because you are going to cause offense to someone somewhere along the way.
David: Right. I think that's good advice for any traveler to any destination as well.
David: You probably should know where you're going and what your surroundings are and what are considered good manners. Because you are a visitor. You can't take your own culture somewhere else and force it on people because basically that's just bad math.
Darren: Yeah. You know, David, I am constantly inspired by the Moroccans for their tolerance. I have seen travelers that really are showing no respect in their dress and in their manners. And the Moroccans, they'll just stand there and smile and take it. They're showing the good manners by not making a scene about someone else's culture. Even though they're in their own country and would have almost every right to at least bring that up and say, "Look, excuse me, but you are near our local mosque here and you are showing offense by doing what you're doing."
I don't want to dwell on it too much, because there is that tolerance. So it's not that everyone should be scared and be coming in big black cloaks and covering their faces or whatever when they come to Morocco. You can just dress respectfully and that really is quite simple. I've walked around Morocco lots of times in just normal shorts.
Unfortunately, it is the way that the women do seem to be judged a lot more than the men. But I still see men walking around in sport shorts and shirts and that sort of thing. Young Moroccans are very more aware of the dress of Western nations, but even then you'll see your young men wearing jeans with perhaps a basketball thing or football thing or something like that or some sort of sport shirt. But in general, I tell the gents to leave their sports equipment for the sports field. When you are on the beach, you want to play a game of soccer or football with the locals on the beach, that's where that sort of wear is best left.
When you are out on the street, you can wear respectful shorts or jeans and just a t-shirt or a normal polo shirt or something like that. There are no problems with that, and definitely in July and August when it is really, really hot that's the most you do want to wear to show respect without being totally uncomfortable.
And, that goes across to the women. I say to every girl, bring along a sarong or something similar like that and just have that in your bag the whole time. You can, perhaps, wear your hiking shorts, you know, your long shorts or a nice hiking skirt or something like that. Your short tops are only going to cause you some sort of grief along the way with gentlemen who have been segregated because of their religion and culture and who are looking at the western woman as just a little loose or something like that. Just put on a nice top, you know nice sleeved top or something like that.
But just have that sarong there. You might at some point in your travels be feeling uncomfortable, feeling that you are being looked at or that you suddenly think, oh my I'm dressed inappropriately here. You can put that sarong around your waist, and you've got a nice ankle length skirt or put it over your shoulders and you've got a nice covered shawl or something like that.
David: Hide the skin when it's necessary.
Darren: When necessary. As I said, I don't like to dwell on it too much, but as a general rule of thumb, your shoulders and your knees - try to cover up between those two points. You'll do pretty well most of the way.
David: Right. That's a rule that doesn't even necessarily apply to Morocco specifically but to any country. If you're traveling in Italy and you're going into a church, a Christian church, then you should dress appropriately as well. That's actually a great idea as a travel tip to just throw a sarong into a bag and have it to pull out if you need to cover yourselves and be appropriate.
Darren: Instant piece of clothing to cover you.
David: It's unfortunate that women are put in that category, but in another sense they're very lucky that they can very quickly change their attire by having to open a bag like that. Men aren't so lucky.
Darren: In July or August to be walking around in jeans and, at least, a short-sleeved shirt can still be quite uncomfortable. It can be quite hot, and for some guys it's like, gees I wish I could just be like I am at home and just walk around in my shorts and my sandals or flip flops and that sort of thing. Again, you can't if you've got someone dear about Morocco, you'd realize that somewhere along the way you are going to cause offense to someone somewhere.
David: Sure. Morocco also has beach towns where you can surf and swim and you're not saying that it's so conservative that one must be covered at all times.
Darren: Absolutely. As I said, it's not Iraq. It's not even Egypt in that regard where you wear, especially women, are expected to swim fully clothed in the ocean even though you will see some local Moroccan girls doing that. But the coast because it has been exposed to, especially Europe, for such a long time - it is the coast that some travelers think, hang on, this isn't the Morocco I was thinking about because it is so, so Europeanized, cosmopolitan, that sort of thing.
At some of the beaches along the coast you will actually see young Moroccan girls out there surfing in a wet suit, out there with the boys having a surf. They're very with it and very modern and wearing their board shorts and bikini tops, but up to a certain age. And that's the same way with all of Morocco.
Up to a certain age, girls are encouraged to just be girls and have fun. But a lot of girls feel the cultural pressure when they're reaching the mid to late teenage years, that they should start becoming a bit more conservative. Only because society sort of demands it of them, that she's now coming into marriage age and should start acting like it. That sort of thing.
So for female Western travelers, that's not expected of them. And so yes, you're moving on to the coastal resorts there of Rabat and Casablanca is on the beach there and Essaouira, that yeah, you can just be on the beach and just be in your normal beach wear like anywhere in the world.
David: Maybe you can't answer this, but what's your favorite part of the country?
Darren: [laughs] Oh, yes, that question.
David: Yeah, exactly.
Darren: Yeah, it really depends on what time of the year it is. As I've said, July and August can be excruciatingly hot, so perhaps the Saharan sands aren't as exotic and alluring as what they can be at other times.
But they also have the northern hemisphere winter, very much so. To be on the coast, I've been there researching a book during November and December and geez, I was cold. 24 hours a day I was cold. I just couldn't get warm. So that affects your area. I think just choose your spots. So in summertime, definitely Essaouira is right up there. It's becoming one of the spots of Europe to be for summer.
David: It's actually one of our picks for places to go in 2008.
Darren: It is, yes it is undoubtedly and it should be. At wintertime, maybe the south of Morocco, south of the Atlas mountains, south of Essaouira. You're in the Antiatlas Mountains there, the small mountain range that begins right over on the far west coast. You can get some glorious days in the northern hemisphere winter there. Some really nice clear, sunny days and some crisp, clear nights where the stars are just a blanket, a feeling of stars there.
And also up into the mountains. You can ski. You can snow ski in Morocco. There's a resort called Oukaimeden, again only about an hour's drive out of Marrakech, with ski lifts and ski chains and everything. What better bragging rights than to say that you've skied in Africa?
David: I think that would surprise people to realize that. There's sort of this general perception of Africa as hot and dry. Which is true for some parts, but not the entire continent.
Darren: It's fantastic. Moroccans are known for their entrepreneurship, that's for sure. A lot of Moroccans are aware of tourism and what they can get out of it. And the new king, King Mohamed the Sixth has actually pinpointed tourism as one of the major areas that can uplift his country.
We're talking about a very, very literate country. The education level is very high, but the employment level is very low. You've got a lot of teenagers and twenty somethings just hanging around with nothing to do or working as writers in coffee shops, that sort of thing.
But I was talking about the skiing and the ski resorts. Let's not get ourselves clouded and start thinking about the French Alps or the Canadian Rockies or anything like that. It's a working ski resort, but in true entrepreneurial spirit, you'll have all sorts of second hand ski boots and ski gear.
You'll have to haggle over the price of how much to pay. And if the lift's not working or if you want to go up some other slope, there will be a gentleman there in his hooded jellaba and his pointy Moroccan slippers, with his ever-faithful donkey to carry the goods up to the top there for you. At a reasonable and agreed to and bartered price, of course.
David: Right. That's a good point you bring up there, too. It would be an agreed upon price. I think that haggling is a tradition in the country. How does one navigate a souk and how do you... what are the formalities for haggling.
Darren: Yes, it's generally quite foreign to westerners, isn't it? And quite uncomfortable for a lot of people. Some people are actually put off by it, thinking, look I just wish they would tell me the price that they want and put a price tag on it almost. And it does get a few people down.
I've mentioned it in the book, especially a lot of the major cities, but some of the smaller towns as well. There is a chain of government controlled artisanal centers called the Centre Artisanal. And let alone just a great place to go look at crafts and arts and crafts being made. The artisans, a lot of artisans, are trained there so you can walk through there. The showroom at the front and the back and see the crafts being made.
Let's face it Moroccan crafts, the history of Moroccan crafts and the reputation of Moroccan crafts, is world-renowned. And right so. To see these people being taught, both men and women in the ancient crafts of weaving carpets and carving wood, of painting mosaic tiles, it's really great to see. As I said, these Centre Artisanals have showroom at the front and the prices generally are fixed.
I mean, in Morocco it's hard to say that the price is fixed even if there is a price tag on it. Sure, you can haggle for it and get a lower price but at the very least it's a great place to go, first off to see the craft being made, but also to see the quality, the quality that you should look for and there is a price tag on these. So at the very least, that is the maximum you should be paying for that item.
So that does seem to help a lot of people to get an idea of what at least a price that they should stop at, a feeling of the price. To then go into the souk, souk being the Arabic word for market and to just browse, to have a good eye, an educated eye, and to then go in there and the first question you will be asked is what do you want to pay. There is never a price that the gentleman will start at. He will ask what you want to pay.
And yes, if we have to go by some rules, you need to have done some research either with your bank account and/or the craft that you are looking for, to know what price you can afford and what you will pay for the product.
So with that price in mind, that's your Everest, that's where you want to get to.
[Talking at the same time]
David: Don't give that figure first.
Darren: Yeah, you would never give that figure, because you want to bartering. You are in the process of bartering, which has gone down through centuries and centuries, so the point of bartering is to get to the price, not start with a price. So a rule of thumb is to begin at a third.
Having said that, I am being more realistic nowadays with advice and the Moroccans are switched on and to start at a third, they almost scoff at that. I prefer to begin at half of the price and really, you have to want the product, the piece. Don't just go into it just for the fun, because you are wasting the storekeeper's time and actually causing a bit of bad karma between storekeepers and travelers.
Getting there, you want the product, think of your price, begin at half of that price, and enjoy the process. Don't make it a drama. Don't make it something negative, which even if you then end up buying the product, you are going to have an non-positive, a negative memory of that. Get in there and enjoy it. Drop your concerns, drop your worries. You got an idea of how much you are going to pay, you can always walk away. You are not held there and told to pay the price, so remember that. Relax, sit down, enjoy the cup of mint tea that you'll be offered, enjoy the banter, enjoy the walking aways and the hands thrown up in disgust and the eyes looking at the sky.
David: I was going to say, the walking away, it's part of the dance.
Darren: It's part of the dance, enjoy it. I really try to tell everyone that. Enjoy it; don't be afraid of it. Don't make it a negative happening, a negative experience, a negative memory of the piece. You want that piece. You can walk away if it's too expensive. Get in there and enjoy it. Enjoy the process, enjoy the banter, enjoy the mint teas and hopefully walk out of there thinking, "Fantastic, look what I've got. Look what I earned. This piece that I can..." You can make the story as big and grand as you want when you get back home and tell everybody how great a barterer you are. Enjoy it.
David: Right, exactly. What are some of the things that people typically buy when they're in Morocco? I'm assuming rugs as one of the top items that they would want to look into.
Darren: Yeah. As I said, Moroccan craftsmen and so, therefore, their crafts are amazingly brilliant. A lot of the craft is still done in the ancient way which is the complete attraction of wanting to buy that product rather than going into a supermarket and getting it off the shelf. Through the ages the Moroccan craftsmen through the influences that have been in the country, both Berber and Arabic, there's a huge array of crafts starting from Aigan through to Zint. Antiques, there's some great antiques that if you can afford them and get them packaged. Some antique brass lamps, antique carpets, antique bowls, ceramic bowls all that sort of thing. They're not cheap, but what antiques are?
Going through to your actual craftsmen, yes, your Moroccan carpets, your rugs. There's two types and most people seem to go for one of the two. Remember in Morocco there is Arab and Berber and so, yes, your Bedouin Arab carpets are more of your Arabic designs that unfortunately seem to get copied and get sold in Kmarts and every supermarket around the world for people, full valued and in conscience. That doesn't seem to be the design that a lot of people go for. The Berber designs are a much more earthier design, geometric designs that have been passed down through the ages. Quite often they are the shapes of the tattoos that Berber tribes' women have put on their faces to say where they are from. Remembering it's the women that make the carpets. The men sell them, the women make them.
It's an industry, David, in Morocco...carpets. They are a currency in themselves so there is no general price that you can go for. It's to do with quality. They're all handmade. It can take one month, two months, three months to make a carpet. They can be stitched and double stitched and have fifteen thousand stitches per square meter and all sorts of things.
There's a guide in the book for people to read. It's specifically Marrakech because that seems to be where a lot of people wish to purchase their carpets and there is a really good supply there. Not that any carpets are made in Marrakech. They're all made up in the mountains and out in the desert regions by the Berber women. My advice if people are doing a bit of travel is actually to look out there. When they are going through the mountains and they're going through the little hot, dusty towns out from the edge of the desert, pop your head into some shops if you can see some carpets. You may very well get the bargain of a lifetime because you are cutting out that 30 percent commission that the storekeeper in Marrakech will be adding onto the product.
David: Do some carpet makers, do they achieve some kind of elevated status because their craftsmanship is so fantastic compared to others?
Darren: As I said, it is the females who make the carpets. It is a traditional occupation of the women. It is a form of economic sustainability and independence for the women of a lot of villages. The man is normally dealing in business and out on the farm, or something like that. The women, it is both a social and economic factor in their lives. They get to chat to each other during the day, while they work... whinge about their husbands and talk about their kids and everything in the privacy of the room that they are working in. But also, yes, they then sell those carpets to whoever, to the supplier, the wholesaler, whatever, just like normal business. So, yes, it's a position certainly within the village.
I don't think you are held... It's not that they are held up in high regard, it's that it is just an everyday form of independence for women in villages, which normally are conservative in nature, both religiously and customs-wise. So yes, it's just a great thing that these women get to have some time on their own and become a little bit economically independent out of it.
David: Well, Darren, I want to say thank you for talking with me today. This is fantastic. Honestly, I have 20 more questions written down but.... I guess we could continue this again in another podcast.
David: Thank you. Your first edition guide comes out I believe in March of this year.
Darren: March I believe. Yes. The first edition of "Frommer's Morocco."
David: Yes, so I'm hoping that our discussion and your salient points really encourage people to buy the guide and head off to Morocco. If anybody has questions or comments they can write in to Editor@frommermedia.com as well and I can pass those comments on to you and maybe get some answers back.
Darren: Yes. Thanks, of course. The great format of Frommer's is where the book begins and immediately spells out some recommended itineraries, some "best ofs," best villages, best places to shop, the best things to buy. You immediately get into those things at the beginning of the book.
It's great it's just hopefully the same way that I've spoken now, it just gets you into Morocco, that this is a place I can actually go to. This is not some scary part of the world, where I've got to be covered up and I'm all on my own. This is a really and truly vibrant part of North Africa and almost some times you think southern Europe.
It's a Mediterranean country. It's on the Atlantic but also on the Mediterranean. This is a great place to go see a people, who still for all intents and purposes with all of the modern influences that they have are still well and truly Moroccan. They are a culture of their own and that's what you go there to see. You go there to see these Moroccans living their life and showing how strong a culture they have in today's world.
David: It sounds fantastic. Thanks so much.
Darren: David my pleasure. [Foreign language] Thank you.
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