A successful negotiation in Tetouan’s medina – Morocco

23 May

End up negotiating anything in Tetouan.

The road from Tangier to Ceuta followed the Mediterranean coast and winded through the hills that opened to the sea shore. The region was full of vegetation, green hills and even forests. It had nothing of the dryness and aridity in southern Morocco.

Heavy, grey clouds of storm were coming from the sea, so I gave up going to Ceuta – the Spanish enclave on a small peninsula of the African continent in the Mediterranean. It would have taken me a long time to leave the car at the border with Spain, then walk or take various means of transport to the Ceuta’s city center. I would have become wet through. At the same time, I didn’t know where to spend the night, so I preferred to head to Tetouan – with no other plans.

Tetouan: Bab Tut - the entrance gate of the old medina

Tetouan: Bab Tut – the entrance gate of the old medina

Sitting at the foot of the Rif Mountains, Tetouan was a typical town in northern Morocco. It had a classic old medina with white houses, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It also featured a new Spanish quarter, called Ensanche – ‘extension’, with Spanish-Moorish architecture dating to the Spanish protectorate times (1912-56). Over the centuries, the city served as a connecting between Morocco and Andalusia. Andalusian refugees rebuilt the city in the 15th century.

In Tetouan, I had to drive around the old town for a while until I found a side street with parking lots. Once could enter to the medina through Bab Tout. All of a sudden, stalls full of fruits, vegetables and bakery products packed the street. Hundreds of other merchandise stores in Souq Fuqui assaulted interested people. Behind a stall, one could see the blood of the recently slaughtered chickens, whose necks hanged – now dead, on the stalls. Hundreds of vegetables mixed into a lively mosaic, and colorful spices overflowed out of huge sacks.

Tetouan: Place Hassan II - looking toward the Royal Palace

Tetouan: Place Hassan II – looking toward the Royal Palace

I was still tired after the last two sleepless nights. I was so sleepy that I barely navigated through the tangled medina using the small map of Lonely Planet. In Morocco, however, you could saved right away. While I was photographing some old arches, a so-called crafts school teacher approached me and suddenly he had to go exactly where I wanted. Ahmed seemed kind and nice. As I was tired, I agreed to go with him to the crafts school.

I tried to keep up with my new friend, who walked ahead of me pretty quickly and from time to time, he checked to see if he didn’t loose me. We dived into the veritable labyrinth of the medina, where I wouldn’t have succeeded even with the most perfect map in the world. On the narrow alleys in the medina, the GPS didn’t have enough signal anyway. Sometimes, I felt lucky that the Universe sent me a savior.

The medina in Tetouan was one of the largest in Morocco after Fes. The chaos of streets and alleys was at its peak. We passed mosques, markets full of shops with merchandise. Then, we sneaked under some arches and dead ends, that made me wonder whether someone would attack me there. All of a sudden, we entered an Andalusian house and Ahmed told me we arrived at the crafts school.

Tetouan: Gouarna area in the old medina

Tetouan: Gouarna area in the old medina

I asked Ahmed to guide me through the crafts school. We went to first floor, where it was supposed to be a school, but which was apparently closed, all of a sudden. The Andalusian house was 200 years old and it had authentic architecture – an inner courtyard on the ground floor paved with genuine, colorful mosaics and decorative stuccoes. From the rooftop, one could see the kasbah at the other edge of the medina. The medina was indeed very large and difficult to navigate, so Ahmed took advantage and offered to take me to the kasbah. I was too tired to go there, though.

On the ground floor of the Andalusian house, a Moroccan from the Afailal clan had an herbal pharmacy. He was happy to have a client and for 15 minutes, explained to me the whole story of his wonderful products. Menthol for asthma, cardamom, jasmine and orange oil. Musk and amber perfumes, massage oils, very cheap saffron, rose products, spices, and ginseng infusions. He had a lot of patience as he offered me to smell all the ointments and oils, while he was listing all their unsuspected benefits. I didn’t want to buy? No! That moment, I figured out where and why Ahmed wanted to bring me there. Another fake guide, it finally hit me!

At the upper floors of the house, there was a shop with everything: kaftans, leather slippers, inlaid wooden boxes, enormous Berber carpets. I managed to explain them to not show me carpets, but when they showed the silk and wool bed spreads, they caught my attention right away. The seller and my fake guide immediately noticed that. The seller said exorbitant prices, while Ahmed was whispering the correct price to me. The price seemed small for such a big cover bed, so Ahmed must have really cared about me.

Tetouan: panoramic view of the old medina

Tetouan: panoramic view of the old medina

The negotiation process began. I repeatedly said ridiculous low prices. The seller sat down and thought holding his head in his hands whether he could do something that awful and drop the price so much. Eventually, he sold me a huge blue bedspread, very beautiful, for 30 euros. Later in Fes, I would negotiate much more for such a price, so the deal in Tetouan was really good.

After we left the so-called crafts school, I made the mistake to tell Ahmed I was tired and hungry. He accompanied me to a riad where the menu of the day cost a lot, 110 dirhams. I told them I wouldn’t pay more than 50 dirhams for it. They realized I knew the local prices, but the owner of the riad didn’t accept to cook me for less money, especially that I would have been their only customer and she had to cook only for me.

Tetouan: Andalucian house - the carpet room

Tetouan: Andalucian house – the carpet room

Ahmed took me instead to a typical Moroccan eatery, where they had huge chicken couscous with raisins (40 dirhams), a much more reasonable price. Ahmed made sure I was fine and before he left, I gave him 20 dirhams. Give me more, give me more, he insisted. I told him he would get anyway a commission from the crafts school where I had bought a bedspread. No, no, they don’t give a commission, it wasn’t about that, he complained. I know better, I told him and waved him away without giving him anything else.

After lunch, I left the medina, fed up with fake guides and Moroccans taking advantage of me. I was tired of being a tourist. However, these guides were indispensable in the medina. You got lost in the chaotic alleys anyway, and they knew that.

On the way to my car, I strolled through the Spanish Quarter (Ensanche), a neighborhood with wide boulevards, flanked by white buildings of Spanish colonial architecture with Art Deco ornaments. In the Ensanche, navigation was easy: all streets led to Moulay Square, a circular square with a huge roundabout, around which the perimetral buildings, including a church, curved round.

Tetouan: the Ensanche - av. Mohammed V (white Spanish colonial architecture with art-deco elements)

Tetouan: the Ensanche – av. Mohammed V (white Spanish colonial architecture with art-deco elements)

The Spanish Quarter was totally different from the old medina: cleaner streets, classic buildings, covered with bright white plaster, with wrought iron balconies, and dark green shutters. Colonial buildings endlessly lined up along the streets, and created an European atmosphere, well-ordered, neatly organized, even more stylish and more fashionable.

I didn’t want to end up in a filthy hotel room at random. Annoyed that fake guides had tricked me again, I suddenly decided to go to Chefchaouen, which had a camping ground. At the campsite, I didn’t need a reservation and I could sleep in my tent.

On the road from Tetouan to Chefchaouen: view over the Rif mountains

On the road from Tetouan to Chefchaouen: view over the Rif mountains

The road to Chefchaouen crossed a part of the Rif Mountains, passed a small dam, then snaked toward the Blue City of Morocco – Chefchaouen. I had a hard time finding the camping ground in Chefchaoeun, as there were no road signs to ease navigation. I asked locals and they indicated me to go somewhere uphill. Several campervans camped in Camping Azilane. They didn’t have a special place to pitch your tents, so I set up my tent on a place with soft earth, where I could easily use the pegs. I had the only tent in the whole camping site. Only German or French caravans who came over the Gibraltar stayed there.

If you want to read more about my trip through Morocco, here are all my Travel Diaries from Morocco (x21).

Have you been to Tetouan or plan to go there? Leave a comment below this post and tell me what you liked in Morocco.

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