It's the day before this site will launch, and I'm reminiscing about the trip to Morocco that made this shop a reality.
I thought it would be fun to let you guys in on the behind the scenes: traveling across the world, where we stayed, what we did, and the process behind buying for a shop.
THE FLIGHT & PRE-TRIP PLANNING
I tend to be somewhat of a last minute traveler. It isn't out of the ordinary for me to purchase tickets and make reservations just a few weeks before a trip. We traveled to Morocco in late May, so I tracked flights during April and purchased early May when prices dropped.
From where we are in Texas, the trip to Morocco is not the most direct or easy place to get to. Leaving from San Antonio or Austin, the itinerary will typically take you through a larger city (usually Atlanta, New York, or Dallas), then to a larger international city (such as Madrid, Paris, London, or Lisbon), THEN FINALLY to Marrakech.
One thing I did before leaving on the trip was make a spreadsheet of everything I wanted to buy, what I wanted to pay, and what quantities I needed. Although it isn't fool proof, doing this definitely helped me stay on track with my buying goals and budget.
Let me tell you, Marrakech Menara Airport is one of the most beautiful I've ever been to. Stepping foot into it after almost 24 hours of travel was like a little piece of heaven.
We immediately walked outside to grab a cab. (Here's a tip: ALWAYS negotiate cab fare before getting into the cab.) Nervous excitement was building as we approached the rose colored medina walls, and instantly there we were, right in the middle of the chaos. As soon as we got out of the cab, we were immediately swarmed.
"Where are you going?"
"I can show you around. Come with me!"
"Which riad are you going to??"
Mopeds buzzed by. A mix of tourists and locals were walking down pathways were barely 8 feet wide. We were in the middle of it. Welcome to Morocco.
Possibly my best piece of advice: ditch the hotel and opt to stay in a riad. Riads are cozy guest homes that are similar to a Bed and Breakfast. They have a limited number of rooms that usually all branch off a central courtyard. They can be extremely reasonable in price when compared to a hotel (I'm talking less than $100 a night.)
We stayed at a few different ones during this past trip, our favorites being Riad Houma, Be Marrakech, and Riad Baladin.
A DAY IN THE LIFE
Each day in Morocco started more or less the same: wake up, go to the terrace at the Riad for some fresh squeezed orange juice and breakfast, and hit the Medina (city) for some serious shopping.
People may think it's as easy to just walk around and shop all day. Don't get me wrong - it is definitely a dream job! It is also extremely exhausting as you will learn below.
The medina and souks are like one big maze. It is all walking inside the Medina, and you will likely get lost many times. For us it was usually 5-7 miles a day on our feet.
Getting lost is part of the fun, but also be aware some local "guides" will come up to you and try to offer you directions or lead you to their friend's shop in exchange for a tip. If you would not like their assistance, just say no politely and keep walking. Some people find this to be overbearing, but it is to be expected.
YOU VISITED DURING RAMADAN? SAY WHAT??
We visited during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, so the environment is a little different during this time than it normally is. It is month of fasting for the locals (from food AND water) from sun up to sun down. We found that there was instantly less tourists when Ramadan started. And although I've heard mixed reviews, our experience was good - it seemed more quiet and peaceful during the day and more lively at night. Some shops and restaurants change their hours during Ramadan. At sunset many shops closed so the locals could break the fast, but this didn't inconvenience us at all.
THE RUG BUYING PROCESS
Ahh, negotiating! Most people either love it or hate it, but to be in the this type of work, you really need to love it. And be pretty damn good at it. Or else you will get taken for a ride. Moroccans are some of the best salesmen in the world. As I often say, they can sell ice to an eskimo.
In most cases, buying goods in Morocco is not like shopping in the USA. It's not easy or quick. One of the days on our trip we were in one carpet shop for over 5 hours! It's a lot of back and forth and haggling. You like a rug, they give you the price. You come in much lower. They laugh at you. They give you an adjusted price that is a little lower than their original. You drink mint tea together. You go back and forth until you agree on a price. It's a long process.
We looked through thousands of rugs during our time in Morocco. Most of them are no's. Some are maybe's. And there's a few that you see instantly and it's a YES I MUST GO HOME WITH IT. But of course you can't let the seller know this. You just say "Ehhh, it's a maybe". Gotta keep that poker face or else more likely than not you will lose on the deal.
KNOWING WHAT YOU ARE BUYING
Another important thing is to be able to spot fakes. Especially with the rugs, there are vendors that claim an item is extremely old or rare, but it is not true. There are rug vendors that will lay rugs in the sun to fade them so they look older than what they are. Knowing general rug weaving techniques will help you spot the rug that is machine made and not made by hand. Also, if you blot a rug with water and it bleeds, that is a sign it is not made with natural dyes as these are colorfast.
There are also so many tribes that weave rugs in Morocco. Each tribe has a distinct look and are known for different designs/patterns, weaving styles, pile heights, etc. It helps to have background knowledge of this as well as what items sell for before going on a buying trip.
WHAT MOROCCO IS REALLY LIKE
You see all these dreamy pictures up on Instagram and Pinterest, and yes, there is so much beauty and inspiration to be found in this beautiful country. It is also important to know that you will likely be giving up some basic technologies and modern day luxuries you tend to take for granted in your everyday life.
Life moves slow in Morocco. Transportation isn't as easy or direct. There are many cases extreme poverty right in front of your eyes. Plenty of hungry cats and dogs are roaming the streets. It definitely tugs at your heart.
I often felt like I took a step back in time when in Morocco (in comparison to the US). In my opinion this simple way of life adds to the charm and enchantment. I've found most people are extremely friendly and accommodating. Although sometimes hectic, I never felt unsafe or in any danger. I would go back in a heartbeat, and look forward to the next time I have the opportunity to again.