The Road to Morocco

Morocco Hotel owners traverse the labyrinth of a busy marketplace

Elena Ray

People and donkeys fill the narrow alleys and winding pathways through Morocco’s busy marketplaces, known as souks. When El Morocco Inn & Spa owner's Bruce Abney and John Aguilar visited two-and-a-half years ago, they paid a guide $50 to take them through the labyrinth of spice, fabric, food, crafts, and other wares.

“[The guides] treat you like you are their best friend,” Aguilar says. “Then suddenly the guide disappears. There is a moment when they let you become petrified, and then another guide comes along and says [the first guide] had to go. Then several guides come offering to lead you out.” The owners of El Morocco Inn & Spa ended up paying a second guide in a practice they now understand is part of the Moroccan culture.

They learned another shopping lesson closer to home — this one on the art of negotiating.

“John and I went to Los Angeles and met with this Moroccan importer,” Abney says. “He had in the back this sort of obscure set of doors. We were not the average buyer. … When we found [the doors], he immediately became enthralled that we were enthralled with something much more authentic [than what other customers bought]. He brought out Moroccan tea, which is like syrup. We were there three hours. He brought out his wife and children. You have a real exchange. By the end of those three hours, we knew everything about him, and he knew everything about us. He was really teaching me how to negotiate.”

When Abney made a move to pay for the doors and leave, the importer said, “Oh, no, my friend, I think we can do better.” Abney admits he still paid a dear price for the doors, which came from a house in Morocco and now lead to a storage area off the inn’s entryway.

This fall, Abney and Aguilar are heading back to Morocco for their third visit, and Abney says this time they’ll hire a guide from the five-star hotel on the outskirts of Casablanca where they are staying to ensure they don’t get abandoned in a souk. But, he adds, he is not necessarily going to shop or vacation as much as “to become eyes and ears for future embellishments” for the inn. He also wants to visit riads that are open as B&Bs and see how Moroccans use brass trays without scratching the furniture.

To read about the El Morocco Inn & Spa in Desert Hot Springs, click here.


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