Guided Through Marrakech - My Family Travels

One celebrated guide shares his experience of walking visitors through the lanes and souks of Marrakech, a kasbah in Morocco.

Morocco is one of the most engaging and satisfying family destinations we know. The country’s timeless culture, enduring traditions, and stylish French manners combine for a stunning travel experience. To children, Morocco offers a land of contrasts.

Refined meals may be eaten with hands by kids propped up on silk cushions. Moroccan children in leggings or blue jeans are walked to school by veiled moms in caftans and babouches slippers. Avenues are crowded with Mercedes, horse-drawn carts, and the occasional camel. Your kids will see Moroccan kids spending their days weaving rugs, hammering copper tajines (couscous pots), or reverently studying the Q’uran in centuries-old medrassah (Islamic schools). In addition, the Arabs’ deep reverence for children and the warm welcome shown to strangers make all ages feel at home.

Visitors to exotic Morocco will find a guide is essential to understanding its history and culture. Therefore, we asked celebrated guide A. Bouskri Mohamed to share the insights he’s gained from more than 20 years of leading visitors around the country, and in particular, our favorite kasbah of Marrakech. – Excerpt from Toddling through Morocco on the Family Travel Forum

“As a guide, I really have to know this country to share my love for it. Tourists can only be convinced if you are convincing, and the only way you can be is to really know it well. Marrakech has long been a crossroads. Its name, from the ancient Berber ‘moor kush’, meant ‘run quick’ because African caravans were often attacked by highwaymen. Now Marrakech is becoming the crossroads of the world.

I work a lot with clients from the Hotel la Mamounia. The French started the hotel within a sultan’s garden in 1922, and it is considered one of the top five hotels in the world. Over time, La Mamounia has received a lot of celebrities. And many decisions that had a great impact on history were probably made around the swimming pool. I believe that hotel has become the crossroads of the crossroads of the world.

I find Americans are very interested in Morocco once they land here. They are surprised by the culture, architecture, music, food, and diversity of scenery. This country has dealt with various peoples for thousands of years. We’re an African country, an Arab one, and close to Spain and all of Europe, and the Moroccans have accepted these differences. You see on one side of Jemaa El Fna [the main square] is the Koutoubia Mosque, one of the most important mosques of Islam, and very close to it is the Club Med.

Many people of non-American nature are afraid to ask questions because they’re afraid they’ll be considered dumb questions. I’m very surprised by how the Americans dare to ask–it’s a wonderful thing. As we say in Arabic, “A good question is half of knowledge.”

I have guided Moroccans from overseas who came looking for a good belly dancer to take back to restaurants such as the Armounia in San Francisco, or the Restaurant Marrakesh in Las Vegas. My friend came from the Moroccan Pavilion at EPCOT looking for a water man, a belly dancer, a group of musicians, costumes, and other things. I found he wanted to be as authentic as possible, and the little Moroccan village in Florida is beautiful.

I’ve guided French actors like Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Catherine Deneuve. Tom Cruise and his wife, Nicole Kidman, were here. The kids in the médina smiled and tried to shake hands, but very civilisedly, not running after him at all. Even for some tourists who pass by the souks [markets], their trip is more worthwhile because they met a celebrity, had a photo with him, and shook his hand.

I’ve known many heads of state from Europe, Africa, and the Arab World and this enriching human dimension is one of the greatest things my job has. I had the honor and great pleasure of guiding Presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan, and Mrs. Bush. They were usually busier enjoying Morocco than speaking politics. Some of them surprised me by how talented they were at bargaining. Of course, to be a diplomat you should start by being a good bargainer.

I can’t help shopping when you come to Morocco. It’s all magic, with the souks that make you get into the game and buy. Bargaining adds another charm to the purchase. The souk is not an anonymous supermarket. Merchants like to sit down and chat with you and have a mint tea. That’s the way business is done.

Many visitors buy large quantities of carpets, furniture, cedar wood, painted ceilings, sometimes even jewelry, or fine hand-woven materials. Thanks to God there are planes and shipping, and we also have flying carpets! All you have to do is put the carpets on the plane, and they fly!

Sometimes tourists expect me to bargain for them. You can give advice about quality if they ask, but it’s better not to with people’s choices or influence their taste. And it’s impossible for any guide to know the price of everything. Somebody who pretends to do so is no friend.”

Reservations to sightsee with A. Bouskri Mohamed can be made through the Hotel La Mamounia, Marrakech, 212/4/44.89.81, fax 212/4/44.49.40; or through his home, 212/4/30.42.40.

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