Had Dra is one of the largest markets in Morocco. Animals, agricultural produce and manufactured products have been traded there for decades, probably centuries. Essaouira was once the port which served Timbuktu, in modern-day Mali – passing the riches of the camel trains out to the world and exchanging them for goods from European traders. Not so long ago, we can imagine, slaves would have been traded at Had Dra – 40km inland and on the road to Marrakech.
To catch the best of the action, an early departure is called for. For a mere 5dh (37p), one can flag down one of the many clapped out buses leaving Essaouira’s bus station first thing and hunker down for another hour’s sleep in the cramped seats among a sea of men with tartan shopping bags. I was almost the only woman on the bus! Obviously, I thought, shopping at Had Dra was a very macho pursuit!
On arrival, we headed over to the far side of the market to the livestock area. At 8am, we had
already missed the camels – we just saw a guy lead off the final three. But there were still plenty of cattle, goats, sheep, horses and donkeys for sale; mooing, braying, whinnying and moaning or simply quietly accepting their fate. And there were thousands of guys huddled together in small groups haggling, discussing, poking, prodding, inspecting and driving a hard bargain between the hoods of their jellabas. This was no scene for the hen pecked husbands sent off to market by their wives to buy veg – this was where the serious business was taking place!
Nearby there was an (halal, of course) abattoir and stand upon stand of every cut of any animal you’d care to eat (and then some). Close to that were the fruit and vegetable sellers – some with mountains of tomatoes, marrows and squash; others with just a few pickings from their garden. Further round there were the stalls selling second hand everything: rope, fishing nets, scrap metal, wood offcuts and even plastic sheeting (from unused sheets of labels from a yogurt packing plant to industrial grade tarpaulins). Then we found the Moroccan equivalent of the 99p shop: stands selling Made in China plastic tat for a few dirham. There were also more traditional items: soap and accessories for the hammam, djellabas and beautiful Berber rugs.
There were plenty of cafes around the market (probably not for the faint of stomach) and we selected one on a street bordering the site which served the sweetest mint tea I have ever drunk. (In a country of over-sweetened tea, that’s quite an accolade!) We managed to grab a quick view of a spectacle where men and boys were encouraging an over-excited man to regale them with stories of reptiles – it was more snake aggravation than snake charming and we didn’t hang about.
The sun was high in the sky by 11am and the breeze we had felt on the coast was absent. We piled back on a bus and dozed in the heat back to Essaouira. We hadn’t bought a thing other than our breakfast, but the sites I saw, the photos I took and the memories I formed will stay with me longer than any souvenir.
Do you like to visit markets when you are travelling? Which have you enjoyed most?
This article was first published at www.mikanqueen.wordpress.com on June 7, 2012