22 Nov 2009
Mr. tour guide, would you leave me alone please?
My husband and I arrive at Setti Fatma, got out of the car, and were immediately approached by Mohamed, a 20ish year old young man hankering for a job as our tour guide. We planed to hike up the mountain to visit the famous 7 waterfalls in the High Atlas mountains, and thought it might be nice to have a guide along. So we asked him how much he would charge to guide us.
“As you like! No fixed price. If you like my service you pay me, if not, no obligation.” Said Mohamed, sounding like any of the other sneaky offers we got off street corner in Marrakech.
“又来了！ (Oh, please, not again!)” My husband and I both complained in Chinese. Yes, this line has been wearing us down throughout our journey in Morocco. We are not big tour joiners, so have decided to take it easy and navigate on our own. But, everywhere we went, be it looking for a restaurant, or a market, there always seemed to be some youth hanging around the street corner, ready to guide you astray and charge you a few dirams for his “service”. We were tired of these guides. It is at moments like this that I wonder, if individual travelers to China are subject to this experience. I don’t know since I am Chinese and speak the language.
“Tell us how much you’d like to charge, otherwise, we wouldn’t consider a guide.” We told Mohamed.
“ok, if you like my service, 100 to 150 DM (roughly US$15-20) per hour from each of you. If you don’t like my service, nothing.”
We took off, he followed us. My husband and I were tired of this type of haggling. We sort of agreed to the deal without talking about it further.
The trail started across the little river and wound upward quickly. There were quaint little restaurants and shops along the way. The shop owners approached us, but Mohamed quickly signaled to them that we were just at the beginning of the hike. So, the shop owners left us alone.
“hmm, there is benefit to having a guide. At least that fends off more business propositions.” We actually started to enjoy a hassle-free walk.
Quickly, we came to a slight traffic jam on the trail. The couple ahead of us were having a hard time climbing one rock face, as there were few places one could rest the foot on or hold onto. Their guide was at the top of the rock face, stretching his arms down as far as he could, trying to help the travelers to climb. But, they couldn’t even reach his hand.
All of a sudden, to my surprise, Mohamed leapt ahead, put one of his knees against the rock face, stretched his arm out to the hikers ahead of us. He explained carefully, that the hiker was to step his left foot on part of the rock, and right foot on his knee, make a move to step on another part of the rock, so on and so on. Magically, the couple got up the rock face after a few attempts. We followed suit quickly, with the help of Mohamed and the other guide on top of the rock working as a team.
All of a sudden, I felt truly grateful for having hired Mohamed as our guide. The wariness of being haggled at the beginning of the hike disappeared completely. We continued on to talk about his family. We learned that he grew up in this village of 40 families, and that he has 3 sisters, 2 of whom are his age and married, and the littlest is school in school. So so and so on. We truly felt like we got to know him, this wonderful person as he was!
He continued to perform as one of the top outdoor guides I’ve worked with. Telling us what the next section of the trail maybe like. Stopping to give me a hand when the slope became too steep or the rock in the creek unsteady. At a later point, he took our backpack, and carried it from there on!
I couldn’t stop wondering if we just got lucky, or there could be a system for wonderful local guides like him to make a decent living without having to go through the initial haggling that completely didn’t show how wonderful a guide he was. In countries like Morocco, travelers are so frequently approached and offered all kinds of services, and at a lot of times, these offers were truly vile. How to sift through all the sand for the gold to shine?
I do not know the answer. We all seem to resort back to the old word of mouth network, or the new like twitter and blog. But, when will those network influence a little village like his or mine back in China? For one thing, I wish I got his cell phone.
Short of that, I do want to recommend the lovely B&B we stayed at: Maison Mnabha www.maisonmnabha.com. It’s owned and run by Peter and Lawrence, two English gentlemen. Extremely friendly and helpful. Great food too. I couldn’t have had such a wonderful time in Morocco if I didn’t find a home at Maison Mnabha.