Had Dra market, Morocco

local produce for sale
(c) Lynn Sheppard

In a comment on my post about misshapen vegetables , one of the followers of this blog mentioned Had Dra market near Essaouira. I was keen to go there on a future visit!

For me, travel is an experience; a broadening of the horizons.  I like to see the world through someone else’s eyes.  I might not agree with their vision – and I might be fortunate enough to have the means to choose to live in another way – but at least I can try to understand their perspective.  In order to do this, I think it’s important to leave the air conditioned hotel and take some time to live like the locals.

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. 

the market as a spectator sport
(c) Lynn Sheppard

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!

a reluctant farewell?
(c) Lynn Sheppard

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!

bargaining is serious business
(c) Lynn Sheppard

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.

any old iron?
(c) Lynn Sheppard

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.

purchased sheep await their fate near the abattoir
(c) Lynn Sheppard

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?

© Lynn Sheppard

Chillies at Had Dra market
(c) Lynn Sheppard

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8 Responses to Had Dra market, Morocco

  1. yassine100 says:

    ” the traveling is not movement in space, but is revolution to identity ”
    There is also berber Souk called “larbaa idaougard ” every wednesday !
    see you there next time Incha allah 😉

  2. Christine H. says:

    Great post Lynn! I rarely visit a country without going to at least one of their markets. The colors, the smells, the wares, etc. are always different from one place to the next. It is a good way to start to experience a culture. Thanks for sharing.

  3. wow! the stuff i would want to buy versus the stuff julie would let back in the house. do you have any idea how much (even roughly) livestock costs?

    • mikanqueen says:

      I have no idea, but I do know that the going price for a wife is “all the camels in the desert”.

      I know a man who can find out if you are really interested, and I’d be happy to arrange a shopping excursion for you! (Although I think there are probably EU restrictions on the importation of livestock that you’d have to deal with before even reaching the Julie hurdle!)

  4. Lynn, I love your writing style and I appreciate the point of view you’re coming from. I’m delighted that you’re also a fello Cuba&Salsa- holic. Who knows might see you in Havana some day? T

    • mikanqueen says:

      Thanks for stopping by and for your very kind comments! I’ve written a couple of posts about Cuba myself – I’d love to go back. I’ll look you up if I make it back to Havana!

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