Do Not Fear the Tout

While many seem to abhor the touts of various countries, I firmly believe they can be an essential part of having a good trip – and a friendly face to return to one day.  These touts can show you places you never would have found as a tourist, offering the tastiest food and most popular local hangouts.  When seen as a nuisance, the tout becomes the most annoying memory of a place – when seen as an advantageous benefit, the tout makes the memory of the place.

Vhebbi - Istanbul, Turkey Meet Vhebbi.  Vhebbi is more than a tout in Istanbul, and might be the reason that I am a carpet dealer today.  When we first passed Vhebbi he tried to lure us into Elegance Carpet, which was just around the corner from our hotel (The Celal Sultan).  Damany and I passed quickly, saying we would return as it was so close.  When he finally did hook us, it was with the words we were looking for – “but we can teach you something”.  Vhebbi not only introduced us to the shop that would change the course of our lives forever, he became a friend in  the process.  We dined with him at a few local favorite restaurants – tucked away in small back alleys of Sultanahmet – which we never would have found on our own.  He brought us to a well known restaurant in an interesting vaulted space, where we chose the fish we were to eat off a large platter of raw assortment brought right to our table.  With Vhebbi we partied in Taksim, and enjoyed tea and games at the nightly Ramadan festival in Sultanahmet’s center.  One year after meeting him, we returned to Istanbul, only to do it all again.  He’s become a dear friend whom I always get teary eyed leaving – it’s a relationship I never would have experienced had I been annoyed by his sales pitch.

Nisam - Istanbul, Turkey Meet Nisam.  Nisam is also a carpet tout in Istanbul.  While the relationship has not grown with Nisam as it has with Vhebbi, his services were also of great value for Damany and I.  Nisam was the first tout we interacted with in the magical city – and was able to speed up our process of seeing the sights.  He brought us through the back doors of the Blue Mosque, away from the tourists line (where locals enter), and after that to the Sultan’s burial space.  Sure, he wanted to bring us to his shop to look at carpets, but is that such a bad thing?  I mean, isn’t that part of the whole experience of being in Istanbul?  You’re never obligated to buy anything.

Allal - Tangier Morocco Meet Allal.  Allal was exactly what we needed when we arrived in Tangier, Morocco.  We were in search of a carpet, and wooden goods, and antiques – exactly the type of tourists he was looking for at the docks. He made our day in Tangier possible, and hassle free.  We didn’t really have a plan upon arrival, and didn’t know where we wanted to go exactly, so without him we would have had a pretty terrible time, I’m sure.  Allal first brought us to check our bags at a holding place near the docks, then directly to the Kasbah.  In the maze of stalls selling piles of anything you could imagine, he lead us to a few special ones to try some Moroccan treats (none of which were paid for).  After that he brought us to see exactly the type of vendor we wanted to visit.  We sipped mint tea as we viewed carpets, antique jewelry, antique carved wooden chests and shelves, etc.  We dined at an amazing restaurant tucked in the cut of one of many alleys, and were serenaded with traditional Moroccan music as we did so (that meal was so good that my stomach is growling as I write this today 5 years later).  He gave us a tour of the Hotel Continental (where the film Casablanca was filmed) and introduced us to the manager, Jimmy – also an amazing soul.  We were able to find and achieve everything we wanted to in Tangier strictly because we trusted a tout.  He offered to have us break fast after dark that night with his family (it was Ramadan), but when we declined to be able to return to Spain that night, he delivered us back to the docks at the ideal time to board the ferry.  Allal’s assistance was crucial to our perfect day in Morocco.

William - Huacachina, Peru Meet William.  William is a tour guide in Peru.  While I wouldn’t necessarily call William a “tout”, I would say that the same concept of ‘no fear’ applies to meeting people like William.  We rode into the Ica bus stop after 11:00 pm.  Not one minute after he approached us we were in his cab cracking jokes, and looking that his notebooks full of reviews from happy clients.  A solo traveler who was tagging along after the bus ride from Lima actually thought that we already knew William because of the openly humorous and casual nature of our conversation with him.  William was able to check us into a hotel in Huacachina, setup our bookings for activities like sand boarding and winery tours, find us a place to do our laundry overnight, and get us to the bus to Paracas on time.  When we decided we would rather go back to Huacachina for the night but had already missed the returning bus, we called William who came to pick us up.  He charged us 10 soles less than a cabbie in Paracas had quoted us.  When we were running late for the bus the day we left, he was able to call the station and have them wait for our arrival – truly a lifesaver.  He even presented us with a gift as we departed, and is definitely someone I hope to see again one day.

No matter where I am, I strive to be aware of my surroundings, but not afraid.  I’ve found that being open and receptive to locals (regardless of the fact that they are trying to sell you something) can really make your time in a place more memorable, and most certainly easier to navigate.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa @chickybus February 24, 2012 at 1:35 pm

What a great post–I love how you took an alternative look at touts. It makes so much sense. And how cool that you’re now a carpet deal as a result of one of the encounters you described!

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Katrina February 24, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Thanks Lisa!
I love meeting new people, and using this approach to getting a local’s knowledge of a place has proved to be beneficial and life changing for me. I encourage others to be open (while still aware) as well. 🙂

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