Attacked in the Square
We had mostly enjoyed our adventures in Morocco and did a great deal of travelling around. Our last few days were spent inside the Medina in Marrakesh. We were constantly harassed by men, who were a little too forward but we were certainly able to handle ourselves there. We dressed conservatively and were respectful during our stay.
On our last day we were leaving at 6am to catch a flight to madrid. In order to ensure our safety we securely fastened all of our belongings to us and paid for a recommend escort (offered by our beautiful riad) in order to ensure that our exit to the cab was smooth. About 50 feet from the gate I heard my friend scream, I look behind and see she is being attacked by a man. I look to our driver/escort (a man) and he is running as fast as he can away from us. Without thought I proceed to my friends aid and we tackle this guy together. Before I know it I am pulled to the ground by 2 to 3 more men and viciously beaten. They didn't take any of my things and only ended up getting a tiny bag from her that had virtually nothing in it. All while this was happening around 8 cab drivers all stood and watched. Eventually a young lady came to our aid after the guys ran away and she helped us to the police station. I was bleeding profusely from a big wound on my face which was eventually stitched up... I had a broken cheek bone and we were incredibly traumatized. The police were corrupt...and expected money for everything. Luckily for us we had made a good friend at our riad (the manager) who took care of us until we found a way to compose ourselves and leave. Overall, I would say to not place any trust in anybody. As a woman, especially don't trust any men to protect you. If you are leaving the Medina early in the morning (or any time) carry mace or some other weapon to help you. We were the second group of women attacked that same morning...you don't hear many stories and police reports are written on a type writer...so lets just say they don't get very far.
We did all the right things..hid out purses, strapped our bags to us, and hired an escort out of the medina, but we were still attacked. I would never go back to that city. They try to get as much money as they can out of you...it is filled with liars, thieves and angry human beings who resent the tourists. Go to the small towns, the desert, the coast, and you will indeed meet the most wonderful people.... but theres really no need to waste your time in Marrakesh.... especially if you are a woman
Don't visit the tanneries in Marrakesh if taxi drivers offer to take you it may be a scam?. The place will be unbearable you find your self standing in a mix of cow urine, pigeon poo, fish oils, animal fats, chromiun salts and sulphuric acids.
The smelliest place your mind can think off. Then the scam a nice man will offer you a hand full of mint and take you to a shop to sit down and mint tea, then the hard sell pressure of rugs and the like with six or seven men sat right around you making you feel in danger, this happend to me and my wife. We left without any thing the taxi driver set it up beware.
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Especially on your first day in Marrakech Medina, you won`t find your way that easily- at first glance everything looks the same and there are no signs. Additionaly they close the Souks in the evening, so you can`t pass through. It will happen to you, that guys offer you their help to find the way- and they can be pretty annoying, in case you don`t want to pay them or if you just want to find your way by your own. So, best thing you can do, is to say a polite "no, thank you", read your map carefully and ask other tourists to help. By the way- outside Medina, Moroccan people were really helpful and it was no problem at all.
Don't take photo's of officials.
You must not take photo's of soldiers or officials, I took a photo of a wall outsise the sadieen tombs and nearly had my camera taken off me. a soldier who was on guard outside the wall shouted across the road and one of the locals started shouting at me, saying he needed the camera to see if i had taken a photo of the soldier I said I didn't he asked me to show him, which i did, if I had have done I would probably been arrested. A very lucky escape.
While you are in the main area of Djamaa El Fna (Square) a seller may motion you over to look at a tambourine on the ground. They will beckon you to look closer, and then they turn it over and 1-2 Cobras jump up from underneath. They seemed to find my reaction of jumping about 10 feet back as hilarious. I guess someone forgot to tell them that Cobra venom can be deadly. These are not cute domesticated house pets. They are defensive and happy to strike. Also watch your step around the square. These “Snake Charmers” set up on any open patch of ground. Charming? I don’t think so!
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Now, most of you reading this are probably more sensible and less clumsy than I am. It is a miracle in fact that I haven’t had a serious injury before now, as I do make a bit of a habit of falling over. But just in case you are a bit like me, I write this warning:
The beautiful courtyards in the lovely old buildings of Marrakesh often have a central basin and fountain. When crossing these courtyards it is a good idea to look where you are going. If you want to admire the surroundings, pause to do so before continuing on your walk. Otherwise you can find yourself stepping on the edge of the basin, and may slip and even break a bone, which will seriously spoil your holiday.
Believe me, this is possible – I know from experience.
The Medina of Marrakesh is an ancient town, its houses built and streets laid out long before the advent of modern motor traffic. Cars are a rarity here, apart from on the couple of streets that are just wide enough for them, but that doesn’t mean you can wander freely without paying attention. This is not a “pedestrian mall” but home to very many people, and they have to get around. Just as in the old streets of Naples the moped is the vehicle of choice, and riders weave constantly between tourists, shoppers, school-children, donkey carts and other more stationary obstructions such as fruit stalls.
Away from the old town the streets are wider, and the challenge becomes not walking along them but crossing them. A few have traffic lights with a pedestrian signal, but most do not, and the crossings painted on to the road in places seem to be more a vague suggestion to the pedestrian than an instruction to the driver. The Avenue Mohammed V, between the Djamaa el Fna and the Koutoubia Mosque, is typical – several lanes (if they can be called lanes when cars switch between them so constantly) in each direction and no let up in the traffic day or night. Brisk walking is called for, but if like me you can’t manage that, watch for a group of locals all crossing together and follow their lead. And wherever you are in Marrakesh, never assume that drivers will obey the traffic laws, stop when you would expect them to, stay in the lane that they currently occupy, signal their intentions or doing anything else to make your life easier!
Among the most persistent of the hustlers in the Djamaa el Fna are those working with the snake charmers. They seem to have eyes in the back of their heads – even when I attempted a casual shot amongst a crowd of other tourists this guy spotted me and was over in a flash to demand a fee for the photo. Once I had tossed a few dirhams in his hat he was happy to stand back and allow me access to the area where the charmers were sitting with their snakes.
The younger man in photo 2 then approached us and dangled his small snake before putting it round first Chris’s neck and then mine. I like snakes so was happy to play along and grab a couple more photos. As we thanked him and turned to leave he demanded money, so we pointed out that we had already paid for photos. Angrily he said that what we had paid was not enough, and that handling the snake ourselves required a further payment. We stuck to our guns and walked away, repeating that we had paid what we felt was a fair price for the experience. Although he called after us he didn’t follow – there were too many other tourists who would prove more lucrative targets.
You meet them everywhere in the Medina. It’s only necessary to walk a few paces and one of them will approach you, offering to take you to this palace or that impressive sight. In our case it was an “exhibition of carpets”, made by “women from the villages” and we were “lucky” as it had apparently only “just opened that morning”. We declined the offer to lead us there, saying we might look another day, but he was insistent – polite and friendly, but not letting us walk away, or rather, following us as we did so. He was “coming our way” and would make sure we didn’t miss this special treat. Arriving at an admittedly impressive old house he tried to persuade us to enter; again we declined. Just take one look, he said, or maybe take a business card so we could find it again. We agreed to the latter, and of course had to step inside to get it from his friend waiting within, who immediately took over as persuader. We should see this beautiful palace, he urged, if only from the courtyard. So we stuck our heads around the door, agreed it was wonderful, but explained that we already had plans and were late. Playing along, I asked if the “exhibition” would be open for the rest of the week, and he assured us that it would. Of course it would – this was clearly a permanent set-up and was there to sell carpets, not to exhibit them. But with this we were allowed to leave with a friendly “see you tomorrow” that I imagine no one on either side of the encounter believed.
When something similar happens to you, take it with a sense of humour but stick to your guns. Unless you want to buy a carpet or whatever else the shop is selling, leave as soon as you can to avoid giving the appearance that you might buy, otherwise you might be on the receiving end of some rather less courteous persuasion than we met with.
Marrakesh is a photographers paradise! However, it's not always easy to take the shots that you want-
It's quite a busy place, so you might need to be very patient, to get an uninterrupted view, particularly at the popular sights
Although the locals are used to camera wielding tourists, they're understandably often not happy to be snapped, going about their daily lives, particularly the women. Although as a lone female traveler. I've often been asked to take pics by the local women!
I did find a few occasions, when I was taking a street scene in the medina or mellah, where I thought I'd taken care not to get anyone in the shot, then realised that I'd inadvertantly upset a 'hidden' bystander' Also taking shots where a stall keeper was 'hidden' in the darkness or shadow, behind the stalls display.
An apology, and gesturing at the view I was taking, was usually accepted. I didn't have digital, only old fashioned film, so couldn't show them the pic as proof.
Djemma el Fnaa, is a place to be aware of who/what you're photographing- musicians, such as those in the photo, the watersellers, snake charmers etc are very quick to demand money, if they see (or think they see) you taking a photo. (The brighter their costume, the more likely they are to demand money!!! )
Tip - carry loose change in a separate pocket, if you feel the need to tip these.(They'll ask for some exorbitant amount such as 200dh- I usually had 5 - 10 dh ready, if they protested, I explained it was all I had (with an apologetic shrug and smile!) which they were usually happy to accept.
At night, the musicians and storytellers, who are surrounded by their audience, standing or sitting in a circle etc. are also on the look out for anyone taking photo's, and usually expect a donation.
These aren't here as a tourist attraction - they are continuing an age old tradition of story telling, which usually, only the locals (who outnumber the gathered tourists) will understand.
I personally don't mind tipping these musicians etc, especially if they're as talented as most in Djemma El Fnaa- These performances have been some of the hi lights of my holiday! I spent most nights being invited to sit with one group, while they played.
I've also recorded some of them on MP3, so I've got some long lasting memories of their music and the atmosphere of Djemma el Fnaa.
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Women on own!!
Travelled with my Daughter mid-January and had a terrible experience. We were cornered by group of teenagers and jostled outside our Riad, my Daughter was asked for sex many times which was most upsetting and generally swore at by vendors in the square. I was not expecting this behaviour. The Riad owner told us there was a huge drug problem amongst the young men who hang around the squares as drugs now cost just a couple of dhiram. Muggings on the rise as well as the recession has led to less tourists. I will never go back. Oppressive and at times frightening. Also absolutely filthy - this I can live with but not in addition to the general feeling of fear. Unless with a man I would not travel here if you like wandering around.
The night staff at our Riad told us we should never walk around the Medina at night as it is dangerous. Our riad was also a really nice one - not a budget one.
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Be aware of what they promise in travel agencies
We went to that travel agency, called MAMI TOUR, proper address Av. 11 janvier - Bab Doukala Imm CL - residence Atlasi (see www.mamitour.com) - but they had a "kiosk" on El Basha street, very close to the palace El Basha. We asked for a trip to Lower Atlas and the dessert. They offered us an excersion with mini bus, in quite good prize, including one night in Zagora. They said we will have several stops on the way to Zagora. In Zagora we will be taking kamels for 1/2 an hour, to see the dessert and then rest at a hotel (they showed as photos of a proper hotel room) which is settled on tents in the dessert. It sounded nice, so we went. We asked if we needed to have some warm cloths with as (is was Christmas time) and they said, no, the weather is like in Marrakesh and we didn;t need anything special. The resalt was that we had a 10 hours all-the- way travel to zagora, with only one stopin a Kashba. It was a really bad mini-bus, no guide, only the driver who was running like crazy in order to be able to reach Zagora by night. We got ther at 7 pm, they got us on camels and we travelled for 2,5 hours (!) in the dessert, in the night breeze, to reach a place with most dirty scenes, no sheets or towels, no electricity, no running water, nothing. We were offered a poor meal, played some music and went to bed , or "dirty bear matress" to be correct. In the morning we had to take the camels again for another 40 minutes and then get to the mini bus and run like crazy back to Marrakesch (the road is hort and curly for hundreds of kilometers). Again only one stop to the Essuirigia. The group was 8 people and 3 small children. To some of them they told that the way to the dessert was not more then 4-5 hours. Nobody was prepared for the circumstances. We were all so cold cause we were not warned to take proper cloths, sleeping bag etc. I was told from the other passengers that the same travel agency said false things regarding other trips as well, so be aware! Mamy Tour is not to trust. Afterwards I suffered a terrible back-ache that holded me in bed for weeks. If I new that the trip included 3,5 hours on the camel I would had never gone..
Watch out for pick-pockets. Twice we found prying fingers in our pockets. Surprisingly, each time they belonged not to young children but to old ladies in arabic dress and veil.
Keep your pockets zipped, and don't presume that you will know what a pickpocket looks like!
Whilst I'm writing, be aware too of 'helpful' locals who offer directions, and then demand payment after the event. Be firm and say no.
If You're booking a guided tour, check that the itinary is the same as printed in the flyer/poster.
During my week in Marrakesh, I'd seen most of the 'Must Sees' but I'd not visited Ben Yussef Medersa. I'd travelled with Panorama holidays, and they offered a half day 'Historical Marrakesh tour' which included Ben Youssef, Marrakesh Museum and the Kubba El Baroudine, ending with a mint tea in a cafe overlooking Djemma el Fnaa. I therefore booked this trip for 220 dh.
Our group consisted of myself and an english couple. Our first stop off was the Koutoubia mosque ( been there already, but learnt a bit more!) we then arrived at a familiar place- The Bahia Palace (Been there, enjoyed it, learnt a bit more!) We then arrived at a carpet shop!!!!! (been there, no intention of buying a carpet!!) I was getting a bit suspicious now- not much time for Ben Youssef, and these other places weren't mentioned in the advertised tour.
I had my mint tea, while the carpets were unfurled. The couple on our tour seemed to be interested in buying a carpet, and were going along with the sellers 'sales patter' so I decided this was the time to exit stage left!!
The guide apologised and said this was the usual tour that they did.
I did get a refund of 150 dh from my rep. and I did get to see Ben Youssef 2 days later.
Luckily, I was there for 5 days, and could 'catch up with my sightseeing' later, but If I was only there for a couple of days, I wouldn't have been so pleased
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For many years I had a snake phobia, cured partly by a Blue Peter animal expert, who regularly was on the programme, then did lecture tours, which I was sent to, to represent our school at a talk, where I was 'invited' to touch the snake.
After this experience, my fear subsided. In India, I also braved a snake charmers show, to get near to a cobra.
However, this chap in the photograph, descended on me, and proceeded to chat, I hadn't realised he was a snake charmer, until he tried to get me to close my eyes, and hold my hand out!!!!!!!! Luckily I made him show me what was in his hand! I was brave enough to touch it , but refused to hold the snake in my hand, or around my neck.
I paid a few dh for this pic, but not as much as he asked initially. He asked 200dh! I gave him 5dh, as this was all the change I had in my pocket - ( I prefer to wear combat style trousers in Marrakech, with small denomination coins in each pocket, So that I can safely pull out the 'only change I have' )
I give more money to the musicians and singers in the square etc.
Surprised I could hold the camera still enough for a pic!!
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