Snake Charmers on Djemaa el-Fna
Everyone is attracted to the snake charmers on Djemaa el-Fna - it is amazing to see with your own eyes what you have seen on TV since you were a kid - the cobra mesmerised by the music, rising up and looking like it may strike at any minute - exciting stuff hey!
But be warned, you will have to pay to take a photo (best to agree on the price beforehand - no more than 20 dirham). I tried to sneak one from a distance when we first arrived at Djemaa el-Fna - it turned out to be a terrible photo as the sun was so bright at the time. A man ran over to me and demanded money as I had taken a photo. I refused to pay and deleted the photo in front of him. He was very angry and basically told us to get lost!
A couple of days later I decided that I would have to pay, as I really did want to take a photo of the snakes. We negotiated a price first and I was allowed to take my time and get a decent photo - though kneeling down in front of a cobra isn't really my idea of fun!
If you are really scared of snakes be wary - after I took the photo, a man appeared with a small snake which he put around my neck - he insisted that Alison take a photo of me - then he put it around her neck for another photo. He wouldn't take no for an answer. He then of course wanted more money - we didn't pay it.
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- Arts and Culture
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.
Warning - stinky leather
Just a warning about some of the leather goods you may buy in Marrakech - some of them really smell!!
I think the problem is that some of the leather is not treated correctly at the tanneries and it retains a really foul odour which you don't notice at first.....it is only a day or two later when you realise that the foul aroma you have been smelling all day is actually coming from your new leather slippers or bag : (
Alison bought a 'bargain' pair of slippers, but a couple of days later we realised that they smelt so bad (and the smell gave us flash-backs to our scary tannery visit) that she had to throw them out. The other slippers we had bought weren't as bad, but still have an unpleasant smell - Alex has been testing some different leather treatments on them to see if he can improve the aroma.
- Women's Travel
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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.
Look out! - motorbikes, bikes, donkeys & carts
When you are walking in the narrow lanes of the souqs you need to be constantly alert to the sounds and calls of people trying to get past you on motorbikes or bicycles - they weave down the tiny streets like crazy people. You will also need to look out for the men with their donkeys and carts trying to squeeze down the laneways.
Also, when you are walking around in Djemma El Fna you must be aware that there is a road that cuts across part of the square - it is not obvious at first - and the locals don't seem to slow down when driving through. Again, anywhere on the square you should be alert to errant motorbikes and bicycles taking a shortcut through the sea of people.
- Arts and Culture
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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!
Of all the 'sales people/entertainers' I encountered in Djemma el Fnaa, I found the women who did henna work to be the most persistent!
On my travels, I've had various henna 'tattoos', and I might have had one done in Marrakesh, but I'd read other VTers pages, who'd recorded problems with prices etc.
I was wandering through the square, minding my own business, when I was accosted by one of these henna artists, who forcibly grabbed me by the arm, and thrust a catalogue of designs in my face.
I tried to tell her I wasn't interested, but she persisted in gripping me harder, then attempting to draw a squiggle on my hand. I managed to brush her aside, and luckily I had a tissue in my pocket to remove the henna paste.
However, I was left with an orange mark on my hand for a couple of days!
My advise is to walk away, with a firm No! Non! or La! -
There will be another potential 'mug' along soon
- Women's Travel
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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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watch your back too when theres horses on the path
Most transportation through and around the souks is by donkey or mule drawn carriage - moving articles that were goods bought or to be sold around the markets,
so take notice of whats coming up behind you - including bikes and mopeds, donkeys and larger mules laden with trailor loads, and whats coming up before you.
and especially take notice if you hear calling out as it might be directed at you to encourage you to move out of the way!
At times carrying heavy loads i am sure the donkeys would appreciate not having to slow or stop completely.
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Café de France.
It is not a habbit of mine to put a restaurant
or café in the warnings-area...but this time.
'Café de France' has a very nice terrace with
a fantastic vieuw on the lively Jemaa-el-fna square.
If you sit here you even become parth of the square.
The terrace is a leftover from the French
The turn of the coin is that you wont get much rest
to enjoy the spectacle...beggers , shoe cleaners ,
salesman - I think one every minute.
And then the food. We were not really hungry
but wanted a fast snack before our afternoon
swim in the hotel. Placing an order took some
time...but then we waited , waited , waited...
We didn't even get drinks. When we heard a
lady complaning next to us , that she had been
waiting for an hour....she was upset. And then
we saw what she orderned ; a baked egg.
Ok , we finally got our vegetarian tagine ,
and a poor salad. It was of -ok-quality. Not bad
but nothing to get enthousiastic about either.
Paying the bill took time as well. In the end
we spend 2 houres at this place. Don't forget
the taxes added later on either.
Yes , this place is way too touristy.
The thing about tourists is that they don't
return. (we for sure not)...you don't have to
treat them too well. The terrace is so tempting
they come anyway...like bees to honey.
Café and hotel de FRANCE
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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The taxi drivers in Marrakech are some of the most annoying in the world. Most of them seem to feel that every foreign passenger owes then a huge amount of money, simply for the crime of coming from a richer country. I found taxi drivers in other Moroccan cities, such as Essaouira and Taroudannt, were not like this.
So, how do you deal with them? Well, there are two ways: either you give them as much money as they want and simply shrug it off because you feel you can afford to or you hold out for the rare honest driver, who, in Marrakech, is like a diamond in the sand.
The perceived wisdom is that you should negotiate the price in advance, but I found this seemed to cause the worst friction and the biggest headaches. The best way seemed to be just to pay DH10-15 DH at the end of the trip, even though sometimes they will throw this contemptuously on the floor (picking it up later, of course). If they use the meter, which they almost never will for a foreign passenger, nowhere in Marrakech should cost more than DH10.
Whatever you do, do not refuse to pay at the end of the trip. I saw an American in Djemaa el Fna get into serious trouble with a local policeman for that. The traffic police in Morocco routinely extort bribes from local drivers, but get nothing from foreigners, so they will, as a consequence, inevitably have no sympathy whatsoever for the foreigner. The one I saw had his passport taken, received a severe dressing down and very nearly ended up getting arrested. Only a lot of money paid to the taxi driver saved him.
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No Moroccan Dirhams in Duty Free
You are not permitted to import or export the Moroccan Dirham.
Instead, you will have to obtain your Dirhams on arrival in Marrakech, and make sure you've spent them all (or changed them back into your home currency) before leaving the country.
Therefore, if the taxi driver hasn't taken all your remaining Dirhams on the journey back to the airport, you'll be looking to spend them at the airport. If you're like me, you'll use your excess currency in the airport's Duty Free shops to pick up last minute gifts for family and friends. However, this is not possible at Marrakech airport.
You are able to change your Dirhams at the airport, prior to passing through passport control. But once you've passed through passport control, your Dirhams are practically useless. However, unless you have been told about this, you will be completely oblivious to the fact that the pocketful of Dirhams you are carrying are about to become worthless until you arrive at the checkout to pay for your basketful of Toblerones!
The only place in the departure lounge where you can use your Dirhams is a small cafe which sells a small selection of sandwiches, pastries, bottled water and canned soft drinks.
The currency of choice in the departure lounge is the Euro. My advice would therefore be to change your spare Dirhams into Euros before passing through passport control.
If you've just got a bit of spare change to get rid of, there are charity boxes in the departure lounge where you can deposit your last few coins.
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.
Getting Lost in the Souks!
My first night in Marrakesh, I'd found my way into Djemma el Fnaa. Aware of warnings that it's easy to get lost, I carefully noted where I was...
After a pleasant evening, I left the square to get a taxi back to my hotel.
Setting off in the direction I thought I'd come from, it wasn't long before I realised I wasn't where I thought I was. I thought if I continued I'd come to a main road or landmark.
It was around midnight, and I was wandering further into the Mellah area (which I realised later when I checked my guide book)
The narrow alleyways were lined with 'hole in the wall' grill houses, workshops etc. Donkey carts passing by forced me to walk close to the walls. In front of me a group of youths suddenly started a fight, as soon as it started, it ended, with 2 boys ending up covered in blood!
I was starting to feel a bit uneasy now, if I turned back, I wasn't entirely sure of my route..luckily a taxi appeared at the road in front, and I got in.
Next to the driver was a woman, who I thought was his wife, but after a drive around the narrow alleyways, we reached a small square where she got out.
My taxi driver had to stop twice to ask directions to my hotel. As you can imagine, I was quite relieved to arrive back at my hotel. The taxi driver got a good tip!
Despite this experience, it didn't deter me from wandering about, or spoil my holiday. Just another of my travel adventures!
- Women's Travel
- Budget Travel