We’re on the same campsite as last night: http://www.campingcarmaroc.com/. By Moroccan standards, in fact by most standards, it’s a beautiful campsite. It has drencher showers, an infinity pool, a fancy restaurant (I’m told by Ju and Tina, I’ve not looked), a laundry service, a private taxi service into the city centre (40dh per person each way, 60Dh at night), a shop and a bread/pain au chocolat service. The downside is it’s miles from anywhere, including the nearest sealed road. Even the 4×4 taxi service takes it slowly on the 2km of rutted dirt track into the place. It’s also expensive – we expect to pay 200Dh a night, which is four times as much as we paid at the auberge outside Erg Chebbi which had similar standard services. Ouch.
Anyway, back to today. I was awake at 5 and up at 5:30am. It’s just too exciting being in Morocco. I used the early hours to watch Gladiator and eye up the locations we saw a couple of days ago. Once everyone else was up, we arranged with the campsite to head into town at 1pm and I walked Charlie outside the campsite to tire him out for his long wait. As well as being in the middle of nowhere, there’s a fair few wild dogs knocking about, necessitating some stone throwing to keep ’em at bay.
We just got back from town. As we travel I realise more and more that the impression you have of a place can vary wildly from other people’s. Even people who travelled with you that very day will have a different view of it. My impression of Marrakech was: pretty grim – if you’re passing, keep on passing.
We wandered the souk and the famous square (Djemaa el Fna). The place seems to be about 99% tourists, and the other 1% are dedicated to begging from you (even stealing food from our table as we had a photo taken), harassing you to ‘look no buy’, or even plain old intimidatory theft. By the last point I mean the snake men. Chris gamely played along when they harassed us into having a snake placed around our shoulders, while I walked off. Next thing we knew, they were demanding 300Dh (about £27) from Chris, for two photos. They refused to accept less and the end result was us walking away with them shouting obscenities at us. Lovely, come to Marrakech, get close to being assaulted and sworn at in plain daylight. A totally different experience to what we’ve had up to now and the city should be ashamed of itself for letting it happen.
Once this unpleasantness was over, we escaped off into the souk, which is interesting, but not a patch on Fes. Every other shop owner gave us the ‘look no buy’ treatment. I’m cool with this up to a point. Once 20 guys have asked, I start to get fed up with it and just ignore them. We were spoiled in Fes as our guide must have been a well known face and everyone left us alone.
Once night falls, the square is said to explode into life. It did, to be fair. With plenty more people begging/harassing you. I took a photo of a performer who immediately ran out of the circle and demanded money from me. Fair enough – I handed over 1.5Dh – about 12p – enough for a dodgy photo I thought (see below). He demanded more, I walked off, fed up. We then got a pretty much constant stream of touts dragging you into their food stalls – mostly good natured and some quite funny to be fair (lots of references to being Jamie Oliver, ‘luverly jubberly’, ‘107 takes you to heaven’ – the stalls were numbered). Once we’d sat down at a table, every minute a new beggar turns up while you’re eating. Some with children, some with whole families. Easy enough to ignore, but not exactly relaxing or fun.
Maybe I’m just in a bad mood as I’m tired from getting up so early, but Marrakech for me was a very poor reflection on the Moroccan people. If I’d only come here, and not had the past couple of weeks travelling the country, I would certainly not come back to Morocco.
I just found this on virtualtourist.com. It rings very true:
“I have been to Marrakesh about 25 times since the 1980’s and so I have had many many experiences that I could share….but I will give you the skinny: 1) Most importantly, I would never advise a nubbie to Marrakesh to move about the city without a “certified national guide” (can be acquired at your hotel). The cost is well worth the price, real protection and vacation enjoyment. 2) Some people love the Medina and Jamaa El Fna experience but it can be very unsafe and unpleasant there. It is a hangout for a lot of rip-off artists…even the locals are afraid and very wary there. Poor young men who have nothing are willing to risk it all to rip you off if they can, because by the fact that you are there you prove that you have money to spare them. 3) Most Moroccans pride themselves at being “sharp” and aware of their surroundings….it is a survival instinct honed over the centuries. It is hard for a lazy, tired tourist to be as sharp. So sooner or later you will be scammed, believe me…it still happens to me too. Live and learn, and try not to be bitter or loose too much, but “learn” . 3) Never stay out too late…An old Moroccan saying goes, “When the mosque doors close for the last prayer of the day (Isha) the gates of hell open. Morocco is not a place to be out wandering around at night and even the locals know this. 4) In general, the police are not there to protect you. They protect the king. Try to deal with them as least as possible. 4) There is a lot of bluff and bravado by thieves (and the police)…If you can manage, don’t back down…most Moroccans will yell a lot but back down in the end (unless their pride is wounded). They face huge court sentences if caught stealing from tourists. They are more afraid of getting caught, then you are afraid of them. 5) The common Moroccan people are the most kind, hospitable and religious people in the world…they would bend over backward for you and invite you into their homes as well as feed you costly meals…BUT ..you wont find these wonderful people hanging around Jamaa El Fna”