Now I had heard mixed things about this very famous square, from many different sources (some of which I could never imagine taking a trip to Morocco) and after seeing it for myself, as usual, I found most of these ‘things’ to be either exaggerated or ever so slightly false. I guess every person’s reaction is different depending upon the circumstance, but I realised that the more open you are to the unknown happenings of Morocco, the more adventure comes your way.
Once you’ve been dropped by the old Medina and step out from the taxi, you are instantly hit with the unique atmosphere and personality of Marrakech. May I just add that unless you know what you’re looking for, you may have at this point been dropped anywhere the taxi driver feels is adequate. Whether or not they have much clue as to where they are going, as long as you survive the somewhat crazy roads I think you will be happy to just exchange money and go along your merry way. Try and avoid squeezing your eyes shut during the journey however, as you will miss the many mopeds whizzing to and fro, the race between lanes as the lights flash green and the entire three generation families sharing one bike, wearing t-shirts for comfort and with their helmets undone. Even if you do drift by with a blind eye, you cannot escape the constant beeping of impatient drivers and the fantastic Moroccan sounds being blasted from the radio.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited for the typical snake charmer scene; But when the fiction became fact I wasn’t quite sure how to react. It quickly became evident that what is (or once was?) aimed to be a form of entertainment, has now become a desperate means of making money. In the process fat, sluggish snakes are aggravated as they’re forced upon passers by to take a photograph. Attempt to walk the other way and you may find yourself stepping on the toes of a monkey, so be careful. This is something that is so unlike what we are used to in the western world – but do I, or anyone else have the right to say it is wrong?
As a woman I did fear that I would be hassled slightly more frequently than your average burly man. To avoid this I tried my best to respect the culture; I haggled for a scarf and covered my shoulders in public and wore long, baggy trousers that did not show off my figure. It’s hard to tell whether this had an impact, but I felt I could deal with the ‘hassling’ I received, but by no means did I completely avoid a good old fashioned con.
Fancy a trouble-free and fair priced holiday? Forget it. It must be written in the Quran to offer an initial ridiculous price for well, everything. But it’s ok, it becomes a game that everyone can play. One of my favourites; apply the look of “I have never been offered a more ridiculous and insulting price in my life” and begin to walk away. Allow up to 30 seconds before the sound of running footsteps comes up behind you.
I am a big believer in Karma however and as I head off with my head held high and a snigger to my smile, I quickly lose the money I had just managed to save, to an extremely persistent lady who insists on painting me with Henna before I have time to wipe the smug grin off of my face. Like I say, it is a two man game and without it, Marrakech would lose a big chunk of its charm.
One of the best parts about travelling to a new place is to try the local foods, wouldn’t you agree? After having to politely decline an offer to share pizza at a local Italian restaurant, I realised not everybody is out for the traditional treats.
As the orange haze hits the sky, the square comes alive with stalls all out to compete for the foreigners attention. Whilst it is tempting to do a few laps of the area, receiving attention from every other person, the hardest part is walking away from the many delicious smells and spices on offer. But fear not, wherever you decide to rest your weary feet you will be sure to find the typical Tagine dish and gorgeously flavoured Couscous, all accompanying a generous helping of fresh, slow cooked, vegetables. Whilst you gorge, take note of the happenings around you – a perfect place for people watching which should be classed Number One for free entertainment, especially in Morocco. A freshly squeezed glass of orange juice will wash the evening down perfectly so refrain from ignoring the encouraging calls from the local men, they really will be doing you a favour.
But you know, none of what you experience in a place such as this will ever be as special without the people that make it what it is. So why are so many people that visit Morocco, so afraid of the outcomes of conversing with a local? I refuse to fall into this somewhat substantial way of thinking. Sure, if you are being shouted at from across the street and find yourself being grabbed because you continue to walk on, you may feel an uncomfortable tension; but I wonder how many stop and question where the real blame lies, if of course there is any(?). Letting my guard fall to the ground and accepting a welcome into a home or workplace only ever brought me real enjoyable experiences. I was drowned in beautiful tasting mint tea, shown endless stunning hand-made rugs and spent time with genuine people who just wanted to talk, with no obligation to spend money, just time. If I felt my new found friend just wanted to make money, I showed an interest in his life and suddenly the idea of selling drifted away as if it had never even been considered.
Marrakech offers a mish-mash of experiences, some of which will leave you feeling as though you’ve stepped on to another planet. The deep mumble of the prayer call heard from synagogues across the medina will have you looking at 5:30am in a whole new light and you will find yourself questioning why you didn’t pay more attention to French lessons at secondary school.
If it all seems a bit overwhelming, like it did with me on my second day, I suggest taking yourself away from the city for a few days. Because when you step back onto the perfectly tarmacked streets, you’ll find yourself letting out a big sigh and feeling genuinely happy that you have returned to the heart of Morocco; where a seriously amazingly atmospheric North African soul filled world awaits you.