“What kind of hell did I just arrive in?”, I wondered as I found myself in a heated argument with the entire taxi cartel at the airport within five minutes of arriving in Marrakech. They were trying to make me pay 300 dirhams to get to my hotel, when I knew the rate should have been 70 (a difference of about $27 USD).
Fortunately, I had help. An expat interrupted and helped me negotiate the rate down to 100. He offered to share the ride and the cost with me. I was relieved not to be alone in the taxi with my angry driver, so I agreed.
However, once the expat went around the other side of the taxi to get in with me, my driver locked the doors, and the taxi drivers outside held him back and wouldn’t allow him inside. My taxi driver sped off leaving me feeling unsafe and very rattled.
As soon as we got out of sight of the airport, the driver told me I would have to pay him 200 dirhams to get to town. I was so tired of arguing, that I told him I would pay 150 and no more. He continued to argue with me.
I told him that he needed to stop the taxi and take me back to the airport. He shook his head. So, I asked him if the dishonest way he was treating me was how he wanted visitors to think of the people of his country. He finally agreed to 150, which was still dishonest, but I was exhausted, and didn’t have it in me to fight. “Welcome To Morocco.”, he said as he broadly grinned. Little did I know that this “welcome” would be the underlying theme of my entire visit to Marrakech.
It’s All About The Money In Marrakech
I soon learned that everything was about money in Marrakech. If I took a picture without paying, I got flipped off. Every single day, someone tried to scam me.
If I stopped for even a moment to look at my map, I was pounced on by “helpful” guides who harassed me to pay them to show me the way. And by payment, I mean 150 dirhams ($18 USD) or more. And, I was even hassled by children who were already learning this scam at an early age. If you’re a fan of the book, The Drifters, the swindling Jimal character is one that you will run into often, and it broke my heart to see children being brought up from such an early age to live a life of dishonesty and greed.
The snake charmers of the Jemaa el Fna, the main square of Marrakesh, are well-known for their scams, and so I tried to steer clear of them. However, one day I walked too close and had the terrifying experience of being chased by the man with his snake. He was trying to drape the snake over my neck and force me to pose in a picture with it, so he could extort me for money. It felt like something of a nightmare as I darted between chained monkeys, men dressed as belly dancers, henna ladies, severed sheep heads, and acrobats to get away from this man.
The Main Activity Was Shopping
Yes, there are other things to do in Marrakesh, but the main activity is shopping. That, in itself, is my idea of hell. And, the thing is you couldn’t walk anywhere without there being stuff on either side of you for sale. I actually had shopkeepers who drug me by my arm into their shops to force me to just “take a look.” There seemed to be no sense of boundaries in this place .
There was trash everywhere in Marrakesh. I rarely saw trash cans, and it seemed to be common practice to just throw trash on the ground instead of in a trash can. There seemed to be no respect for the earth in so many ways .
Mistreatment of Animals
For me, the most heartbreaking part was the blatant mistreatment of animals. The performing chained-up monkeys were severely mistreated. The monkeys had their teeth removed and were viciously reprimanded and choked if they didn’t comply with the owner’s wishes.
Even with all the negative things I experienced in Marrakesh, I’m still glad I went. Here’s why:
1. There’s No Place Like It On Earth
I have to admit, I’ve never been to a place as exotic as Morocco. The scents of orange blossom, cinnamon, and musk lingering in the air, the vibrant spices in perfect pyramids, the silky fabrics stained in a rainbow of colors. They all combined in a symphony in my mind that made me feel like I had discovered some sort of alternate reality. Being there definitely made me more aware of all the senses of my physical body.
2. Moroccan Food
Moroccan food showed me what spices were made for. I learned to hungrily eat with my hands and tasted the food first with my fingertips. I filled my mouth with piquant olives, preserved lemons, dried figs, and dripping honey. Never will I forget the meals I feasted on in Marrakech.
3. Moroccan Tea
You will never have mint tea the way you will have it in Morocco. Yes, it’s so sweet it will make your teeth hurt. But, just let that sweetness infuse your entire being while visiting here. Trust me, you will need it! Seek out the hidden holes in the walls. I found amazing tea houses by wandering down stairways that seemed to lead to nowhere. I had my best moments in the spots away from the tourists and enjoyed catching a glimpse of this local tradition.
4. The Riads
Staying in a riad was my absolute favorite part about being in Marrakech. The riads were the most luxurious places I’ve ever staying at. I stayed at both Riad Camilia and Riad Boussa. The opulent shower at Riad Camilia blew my mind while the cozy living room of Riad Boussa made me want to stay forever. I think it is a must to stay in a riad at least once in your life.
5. Alluring Architecture
The architecture of Morocco is nothing short of astonishing. I am glad I got to see it close up and not just in pictures. The patterns and deep colors of the tiles were so ornate. The fountains and pools, lavish domes, and secret courtyards all seductively converged to take my breath away.