Morocco is first country outside Europe that I have visited. Although I had been reading about this country and Marrakech before me trip, some things surprised me and some things I had imagined different. Read what you can expect in this city.
1. Chaos and stink on streets
One of the first things I realised when I came to Marrakech was a smell of exhaust fumes. There are many old vehicles and scooters which simply stink. And scooters you can see everywhere, even on narrow streets in old town (medina). Below is a photo of quite broad street. Many of them are as narrow as about 3 metres and still people on scooters crowd there through people.
Another thing is chaos on big streets. People walk outside pedestrian crossing, cars and scooters ride through pedestrian crossing while you are still there… it looks crazy. But what surprised me is that I didn’t feel it was dangerous there. Yes, there aren’t traffic rules like in Europe; yes, there is chaos, but everyone looks at everyone. People drive slowly and carefully. And of course talking “everyone” I’m thinking also about pedestrians. You have to have eyes in the back of your head, you can’t think you are safe only because you are on pedestrian crossing and during walking on narrow streets you can’t stare only on products in shop and cross a street without looking what is behind you.
I think this is their traffic rule – “don’t depend on traffic regulations, just look around”. In some respects I even liked it.
2. Medina and Jamaa el Fna
Probably best known places in Marrakech is medina quarter – old city and Jamaa el Fna – a market place in medina. You can buy there almost everything. Argan oil, tea, spices, clothes, jewellery, souvenirs, handbags, carpets, antiques, dishes, freshly squeezed orange juice, meat (including freshly killed chickens), I saw even dentures. On Jamaa el Fna you can also make henna tatto, a photo with monkey, see snake charmers or listen to story-tellers (if you know Arabic).
If you like shopping, crowds and noise you would be in your element. I wasn’t. You can’t just walk there about watching local products because every moment someone wants to sell you something. You can’t simply refuse to buy if you already watched something because they would follow you and shout to force you to buy. If you want to buy something, you can’t simply see a price and buy, you have to negotiate, unless you want to pay much more then it’s worth… I prefer european shops ;)
3. Fake polite guides
If you lost in Marrakech or just you look like lost, it’s easy to meet kind locals who would offer you a help and guide you. After all they would demand money ;) We knew about it and we tried to avoid such people however one time, when we didn’t know how to get to a certain place, we used help of some teenagers who were just playing football in a street corner. They told us to follow them, went with us about 300 m – 500 m to this place and asked for some money…
To avoid such situations it’s better to ask for help police officers. They would not ask for money however their help also might be not the best because of… moroccan humor.
4. Moroccan humor
Moroccans like to joke by lying. “No, we don’t have hot water in our hostel”. “And for you is couscous with vegetables” (to a friend who ordered meat). It can be funny, but one time, when we asked police officers about a way to some place which we knew, was somewhere close, and they explained, we have to “go there, then there, there, then there” and so on, we really didn’t know if they were talking truth or joking ;)
5. Tips in restaurants
Tips are welcome of course not only in Morocco, but here waiters or owners sometimes take it themselves. “This is the rest for you, and 10 MAD for me, ok?”. Another one put the rest on a saucer and one second later he took it back, before I managed to take it.
I didn’t want to argue but I didn’t like such behaviour. A customer should decide if he/she wants to give a tip and how much.
There’s plenty of cats on Marrakech streets. They lie at the walls of buildings, in gardens, wait for some food when you eat on the street…
I didn’t see in contrast almost any dogs. I saw only one person with two dogs and this one a photo. Probably it’s similar also in other arabic countries. They just don’t like dogs but love cats. I hadn’t known it before my trip so it was quite surprising for me, when I was noticing more and more cats on every corner :)
I’m not a big fan of museums and other tourist attractions however I visited some of best known places.
One of them is Saadian Tombs. It was built in 16th century and is a burial ground of tens of members of the Saadian dynasty.
I wasn’t fascinated, it’s just tombstones and a garden. If you like history and architecture maybe you would like this place more.
Another place worth to see if you like architecture is Bahia Palace and its garden. It was built in 19th century and people who were building it put really lot of work in it. Floors, ceilings, columns – everything is made perfectly, in details.
Third well-known place that we have visited is Majorelle Garden. Really nice place with many plant species that I saw for the first time. It’s well-kept and elaborated in detail however I was expecting something bigger. It costs 70 MAD and you can see everything in 20 – 30 minutes. There is also some museum which is paid separately.
Before I came to Morocco I had read many times about poor hygiene in this country and a risk of traveler’s diarrhea and hepatits type A. To avoid problems I took a vaccine for hepatitis and in first days in Morocco I was using antibacterial gel before eating in restaurant, taking pills with probiotic and even washing teeth with bottled water. However, because I was feeling well, in later days I wasn’t so strict. I stopped to using antibacterial gel, taking pills and I was washing teeth with tap water. I even drunk on a street freshly squeezed sugarcane juice, using a glass which was used by many people that day and probably not well cleaned. Still I didn’t have any problems and my 5 friends who I was travelling with were also ok.
Maybe we were just lucky or maybe we didn’t have problems because it was winter so it wasn’t so hot, however our experience was good.
9. Attitude to women
Another thing which I had read before my journey and which turned out not to be so bad is attitude of Moroccans to women. I had read that every european women encounters their attention, they would harass me and I shouldn’t smile to them or reply to their comments… In fact, I didn’t realise such behaviour. We were in five women and one man group but sometimes I was walking with only two female friends or alone and nobody bothers us. I mean, they were, but only because they wanted to sell us something ;)
Again, maybe it’s because it was winter, about 10 – 17°C so we were dressed in warm clothes. Maybe it looks different if you dress in shorts and sleeveless top however I didn’t realise different behaviour according to woman than in Poland where I live.
10. Problems on the airport
Morocco didn’t welcome me kind. First problem arised on the baggage claim. When I took it, I saw a whole in my rucksack, although I tried to secure it and put it in a thick trash bag. It was about 3 cm long cut, made by something sharp. I asked airport employee who was standing by, how could I make a complaint but he said I couldn’t because “it’s not damaged” and I could still use it. He was true I still can use it but it is a good expensive rucksack which I bought only few months earlier… Another way, from Marrakech to London Stansted they again didn’t treat my luggage well. This time they wiped it off in one place. From London Stansted to Warsaw Modlin and the other way everything was OK, so I suspect that employees of Marrakech airport are not careful enough.
Another problem arised when I went (still angry because of damaged rucksack) to the exchange office. I gave money in euro but instead of simply change it to moroccan dirhams, the employee started to explain me moroccan credit card. She even didn’t ask if I wanted cash or a card, she just told she would take 300 MAD for activation of the card, put 500 MAD on the card and the rest would give me in a cash. Thanks to this credit card I could shop without paying for conversion of currency and if I didn’t use all dirhams I could return everything before leaving Morocco. I understood on the beginning that “everything” means also the card, including this 300 MAD. When I asked about it to ensure, it turned out that 300 MAD wouldn’t be refunded and that she had already activated my card and she couldn’t cancel it… I was arguing about 15 minutes to simply get a cash! At least I got it… And I don’t know why she tried to give me the card. My five friends were exchanging currency in the same office but in other employees and they just gave them a cash and even didn’t tell anything about credit card. I suspect she was a new employee and probably she tried to do her best but maybe she wasn’t well trained already. However watch out on this and don’t let them sell you something you don’t need.
The last thing it’s good to know are procedures on the airport. Necessarily take a pen in your hand luggage :) After arrival and before departure you will have to fill in a short document with your personal dates, where you plan to stay etc. Documents to fill in are placed in stands but the airport doesn’t provide pens. If you don’t have one you will have to ask for help other passengers, guards or other employees, who also often don’t have a pen. Other procedure which is not common is that you have to check-in even if you have only hand luggage. They give some stamp which is neccessary to go through the gates and if you don’t have one, you will be returned.
Do you have also some interesting experiences from Marrakech? Something what surprised you or got you angry? :)