Our guide was extremely paranoid about Marrakesh. He did not like the city at all. As a country boy from the Atlas mountains, he made it clear how much he did not want to spend a whole extra day in this particular city after the tour. He took pains to keep us all together and made it seem like there would be trouble at every turn – especially at night.
After our final group dinner, on a rooftop overlooking the Koutoubia Mosque, we wanted to experience the Jemaa el-Fnaa markets at night. Although the place was reasonably bustling during the day, it completely transforms at night. Around half past five men come from seemingly no where and begin assembly the hundreds food stalls that fill the air with the smoke and smells of cooking. We agreed to meet at 9.30pm near the post office and set out in smaller groups to wander the night market. There were hundreds of people around. Large groups formed to haggle over bags of clothing in the streets, there were street performers signing and dancing, and people grouped around long wooden tables to eat from the food stalls. Just chaos, really.
Eventually, it was decided that we would all take the public bus back to the hotel, which was a 30 minute walk away. Taking a bus from Jemaa el-Fnaa involves crowding around the bus stop you think the bus will arrive at and dozens of people pushing forward when its doors open. The bus was packed within minutes and most of our group were standing in the aisle.
It only took about ten minutes to reach our stop. We got off and walked the short remaining distance to the hotel. As I was going up the steps a woman came up behind me and said she was on the same bus as us and some of her things were taken. The message slowly relayed around the group and we were all uncomfortable about being so close to the theft.
After throwing our bags in our rooms our group met by the pool for an evening drink only to be told that one of our guys had also been quietly robbed. His iPhone and wallet were gone, including his visa card for the UK. He went off with our guide to the police station to report the theft. They didn’t return until 4am and when they did they looked like they’d had the most unpleasant experience of their lives. Over breakfast they narrated the experience of a Moroccan police station which included sitting for hours no knowing what was going on and arrested people being quite literally dragged through.
It’s hard to give advice on this because we were all wearing our bags on our fronts. Pick pockets are just so wily! We think they must have seen our friend put his wallet into his bag before boarding the bus. Then anytime between the crush of people getting on and the ten minute journey, they could have unzipped the pocket, taken his things, and zipped it back up. My best suggestion is to separate your money throughout your belongings and also split your documents. Then if something is taken you’re not left completely in the lurch. I talk money belts at the end of the post.
The next day our guide insisted that we could not walk to our accommodation. That we’d – and I quote – “never find it”. He called us a taxi and gave the driver directions. Pity he couldn’t settle the price with him. Although our guide told us to only pay 20 Dirham, when the driver dropped off Brigette, Other Rachel, and I, he insisted on 100. We gave 50 and called it quits.
The Riad ended up being on the very fringe of the medina, a kind of Marrakesh suburb. There was a small grid system of houses that all appeared to be owned by local people. The only evidence ours was a hotel was the TripAdvisor sticker on the door. When we did check in to our new accommodation, a family run Riad where the owners only spoke french, we were simply advised not to take our valuable items into the marketplace, just in case. And since we’d already been so close to some pick-pocketing, I felt that advice was appropriate.
Brigette and I decided to save the hassle and arrange a taxi to the airport through our accommodation. For 150 Dirham they took care of our transfers. It was probably a family member or friend who ended up taking us there in his range rover. That’s not to say taxis are a complete waste of time. We did a round trip to the train station with Other Rachel where we had some great laughs with the driver and he made some good suggestions about things to do and see.
Women Walking at Night
After the huge deal our guide made of it, I was concerned about walking back to our Riad at night. He really insisted that we be home by 8pm, and the first night we did get back for sunset, missing out on the dinner in the market our friends were having. The next night I decided to expend with the advice. We had a lovely farewell dinner with Other Rachel, the last remaining person in Marrakesh from our original tour, and headed back to our accommodation around 10pm. Brigette and I decided to go in disguise. Long dresses with cardigans and headscarfs on. We had compliments from the woman running Other Rachel’s Riad after we dropped her back on how well we’d done the scarves. On the way back down the same busy street we’d walked up only a couple of minutes before, and multiple times that day, we were unrecognised. Then we turned into the closing souks to take our normal route home. It was so strange seeing those busy souks closed! The crowds were no where to be seen and most of the shop keepers had gone home. A few people remained moving boxes or walking. There weren’t people around every turn, but when we did see people, especially local women, walking around we became more comfortable. It only took fifteen minutes to do the half hour walk since we didn’t have to navigate any congestion. After doing the walk a few times the location of our Riad seemed less dangerous.
The whole time were were in the Medina of Marrakesh we only got lost once and in fairness to ourselves it was because a door on our normal route down to the market place was closed. Although I feel like our guide had over exaggerated the danger to us, I think Marrakesh needs a lot of personal awareness. You need to know where your things are and who is around you.
Money and Money Belts
Brigette carries a money belt, I personally thing they’re too dangerous. If you do choose to wear one, make sure you take your cash for the day out before you leave your accommodation. Use a separate coin purse or wallet for bargaining and avoid going into your belt at all. If no one knows you have it, they have nothing to target you for.
I normally have money spots which change throughout the trip. For this trip, I didn’t take much cash with me anyway. Cash machines were easy enough to come by and used on the one occasion I needed it under the watchful eye of our tour leader.
If there are any other subcategories you’d like me to discuss, please leave a comment below 🙂 I know this post sounds a bit like a horror story, but we really did enjoy Marrakesh aside from a little trouble that could have happened anywhere.