Marrakech: A cautionary tale

I want to share the beauty of Marrakech with you all, but I really have to stress the ugliness we experienced, too. That way, if you end up visiting, you'll know what to watch out for. On our first morning - of course it would be on our first morning - when we were exploring the Medina, the old walled part of Marrakech filled with winding narrow passages and the souk, we wandered around until we emerged into a quieter set of streets.

Seeing our hesitation, as we tried to figure out where we now were, a local pounced on us telling us about the nearby tanneries and how we were in luck because today was a special day - they were letting tourists visit the tanneries today, and today only! Of course this was a lie because the tanneries are open every day. He then insisted that he would walk with us since he was already heading that way...

First things first, if you accept help from a local, agree a price beforehand or you may find that they will aggressively demand lots of money from you when you reach your destination. It's hard to get an exact figure, but it seems that the average daily salary is around 100 dirhams - use that as a benchmark to figure out what to pay/tip, and make sure that you have plenty of change as you're not going to get any change back once you've handed money over. Oh, and they'll probably ask for double, or triple, their price once you've arrived, but stay firm!

Secondly, if someone insists that they are, by chance, also walking your way and that they don't want any money from you it will be a different story when you reach your destination, GUARANTEED. Which, you've probably guessed it, is exactly what happened to us, even though I'd read up beforehand about this sort of thing. Epic fail. The "friendly local" wanted 200 dirhams for his help, and then the man at the tanneries also wanted 200 dirhams from us. They didn't get that much from us, but they got more than we wanted to give because of their aggressive tactics and because we didn't have any small change.

If someone approaches you trying to "guide" you to a place and you don't feel comfortable about them, or you don't actually want their help, I'd recommend that you walk off in the opposite direction. It's easy to get caught up in the adventure, or think that they are genuinely being helpful, but they are only helping you for money, I promise. If you walk off and they follow you, go into a shop as the shopkeeper won't take too kindly to them hassling their (potential) customers.

As for the tanneries, was it worth visiting after all that hassle and a slightly lighter wallet? Well, I have never smelled anything like it - even with a sprig of mint thrust upon us to help disguise the smell - and I hope that I never smell anything like that ever again!

Even with the mint sprig I was nearly sick from the hot, decaying fumes of animal hides left to soak in a mixture of pigeon poo and other animal waste. The hair is then scraped off, dried, and after that the skins get soaked in a pit of lime before it's time for more pigeon poo. Finally, the "magic" can happen, turning the skins into whatever they are destined to become. OK, that's a simplified account of the process, but it was hard to concentrate with the smell! 

After having our eyes opened from the tanneries scam, we tried a firm "no, thank you" to any "helpful" locals, but we found that made them even more persistent because we had acknowledged their calls. It might feel rude ignoring the people hollering at you but this, for us, was the easiest way to stop the inevitable harassment that would occur if we politely declined their offers of help. Even taking that stance it was hard to shake off the feeling that we were only ever seen as walking cash machines and we were, unfortunately, pestered so much that it really soured our Moroccan experience. I know this isn't a reflection of all Moroccans but, for us, it was better to be rude than to be conned.

Have you ever had a bad experience whilst on holiday? x

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