In a country like Morocco, you are warned to ‘be on your guard’ and watch out for ‘scams’. We British really love to assume the worst in people, and it’s hard to get out of that mind frame when travelling, but it is worth doing. I don’t advise naive travelling or trusting a stranger with your wallet, but sometimes just give someone the benefit of the doubt and see where it takes you. I give you the following as an example.
On our third day in Marrakesh, we had seen enough of the main square and the old city directly around our Riad, and decided to go exploring. Now I advise taking a map with you, but I also advise not to panic too much, and to meander at will, checking the map only every now and again so as not to end up in Casablanca. After leaving the bustle of narrow streets and souks however, and having wandered down some huge roads, scooters and rickety motorbikes whipping past devilishly close, the smell of piss and horse manure stinging our nostrils, I was desperate to get somewhere. Anywhere.
At the time we were heading for the Saadian Tombs. I had no idea what they would be like, but I was determined to see them as they were in bold on the map.
What felt like hours of motorbike fumes later, we took a side street, and ended up somewhere that we knew to be ‘definitely a place, and possibly near the tombs’. It was here that we were approached by a widely grinning man with leaflets. I groaned inwardly, waiting for the pitter patter of bullshit.
‘ You look for the Tombs my friends?’
He promptly beckoned us to follow him and led us to a passage in the stone wall of a compound with the sign ‘Saadian Tombs’ above it in official looking letters. Well, I felt pretty bad.
‘Now you enjoy Tombs, but promise you come find me after yes? I take to famous Spice and Herbalist.’
We threw an ‘Of course’ in his general direction and disappeared into the Tombs, hoping to never see him again.
After the pretty disappointing tombs, we headed out again, eager to avoid our smiling helper. Impossible. We bumped into him almost immediately and he led us into a narrow street. The street zigzagged around corners, and became what I can only describe as an alley, until we could no longer hear the scooters. All sorts of worst-case scenarios whizzing through my mind, I was relieved when we were taken into a cool tiled entryway.
What followed was one of the most interesting experiences of our whole time in Marrakesh. The building had three floors of wall to wall spices, potions and herbs. We were given a half an hour explanation of the uses of about 15 different things, and then left to look and think. There was barely any pressure to buy, although I did buy some Cumin and Incense, seeing as I’m a sucker for a spice anyway.
The moral of this tale? Sometimes, just sometimes, smile, nod, say ‘Of course’ and mean it.