Friday, March 28, 2014

Jamaa el Fna by day - Marrakesh

Yesterday's post about our experience of Marrakesh was really hard to publish.
But this blog is my travel scrapbook and my experiences so I just have to be honest.

Today, I'll tell you a little more about why I felt we had a negative experience of the city.

First, I don't think we saw enough of it.  It's probably not that we didn't enjoy the city,
but that we didn't like the main square of Marrakesh where we spent a majority of our time.

Second, while our hotel was nice, I think our experience would have been much different
had we stayed in a Riad, a traditional Moroccan house.

The fact that it was the end of an 11 day tour and we were pretty exhausted also likely played a part.


Jamaa el Fna - The Main Square of Marrakesh, Morocco

The main square Jamaa el Fna by day is certainly fascinating with a lot to see and photograph.
But, it didn't feel like a very friendly place.  I knew that I had to be careful with the photos.
I tried to be very respectful and discreet.  I intended to pay any of the performers that I photographed.

Jamaa el Fna - The Main Square of Marrakesh, Morocco

Jamaa el Fna - The Main Square of Marrakesh, Morocco

It's overwhelming but a great place to people watch.  It's surrounded by restaurants.
So we spent a bit of time up on a balcony just watching everything that was happening below.

Jamaa el Fna - The Main Square of Marrakesh, Morocco

Jamaa el Fna - The Main Square of Marrakesh, Morocco

I wanted to take some photos so walked up to these men.  I made eye contact with one and tapped my camera to let them know that I'd be taking photographs. I took this one photo before the man rushed right up to me demanding payment.  I gave him a few coins and he immediately started yelling for more. I just walked away with him still yelling.   After being fussed at several times even when I did pay, I just changed to the zoom lens and gave the camera to Matt.  This was way too stressful. I told him to get some shots if he could.

Jamaa el Fna - The Main Square of Marrakesh, Morocco

Jamaa el Fna - The Main Square of Marrakesh, Morocco

Jamaa el Fna - The Main Square of Marrakesh, Morocco

Jamaa el Fna - The Main Square of Marrakesh, Morocco

I completely agree with what Matt said yesterday about not supporting the animal handlers.
We gave them all a very wide berth as we walked around the square.   We often saw then walk up behind unsuspecting people to perch an animal on a shoulder.   If you're planning a trip to Morocco please take a moment to read more about this topic at IPPL's Advice for Travelers to Marrakech.  

Jamaa el Fna - The Main Square of Marrakesh, Morocco

Jamaa el Fna - The Main Square of Marrakesh, Morocco

 At one point, we were on a guided tour by a local who stopped at this table of teeth.
The gentleman at the table was smiling at the group and several took photographs with no problem.
As the group was walking away, I took a photo and he started right up with the screaming.
I apologized and put the camera away.  But,check it out... teeth!  I have no idea what they're for.

Jamaa el Fna - The Main Square of Marrakesh, Morocco

Jamaa el Fna - The Main Square of Marrakesh, Morocco

I was dying to get a henna tattoo while we were in Morocco.  I had been holding out the entire trip for Marrakesh.  That was where I wanted to get my tattoo. I had pulled my hand away from many eager henna ladies throughout my trip.  From a bit of research I knew about how much to expect to pay and to avoid the "black" henna tattoos.

Jamaa el Fna - The Main Square of Marrakesh, Morocco

There are dozens of women in the square offering tattoos, so I selected one and sat down to negotiate.  She grabbed my hand started doing the tattoo and said 350 (£26).  I pulled my hand away and said "100" (£8).  She started fussing, grabbed my hand and wiped it off.  The lady sitting next to her started fussing back at her and said to me "150" (£11) so I agreed.  She did a lovely job and even sprinkled on some glitter.  It took her all of 8 minutes and I paid her 200 Dirham (£15).

Jamaa el Fna - The Main Square of Marrakesh, Morocco

The paste starts to dry out and eventually crumbles off to leave the tattoo.
My hand started to itch so I brushed most of it off early which is why the tattoo is more orange than brown.

Jamaa el Fna - The Main Square of Marrakesh, Morocco

It lasted for a week or two and was a nice reminder our our time in Morocco. Both the good and the bad.

I didn't much enjoy our time at Jamaa el Fna.  It was big and crowded.
Intense and loud.  We repeatedly  got the very aggressive sell.  We got some really harsh looks.
I got yelled at more than once.  Even if they weren't yelling in anger they were yelling at us to buy something.

There also seemed to be an an underlying dislike for us as tourists.
Often, that dislike wasn't masked at all but very blatant.  I got the distinct impression that
they weren't happy that we were there but as long as we were they were going to get
as much of our money as possible.

I understand that people need to make a living.  I understand that tourists often exhibit some pretty boorish behaviour. But, this just felt different and uncomfortable.  I didn't feel this way at all in any of the other places we visited in Morocco.

Obviously, not every encounter in Marrakesh left me feeling that way.
I know plenty of people that absolutely love Marrakesh and Jamaa el Fna.
So I promise that any future post of Marrakesh will only include those positive experiences.

What are your feelings about Jamaa el Fna?
If you had a better experience than us, feel free to leave your thoughts and links. 


32 comments:

  1. I can totally relate to your opinion. I thin the square is an amazing place for people watching and taking photos but when people scream at you when taking a photo, this can be annoying. And even though if you make the move and ask for permission. gosh. we'll see how my experience will be. Nonetheless I cannot wait to see this famous square in Marrakesch.

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  2. I would have been really unnerved after being yelled at multiple times. I don't think I have a thick enough skin to handle this square.

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  3. While your photos are amazing as always, your experience really sounds awful. You have my honest respect for staying and trying to get more pictures after being yelled at the first time. I would have left the place at some point as I'm not good in handling stress and being yelled at is a lot of stress for me :D

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  4. Me too! Crowds already freak me out but crowds of people all yelling at me? Oh no....

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  5. Selena, Do you think it was partly due to the time of year? Or do you think it's always like this? I've only been to Morrocco once, and my experience was very similar. I'm glad to hear you had better experiences in other parts of the country.

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  6. I think you're right, we barely spent any time in the main square and loved the other outskirts of the city. There are some lovely little spice markets and souks elsewhere that you'll have to check out if you ever go back!

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  7. From your description I can see why it is not a place you would rush back to. I would not like people being so aggressive. I think you explained your experience well (without being bashing or negative), just honest.

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  8. Well first of all... I'm appalled at what Matt and you shared about the animals, I was an animal rights activist for years, and though I'm not as gung ho about it (I didn't even eat meat then) it still makes me sick when people are cruel to animals... I refuse to go to the circus for this reason (little off topic.. sorry)... But this city would not be my cup of tea either, sure street performers like to make money, they are all over London as well, but in London, and many other places, they are grateful for your generous tip, I would be so ticked off if people were yelling at me and demanding money!!! Especially if you're taking pictures of "stuff" and not of them personally!! Though I have to say the teeth were amusing :)
    I know not everyone, everywhere is friendly, but geeze... I would not like to have experienced that kind of bitterness they have towards tourists!!
    Great post Selena!
    Have a wonderful weekend,
    Tammy xx

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  9. Sarah I would have told someone to piss off and been arrested.... I best behave and stick with London :)

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  10. That henna tattoo is gorgeous. Interesting and sad to learn about the animals, good to know though especially for future travelers. Beautiful pictures as always.

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  11. Your photos are as always, incredible, but I'm sorry to hear you didn't have a good experience. I have a friend who recently went to Morocco and said she had similar experiences and probably wouldn't go back. I am hoping to go in August

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  12. I'm so impressed that you guys managed such great photos given the circumstances! It certainly sounds like an interesting city. I've had similar experiences in other places, and no matter how many excuses you try to make for it, not every place is for everyone - and that's okay. I'm glad you both shared your honest opinions - if people want to see a place, they'll still go. But they'll also be a little bit more aware of what they're getting into, which is a positive in itself :)

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  13. From all the things that I've heard about Marrakesh, it seems to be a place that people either love or hate. My boyfriend visited with his family as a teen and really wasn't fond of it all, but I've also heard of people who describe it as the most wonderful place on earth! I think I'd get too stressed out as well, but a place that conjures so many polarizing emotions does have something going for it. I think there are just some places that we can't really connect with, but the good news is that there always seem to be more places that conjure positive feelings in us! :)

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  14. Heather on her travelsMarch 30, 2014 at 5:16 AM

    Jemaa el Fna is the tourist hotspot of Marrakech - I felt much the same as you, I knew I would have to pay for any photos but it does feel quite aggressive and in your face. I think it's a place to dip in and out of but it's not a place to spend much time or you go mad. As far as the henna, I did get a small one in the souk but if you don't want all that aggressive bargaining you can try the Henna Cafe which is also a community project to support local people. I think if I was a first timer in Marrakesh and wanted to avoid the hassle I'd request my hotel to find me a guide for a morning - the price will be fair, the quality will be high and they ward off all the unwanted attentions. We loved staying in Riad Star, a 6 bedroom Riad in the Medina - it is a more homely experience than a larger hotel I think

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  15. Sounds stressful! And who wants to feel stressed out and fussed out on their vacation?! I'm content to experience it through your eyes! :)

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  16. I can definitely understand why this wouldn't have been your favorite place. Being screamed at constantly is hard and stressful for most people. I'm glad you had a better experiences in other parts of Morocco, and were able to get some pictures.


    Brittny
    www.awrittenjourney.com

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  17. You are going to have a wonderful time! I can't wait to hear all about it. There is so much more to Marrakesh than this square. The souk was amazing.

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  18. It was a bit shocking and overwhelming. I'm so thankful that we went, though. I need to have more of those experiences that take me out of my comfort zone and open up my world.

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  19. Luckily Marrakesh has so much more to offer. I've read so many other great reviews of things I wish that we had done or seen. The square was definitely stressful!

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  20. I don't think it was the time of the year. I think it's just the nature of the tourist economy. They balance between vendor and tourist is just off somehow.

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  21. It really isn't that we didn't like Marrakesh, it's that we didn't like the square. We didn't see nearly enough and had such a short time there. We need to revisit this one, I think.

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  22. It was pretty overwhelming and disappointing to have a negative experience. But then I look at my photos and I'm so glad that we went!

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  23. I would have been pretty frightened if Matt hadn't been there. I would just hide behind him when they started yelling. lol

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  24. Thanks, Kaelene. It was a challenging place, but I think those experiences that take us out of our comfort zone are really good for us. I learned a lot and I'm becoming much more open minded the more we travel. The more challenging places are really good for that.

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  25. Thanks, Sammy. You're going to have an amazing time! I wouldn't give anything for my time in Morocco. It was all worth it. Now you'll just have an idea of how to handle the square. It was beautiful and overwhelming.

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  26. I hope that's the case. I would never discourage anyone from going! It is an amazing city. But, knowing what to watch out for may help someone have a better time than we did.

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  27. That's why I was so surprised. So many people really love Marrakesh! I chalk it up to how we spent our time. We need a do-over. And a bad day in Marrakesh is a million times better than a good day at the office!!!

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  28. Heather, thank you so much for reading and commenting. I've been following along with you in Marrakesh and I kept thinking "See, we should have done that!" And that Riad! Not staying in one is my biggest regret. I think we will have to try Marrakesh again. We weren't there nearly long enough and our time was just not well-spent. Morocco is an amateur photographers dream! I'm so thankful that we went.

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  29. It was very stressful and overwhelming. But, I would still recommend it. lol

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  30. It's the most exotic place I've visited and now I feel more ready to tackle Southeast Asia. I just love traveling... even on the bad days. :D

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  31. Yea, I totally get it. Sometimes one area can just take away from the whole place.

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  32. I have kind of a weird travel journey, in that I started in SE Asia. My husband and I went to Bali for our honeymoon, and it was the first time I left the States. It was definitely a big step, and one I'm so happy I took. It definitely makes traveling through Europe (though with it's own set of challenges) much easier. :)


    Brittny
    www.awrittenjourney.com

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Thanks for commenting. I love to hear from you!