East Meets West – Part II – The rest of Morocco

Part One Here.

Outside of Marrakech, most of the rest of the country was kindof a blur. We caught many of the highlights: The palace in Rabat (no photos allowed), The art deco and impressive Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, the incredible souks of Fes, the dunes of Erg Chebbi and more Kasbahs than I can actually remember.

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Our entire time there, though, there was one overarching feeling – you’re not really welcome here, but your money is, so hand it over and kindly piss off. It’s probably partly because we had our experience orchestrated through a travel agency (we’d booked through GAP Adventures, who then sub-contract to local agencies in Morocco), but we were shuttled from tourist trap to tourist trap, and probably spent a lot more on the trip (especially food) than was really necessary. We did expect to pay the tourist tax though, so we weren’t too surprised and didn’t kick up much of a fuss.

Fes Souks

We were also prepared for beggars and scammers, and I actually got kindof used to small children grabbing my back pants pockets in crowded areas feeling for a wallet. And we even realized that sometimes it’s helpful to give a kid a few dirhams once we’d given up trying to navigate our way back to our riad from the middle of the souks. What I wasn’t prepared for was the dressing down by teenaged boys for not giving them enough money for essentially nothing.

Riad Ennafoura

I’m sure it’s not uncommon, but there seemed to be very little knowledge of what the value of a dollar (or in their case Euro as the conversion currency of choice) really is for the average person. There is just a sense of “you have money and I don’t, so hand some over.” We were berated and abused more than once for not handing over the equivalent of about 20 Euros (at least) for anything from pointing us in the right direction, to vehemently insisting Neil have a seat on a rickety stool while waiting outside a Hammam for me – then not letting Neil leave without handing over money in repayment for a seat he didn’t want or need in the first place.

Jardins Majorelle

Things may be different in smaller towns, but the residual bitterness the Moroccans we met still have from the French and Spanish occupation, as well as the current disdain for white tourists of any sort makes me think aiming for 10,000 tourists/year by 2010 might just backfire.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful country, and I’m still really, really glad we went. We did meet some lovely people during our time there who were pleased and proud to share their culture, heritage and country with us – they just seemed to be the exception rather than the rule.

I’ve got some really great and really fond memories of the place – but I also know that with a whole world out there to explore, I didn’t fall in love with it and I’ll probably never go back. And that’s a bit of a strange feeling to have.

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2 thoughts on “East Meets West – Part II – The rest of Morocco

  1. Renee

    I got that feeling in Cambodia, too. A friend put it best: “It’s like you’re a meal on legs.” Although, considering that it would take the average Cambodian four years to earn even the cost of a plane ticket to Canada (if they didn’t eat anything for four years, that is), you can see why they’d think we’re made of money and are maliciously withholding it from them. Nobody I met, I mean nobody, will believe that there are poor people in North America.

    And there’s no way to blend in and not be visibly white, so you constantly get the weird sense that you’re really missing out on something.

  2. filmgoerjuan

    Some countries, particularly in the Middle East, have definitely been overtouristed and the relationship between locals and tourists is on the tense side. Both sides are to blame, really.

    I know that when I was in Egypt it was somewhat similar to what you describe in Morocco. It was impossible to walk more than 10 steps at any major tourist attraction without being pressured to buy some tacky souvenirs. You’d finally convince one person that you weren’t going to buy anything, take a few steps and then someone else would be trying to push the same items on you…rinse, repeat. As well, kids were constantly asking for pens or baksheesh (money); they didn’t have the sense of entitlement that you describe, nor demanded any outrageously high amount, but it was ever present.

    Refreshingly, there are still some places where you can experience genuine hospitality and have a relationship beyond the “local colour vs. source of money” scenario. While in Syria it was all I could do to pay for my own meals. I got invited to visit peoples’ homes quite often and offering money was clearly indicated as being insulting. That said, tourists are still a bit of a novelty there. A country like Jordan was kind of halfway between the attitude in Syria and that in Egypt. As more and more tourists flock there to see some of the spectacular sites (Petra, Wadi Rum) things will start to get worse.

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