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Marrakesh:”Striped djellabas & charming cobras*”

Marrakesh has been a romanticised destination for travellers across the years. The main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa is almost mythic in its ability to draw crowds from around the world. Graham Nash solidified that view in his song Marrakesh. Nash made references to the hippy culture that pervaded Marrakesh and the myriad of attractions in the enormous square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, from dope smoking and snake charmers to men wearing djellabas and the hawkers selling almost anything imaginable.

Myth and romance can also be deflated. In 2022, Jemaa el-Fna is a thriving, living mass of people, sellers of goods from food to t-shirts to photos with monkeys and snakes. The sense we got was that the main square has been so mythologised in the community of world travellers that it has evolved into an example of mass marketing and shabby tourism.

Everyone claims they will give you a good price and that the goods are best quality. Our impression is that many of the goods are of average to low quality while you will be charged a higher price. The other side of the equation equates to the sellers earning a living. It can be annoying but they need to live. If you're not interested, simple ignore them totally--no eye contact, no responses to their entreaties of "Where are you from?" Go ahead, mention your country and they will latch onto you, walk with you and sell their product. It may seem rude but just ignore and they will move to the next target.

Bargaining is an essential and expected part of the culture. That doesn't include food. Food is plentiful and cheap. Fixed price items can be bought for clothing, oils, and food at government authorised collectives. You will get a fair price with the proceeds going to the workers who produced the goods. And the high quality of the goods is guaranteed.

If you do prefer to haggle, Rad suggested you start at 50% of the seller's price. Don't go too low because, according to Rad, the seller is likely to say, "You want a camel for the price of a chicken", even if you're not in the market for a camel. Then again, some people may have a camel fetish. Different strokes, folks. You see-saw over the price until you find a happy medium that satisfies both the seller and you as a buyer. It's all part of the culture.

Water sellers in colourful clothing, narrow alleyways, & open stalls

The noise, the smells and the in-your-face approach of hawkers constantly approaching you to eat, have photographs taken of snakes and monkeys and being sold belts and handbags is pervasive. Monkeys are a new addition to the markets. They weren't traditionally part of the markets. Cobras are meant to have the poison extracted but never trust a snake charmer and never look a cobra in the eye. We believe the baby monkeys are exploited for profit and probably treated in difficult circumstances. Hopefully, they are treated humanely. Hopefully.

The tastes of Jamee el-Fnaa: olives, mint, eggs & sheep's heads

Locals eat at the food stalls in the main square but our opinion is that over the years the pollution in Marrakesh due to the overflow of motorcycles means the taste of the food is affected by the pollution and the open air markets are prone to insects that may feast on your food. There are plenty of Moroccan restaurants near the square and that's where we will be dining.

The other factor is that all the food might not be sold each day and the freshness and hygiene cannot be guaranteed if the same food is presented for sale the next day. You will be susceptible to new flavours and food and the last thing you want is for that food to be unsafe. But the locals and many tourists do partake without adverse affects.

One thing is undoubtedly clear, Jemaa el-Fnaa is alive! You won't have a more intense sensory experience anywhere.


*Song: Marrakesh | Composer: Graham Nash

Band: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Album: Déjà Vu (I think I've heard this album before) 1972

Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes

Travelling the train through clear Moroccan skies

Ducks, and pigs, and chickens call

Animal carpet wall-to-wall

American ladies five-foot tall in blue

Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind

Had to get away to see what we could find

Hope the days that lie ahead

Bring us back to where they've led

Listen not to what's been said to you

Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express

They're taking me to Marrakesh

All aboard the train, all aboard the train

I've been saving all my money just to take you there

I smell the garden in your hair

Take the train from Casablanca going south

Blowing smoke rings from the corners of my mouth, my mouth

Colored cottons hang in the air

Charming cobras in the square

Striped djellebas we can wear at home

Well, let me hear ya now

Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express

They're taking me to Marrakesh


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