On a recent trip to Marrakech I became tired at being fleeced by all and sundry. This was especially true of taxi drivers who will use your geographical ignorance to charge more than you would pay for a similar length of trip in a London Black cab if you're not careful. And they tend to get quite aggressive if you have the neck to negotiate – even though you're doing so nicely. Thus I resolved to make a planned trip to Cascades d'Ouzoud (well worth it by the way) by public bus rather than taxi. In most ways this was a good way to travel – all Moroccans, no tourists, rooster in cage on roof, altogether much more interesting than a more tourist-oriented option.
What I discovered, though, is a vast difference in condition of buses. Some look quite together and well, if creatively, maintained. The one we got on was falling apart – and that's by Moroccan standards. It's typical to see some quite creative repairs on Moroccan cabs and buses but this thing had repairs on top of repairs to the point where it was hard to tell what was holding what together. It seems the same buses tend to do the same journey times day in day out. We were on the same bus on the way back two days later (it was later in the day but this made sense as it was the return leg of the journey). This time the dilapidation started to show up big time. The windscreen shattered, showering everyone at the front in glass and, ten minutes later one of the side windows fell out. Even the locals were a bit perturbed by the state of the bus in question! If this kind of thing worries you it may be best to go to the bus station a day before you plan to travel. Find the bus that's going where you are headed and talk to the driver or ticket man to ask if the same bus will be running at the same time the next day. If the bus looks sufficiently knackered that you don't think you can stomach a trip in it you can then change your plans accordingly.
In the end we all got back in one piece but it wasn't a trip of the feint of heart.
There are lots of young men who will accost you as you walk around Marrakech and try to act as your guide to take you to wherever you are going and then demand a fee. This is particularly so once you leave the main square and are heading out to somewhere less easy to find - for example the Bahia Palace, or the Dar Zellij restaurant. Be aware too that some of them will pretend that somewhere is closed when it is not, or will send you off on the wrong direction in order then to get one of their friends to set you right. This is a great shame because it means that, rather than interacting with people, you sometimes have to blank them or even pretend to speak a different language. If you do need directions to somewhere it may be preferable to ask a woman or an older man or a storekeeper - they are more likely to give you accurate directions out of common courtesy without then wanting to accompany you or expecting money in return. If you do end up being accompanied by a 'faux guide' against your will, you may want to explain that you are happy to talk to them along the way but do not wish to have a guide and will not be paying them any money if they accompany you. At least that way, when you reach your destination, you can feel comfortable sticking to your guns and refusing to pay - though be prepared to be pestered repeatedly and to have to hold your resolve. Of course there may be no harm giving a few coins to a boy who has taken some time to get you to the right place, but they should not expect to charge more than this and should be prepared to give you correct and honest information for free. So when one lad demanded 20 dirhams (more than a taxi fare across town) just for telling us which door on the street we were looking for we robustly refused - pour decourager les autres.
Tigmi was a complete nightmare. We arrived there after a sublime stay at the Kasbah de Toubkal and what a comedown it was. Service was appalling in every respect. The so-called spa offered only a handful of the treatments on the menu. The room was freezing and three heaters had to be hauled in before they could get one to work. They used cold water for the pedicure. But worse was yet to come... the heater in my niece's room burst into flames in the middle of the night and no-one came to help despite us all screaming and yelling. There were no fire extinguishers in the rooms. The owner's response? The heater was made in China. In my room, there was a leakage of water overnight flooding the whole room and staining my leather luggage. The owner's response? I must have left a tap on. They were quite defensive and accusatory. No discount was offered nor any apology. We were supposed to just shrug it off apparently - just as they did. The French manager is so arrogant it beggars belief. The only saving grace? The food was good and the beds were comfortable. A ghastly place stuck in the middle of an extremely poor village. Don't waste your time going there... and don't believe the brochure.
Having been driven nuts by incessant requests to buy something or taste food at Jemma El-Fna I pulled my mobile and pretended I was talking. People are much less likely to pester you. Obvious, but I've seen a many distressed tourist trying to untangle themselves from the charms of 10,000 sellers.
For some reason or other, superstition or plain dislike of being actors in our holiday snaps, Moroccans hate being photographed. Makes any street photography a nightmare, although most people prefer to quietly step away or lurk in the shade as opposed to making a scene. If you need a close-up portrait, do ask and expect a request for money. I strongly suggest not tipping even at the expense of not having that colourful mint seller in your album. Some folks do agree to be photographed for nothing, but bizzarely, while tuning my lens on one seller I had a policeman coming by and checking that I've got my subject's consent. Children on streets are ready to put a price tag on their father's footprints, so expect some young chap proudly demanding a price. Gently send them away.
Having recently returned from Morocco we are posting this review to warn everyone about the scam that is also known as “Origins” supposedly an environmentally sustainable, community supporting company that provide accommodation in some of the more inaccessible parts of Africa and other parts of the world. Our experience relates to Dar Itrane in the High Atlas mountains, an “eco-lodge” with solar panels, local culture library, set in a beautiful valley … sounds good? We thought so too. A lot of money clearly went into selling this place and the website reflects this. Quick to take your money in advance and slow to provide any follow up customer service. Our first bit of “useful” advice was that the mountains would be very cold and we should pack accordingly. So with a bag full of thermal clothes we spent 7 hours in 35*C heat travelling to Dar Itrane, it soon became apparent that the email warning of these conditions was sent from France and that the Origins staff had no idea of what it was like on the ground. A recurring theme it has transpired.
We arrived, dusty and tired, looking forward to a nice relaxing time and integrating with the local culture only to find that the place was derelict and filthy dirty. After half an hour or so of wandering around someone from the village asked what we were doing. We explained that we had intended to stay at the lodge and he helpfully broke into the office, found a key, tried every room and managed to get one open for us. We were then told that there was no one around and that there was no food available. By this time we started to worry about what we were going to do over the next four days and it was becoming clear that the promises made by Origins were totally empty. We called the in-country contact who dismissed us in a rude manner and told us that there would be no one there as we were not supposed to be there either. After several rather heated conversations the contact acknowledged her mistake as we had been confused with some other, perhaps wiser, travellers who had cancelled their booking earlier that week.
With no alternative we left the next day much to our disappointment, the hotel is in a beautiful location but in terms of community interaction there may as well be a barbed wire fence around the outside. The library which was advertised as “being central to the lodge and giving guests a wide range of information on the Berber culture”– it consisted of a basket with two books, one of which was the Origins brochure – there wasn’t a solar panel in sight and the place had clearly been neglected. We were trying to do something positive on holiday, and were encouraged by the claims on the Origins website of minimal impact on the local community and environment, this couldn’t have been further from the truth, the ‘ecolodge’ aspect is a farce. Despite the assurances of, by now, the very apologetic in-country contact we have not been refunded for our troubles and we wasted two days of our holiday. Origins have not responded to a series of emails in which we raised points of concern to us, such as the above and other queries re the ‘eco-ness’ of the lodge. We received one curt email that asked us to stop emailing them.
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