And Then We Got Scammed in Morocco, Thrice!

04.01.18 08:10 PM By Putri

Guys, I meant to pour down all the stories about Morocco before Christmas but it seems like it will never happen. Mostly because it’s too much snow Christmas season and all its glitters makes me want to write everything Christmas-y instead of everything Morocco-y like I am supposed to.

I was going to write an article about the famous scams in morocco and how to avoid them, but then again 1001 blogs and travel books have already written all about it, and I have read them all. Yep, I even noted down which cities are prone to what kind of scams, but guess what?... yep, we still got scammed anyway. If this doesn’t reflect on how rookie we are while traveling, I don’t know what does..

Fez and Marrakech are worldly known as the epicenters of scams and touts for travelers in Morocco. But did we get scammed for the first time at one of those cities? Tsk, of course not, we didn’t even get that far before we got our 1st scam. It was in Rabat, one of the most laid-back cities in Morocco instead, right on the 4th day of our travel in the country…


The 'helpful' guide

Before visiting Kasbah Oudayah, we read all about it from Lonely Planet so we knew exactly what to visit, which points of interest, etc. The book talked about the common scam happening in Kasbah Oudayah, which is the unsolicited, unofficial guide. This kind of scam is one of the most common happening to tourists in all over Morocco. 

It’s a scam, you know it’s a scam and they know you know it’s a scam, so they level up their game and come up with subtle ways.

The moment we reached the monumental entrance of the Kasbah; the Bab Oudayah, a small crowd of men in a t-shirt and short tried approach us. At first I didn’t know what they were doing,as they kept trying to come to me while I wanted to have my picture taken on the front of the entrance door. I thought they were other tourists trying to get a pic from the same spot, but there was something odd about them. They didn’t want to take any pic, they wanted to create an opportunity to subtlety strike a chat with me. In that instance, I understood that they were the infamous ‘guides’ of the Kasbah, although however, Nico didn’t seem to get that part. FYI, there is no official guide for Kasbah Oudayah, the place is pretty simple and impossible to get lost in it.

We continued entering the gate, then this one guy (with a t-shirt and short, nonetheless. I kinda guess it’s some kind of their ‘style/uniform’??), abruptly walking next to us out of nowhere, and said “my friend, the bazaar is this way, don’t worry, I live here, this is my home”.  

Like a light switch being turned on, I knew right away that that was an opening of a scam, but guess who didn’t get it?... Yep, him…

I tried to go the other way but Nico somehow followed him and found him interesting, helpful, even! What an innocent soul, my man is. I pulled his arm and tried to tell him that we were about to fall into an unsolicited guide. He insisted that the guy was simply a good Samaritan who happened to be living here and know a lot about the Kasbah and I was being rude for having the audacity to think that that helpful man was a con-artist. I rolled my eyes at him so hard it hurts. Canadians sometimes can really be as innocent as a cabbage.

Before my cabbage patch man Nico got into a further conversation with the suspected conman, I told the ‘good samaritan’ thank you for his time and that we would like to spend our time exploring a boring studded door and he’d better let us alone, yet he didn’t leave.

Nico finally understood that his good Samaritan friend was actually a con-artist, one of the infamous illegal guide of Kasbah Oudayah. We tried to get rid of him politely, but he was persistent that we continue to come with him. It was awkward. Finally, he understood that we didn’t want him around. He asked for money because we had cost him his time. Heck, he was the one who followed us uninvitedly. We gave him 200 dirhams (which FYI, enough for a cup of coffee and a bite of snack at a local cafe) for his 3 minutes of time. Then that ungrateful twat laughed at the amount money we gave him and said “what is this?? 2 Dollar??”, and went away with the money, while giving the rudest gesture ever. What the what?!!

We continued our day and just laughed about it. I laughed at Nico and his gullibility, forgetting that karma is a bitch that will come back to me with the velocity of Speedy Gonzales…

The henna doodles

The happy eejits.

Right after we were done with the Kasbah, we sat and I tried to take our selfies together. Apparently taking a we-fie is a lot harder than I thought. We got caught up in it, trying different poses from different angles. Suddenly my left hand was pulled gently yet firmly, the next thing I know that there are two ladies drawing on the back of my hands up to my arm with henna in syringes without my consent. I told them to stop and tried to pull my hands away but they held it firmly and kept on drawing in the speed of light and suddenly unwanted henna drawing appeared up my arms.

I could have been more firm and tell them to do their unwanted herbal graffiti somewhere else, but I didn’t. Looking at the damage the drawing they have done in my arms in a blink of an eye, I thought ‘oh well, might as well have it’. I know I would have to pay for it anyway so I asked them if any of them know how to draw a Hamsa, one of Morocco’s most famous amulet that happened to be my fav symbol. One of the ladies did try her best to draw one. I appreciate her effort but she was not really good at it. I ended up having a henna tattoo of five-legged jellyfish… LOL.. I am done. 

So, there you go, 4 days into our vacation we got exactly what we were trying to avoid: classic Moroccan scams. Did we learn anything?  We thought we did, until we got to Marrakech. Nothing could have prepared us for Marrakech's endless touting and fake-nice-guys everywhere.

Fake-nice-guys are those who know exactly the second you feel that you are lost and they will just relentlessly try to strike up a chat, leaving you with no space or time to think, they will make you walk with them and therefore they have the right to ask you for money because they 'have helped' you showing the direction you need. They can be very rude if they don’t get the amount of money they want. I have heard from fellow travelers in our hotel that they had a worse experience with those fake-nice-guys.

I have read that this kind of fake-nice-guys are an organized crime, well, okay, saying it is a crime is a bit too much (maybe). But here is the thing, once you are looking a bit lost or ponder where are you heading to, a guy will always come, either he was (acting) he was just passing by next to you, or directly wave at you. Then somehow along the way, his cousin pops up and he will ask his cousin to help you with direction because he needs to be somewhere else. This gesture should make you feel like you are in a good hand, that the guy was only wanted to help you. They do it so smoothly and naturally, well I bet they had the chance to practice it a couple hundreds time a day to every tourist they see. Don’t be so naive. Will they actually bring you to your destination? They will make you walk in circles until you get confused and lost, in the hope that you will appreciate them with a certain amount of money for ‘saving your live’ and bring you back to the square, or whatever tourism spot you were heading to.

And then there was Marrakesh

We had this experience once, and once was more than enough for me. We were walking in Marrakesh medina, trying to find the famous Medersa Ben Youssef on our own speed. Then there was this one guy who claimed to be a student and tried to assure us that he was not a guide but he could take us to the Medersa. We politely said that we have our map and if he would just leave us alone and let us to take our time. The guy kept on talking about Marrakesh tanneries that are about to close in a few hours (scam alert!) and stuff. We said thank you and left him. We haven't even left for more than 5 meters, another guy came and approached us, same style, same gesture, same bullshit. When we succeed ed to ‘escape’ a fake-nice-guy, another one kept popping up, I somehow felt like they are communicating one and another through that single earphone on their left ear. They seemed to just follow us and wouldn’t leave us alone. I felt pretty much being preyed. I even had to act that I got an asthma attack and had to just sit down on a random terrace, I just sat there, acting that I was out of breath till I didn’t see a single young man waiting in the corner acting casual, but actually waiting for us.

We were there on low season, which made it worse. There are not as much tourists for those con-artists to harrass take advantage from. I am not saying that Morrocans are all ass, I met a lot of genuine locals that welcomed us as if we were family, but it is not a secret either that there are con-artists or groups of people that make a living out of extorting innocent tourists. 

The risk of getting scammed is a major part of traveling, no matter where, but in Marrakech, I felt like I could never have my guard down. Not for one feckin’ single moment and that level of alertness was so exhausting and mentally draining. It made it unnecessarily difficult to enjoy the place and get the most out of it. I hated it for that.

Things to do to avoid these scams (or any scam) while you travel in Morocco:

    • Download google maps apps before you even take your flight. It has a fantastic offline GPS usage,
    • Get yourself a sim-card once you arrived at the airport and get connected as fast as possible,
    • Politeness is your passport in this world, but don’t be naive,
    • Take everyone, every cat call, every comment you got with a grain of salt, shrug it off and walk away,
    • Ignore anyone who offer you a help if you don’t need one, politely and firmly,
    • Always walk as if you have a purpose,
    • Never take unofficial guides. If you need a guide, ask your hotel,
    • For women, try to dress properly, covering knees and shoulders, to draw less attention,
    • Bargain when you shop at the medinas, give your counter bargain down to the amount you want to pay right away, don’t waste your time (and the vendor’s), pay for it or leave it,
    • Shop in Fes, instead of Marrakech, more choices and better price.