I got chased by a snake charmer and I wish I’d skipped a UNESCO World Heritage site
Approximate Reading Time: 5 minutes
Hilarious to imagine it, isn’t it? Unfortunately in person, it wasn’t.
I was terrified. Yes, I knew the snake had its fangs taken off and it was all safe, still NO.
Coming from India, you’d think I’d be accustomed to elephants roaming the streets and snake charmers dotting every corner.
If that’s your version of India, you definitely need to pack your bags and get to India right away. Trust me it’ll be eye-opening.
Coming back to being chased.
I’d travelled to a lot of places in the South-East of Morocco and it was finally time to stay put in Marrakech and experience the Medina, try some more local fare (aka A camel burger) and wander around with no goals.
Jemaa EL Fnaa, being a UNESCO World Heritage site, I was sure there was ample in store to blow my mind away.
So we went.
Wafts of tagines filled the air in the noon. Vendors were starting to arrange their wares in the square. The souk was filled with locals and tourists alike and haggling was in full swing.
We strolled around the perimeter, watching as everyone was busy setting up their spaces. At the corner where the police stations are located, visitors were posing for pictures with monkeys on their shoulders.
Yes, animals can be tamed, no matter how wild they are. I’d once faced some angry monkeys in Thailand who wanted to take a swipe at me because I didn’t want to share my food. And because they couldn’t get to me, one of them pee’d in the place I was previously sitting at. His version of revenge – apt I’d say!
That put me off monkeys forever. So I steered clear of the monkeys, who were keen on fidgeting with the hair and jewellery of tourists and wondered if it was fun?
I was taken aback when out of the blue, a woman took my hand and started drawing scrawly henna patterns. I politely told her I didn’t want a henna tattoo, but she continued to draw, ignoring me completely. She said it was because she loved what I wore and I didn’t have to pay her at all.
I continued to resist and told her firmly that this wasn’t new to me and I was not interested. By that time she’d finished drawing on one hand. After I’d said my ‘Thank-you’s’ and handed her MAD 10, she wouldn’t let go. She said she expected more. I reminded her that she had said that she was doing it for free. She in turn said I should be more sympathetic as she had 3 tummies to feed. So I ended up handing her MAD 50 and a stern look before she finally let me go.
I was surely having experiences at this place!
But it was far from over. I finally spotted the cobras. Before I could give a thought to whether I needed pictures of the snakes for the blog or Instagram, a charmer came hurriedly towards me and wrapped one around my shoulder.
I’m aware that snake charmers were a useful lot in India. They were called when someone got bit or when a serpent had sneaked its way into someone’s place. Then they got banned and it didn’t go down well.
This did not seem useful in any way.
Contradictory to popular belief, from all that I’ve heard about snake charming, the snake really doesn’t care about the music played ‘for him’. It feels threatened by the swaying of the charmer. It’s also been taught to expect something to eat if it gets out of its basket.
The animal seemed tired and uncared for. Almost on the brink of death. The charmer then wriggled my precious camera from hubby dear and rapidly clicked pictures.
It was the perfect setting in a busy market centre of an African-Arabian city. A magazine photographer trying various crooked poses and trying to get to the snake as close as possible. A couple giggling hysterically as the charmer made the snake ‘kiss’ their forehead and me wriggling uncomfortably.
I told the charmer I was extremely hungry and had to get on my way to get some lunch. That’s when the (obvious) answer came: You can once you’ve paid up.
What for? For taking pictures with the snakes!
I replied I was out of Dirhams as I’d just paid the henna ‘artist’. Well that was ok as he accepted Euro’s too. And how much did I had to pay?
50 Euro’s would be the minimal.
That was when I realized how beautiful the whole setup was – Business as usual.
I pleasantly told him I had to withdraw cash and was genuinely out of money. He continued to hold my hand telling me to promise him I would return with said cash.
As soon as he let go, we ran away from the square. Not to the souk but in the opposite direction, to put as much space as possible between the ‘performers’ and us. I later regretted the few pictured I’d clicked. But I didn’t know better then. Neither do many.
Djemaa El Fnaa is bustling at night as well. With ‘human’ performers who tell old tales, play Berber instruments and sell exotic lamps. It is definitely worthwhile to pay a visit in the late evening.
It’s difficult to put a word to describe your experience of a country when you loved it yet it was marred by some unpleasant incidents in the last few days before you bid adieu. These are just some I faced in Djemaa El Fnaa. Even though I had someone with me all the while, I was ogled at under the pretext of being ‘friendly’.
The night spent in the Sahara listening to Berber tunes amongst the stars or the magnificent facade of Ait-Ben-Haddou can’t be side-lined, no matter what.
I tried putting this post off till a time I knew I could do justice to it. I know many adore Morocco and a lot never come across such mishaps. Travel is after all unique to all.
I’d still say I loved Morocco and I know you and many others won’t be put off by this narrative. I wouldn’t want you to. Chefchaouen, Fez are too alluring.
But maybe, just maybe, just as we rise up in arms for elephants and propagate responsible tourism, we could spare some kind thoughts for snakes and other ‘performers’ too.
Avoid taking pictures stating it’s cultural, if it’s isn’t of prime importance.
They are wild animals and their place is in the wild.
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