Mauled in Marrakesh – A Boxing Kangaroo in Djemaa el Fna Square

The Australian Boxing Kangaroo FlagNo matter what your intentions throughout the day in the fabled city of Marrakesh, sooner or later all paths lead to ‘Djemaa el Fna Square.’ People are simply drawn to it, and It seems to captivate both tourists and locals alike. This tale took place in 1994, but there’s no doubt that the square is even busier today. By day the square is a buzz with activity, but as evening comes and the temperature drops, it is best described as a frenzy. With everything from food vendors to juice stalls, and snake charmers to story tellers and magicians, this place has it all. Djemaa el Fna Square is certainly a must visit for any trip to Morocco, but also a place you need to keep your wits about you. Drop any first time traveler in this place, and I’ll give them 2 hours before they’ve dropped a quick $50 with nothing to show for it, or even worse, by purchasing a couple of ridiculously over priced rugs.

The touts and performers in the square are experts in trying to fleece tourists for every last Dirham in their wallet.

The Crowds of Djemaa el Fna Sqaure Are Hectic Both Day and Night

Making our way through the daytime crowds, we noticed a large group of people all gathered in a circle. We weren’t exactly sure what was going on, some type of street performance maybe? So we walked over for a closer inspection. Maneuvering our way to the front of the crowd, we saw what appeared to be a boxing gym. There were many onlookers watching a couple of young boys box, under the watchful eyes, and instruction of their trainers. Tone and I pulled out our camera’s and started to reel off a few shots. It was then, one of the trainers noticed us and began to make hand gestures, that if we are to take photo’s then we needed to pay for the privilege.

Anyone who’s been to Morocco and especially Marrakesh will know, that when it comes to Western tourist’s your expected to pretty well pay for everything, but not us, no way! As you gazed around the crowd, there were also Moroccan tourists taking photo’s as well. He wasn’t asking them for any money, was he. At this stage I fell back on rule number 62.1a from the travelers handbook. ‘Never pay for something, if you don’t see a local person pay for the same service’.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with handing out a bit of Baksheesh here or there for a job well done, or for some small favor, but this was different. It was bordering on extortion, how they demanded your money for everything.

The Trainer Demanded Money From Us But Weren’t Going To Pay

He wasn’t getting a cent out of us, so we told him we wont be paying and continued to watch a little longer before making our way deeper into the Medina. It was now mid afternoon, and the sun was beaming down on a very hot day, even by Moroccan standards. We’d just arrived from Casablanca a few hours ago, and were now quite hungry. So we then began trawling the Medina for one of those dirt cheap restaurants you tend to find hidden away up some dingy back alley. A place that was well out of the way from the hoards of people that flock to the square every day.

‘We’ll pay to much around here’, said Tony, as he scanned the restaurants in the immediate vicinity. ‘We’re too bloody close to the square! Down there, there’s got to be a cheap joint down that alley.’

The Morocco crew - From the left is myself with Tone in the middle and Dave on the right.

Tony had a second sense for sniffing these places out, and would always lead us to the cheapest place in town, but also one where you’d quite possibly need a cast iron gut to survive. True to form, once again Tone had found a gem, and we chowed down on a spicy bowl of Moroccan hariria soup, topped off with a plate of warm freshly baked bread. We finished up our meals, and sat around for a while before heading back to our guest house for an afternoon nap, as we would grace the square once again at sundown, when it was a little cooler.

After our afternoon nap, we made our way back into the square just before dusk, which put a whole new prospective on the place. Due to the heat throughout the day, the place was busy, but not over the top, but by late afternoon the square had a real carnival atmosphere to it. The food stalls were venting beautiful aroma’s, and the silhouette of the minaret from the Koutoubia Mosque was viewed in the distance, for what was a Moroccan picture postcard moment.

For what reason, I can’t tell you, but we left our camera’s back at the guest house that afternoon, and for what was about to take place, I am still kicking myself to this day.

This Time It Was The Men Who Were Boxing

As we made our way through the crowded square, we spotted the outdoor boxing gym once again, but this time it was the men who were fighting, and the crowd was even bigger than before. We made our way over for a glance at two fit looking blokes in there early twenties going at it. I swear the trainer must of had eyes in the back of his head, and he recognized us from earlier on in the day. The current bout came to an end, and the trainer turned to us and gestured that because we didn’t pay for taking photo’s, we must fight one of his boxers in the ring.

Boxing in Marrakesh

Earlier on in the day, it was the young kids who were fighting. By late afternoon, it would be my turn.

He moved in our direction and tried to persuade Tony to box one of the fighters, who had just finished. Tony remarked that he was way to big for him, and politely declined. He then turned to me and signaled that he’d get someone my size. I’m all of five foot seven and at the time would have weighed less than 60kg, ringing wet. That puts me in the lightweight division, and the two that had just finished would have had at least 15kg on me, so there was no way I was getting into the ring with either of them.

The trainer was getting quite pushy, and by this stage the large crowd were beginning to get involved. He basically through the gloves at me, and the next thing I can remember I’m standing in center ring, with the crowd chanting and cheering. I thought ‘What the hell, a couple of rounds will be fine, Just don’t get knocked out!’ Getting knocked out would be a massive problem, as when I described it as a ring above, in reality it was just a ring of people, and if my opponent were to land a good shot on my chin, I would fall to the ground and could possibly hit my head on the bitumen below.

Another issue I faced, was that it was quite warm that day, and I only had a pair of sandals on, and my feet were slipping out of them due to the sweat. The decision was made to take them off and box in bare feet. A decision I would soon regret.

They Began To Lace My Gloves and My Heart Was Pounding

I ditched my sandals, as another trainer began to lace my gloves, and he asked where I was from. While this was happening, another man announced to the crowd something along the lines of, that this would be an international bout of Morocco versus Australia. Tone and Dave were pissing them selves laughing by this stage. Over the years I’ve got myself into some fucked up situations while traveling, but this was one of the better ones.

‘Just keep your hands up Kid, you’ll be right’ yelled Tone, as the final knot was being tied on my gloves. ‘I think there laying bets!’, yelled Dave. Bets, how can they be laying bets, I don’t even know who I’m fighting yet.

I began to scan the crowd for my opponent and was stating to worry that I was in for a setup. True to his word, the trainer marched out a fit looking bloke in his early twenties, but approximately my height and weight. From the way he began to warm up, there was no doubt he was accustomed to the craft of boxing, and I could be in for a rough night. The announcements were finished and it was now time for action.

My heart was pounding, as the adrenal gland snapped into action, and began to fill my veins with human bodies very own wonder drug.

The trainers hand dropped, and the call of ‘Box’ was made, as we touched gloves and began to dance. ‘Keep your hands up!’, would be my mantra for the next few minutes, as I continually repeated it to myself, over and over in my head. I danced around a little at first, as we both sized each other up. I decided that if I’m out here I might as well have a go, as in all reality, I am representing my country. So I let go with the first few jabs, all of which were taken on my opponents gloves.

The Crowd of Djemaa el Fna Square Were Getting a Show

I kept moving and throwing out the jab and would occasionally throw a right, whilst my opponent would counter punch, with a couple of his punches glazing past my ears. The adrenalin was pumping hard, and as I continued to duck and weave the barrage of punches coming my way. After a minute or two, and taking a couple of good shots to my head, I started to notice my feet were beginning to hurt. I continued on for another minute or so, and even managed to sneak a punch through my obviously far superior opponents guard, when all of a sudden extreme pain was coming from the sole of my right foot.

I could not stand any longer and quickly wrenched my gloves off, as I lifted my foot to check the damage.

A large blister tore open on my foot

Yes it was as painful as it looked. In the end the whole bottom pad of my foot would come away.

Although I was managing to stay alive in the ring, my feet were no match for the searing Moroccan bitumen. The heat and the moving from side to side whilst boxing, had opened up a two inch hole in the sole of my foot. The pain was severe, and there was no way I could continue. I hopped over to my opponent, and we shook hands, before climbing onto Dave’s back for the march back to the guesthouse for some crucial first aid.

After washing the wound and removing the small loose rocks and dirt. I made a closer inspection, and it seemed the whole bottom of my foot was blistered, toes included. For the next two weeks, I would backpack my way around Morocco, carrying a large bucket and bottle of disinfectant. Sitting in the bus and train stations, with my foot in a bucket was much amusement to the locals, who would always try to communicate and ask what had happened. I would Continually wash the wound until it healed and the skin was tough enough for me to walk on again. To this day, the memories of my time in Marrakesh bring back fits of laughter, and I wonder if I will ever make it back to Djemaa el Fna.

Your Thoughts and Comments?

Was I stupid for getting into the ring? Has anyone ever had to face something similar? Maybe not as physical as this but still down the same lines, where pride was on the line.


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     About the author

Jason has traveled the world extensively during the last 20 years, with overland journeys on six continents and across over 90 countries. This site serves as a chronicle of the images and tales from these journeys, as well as offering advice and general information for other like minded travelers.

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  • Anonymous

    Great story Jason! And props to you for stepping into the ring and tying, the touts and such are really savvy like that about pushing you into a corner and you learn really quickly to never make promises to them or they remember your face and your promise! Glad your foot healed cleanly, it’s tough to keep wounds clean on the road :)

  • Jason

    Ive always been a lover and not a fighter, but when backed into a corner sometimes pride can begin to take hold. In the end, the trainers and especially my opponent showed respect to me for having a go. I’m not sure what Morocco is like these days, (more than likely its worse), but the constant persistence at trying to extort money from me was driving myself and my travel mates nuts. Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate your comment.

  • Taylor Williams

    This story kept me reading and engaged all the way through. Although, I think you’re crazy for running the other direction instead of fighting :) The picture of your foot made me feel a bit woozy.
    If I ever
    travel Morocco , I am going to avoid this situation at all cost. Haha!

  • Taylor Williams

    This story kept me reading and engaged all the way through. Although, I think you’re crazy for running the other direction instead of fighting :) The picture of your foot made me feel a bit woozy.
    If I ever
    travel Morocco , I am going to avoid this situation at all cost. Haha!

  • Jason

    Taylor, I reckon it’s just one of those things, where everything happens so fast. The foot was a little sore for a while but did heal fine in a week or two. Thanks for your comment.

  • Steve

    What a crazy story! I can’t believe you were put into the ring like that. I have to say that you have guts going into the ring like that against an opponent you haven’t even seen yet. Just goes to show that you never know what’s going to happen to you while traveling. I’m just glad that this didn’t happen to me when I saw that Muay Thai fight in Bangkok…

  • Jason

    The trainer assured me, that my opponent would be my size and he was true to his words. Then again, I’ve seen the size of some of the guys who fight Muay Thai, all of 50Kg. There’s no way, I’d want to get in the ring with any of those guys. Come to think of it, I didn’t want to get in the ring with this bloke either, it just turned out that way. Your 100% spot on though Steve, travel tends to through up something new every day. That’s why I love it so much.