Reflections: Morocco – Never Say Never, But I Dread The Day I Do Return!

Ask any vagabond who’s been traveling the world travel for several years, and more often than not they’ll have their bogey country. For myself that country is the North African state of Morocco. As the title to this post implies, I will never say never, but I do dread the day I venture back to the souks and sands of Morocco.

Morocco - Never Say NeverThere’s no doubting that Morocco is a beautiful destination, with many great experiences to be had. It’s a country rich in history, and the food was sensational, but the constant badgering everywhere I went was a nightmare, and nearly drove me over the edge.

On top of the badgering by the ever persistent street touts, another downside was the outlandish and ridiculous prices quoted for goods and services.

In a nutshell it was hard work for someone who was determined not to be taken advantage of.

I’m normally quite a calm person, but during my time in Morocco many years ago, I was ready to rip every ones head off. I’ve got to make myself completely understood here, so I will say it again, ‘They drove me fucking bananas !’. I should have realized I was going to be in for a tough time the day I first set foot in the country, and went to board a train in Tangier’s.

The Moroccan Touts Were At Me From Day One!

I refused a mans help in directing me to my seat, because it was not needed. I had an allocated seat number, and knew exactly where I was going. He then proceeded to call me a Zionist when I didn’t give him any money, and you can throw in a couple of other expletives as well.

Over the years I’ve had my fair share of run ins with the worlds touts, hawkers and scammers. In my opinion, the best I’ve seen are all on the continent of Africa. Getting of the ferry at Zanzibar is one classic place, and on a smaller scale there not bad on the island of Lamu either. Then there’s the blokes that hire out the camels and horses at the Pyramids in Giza.

These guys will push your patience, but they all pale into insignificance compared to the hawkers and touts of Morocco.

They simply demanded money for everything, and if I looked around and if the locals weren’t paying, then there was no way I was going to pay. On some bus trips there was an official baggage charge that was quoted with the ticket, which and happily paid. On arrival at your destination there were times where we’d pull into the local bus station and some fella on top of the bus would not throw our packs down until I paid him 4-5 times the quoted price.

There Was No Way The Touts Would Get There Own Way.

After four or five days of putting up with this exuberant extortion, I and my fellow travelers (Tone and Dave, a couple of good mates from London) had just about had enough. From this time on we would do a paper rocks and scissors, as the bus entered the bus station. The loser would have to climb onto the roof of the bus as soon as the bus stopped and throw down our packs.

The Three Unwise Monkeys - Myself, Tony and Dave

The three unwise and tormented monkeys. Tony and Dave and myself (on left). It seemed the more remote we got, the less hassle we had.

One particular time where I drew the short straw, I and actually climbed out of the window and onto the roof, while the bus was still driving down the main street, so I could untie the packs and throw them down to Tone and Dave below, and make a hasty getaway.

After three and a half weeks of absolute torment from the hawkers and touts, we’d had enough. We boarded an overnight train and began our long journey back to Gibraltar. The last straw was when one fella tried to sell me a fist sized piece of hash whilst I was about 200m from the customs gate, where you board the ferry.

I couldn’t believe it, and didn’t. That was until he asked again and the proceeded to show it to me. There I was only a minutes walk away from the customs booth, and this fella trying to sell me hash. ‘Get me out of here!’

Harassment of Travelers Is An Ongoing Problem For Many Countries

Some people would visit Morocco (or other countries with similar issues) may not encounter such an experience, and this I believe is half the problem. The people who just pay any price that is asked of them, just feed this type of behavior. Sooner or later it just gets out of control as every tourist or traveler is perceived as a walking ATM.

One of the main reasons I believe Morocco is a country with such a problem, is it’s close proximity to Europe. Although quite an exotic destination, It’s just a short ferry ride from Continental Europe, and quite easy for a person traveling through Europe to visit. On arrival they throw their money around without a thought in the world, as everything seems dirt cheap compared to Europe.

I’ve mellowed a bit over the years when it comes to crunching the locals on price, and at times have been guilt of paying well over the odds for something. Generally if I’m tired or in a hurry and can’t be bothered haggling, but I still refuse to pay for anything that the locals are not paying for, and do my best to get the quoted price down.

I completely understand that it’s quite difficult or near on damned near impossible to pay the correct price for goods and services (the longer you spend in any destination, the better chance you have of paying the correct price), but paying for something that should not be paid for is just not on in my book, and the touts will just pray on your good nature.

There will come a day, I do return to Morocco, as Africa is a favorite destination of mine, and I really do wonder what it will be like?

Your Thoughts and Comments?

Have you been to Morocco and had experience’s such as mine, or did you visit and not run into such outlandish extortion? Maybe the Moroccan touts and hawkers have calmed over the years (I doubt it though) .

What about other places in the world where this sort of experience is common. I’ve named a few other places in this post, but where was  your worst experience?


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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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  • Zooadventurer

    Hey jason,

    It’s been a while (last time 2002 I think) since I’ve been in Morocco so maybe things have changed for the worse but Morocco was always one of my fav countries to visit – 6 times after my first visit in 1994 – despite, oh yeah I remember them well, the touts, the hawkers, sometimes as young as 8 and halfway my length but always ready to knock me down, omnipresent like the sand flees on Essaouira beach.

    So yeah I had my own ‘annoyances’ and fuck off moments. But still I managed, somehow. Maybe it was because Morocco was the first ‘exotic’ country I visited after ‘bland’ holidays in the Euro mainland and things just are this way (so better deal with it) in the shadows of the Atlas and crumbling souks. Maybe it was because I went in every shop they hijacked me in, if only to have a cup of mint tea and walk away with a fake expert and deadpan smile after pointing out “hmmm, didn’t I see you yesterday carving/sanding a piece of rock”, shaking the guy with the authentic Roman/pre-historic/pre-islam[fill in whatever] statue. Maybe it was because my girlfriend at that time didn’t seem to bother so hey why shouldn’t I just follow her laissez faire attitude and ignore my bad french and little misanthrope fears?

    And maybe it was because I really enjoyed Morocco, the hospitality, the sod you tourist we are poor but proud people atmosphere (which did work both ways, positive as negative, but at least it seemed at least truthful), the friends for life I made, the impromptu introductions to owns homes and families, stumbling into a wedding, a funeral even – and pricks, well, aren’t they everywhere?

    Sure sometimes Morocco did wear me out. I remember a night I was walking back to my damp hotel feeling sick and and in some dark alley some brat stopped me, “Chocolat? Cheap!” and somehow minutes later there was even a knife (it had something to do about me making pictures of whatever earlier the day) and I flat tired and really, I mean really looking for a bad tummy relief, started shouting ‘don’t be a effing sissy and just stab me, you crap shitting wooz!!, and then walked away only to hear this guy whining and warning fade into the distance.

    Anyway, Morocco is not an easy country to visit. I love it but I am reluctant to go back. I will, someday, but not soon for sure. Morocco may have changed but sure I did.

  • Anonymous

    And there I’ve had Morocco on the top of my wish list for a long time. I’ve wanted to do the Atlas Mountain Trek but I’m a little put off by your description of bring badgered. I’ve really had very little harassment in all my travels and I don’t do well with it. You’ve given me some food for thought.

  • Lisa @chickybus

    I have not been to Morocco, but I know where you’re coming from. I felt the same way in Egypt many years ago and most recently, I felt pretty aggravated in Petra in Jordan. After being in Wadi Rum, where people were friendly without wanting much, it was a shock to be in Petra, where everyone was in my face and trying to sell me something or charging for little things that were allegedly free. Although Petra was gorgeous, I found myself leaving a bit sooner due to all the harassment.

  • Jason

    Hey Leigh, Don’t let my somewhat bad experience sway you from visiting Morocco. The country has plenty to offer and your High Atlas trek sounds like a fascinating hike. To be honest, the further I got away from the heavy tourist spots, the hassles soon dried up.

    I suppose your best bet is just to mentally prepare yourself for the barrage of hawkers and touts, and remind your self on what your there for.

    As the post implies, I never say never and there will be a day some time in the future I will return to Morocco. I’m just not sure when though. Thanks for your input.

  • Jason

    Hey Lisa, I feel for you with the hassle you put up with at Petra, and it’s a shame you had to leave a little early. It’s funny, as when I visited many years back there was no pushy hawkers to be seen at Petra.

    I have seen some of the torment that Liza has put up with over the years. Being a blonde western woman in many countries can be a serious

  • Jason

    Hey Conrad, There’s no doubting Morocco isn’t an easy country to travel, and sorry mate but I did have a bit of a chuckle when ready your description of being confronted in the lane way. You must have been quite I’ll mate.

    I am curious of how things will go the day I do return to Morocco. West Africa is on the horizon in the coming years as I continue my quest to see the world, so no doubt I will return. Maybe things will be completely different this time, as I am now a little older and a little more wiser.

    Possibly my reactions were due to me being on the road non stop for over three years at the time, constantly traveling and constantly putting up with the crap that the touts were throwing at me. It wasn’t as if it was anything new, but maybe the straw that broke the camels back, so to speak. Thanks for your comment mate, really appreciate the input.

    I suppose time will tell, but I don’t want to sugar coat my experience at all.

  • Peter Syme

    I have a different view to that being discussed. My first visit was in 1984 and I have been back countless times since then the last being 10 days ago. Over the years I have seen a slow but steady progression in the country from what Jason describes to a much more laid back approach and tourism awareness from the population.

    Of course there is still hassle and hawkers but I really do find it at a level that does not bother me in the slightest. Morocco has a huge disadvantage and advantage in that it is so close to Europe, it is without doubt the most exotic destination close to Europe which brings mass tourism from both experienced and inexperienced travelers. I am involved in tourism and I see the shell shock on many clients faces when they experience the real Morocco as some do have the impression that it is similar to European destinations!

    Morocco is going through huge cultural and political changes at a very fast speed. It has a large and growing educated youth without work. It has infrastructure and water supply challenges but in my opinion ( yes I am biased to the extent I opened a business there in 2009) it is dealing with these immense challenges better than at a lot of other developing nations are doing.

    It is a country of contrasts in that it now has a small minority of serious wealth and a growing middle class but the vast majority still have to survive on less than a few dollars a day.

    I have always said it is a country that you love or hate there is not much room for the middle ground. But with the stunning environments of the Atlas, the coast and of course the desert combined with the culture of the Berbers it will always remain one of my constant traveling destinations.

    I am hoping it will not change and develop to much as it will lose a lot of what makes it Morocco but I am also aware that is just wishful thinking. Morocco is changing and changing fast.

  • Dave from TLWH

    I’ve had the opposite experience in Morocco, been there 3 times. Perhaps the difference was I always went with girls. Yes, there’s harassment, the girls, alone, were not happy. Which made it even nicer when they came back and said “don’t leave us” :)

    But yes, everyone has their worst country that just grates the wrong way. I usually find it’s the country I’m currently in, until the day I leave. Then I miss it.

  • Jason

    Hey Dave, I reckon anyone would be oblivious to the world around them, whilst traveling with three females. All jokes aside though, your probably right in the fact that have them around, granted a little more respect than three grungy backpackers as were we.

    I get your point on your reflections as soon as leaving a country, and I also have these same feelings after deLing with a difficult co Ty to travel. Morocco, was complexity different from my experience though. As I pointed out to Conrad below, maybe it was because I had been on the road for so long and in all reality I just need a break and to wind down a little.

    I’m not sure, but either way, I will return one day and I don’t want my run ins with the touts and hawkers have any reflection on the general person on the street you meet in Morocco, who were always warm and friendly.

  • Jason

    Hey Peter, Thanks for your in depth and obviously informed comment. Its great to get an opinion fro. Someone who’s spent so much time in the country. I can only begin to see the grief on some tourists faces afterdeali with

  • Peter Syme

    Hi Jason

    I agree change was needed but change has to come from within a country and from the people who live there. Not because western tourists decide they do not like the way they are treated. Also change that leads to all countries being same same is destroying culture so everything has to be in balance. Marrakech has Macdonalds and KFC fast food joints these days not all change is progressive!

    The one thing that strikes me in Morocco is how safe it is compared to other countries I have traveled in, I have never once felt at threat of aggression or theft. Something I have experienced far to often in other destinations.

    Like other places the longer you stay there the more you adapt and understand what is going on. The current political situation is very fluid so it will be interesting to see how it pans out. I will not be back there until Sept as I have a date with some other camels but the two hump type this time in Mongolia.

    Great site Jason well done



  • Jason

    Peter I think you may be a little off track in what I was trying to put across in my post. It wasn’t about wanting culture change, or any change at all for that matter. It was simply about being shown some respect from the people who were obviously out to try and extort every single dollar from my pocket.

    All I wanted was to be treated with the same respect I showed them, nothing more and nothing less. So I may pay a few bucks over the odds, no big deal that’s to be expected, but when I say, ‘No sir, I don’t need a guide today’, and get asked again another couple of times, where I politely give them same answer. Then I’m called every name under the sun, to me has got nothing to do with culture, and everything to do with respect. The general Moroccan I met could not have been any kinder, it was simply the touts and hawkers that my frustration are pointed at.

    Enjoy Monglia, and I do appreciate your comment, and input.

  • Anonymous

    really bummed to read this and to see in the comments that women have a tougher time alone! morocco’s been on my list for many years- even before i met my ex who lived in morocco for 3 years- which only made my desire to go stronger. but i’m really bothered like you are jason, by constant harrassment. i’ve experienced it in a few places and it just feels like so much work! glad you wrote honestly here- i’ll still go, but now i’ll be prepared :)

  • Steve

    That someone would try to sell you hash that close to customs is just amazing. Maybe they thought you would use it real quick before you got there. More likely though is they thought they would scam you out of some money.

    I’ve never really had this much trouble from touts. Although a few times in Phnom Penh, I got surrounded by guys offering me rides on their motorbikes. There were so many of them that I couldn’t walk around them to go across the street.

    I’m still not deterred from seeing Morocco though.

  • Erica Kuschel

    I will make it to Morocco one day. I’m still getting used to people trying to scam you out of money and am miserably failing (taxis – good grief) so I think I need a bit more training before I tackle that one.

  • Jason

    Hey Lora, I’m glad you enjoyed some honest writing. There seems to be a lot written on the web about how great travel is, and some people make it seem like it’s all strawberries and cream, day in and day out. I can tell you from experience, and you may already be aware yourself, that it’s not. Sometimes it’s more like bread and dripping.

    Don’t be to put off by what you’ve read, and just take it all on board. It may make you better prepared for the bother you will face. From some of the comments to this post it seems that it has eased some what over the years since I visited. To put it into perspective, the good people in Morocco probably out number the touts 100,000 to 1, its just a pity you have to deal with the touts on a daily basis. Thanks for your comment. Safe travels.

  • Jason

    Hey Phil, Thanks for your input mate, and your free to rant and rave all you want here mate. Glad to see we weren’t the only ones to get some greif in Morocco. I’ve been to your blog before (love the name by the way), but must have missed the post on hawkers and touts. I had a read, and a bit of a laugh. I’ve actually used a couple of these strategies before, as well as speaking in languages the guides dont understand (or me for that matter I would just speak complete gibberish to them).

    I also remember befriending a number of street hawkers (far less agressive mind you) in Bali many years ago. In the end I would sit on the street corner with them and actually help them pick out people I believe they would have a chance of selling to.

    West Africa is still some time away mate, but I will get there sooner rather than later. It along with central Asia are the two major region’s on earth I am yet to travel to. I’ll have a read over at travelling independent, to wet the whistle so to speak. Thanks for your input mate, greatly appreciated.

  • Jason

    Hey Erica, Ah the joys of travel. Don’t worry about the Taxi drivers, I’ve been at this caper for over 20 years and only two days ago in Samoa I got done over by a Taxi driver for double the price. My biggest tip (there are many more) for taking a taxi in a foreign country is ‘Never go with a driver who approaches you’. Always take a taxi with a driver you approach.

    This means at the Airport or Bus Station, where they swarm all over you. Just say no and put your head down and try and find one elsewhere. Easier than it sounds, but it works most of the time. Safe travels.

  • Jason

    Hey Steve, I don’t think i’d be using the hash to quickly. The piece was big enough to last even Bob Marley a few months. The touts in Morocco as I mentioned were the worst id seen, and I’ve been to half the countries on the planet.

    It wasn’t that they were super persistant, it was the fact that they were aggressive in their approach and if they didn’t get what they wanted they would turn on you.

    I know the feeling when you get swarmed by people trying to sell you things, be it a bike ride or bus ticket, change money or whatever else. You just dont know where to turn sometimes.

    Do go to Morocco as its a great country to visit, with plenty to see. Just be warned by what you’ve read and keep your guard at all times. They are relentless. Thanks for your input Steve. As always.