This is a guest post by the lovely Shing who writes at The Culture Map, one of my favourite travel blogs. She shares why you shouldn’t let one bad experience whilst travelling put you off.
Fresh back from Marrakech and feeling robbed of my money and faith in humanity, I stepped off the plane in Jordan carrying a suitcase worth of scepticism.
My scepticism had steadily grown after one too many incidents involving people trying to rip me off in Marrakech. A kind of trust had been broken between me as the tourist, and the other being the native. Instances included having my arm pinned down by women who insisted on drawing henna tattoos over me and then having the audacity to demand an arm and a leg for it even though I was, by all standards, an unwilling recipient. Or the time a Berber man masqueraded as a school teacher and offered to show my boyfriend and I some ‘unique’ areas of Marrakech, to then go on and try to separate me from my boyfriend in the labyrinth of souks, or the man who hit me over the head with a wooden picture frame in the Jemma el Fna when I declined to purchase it from him. And topping it off, I was almost pickpocketed!
Despite these ‘episodes’ I still think the ‘red city’ is a remarkable place and wouldn’t wish to deter people from going – far from it, but I would suggest being cautious with your money, and be weary of women armed with tattoo pens awaiting their next victim. Henna tattoos might not bother you, but their penchant for pouring glitter over it will.
Now back to Jordan, I was still sceptical of any region which relied on tourists for income as Marrakech had completely tarnished my enjoyment at looking for souvenirs, and more depressingly, my usual out-going nature to talk to locals seemed to have evaporated. I had become the walking embodiment of ‘Once bitten twice shy’.
During my first few days in Jordan, I was weary about going into shops in case I was pressurised into buying anything. I also refuse to have a guide anywhere because I was dubious as to whether or not they were actually a real guide; looking back at my first few days in Jordan, so many of my decisions were controlled by my experiences of Marrakech. It wasn’t until my fourth day when I arrived in Petra that things changed after a chance meeting with a young Bedouin man.
“Do you want a free donkey ride?” said a young man, but I politely refused and carried on walking. But undeterred by my refusal, or sensing the real reason as to why I had said no (because hell yeah, I wanted a donkey ride, I just didn’t want to be duped), he walked in front of me and said “really, it’s free”. Charmed by the combination of his beautiful donkey and the seeming sincerity in his voice and smile, I reluctantly obliged and climbed aboard.
At first he held onto the reign, then laughed and let go. I was riding a donkey and didn’t know what the heck I was doing! As I relaxed, so did my furry companion. We travelled round the outside of the monastery, and onto the caves opposite, both meandering through sand and rock. When I eventually had had enough, the young Bedouin helped me down and smiled. “Free” he said, and laughed.
As the day was drawing to a close, the young man signalled to his friends to come over and offered to take us to some landmarks away from the tourist tracks. As we followed, he showed us Nabatean cave drawings of camels and early figures of man; juniper bushes which they used to make their eye shadow; and onwards to the most beautiful view we had all ever seen high above the mountains, and marvelled in awe as the sun, producing hues of deep reds and oranges, set slowly behind the mountains in complete silence.
After that day with the Bedouin, the folly of relating my time in one country upon a different country dawned on me and I was back to my usual self again, trying to mix with immediate culture as much as possible. And I hope to go back to Marrakech and rebuff any negative feelings I have about it, because from what I encountered, there’s a myriad of places, and people to get to know better.