Marrakesh – The Cobra Scam

It all begins with an innocent photo. You take it from what you consider to be a safe distance so that no one really notices you and your camera but you’re wrong and before you even know what’s going on you’re screwed, er, snaked!

“Here’s 5 dirhams for the photo” you say but the person want’s none of it inviting you to sit down with the cobras. Not before tying another snake around your neck and posing for a photo of course. Your refusal is pointless and you’re quickly pushed into the circle. Then it’s cobra time, all while still having a snake on your neck. At the same time another person walks up to you and wants to help you out by grabbing your camera, one that you paid too much for to let just anyone take away from your kung fu grip. The camera would most likely serve as a bargaining chip down the line but you let your girlfriend take it and the take over effort is dropped.

“Thank you, but I don’t want to get any closer” means absolutely nothing as the cobra lifts itself up and starts hissing at you while the dude in blue is intentionally pissing it off even more.

“OK, I’m done” says you while getting up but you can’t leave because the dude in blue is not done with you yet. He takes the head of the snake around you and says an Arabic prayer all while moving the snake head from your forehead to your ‘sensitive’ parts.

“To keep you smart” while touching your forehead, “for good luck in love” while touching your heart, “for good sex” while… well, you get the picture. The ritual ends with your kissing the snake, yeah, you read this right, effen’ kissing the snake!

At the end you hear a silent whisper of a number in German, one that meant ‘three hundred’. “Three hundred dirhams?” you repeat completely shocked and yes, that is how much the snake parade had just cost you, 30 euros/40 U.S. bucks! From three hundred, seeing that I was not about to pay a single dime, the price dropped to a hundred, but the people involved were getting rowdy and it was time to get the hell out. I took out a twenty dirham bill, one that was literally thrown back at me as if I had just insulted them with this payment, and insisted that this was all I would pay. I explained that all I wanted was a single photo of the cobra, that I did not ask for anything else, and that they didn’t mention the price at the beginning. I did my explanation while constantly moving back, finally moving far away to where no one gave chase.

Technically I didn’t need to pay them a dime. I asked to pay for the photo I initially took but they refused. The price was never mentioned ahead of the ordeal, and I did leave a 20 dirham bill for the photos we took which I felt was enough.

These were however the longest 4 minutes of my life and I would advise all you visitors out there to avoid this trickery at all possible cost!

3 thoughts on “Marrakesh – The Cobra Scam

  1. Good advice! Unfortunately these types of scams happen all the time disguised as something else. I’ve learned that when a performer or sales person say’s something is at no charge, proceed with caution.

  2. I just came back from Marrakech and yes, these “scams” do exist but it’s useless to get upset and I’ll explain you why.
    Marrakech is a big game. The most important african markets or “souks” are located in this area inside what they call the Medina or old city. It’s not dangerous even if it looks like but we don’t have to trust unknown people on the street such as teenagers or boys, women and shop owners are gentle and will help you whenever you need to find a place. Always carry change in your pockets, if someone asks for certain amount of money like in this cobras case, you say “here this is all I got”. They win anyway. It’s important to pay attention to where we look at, these people LIVE from tourism and as tourists we look at things, translated into their understanding: we are interested in what we look at. This is why they look straight to your eyes all the time.
    Here are some things about how shopping works in Marrakech, feel free to read if you’re interested but I believe they can be very useful!
    Before we even book the whole trip we have to be sure whether we’re ready to face an african muslim culture or not. This involves dealing with poverty, other costumes such as hearing the call to prayer 5 times a day all around the city, seeing women with their faces covered everywhere, no bacon or whatsoever and most importantly learning to not be afraid of saying no. No is no here, in Marrakech and in Japan, it’s an universal word somehow and if we say no at least three times in a strong way, with body language along men understand, we all do.
    Of course none of this is necessary for americans, but these people need to SELL. Also, if you want to buy something always devide the price they give you by 2, then you might be a bit closer to the actual price although it generally is 3 times cheaper, say they ask for 100dhs, you can get it for 40 but you have to fight for it somehow. Moroccan ppl always win. If they ask you “how much?” they are trying to figure out how much you think something is worth for you. Whenever you want to quit this offering/insisting game thing just give them a very low price and they’ll let you go, if they’d still earn something trust me they’ll play difficult but will chase you and offer you a better price for them. The best time to buy in the souk of the medina or old city is early in the morning cause these guys don’t know if they’ll sell anything else during the day so they offer you better deals. Again, they are masters in selling AND dealing with tourists. They wil ask you where you are from straight away to figure out the currency and make jokes about famous people of your country just to soften you to buy. They also speak a lot of languages, which is unbelievable so be careful what you say!

    I personally liked Marrakech even though it was a huge impact for me when I got there the first day. Some teenagers said they’d help us get to our hotel, since taxis can’t get through those allies, and they ended up tricking us into giving them money. Not the best welcoming. On the following days I learned to adapt myself, accept and admire a totally different culture. I learned to observe and study this new thing for me, this way of life and without noticing I embraced it. After all this is why I travel: to enjoy living, to bring memories back home and to learn even more!
    Good luck out there, Marrakech is amazing .

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