The cobra raises itself from the basket, arches its back and appears ready to strike. Its handler doesn’t flinch and continues to deliver the unique sound from his pungi, the snake charmer’s mystical wind instrument.
The cobra is mesmerised – its flayed neck and body swaying slowly from side to side. We are at Djemaa el Fna Square in Marrakesh, the most famous of places in Morocco.
The long entrance to the square is lined with 30 or so horses and carriages, akin to a row of taxi cabs at an airport. The horses seem jittery and unsettled, probably having stood there the whole day.
The balmy air is thick with the smell of horse urine and poo. It is early evening and the square is a buzz of activity with mostly locals here. The great sound of the African drums and the magical sound of the pungi fill the air with all that is mystic about Morocco.
We head to the source of the sounds. The snake charmer is at one end of the stall doing his thing. In contrast, the other handlers bang boxes and taunt the snakes with sticks to excite them. The ‘heavies’ look out for tourists who raise their cameras. Ten dirham – about two bucks – is the going rate for taking photos, and once paid you can take as many as you like, but if you refuse to pay and try to take a picture, watch out because you will be harassed by these ‘guards’ and chased off or verbally abused.
A handler tries to put a snake around my neck for a photo opportunity and a higher fee, but I know that two people have recently been bitten and have died because the fangs weren’t suitably filed down. So, get lost mate!
There are many snakes of all types at this spot – poisonous or non-poisonous? Who knows? The snakes don’t seem interested in anything – lazy, tired, harassed and too many prods with the stick. One is having a feed with its head attached to an egg.
The place is alive and vibrant! The activity continues into the night and becomes more frenetic as time passes. There are snake charmers, storytellers, henna tattooists, tarot readers, monkey acts, magicians, dancers, acrobats, orange juice stalls, food stalls, nuts and spice stalls, peddlers of traditional medicines, a local selling used human teeth – yes, there is a huge pile of teeth of all sizes and shapes and denture sets ready for your selection.
This whole place is awesome and, although we don’t have the opportunity, we are reliably informed that a vantage point at an overlooking bar or restaurant is an ideal place to watch the passing parade in the square as the activity escalates.
Take note though – the Adana Café on the square was bombed by a suicide bomber in April 2015, killing 15 people. Maybe we’ll just stay in the square. We spy a blood donor tent. I open a gap in the corner and take a photo. I am a blood donor and am interested in how they do it here. Bloody hell, the conditions and environment are atrocious. There is no way that I would give blood here.
I am spotted and one of the staff bursts from the tent and confronts me with a tirade of ranting fist-pumping abuse. I am worried about that thing in his pocket – a syringe or a gun? I am out of here.
What a fascinating place Marrakesh is. Full of excitement and intrigue. Now it’s off to our next adventure. But what can I find to stir the blood and raise the BP more than Marrakesh?
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