Scaredy Kate’s Guide to Snakes in Marrakech

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One of the things I was most concerned about ahead of our trip to Marrakech was snakes: where would they be, how many would there be, and how could I ensure I stayed the f*ck away from them.

Yes, in addition to a very embarrassing fear of heights, I also have a particular dislike of snakes of all kinds, sizes, etc. I understand that they need to exist to keep our ecosystems in balance, I would just prefer that they existed far, far away from me.

But I had a feeling this wouldn’t be possible in Marrakech; but I was hopeful. I’d made it through an entire week in Costa Rica without so much as seeing a snake, why couldn’t Morocco be the same?!

Snake charmers are one of the main attractions in Marrakech’s Djemaa El-Fna Square. In all the research and reading I did prior to the trip snakes and snake charmers were mentioned, and usually there was a picture of smiling tourists with a snake draped over their shoulders accompanying it. (ugh!)

It also didn’t help that a few years ago, a boy told me a story (the stuff of nightmares) of vendors just walking up and throwing a snake over your shoulders. Obviously, this story left a mark on me in the worst possible way, and even now I shudder at the thought.

So, you can see how my crazy little mind would jump to the conclusion that snakes would be everywhere, completely unavoidable, and I would have to confront these slithery, scaly demons.

When we arrived in Marrakech I was on high alert. As we walked from the airplane to the terminal I was scanning the ground, trying to see any activity. Thankfully, there was none.

But it wouldn’t be long.

Our short bus ride from the airport left us standing on the edge of Djemaa El-Fna. I knew they were in there, and I was nervous, but I had to cross the square to get to our riad. So we started to walk.

As we made our way around the Square, I was on even higher alert. My head was whipping back and forth more than Willow Smith; I’m amazed I didn’t walk away with a case of whiplash. We’d gotten about halfway around when I heard a sound, the distinct sound of the snake charmer’s horn – one that I would become very familiar with during our stay in Marrakech. I whipped my head to the left and there they were, cobras and other snakes sitting on a blanket mesmerized by the song.

Involuntarily, I jumped to the right, creating as wide a berth as possible between me and the creatures – what if he smelled or sensed my fear and charged at me?! I wasn’t taking any chances.

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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

We continued our walk towards our riad and passed two more charmers en route; I glared at each, hoping my stink-eye would discourage any interaction between me, the charmer and most certainly the beast. Before long we were out of the Square and I had successfully avoided any interactions with snakes: one trip down, so many more to go.

The next day we found ourselves back in the square and my guard was up. Maybe those snakes last night were tired and that’s why they were docile, who knows how hyper they’ll be today, I thought to myself as we wandered through. Before I could really go down the rabbit hole of fear I heard it, that familiar snake charmer horn.

I wasn’t happy to see the snakes and their charmer, but I was pleased that they had a loud, slightly obnoxious noise that would indicate their whereabouts—no way I could accidentally happen upon that.

I can do this, I thought to myself. And I did.

Each day, we had to pass through the Square numerous times, and each time the snakes were there. Most of the time I tried to keep as much distance as possible, but a few times it was unavoidable and I had to get too close for comfort. But it was in those moments when I actually had a chance to look at and rationally analyze the situation.

Before our trip my imagination had run wild. I thought the Square would be full of big, strong, angry snakes. They would be slithering throughout, and I would inevitably come across one.

But it wasn’t at all like I had imagined (thank goodness!).

These charmed snakes that were spotted throughout the Square weren’t the kind of snakes you see on the discovery channel (well, you see on the discovery channel, I change it immediately when snakes are present). They were tame, docile, and sadly, a number of them looked drugged or dead. Even to a snake-hater like me, it was sad to see.

They stayed on their mat, most of them curled up and sleeping. In the afternoons, the charmers would take the snakes in their hands and try to entice tourists to come and get a picture (for a price). But again, it was sad, the snake didn’t move; it lay in the charmer’s hands as if it were a piece of cooked spaghetti.

I’m happy to say that we made it through our entire trip without touching or really getting too close to a snake. These animals weren’t full of life, and I knew I could totally outrun one if I needed to.

The stories and articles I read lead me to believe I’d really have to confront my fear on this trip, but that wasn’t the case at all. It’s not only realistic to think you can visit Marrakech and avoid snakes, but it’s pretty easy.

For others who share my fear, here are a few tips/tricks I picked up during our trip:

  1. Snake charmers are often playing their horns, so it’s easy to know where they’re set up. You can hear them across the Square, which makes avoiding them much easier.
  2. Charmers set-up on the outside of the market so you can easily see where they are (if they aren’t playing their horns); there’s ample room on the outside so you can give them as much space as you need to.
  3. Snake charmers were more present during the day, with the afternoon being their most active time. At night, when the Square is significantly busier they didn’t seem to be present.
  4. Only once did we see a snake be put on someone’s shoulders without their consent, but he was standing and staring at the stall, so maybe they thought he was interested. The takeaway here is that I don’t think this is normal practice, so definitely not something to lose sleep over.
  5. Even if you have to get up close and personal with a snake, these ones aren’t that scary.

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