First, let me preface this story by saying that I don’t look for trouble when I travel. If anything, I do my very best to blend in with the crowd, to keep my head down and walk away quickly, if necessary. I also pride myself in the fact that I have a natural resting bitch face, which has probably helped me avoid a lot of sticky situations that have happened to others whom I’ve met. You could say that I’m an extra cautious traveler, in that respect.
Things are bound to happen, though, whether you like them or not. No matter just how careful you are, there will be moments out of your control and it’s a matter of choosing whether to fight back or accept the fate before moving on. Unfortunately, I had to do both during my time in Marrakesh this past May…
What you are about to read is probably the craziest travel experience I’ve ever encountered- and I’m not exaggerating! Before I ramble on more, let’s get to the story…
Crazy Travel Story #3: That One Time I Got Robbed in Morocco…
After flying into Marrakesh late the night before, I woke up early the following morning to begin my first day exploring the city. I received a city map from a hostel worker, who was also kind enough to point out sights and attractions I could check out. Armed with the map and Google Maps on my phone, I set off around 9h30 on my own.
Now, although I knew that I would be exploring as a single female in Morocco (notorious for its men cat-calling and harassing women), I’d thought that I would be all right; my friend with whom I would be traveling wouldn’t be getting in for another few days, but until then, I assumed that I could hold off until she arrived. Again, I had a resting bitch face that I wasn’t ashamed of, so it should’ve been fine, right?
…turned out, it wasn’t fine.
The trouble started as I was wandering the souks, which were absolutely lovely, to say the least. I made many twists and turns inside, and looking back, I should’ve known to turn back early on, since I knew that souks were notoriously easy to get lost in. However, I didn’t, because I thought that I could just turn right around once I got to the end of it.
Eventually, I reached the end of the souk, popping out onto a bustling street filled with motorcycles, cars, and pedestrians (just like with any street in Marrakesh, really). I decided to round the corner and see if there was more to check out, and by the time it came to me to turn back to the Jemaa el Fna, i.e. the main square, I was already lost.
At first, I didn’t panic: all I needed to do was find the souk that I popped out of and take that path back to where I started. Walking for a little bit, I couldn’t find the souk, so I continued going to see if I would come across it, by fate or something like that. Of course, that faulty thinking made me even more lost, as I ended up wandering somewhere into the outskirts of the city without even knowing it.
It was after an hour that I started getting concerned; I wanted to pull out my phone and/or city map to see where I was situated, but I didn’t want to risk getting harassed by anyone, especially Moroccan men, who would immediately target me- and trust me, those men are vicious. Even when I did pull out the map and phone once or twice in a corner, they were of no help to me, since I didn’t even know where I was on the map; Google Maps was virtually useless- literally.
A couple of men did approach me and tried to “help,” but of course, I knew they were con artists or faux guides, so I firmly walked away from them. However, it wasn’t until I encountered the third man who came up to me, asking if I needed help that I just gave in and said “yes.” Mind you, at that point, I’d been wandering for almost two hours, was even further out from the center, and was desperate to get back; if I had to pay him for his service, I would do it.
Warning bells should’ve gone off in my head as soon as I started following him. He was young, probably no older than I was, wearing a purple T-shirt and sweats with sandals. If anything, he looked poor, didn’t seem to speak English, and the fact that he was just sitting on the bench doing nothing when I was passing by looked very suspicious. I knew that I couldn’t trust him completely, and I made sure to keep a sizable distance when walking next to him.
We walked for about twenty minutes, making a few turns before we stopped in a small, residential courtyard (secluded, of course..) and he told me that the city center was just a right and left-turn away. He then demanded money for his “service,” so I offered him a couple of coins. He demanded that I give him more, that they weren’t enough. I refused, saying that he didn’t even take me into the city center and that that was all I had. Take it or leave it, buddy.
Before I knew it, he moved in, grabbed me by the shirt, and started shaking me. Of course, I started screaming, “stop, stop, stop,” even pulling out more coins from my pocket and offering them to him, anything to get him to stop. He didn’t, still continuing to shake me; at one point, he reached into my jean pocket and stole my phone, confiscating it as ransom. What was panic quickly turned into anger, and I started shouting at him, “give me my phone, GIVE ME MY PHONE!,” trying to reach over to grab it from his sweatpants pocket. He shook me around one more time, and I screamed even more, shouting “help, help” in hopes that someone would hear me in the neighborhood. He hit me in the left jaw before pushing me to the ground, somehow snagging my bag off my shoulders, and took off running. I fell to the ground, my glasses coming off in the process, and instincts kicked in: without taking the time to get my glasses, I chased after him.
The man had a good five seconds ahead of me, but that didn’t stop me from sprinting as fast as I could, willing my legs to catch up to get my stuff back (thanks to years of running high school cross-country and track, I still got it). He weaved through the twists and turns of the Medina, and I did my darnedest to keep him in my sight; he was wearing a purple shirt, so even without my glasses, I could still track him. Seriously, I had tunnel vision, focusing on no one but him while running throughout the city.
At the same time I was chasing him, I kept screaming, “hey, hey stop!” over and over. Passerby stared at me, and I, in desperation, yelled at them to catch the thief. “Stop him! He has my bag!,” I shouted, pointing to him running as I was running. I knew that I couldn’t catch him on my own, and I needed help- any help- that I could.
I didn’t expect anyone to help, but before I knew it, a community– men, women, children– were running after him, stopping traffic and pedestrians in their tracks…some pedestrians even joined in on the chase! It wasn’t funny back then but now, I find it hilarious: imagine the thief running with a whole herd of people, going after him, some who had no idea what was happening. I was so scared that I wouldn’t be able to catch him and get my stuff back; even worse, my bag which he snatched had all of my valuables– wallet, passport, charger– which looking back I should’ve left at the hostel, but didn’t know that I would be robbed. It was the fear and anger that kept me going, even when I was losing steam and on the brink of giving up.
The thief looked back and saw that he was being chased by people- a lot of people. I could imagine him thinking, “oh shit” as we went after him. At one point, he threw my bag off to the side, for I think he realized it was futile to have it since he had a bounty on his head- not getting caught was more important to him at this point than my valuables. I retrieved my bag, and thankfully, nothing had been stolen. I still ran after him, though, because he still had my phone in his pocket. My phone was just as valuable as my wallet and passport, since I needed it to get by with traveling; I wasn’t going to lose it just yet, nor anytime.
Finally, we cornered him in a cemetery: the community surrounded him as the police caught up and handcuffed him. Of course, I had to come to testify, but not before demanding where my phone was. I was still an emotional wreck, almost in hysterics as I shouted at the thief, asking where was my phone. Turned out, the thief had also thrown it to the side during the chase (I hadn’t seen it), and the police picked it up: one of them had my phone, which was a relief. I couldn’t have it back right away, since it was evidence. I, along with the thief, had to go to the police station to file a report. Before I got into the police van, I asked the police if I could go back and find my glasses since they were left behind during the chase. Unfortunately, I couldn’t, since I had to go to the police station first; I was desperate, and so I asked the civilians if they could find my glasses before getting into the police van and driving off.
Along the way to the police station, I was in the van with the thief (handcuffed and chained to the wall) and two other policemen. I watched the policemen beat the crap out of the thief, punching and kicking him, shouting something in Arabic which I didn’t understand, but could assume were expletives and insults. I assume they were saying, “how dare you, you scum of the earth? How could you rob a poor woman?” or something like that. I was surprised at the police brutality, but at the same time, I didn’t care: I was so angry and I wanted to hurt him so bad… good thing the police beat me to it.
We arrived at the police station and I went in to file a report. The thief was chained to a wall across the room as I sat with the chief of police to explain the situation. I spoke in French to make communication easier, considering that Morocco was once part of the French colony and that French is one of its national languages. Although still shaken, I was surprisingly calm as I told the chief of police everything, thankfully having my passport and other valuables to speed things up. Meanwhile, the thief was an absolute wreck; he was trembling and throwing up from nerves, even pleading with me to forgive him and let him off the hook (no way, José, after what you did to me).
After an hour, the report was filed and I could leave. However, I still wanted to find my glasses, so I asked if a few policemen could drive me back to the location where I’d left them. They were nice enough to do so, although in the end, it proved futile. We didn’t know the exact location of where they were, and in the end, we gave up and returned to the police station, where I was instructed to take a taxi back to my hostel and call it a day. I did just that, taking it back to Jemaa el-Fna and walking back to my hostel where I stayed in for the rest of the afternoon.
Despite this horrible incident, I’m extremely fortunate that I got my stuff back. Most people probably never see their valuables again, but I’m glad that I acted on my instincts and ran after that man; I’m also grateful to the community and the police who helped me, as I can’t imagine this happening at all in France, let alone the United States. The only thing I lost in the process were my glasses which sucks, but they weren’t as important as my other items. I would have been half-blind for the rest of my time in Morocco, but thankfully, after emergency-messaging my friend who was coming in later, she brought her spare pair of prescription glasses for me to wear. I also met another female traveler at my hostel that same day, to whom I recount my sad tale, and she gave me her extra contact lenses of similar prescription, since it would be a couple more days before my friend would be arriving. I am so grateful to both of them, and it certainly made the rest of my time in Morocco enjoyable, since I could see again.
I still blame myself for the incident that day. Admittedly, I tend to blame myself for the bad things that happen to me, even if they were out of my control. There are a lot of “what ifs” in that, if I’d just paid for a taxi when I got lost in the first place, I wouldn’t have encountered the thief. Or if I had refused the thief’s offer to “help” me, I wouldn’t have been robbed. You can say that I’m still traumatized by the event, and not a day goes by without me replaying the whole incident in my head. It definitely had me on-edge throughout the rest of the trip: each Moroccan man I encountered had me wary, and the slightest “hello” made me walk faster. Still counting my blessings for how it turned out, though, and I seriously hope that nothing similar happens to me again.