The thing you’ll learn before even leaving the plane in Marrakech is that ‘accessible’ has a totally different meaning there. In the UK it means ‘you’ll be able to get your wheelchair around here.’ Moroccan translation: ‘We’ll figure out how to deal with those steps when you get to them.’
Rather than being greeted by one of those little buses that lifts you up and down to the plane when you land, you will instead be moved into an aisle chair and carried down the loading stairs by two (not strong enough to feel secure) Moroccan men. For those of you that don’t know, an aisle chair is the device used to transport people who are unable to walk/shuffle from the plane door to their seat. As the aisle chair has to fit down the aisle it is the width of exactly one half of one of my arse cheeks. Further to this the chair only has teeny tiny little wheels and you will be safely secured into it using Velcro. Yes, that wonderful device used to make children’s shoes easy to put on will be the only thing stopping you from rolling off a 10inch chair and down a flight of stairs. So it’s safe to say that if you’re not comfortable being physically assisted by strangers you’re not going to get on well in Marrakech!
I think it’s also fair to say that, not unexpectedly, Marrakech is not a hugely accessible city. However the people who live there nearly broke their backs to help me access the places that were seemingly inaccessible and thanks to them I was able to see everything I wanted to. The only thing that I found extremely difficult was trying to ascertain when someone was trying to be genuinely helpful and when we were just being treated as tourist with floating pound signs above our heads. As I could not have visited the country without relying on the help of strangers I ended up being swindled out of a lot more money than I would have liked and the unrelenting hustling is the main reason I probably wouldn’t return to the country. The country runs on tips and that’s fine, but unfortunately you may find that people are not helping to be kind and appreciative of a few coins to say thank you but are ‘helping you’ straight into their shop and unfortunately on a couple of occasions we did feel a bit intimidated and asked for large sums of money (even by English standards).
Tip: Don’t let anyone lead you anywhere, just get directions, thank them and leave. If they take you somewhere not only will they want money from you but are highly likely to lead you via their friend’s shop. Even if they assure you they’re taking you somewhere and won’t want any money you can guarantee they will be leading you to someone who does – sometimes the hustle runs four layers deep.
Tip: If you stop to take a photograph you will be bombarded with invites ‘just for looking’ into shops. This is where the wheelchair and an able pusher comes in handy – snap and roll!
Things you will not find in Marrakech:
Alcohol (ok this has nothing to do with accessibility and actually we did manage to get a drink in the one place we found a lift!)
Buses with ramps
Wheelchair accessible taxis
Dropped Kerbs – although in the entire medina you won’t find pavements at all so it’s only a problem when you head out of there.
Accessible Toilets – Although all the toilets I found were ‘western style’ most of them would have been very difficult to access if it were not for the fact I can walk short distances. As there were also no fast food restaurants to speak of my normal fall back plan of utilising McDonalds’ facilities didn’t work either.
Tip: the tourist bus that runs in a route around the city goes to most of the places you’ll want to visit and does have a wheelchair ramp. Although you will have to plan the order of where you want to go quite carefully as the bus only goes in one direction it is pretty much the only viable option for getting around the city and I’m pretty sure we got some kind of wheelchair or carer discount
Tip: most of the taxis in Marrakech are Peugeot 205’s (for those of you that don’t know what these are, imagine a 20 year old baked bean can with wheels and you won’t be far off) If you use a rigid wheelchair don’t bother trying to put it in the boot as I can tell you now that which ever way you try and cram it in IT WILL NOT FIT, put it on the front seat. Also don’t pay more than 15/20 Dirham for most journeys during the day regardless of what the taxi driver tells you (they never put the metre on). The best thing we found was to just hand the driver the money and leave, they won’t argue. If you’re not comfortable with this then make sure you negotiate the price before you leave to avoid getting stung!
I will cover specific attractions in another post but all I can say is that ‘museums’ by the western definition don’t really exist, and the only attraction that comes vaguely close to being ‘accessible’ is Yves Saint Laurent’s garden. I would however recommend the Bahia Palace, which was made accessible by a tiny turbo charged man who worked at the palace giving us a guided tour including hefting me up and down the numerous steps and flights of three stairs throughout the palace. Unfortunately what people don’t realise when they offer to help me is my regular looking wheelchair has power assist wheels that way about six stone!
Tip: take several bottles of anti-bac with you if you want to stand any chance of avoiding a ‘Morocco special’. This really applies to everyone but especially to those of us that have to use our hands to propel us through dubious brown puddles and donkey poo.
Accessibility rating: 5/10 – The country is not at all accessible but the people in Marrakech will help you get to wherever you want to go, always with a smile but sometimes at a cost.