Prince of Persia

08 Nov 2008

We walk briskly down the narrow alley, looking back for the dark-coated Arab who's.. well, okay, chasing us.

It's a strangely civilised pursuit and, unlike in Vietnam, the rules are clear. He's an unlicenced tour guide who's attached himself to us and is about to demand an outrageous fee for the one-hour tour of the artisan area. We're English tourists who're too polite for our own good, but aren't quite as naive as we seem (because we've been scammed like this before). At least one of the people around us is an undercover cop who'll put him in jail for 48 hours if he's even seen with us.

We've never agreed to pay anything, I know roughly where I am and how to call for help, and violence against visitors just doesn't happen here. On the other hand, he's unshaven, missing teeth, and scary. Plus he has an unspecified and possibly unlimited number of friends. Game on.

For the last part of the walk back to the center, he had to stay distant from us to avoid the cops. Naturally, we "lost" him in traffic and turned off. It would be no contest, but nearly all of these alleys are dead ends. We're backtracking out of one when he spots us and I'm forced to wave in "relief" and apologise for our "mistake". Prince of Persia, I'm not.

Captured, we follow Abdul to the next stop. I abandon Lyn to her interview with his friend the spice merchant and break the routine by offering our involuntary "guide" a tip. Play starts at upwards of 1600 dirham - around $240 - and I know that if I'd paid it, that would have been each. We settle on 150 dirhams, which is a little above the odds but honestly not bad value. Add the chase scene, and it's cheap thrills.

Last time I did this was in Saigon, where the opening gambit was only $140, but it was much more threatening, and we paid over $60 before leaving fast.

We're getting smarter. But really, the only winning move is not to play.