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Morocco is a country situated in the top West corner of North Africa. It is shaped like an inverted "L" with the top being on the Mediterranean sea and the West part facing the Ocean.
The capital is Rabat, which is a modern city and probably one you can happily skip if you go there asa tourist. The main airport is Casablanca, which is also the economic capital of the country. Casablanca is where all the banks are (I mean the headquarters of the banks) and has got a large mosque and a compact Medina. For those who visit Morocco on business, Casablanca offers a taste of Morocco.
In the North of the country are Tanger and few resorts on the Mediterranean sea. This is the part of the country where the Government has decided to invest more to develop the tourist infrastructure and rival with Spain.
North of Casablanca you have the imperial cities of Meknes and Fez. Fez is actually my favourite city in Morocco, even more than Marrakesh. If you have 2 days and rent a car, you can do a tour from Casablanca taking in Meknes and Fez, but I can tell you that 3 days will not be too little in fez, particularly if you like getting lost (quite literally) in the old Medina. I found that the old Medina of Fez is also great fun for kids. You can play "seek and hide" all the time.
Marrakesh is probably the most famous tourist destination in Morocco, with its square which turns into a live show every night. It is also a great base to explore the mountains behind, the Atlas.
South on the sea, Agadir is the place where tourists go to lay on the beach, Many of them arrive with charter, spend one week and see nothing more of the country. Essaouira, further down, is the surfer paradise.
People speak a local version of Arabic. If you speak any of the Arabic dialects, you will get by, but if you speak the version from the Gulf, you may find that from time to time you will have to ask to repeat. French is spoken largely in the country by anybody who has education, but do not expect all taxi drivers to be fluent in French.
Apart from the typical tourists attractions, the other bid draw of Morocco is in my view its cuisine. Couscous and Tagine are probably the 2 most famous dishes. Wine and beer are freely available in restaurants and bar.
Finally, if you are an attractive female traveller and you are travelling alone, you need to expect some level of harassment, but, at least in Casablanca, which is the only place I visited on my own, this was very limited. If you stay at large Hotels (I stayed at the Sheraton in Casablanca) and ask a taxi from the reception, the taxi drivers will behave properly with you.
I am going to review each of the cities mentioned above separately since I have been to all of them.
Morocco is a beautiful country, with many interesting places to see. I prefer to visit the northern region which can easily be reached by a ferry from spain or a flight directly there, which is not too expensive. They are currently building a tunnel from spain to morocco which i can't wait to be finished so the option to drive from spain will be available. I have also visited marakesh, which is a clean city with many interesting things to see, however as there is no sea it can get a bit hot at times.
I especially loved the food in Tangiers and eating fresh fish out of the sea. The view from the mountains in tangiers are breath taking and spain and gibraltar can be seen over the sea. They have lovely castle ruins to see and a nice cafe where u can drink mint tea and eat rageef, drizzled with honey(morrocan snack). I would recommend a visit, or permanant stay there, as I hope to live there one day. The people are friendly, food is cheap, and you feel so much freshness in the air.
I visited Morocco along with my husband in 2007 and absolutely loved it. Its a wonderful Country full of things to see, interesting people and excellent food. We spend there majority of our time in Marrakech which I have written a seperate review on. Marrakech is known as the 'red city', it is has both a fortified city and a new modern city. The fortified city lies witin the city walls and has a massive medina full of shops and stalls which really batter your senses. Marrakech is getting more and more popular as a tourist destination for people all over the world. There is plenty to do for a long city break with mosques and museums to visit and lots of shopping to do.
If you are planning on visiting Morocco for longer then spend your time visiting other places. We decided to do a desert trip and took a long car ride to part of the Western Sahara where we got given a camel and a guide. We then spent four hours riding into the Sahara to a camp where we spent the night. The next morning we had the most amazing views of sand dunes for as far as the eye could see. Although it was a long trip from Marrakech it was an amazing experience and well worth doing.
Moroccan food is fantastic and suits even the fussiest of eaters. There main dish is tajine which is a very slow cooked stew made with different meats and vegetables. Couscous, spices and green tea are also Moroccan specialitys which can be found all over the Country.
Morocco is definatly a country that you will either love or hate. Some people find the main places such as Marrakech and Casablanca too busy, however there are places in Morocco that are peaceful and the complete opposite of the big tourist areas, the Atlas mountains for example are tranquil and beautiful. If you want to visit a new place and are up for a new experience then Morocco may be for you!
Morocco is one of those countries you will either love or hate. I unfortunately hated it! I have always wanted to visit Morocco, and last year had the opportunity to spend three days in Marrakech. I know three days is a short period in which to judge any country, but I felt it would give me a good taster of the country, and then I might be able to return at a later date to explore more.
The Kingdom of Morocco is located in Northern Africa, and has a population of nearly 34 million people. Its borders are Algeria to the east, Mauritania to the south, and then it also borders with the two small Spanish territories of Ceuta and Mellita. The capital is Rabat, with Casablanca the largest city.
It is of course an Islamic country, with the population mostly Arab-Berbers, speaking Arab, however most people can speak a second or third language such as Spanish, French or English.
We arrived in Marrakech very early on a friday morning, and was to spend the weekend there. The hotel was booked in advance, and was clean, easy to find, and affordable. As we were so excited to be there, we literally just dropped our bags, and left the hotel to start exploring.
I have travelled in many Arab countries before, and am extremely aware of respect for their customs, so I have made sure that I was dressed appropriately. But that did not seem to matter much in Morocco....we still got endless harassment. It was the staring at you that bothered me the most. I did not want to leave my husbands sight for a second, as I really felt very intimidated by the looks I got from some men. I think the fact that I am blonde and very fair skinned, really made it worse.
Then there was the endless hassling to buy, or give money. Again, that is something that happens in most Arab countries, but I felt it was to a completeley different degree in Morocco. In most other countries I have travelled, traders will try and sell you there wares, but if you insist and keep saying no, there comes a point where they will respect that, and leave you alone. Not so in Morocco. If you so much as look at an item, it is as if you have bought it already! There just isnt a point where they accept that you have said no, and we had traders running after us in the street still shouting out prices. I understand that people are desperate, and competition is fierce, but it makes it impossible, and extremely unpleasant to even try and do some curio shopping, and in the end it just drives you off. What really upset me the most was that some of them would openly start swearing at you if you refuse to buy!
On our firts morning there we also had a really nasty experience on the Medina, the main square. I have always dreamed of seeing snake charmers, and there was a group of young men standing there with a few snakes, a basket and musical instruments. As soon as they spotted us, we suddenly got surrounded by about 7 men, all talking and shouting at once. They grabbed my poor husband, put him down on a chair, and quickly draped 3 snakes around his neck before he had a chance to say anyhting. And then they all shouted at me "Photo, Photo!". I eventually took a photo just to keep them calm, and then of course the inevitable shout for money started! This was really a very nervous moment for us, as we realised it was still early in the morning, we were the only tourists around, and just felt completely overwhelmed. Luckily my husband kept his cool, and calmly removed the snakes form around his neck, placed them on the table, and very firmly grabbed my hand, and pushed our way out of there without giving them money.
We also quickly learned if you want to take a picture of any attraction, make sure you dont appear as if you were taking a picture of any person, as they would then quickly storm at you shouting demands for money. We witnessed how another couple was chaed down the street by a man, as he accused them of taking a picture of him, and was demanding money in avery aggressive manner.
The city itself was beautiful in a really dramatic way. There is some really unique and stunning examples of architecture, and really loved the colourful decor. You can of course find some really amazing things to buy, form leatherwork to carpets, brass and ironwork.
And of course you have Moroccan cuisine as well. I just loved having a fresh mint tea on the patio, and there was loads of wondeful little restaurants to eat.
It jsut really saddened me that instead of enjoying what we are seeing, I felt as if we constanly had to be aware of not stepping on anyone's toes, and was trying to avoid being hassled and intimidated, and it reall made the three days hell.
I am always careful to generalise, and I realise I only experienced one city in Morocco, so I guess it is not fair to rate the whole country negatively just for that. Howeve I have been to other countries where I only managed to visit one city, and it has made me want to experience more of that country, and that was the problem for me in Marrakech...it has put me off seeing anything further of Morocco. I am also aware that many other people speak highly of Morocco, but again I have to go by what my experience was. I know that I am normally a very conscientious tourist, who try and respect others and their culture, yet I felt in Morocco I did not get the respect I also deserve as a tourist.
It is sad to say, but Morocco will never see me again!
Morocco is really a unique place to visit and it has so many cities and natural resorts to visit, that even one month would not be enough to really appreciate its beauty.
I have been lucky enough to visit Morocco on 3 different occasions, but only once I managed to have a proper holiday and drive around.
You can go to Morocco either via land, from Spain, for example by taking the boat from Almeria to Tanger, or you can fly there. I always flew there.
I landed in Casablanca, which is NOT the capital, but is the major economical centre of the country. The capital is Rabat, which I have never visited.
My favourite places in Morocco are Fez and Marrakesh. You can drive in 4 hours from Casablanca to Fez. Fez is an amazing city, with the old part, called medina, pretty much in the same conditions it was 500 years ago.
Marrakesh is famous to many people and it has this great square which comes alive at night with snake charmers and other exotic characters.
In Morocco you can stay in style or very cheap, but I do not suggest you stay at dirty cheap Hostels, because it is not safe.
I went backpacking around Europe this summer and the first place I started in was Morocco, which is in North Africa and it very different to anywhere else I visited on the trip. Each city we visited was so different from the one we left behind and people varied so much as well. Most people speak English so you wont have too much of a problem if you dont speak any other language but you will found it even easier to get around the country if you speak French as well as in a lot of the larger cities this is their first language. Be prepared when visiting the country to have lots of mint tea, made with large stems of mint leaves and plenty of sugar.
The first place we went to was Marrakesh. We landed here on a flight from Luton with Ryanir. The flight went smoothly and ran on time, but as soon as we enetered the airport you could tell that you were no longer in Western Europe where everything had to run smoothly and quickly! We waited for about 30 minutes to get through passport control, got our bags only to join another que for about 45 minutes to get some money changed over. They had no money exchange open and everyone from the flight all wanted to get money changed over. When the staff eventually found a banker they only found one, which was quite tedious, especially with some people thinking they have more right to get served first and pushing you out the way. My advice would be try and order some dirham before you go. By this point myself and my friend were quite tired and just wanted to get to the hostel but then had to get a taxi, which as we all ready knew we would most likely be scammed! We went with a positive attitude that we would only pay about 50 dirhan but ended up paying 150 dirhan, and everyone else we met ended up doing the same thing!!
Dont let my airport experience put you of because after that we had an amazing time. Marrakesh can be quite testing at times with the locals been quite rude to you, but I put that down to the increasing amount of tourists flocking on the city.
In Marrakesh I stayed in the medina (spanish quarter) in a brand new hostel. Most of the hostels are based in the medina, which is the place I would advise anyone to stay. Mainly because you dont have to tackle crossing any of the major roads, which is quite a terrifying experience! Just be warned dont think your safe from the traffic in the medina alleys because your far from safe. Still watch out for horse and cart, petit taxis and motorbikes. The one thing I would advise anyone going to Marrakesh to see would be the Djemaa el-fna. This is the night market in the main square full of storytellers, snake charmers and very random people selling teeth! If you didnt feel like you were in Africa up to this point you certainly will once you visit here. Many tourists vanish at this time of day and you will find yourself surrounded by all the locals. Dont eat before you go because there are loads of stalls selling food lined up for everyones evening meals. There is such a wide variety of food that it will suite everyone, even vegetarians. I would definitely recommend butter bean soup or the country dish tangir. Another trip to make while your staying in Marrakesh should be to Sidi Thatma. This is the last village before you go up to the Atlas mountains and you see some amazing scenery and its really good to get out the dusty hot city of Marrakech. If you work really hard as a group you should be able to get a grand taxi from just outside the Marrakech medina to the village, get them to wait and then bring you back for 400 dirhan between four people.
Next we travelled to Essaouria, a seaside resort on the west coast. We travelled there by local bus which took about 4-5 hours with a stop over for lunch. Be very careful on the local buses that the men putting your bags in the hold dont scam you. You will have to give them a bit of money for putting your bags underneath but they tried to trick me out of 180 dirhan by giving me incorrect change. Luckily I checked after we had just been scammed whilst buying out tickets!
Essouria has not been hit by the large number of tourists so it is a lot easier to walk around the shops in the medina here without been hassled and also much easier to bargain as they treat you more like a local than a stupid tourist that they can get away with scamming. In this town I recommend going to the main square in the evening and having a meal on one of the rooftop restaurants. From up here you can watch all the mums stand around talking while all the children run around playing. A really nice site to see, where no one has to worry about their children been taken or hurting themselves.
To get here we took the coach to Casablanca, (which we decided not to stop in as it looks very commercialised and not really what we had come to see) and then got on the train to Fes. One word of warning is dont travel on these trains in rush hour as we did and we never has a seat for the full four and a half hours and at one point I had an old lady almost sitting on my knee, not nice!! A lot of people wanted to talk to us though and there was no horrible people that made me feel uncomfortable.
In Fes we stayed in the YHA hostel, which I would highly recommend. The lady and gentleman that run the place are really friendly, can advise you on everything and arrange tours for you to visit the Fes medina, which is defiantly worth a visit. The Fes medina is the worlds largest living medina with 9300 alleys, and about 30,000 people living in it with lots of shops, tanneries, mosques, and food establishments. Make sure you get a guide when you go in here as you wont get anything out of it otherwise and they will take you for tours around carpet makers shops and traditional chemists.
This was the last place we visited. Very untouched by the average tourist but a lot of backpackers. Its set high up in the Rif mountains. Nearly everyone there is high on weed and dont be surprised if nearly everyone offers you to sit and have a spliff with them, even in the restaurants. But you dont have to just say no and they wont ask you again. This is a place I would highly recommend that you stay in for quite a few days and arrange a trek up into the mountains. I never had time but no a lot of people who did and it looked an amazing experience. The whole town is also painted blue which adds to the uniqueness of this little town.
We left Morocco by ferry from Tangier. We were planning to stop here for a day or two but it looks quite rough and has a lot of south Africans waiting to cross to Europe stuck in the hostels there. For this reason we got a ferry straight out the country.
It was an amazing experience I would highly recommend. If you are planning to backpack around and youre a girl you will get less hassle in Marrakech if you have a guy with you but still its perfectly safe anyway. I met plenty of single female travellers, none who had experienced any trouble.
The North African country of Morocco is one country my partner and I have always wished to visit and we were lucky enough to fulfil this earlier on in the year. We decided to head to Marrakech and explore this mythical city and the surrounding area for a fortnight.
Marrake ch, which aptly means the 'red city is a wonderful city; vibrant and alive with the hustle and bustle of people buying and selling, haggling and calling out to potential customers. We stayed in the old part of the city, within the Djemma el Fna, or the old square. This is where you want to be to experience the real Morocco away from the high rise buildings of the modern city. The square is a huge and fascinating place, dominated by the Koutoubia Minaret, the tallest building in Marrakech. However, as this is a mosque, entry is forbidden to all non-Muslims. Henna tattooists, snake charmers, unofficial touts, men with monkeys will all compete for your attention in the Djemma (and of course for you money). But it is at night when the place really comes alive. Dozens of food vendors set up shop at around 4pm and they remain there until around midnight. This is a place for locals and tourists alike, to sit and eat local food and soak up the atmosphere. There are also countless bars and restaurants around the perimeter and the terraces are a great place to watch the action without the hassle. It is simply wonderful and the square is definitely the highlight of Marrakech.
To the North of the Djemma you will find a maze of souks. These are the traditional shopping alleys, jam-packed full of awe inspiring and colourful local merchandise, which tend to cluster according to product. The souks cover a large area and you'll easily spend hours exploring them. I recommend taking the time to wander slightly off the beaten track to see the area's where these items are made. They are separate districts according to the type of product e.g. an iron district, a pottery district and a poultry district.
There are a number of ancient palaces, museums and gardens in Marrakech with which to pass a few hours. I particularly recommend the garden Marjorelle which are a short taxi ride or horse and cart trip from the square. These stunning modern gardens, awash with colour, are a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, especially given the attached art gallery. The El Badi Palace is the best of the palaces on offer. It is the largest of the palces and in a state of ruin but worth a trip in my opinion just to see the birds. Huge herons have built nests around the edges of the palace and the adjioning old city walls. The birds are unbelievably close and incredibly elegent.
There are also a number of great places to take day trips to out of the city. Our favourite was our trip to the cascades d'Ouzoud. At 65km north east of Marrakech this is a good 3-31/2 hour drive as the roads (and the drivers) aren't going to win any prizes. The falls are the largest in Morocco and really are worth the trip. The scenery is amazing; olive trees, open restaurants, swimming in the pools; and there are some great walks to be had in the area.
A three hour drive West of Marrakech takes you to the harbour town of Essaouira. This is little blue and white harbour town is lovely with a much calmer atmosphere in comparison to Marrakech. We spent three days here sampling the local seafood, watching the fishermen bring the day's catch in and cycling along the beach. As well as just chilling out of course. Essaouira is a really great place to spend a few days, worth the time out, especially if the weather is good. There is ample opportunity for surfing and water/beach sports here as well, but not off-peak and early in the year, as it was when we were there.
The Atlas Mountains and the Sahara.
East of Marrakech lie the amazing Atlas Mountains and it is well worth a trip up into, or preferably over the mountains if you have the time. We took a three day tour with a company called Sahara Expeditions (there are many other operators). We set off on a minibus with eight others at 7am. We took a risk as we weren't sure if we would be able to pass. There was snow on the higher levels of the mountains which was utterly stunning but in melted a little in time. The scenery and the views in general were unbelievable. We stopped often but Todra gorge was a particular highlight of this trip. This huge natural gorge cuts through the valley with a clear stream running through the bottom. It's well known for rock climbers and despite being off-peak we got to watch a couple scaling the heights. The second night of the trip we arrived at the Sahara, the greatest of the great deserts. We took a memorable albeit uncomfortable camel ride over the sand dunes for around an hour to a Berber camp. The Berber people are the indigenous Moroccans. We stayed in the traditional open tents and spend the evening eating with our hosts, playing drums and watching the sun set. This was a great trip but there was definitely too much driving and if you want to do this I recommend doing it independently or finding a longer tour.
Accommodation and Getting Around.
We flew to Marrakech from Manchester with Thompson. The flight is three and a half hours long and there is no time difference (this may vary according to day light saving). Our flights were cheap. We flew out at 7am on a Monday morning (after a nasty night in the airport) and paid 50p for our flight. We flew back on a Sunday lunchtime and paid around £35. All in all including tax and insurance we paid about £75 each for our flights. You can grab a bus or a taxi from the airport no problem but please be aware that you CANNOT change travellers cheques at the airport and as you can't take currency into the country either you will need to use a cash machine.
Getting around once there is also no problem and it's cheap. Taxi's are either grande or petite. The petite taxi's are everywhere and they stand out because of their beige colour. They are the cheapest and most common but you'll need to haggle. Trains run between all the major cities but won't run outside the cities so you'll need a catch a bus. There are local or Supratours buses which are for the tourists and the well off Moroccan people. All are fantastic value.
Accommodation is varied but where possible I'd recommend staying in a traditional riad which are abundant. A riad is typically a three storey building based around a central courtyard with a roof garden at the top. There range from small, just a few rooms run by a family to those that have been adapted to cater for many. Of course there are many posh hotels, particularly in Marrakech, but these are in the modern part of the city away from all the best bits. In the summer there is also camping available throughout the country.
The Moroccan currently is the dirham and at the time of writing approximately dh16 was equal to £1. This is an excellent exchange rate for us in the West. Here are a few examples of how cheap things are. A glass of freshly squeezed orange juice on the Djemma in Marrakesh will set you back just dh3, wonderful French pastries go for around the same price and a coffee will usually set you back dh10. For basic budget meals (couscous, omelettes) you can expect to pay anything from dh30, dh70 will get you a great meal. Budget accommodation is about dh200 for a room and mid-range between dh300-400. Overall we spent around £800 for two of us, that's for the entire two weeks and we stayed in mid-range accommodation eating in a variety of local and modern restaurants and we bought a fair amount back with us too.
Eating, Drinking and Shopping.
The food in Morocco was wonderful. Traditional staples are couscous and tajines primarily served with chicken or lamb. I wouldn't recommend the beef. There is a prominent French influence in the whole if Northern Africa; baguette bread, pastries, fries, omelettes and wonderful coffee are everywhere. What's more it is very cheap. Western food is also easy to come by, at least in the cities anyway. There are pizzeria's galore in Marrakech. Vegetarians also won't have a hard time despite what the guide book might tell you.
Be aware that Morocco is a dry country; alcohol is forbidden to Muslims. That doesn't mean it isn't available but you can't just have a glass of wine or a beer with your meal. Many of the large hotels in Marrakech will have a bar, accessible to all, but you can expect to pay a similar price to that in the UK.
The merchandise available in Morocco is wonderful and it is extremely cheap in comparison to Western prices. Cast iron lamps, jewellery, carpets (really rugs), fantastic ceramics, spices and textiles make up the majority of the goods on offer. You are usually expected to haggle for what you buy, as is applicable for taxi rides and many other amenities.
Culture and Language
The culture in Morocco is extremely different. Expect to be hassled, expect to have people follow you around and insist that you come to look at their carpet. Watch out for the unofficial touts in the big square in Marrakech. If you look even slightly lost they will stop you and offer you directions for which they will require a fee. Women in particular will receive hassle. Muslim women wear the veil and do not go anywhere unaccompanied. Moroccan men thus view Western women with fascination. Women should make reasonable attempts to cover their shoulders and ankles to help to minimise attention and to avoid causing genuine offence. My partner was unwell on one day of our trip (an unfortunate shellfish incident in Essaouira) and so I ventured out alone. The attention I received as a lone white blonde female increased ten-fold. It was unbelievable. Young men followed me around, stopped to ask me questions about myself and generally made a fuss. This isn't exactly threatening but it is certainly annoying and believe you me it is constant. Single or groups of women need to be aware of this.
The language is also something to be aware of. English is spoken to some extent but you'll want to brush up on your French which is something we weren't previously aware of. Some of the places to visit only have displays in French and out guide to the Sahara didn't speak much English which was a shame.
We spent the last week of January and the first week of February in Morocco. It was generally warm, T-shirt and sandals weather and it was pretty hot if you were directly in the sun. But as the sun sets the temperature drops fast and at this time of year a coat is definitely required. In the mountains it was freezing at night. In mid-summer however, the temperature in Marrakech can exceed 40 and as your shoulders and ankles should be covered you should consider whether this would actually be enjoyable.
We loved Morocco, particularly Marrakech which is an amazing city which incidentally is near enough to make a long weekend of. It is cheap place to go and a truly fascinating experience. As there are lots of really interesting and beautiful places near by it is also definitely worth making central Morocco a longer trip. I would dearly love to return and see some of the North of the country: Fes and the tanneries there, more of the coast line and the Rif mountains. Maybe next time huh!
In Morocco, children speak every language under the sun. I am almost tempted to say that they could probably pick up very quickly any other languages that may be found throughout the galaxy and the entire universe
when it comes to asking for a dirham (Moroccan currency), a dollar, a euro, a pen, a sweet or anything that you happen to be holding at the precise moment when they spot you.
At first, it is extremely annoying, for, although they seem to speak every conceivable language, they do not seem to understand any, including their own. Body language will not work either. Violence quickly becomes tempting, but you soon realise that their begging is due more to some sort of mechanical intrinsic feature endemic to the soil upon which they were born.
They recite their begging in a manner devoid either of tone or expression, usually starting in Spanish; if you ignore them, they will switch to English, French, German, Swahili, Kirghiz and so on automatically, like pre-programmed little robots, completely unaffected by your mood, your threats, your screaming, your desperation, your crying and your ultimate begging to be left alone.
The problem is that, if you do give them a dirham or pen or whatever, you are suddenly assailed by a troop of other youngsters, who have been prying somewhere in the background to see if you are a suitable victim.
As sad and cruel as this may seem, sometimes, your only option is to threaten to call the police. The Moroccan police are not nice to beggars, they are very cruel indeed.
To be fair though, I must say, that these sorts of attacks do not usually happen in Moroccos most prominent cities, simply because the presence of the police is ubiquitous and they are protecting tourists from their own people.
This is cruel too, but understandable. For although Morocco is a fabulous country to visit in many ways, the constant leech-like begging that takes place in certain cities and villages can be enough to ruin the entire experience.
But after a while, you do end up developing a semi-ceramic indifference to the presence of the beggars and the would-be-guides, and a well trained vitreous gaze can become very useful. Just make sure you dont get too used to it, or your eyes might just turn to glass!!
Such an experience was one of my first as I entered the beautiful land that is Morocco. We drove from Spain, taking a ferry from Algeciras and into Ceuta (also known as Sebta), the last Spanish City before you enter Morocco.
Ceuta is a rather small town, with about 75,000 inhabitants, most of whom are Spanish Muslims, mainly of Berber descent. Berbers do not consider themselves as Arabs, and indeed, they are not, but I shall go into more detail about this subject later.
What is most known about Ceuta is its duty-free shopping facilities. Many people go there just to shop, and it certainly is worth it. On our way in and out of Morocco through Ceuta, we bought more alcohol than we ever have in our lives.
On the way in, we stacked up on whisky (for the locals and some friends) and wine (for us, well for me mostly : )
On the way out, we bought every conceivable alcoholic drink that happened to be on the shelves and in our view. We prayed very hard before crossing the border, and were not searched. No one wondered why the car was moving so slowly
Morocco is one part of what is known as the Maghreb, which in Arabic translates as the setting sun. The Maghreb consists of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, and the latter is usually referred to as the farthest land of the setting sun.
The history of Morocco (and the Maghreb in general), before the conquest of Islam towards the 7th century AD, is not very clear. What is known is that, the Arabs failed in their very first attempt to conquer the tribal people who occupied what is today known as Morocco. These people were the Berbers, whose culture is thought to have existed for at least 4000 years, but again, a lot of mystery surrounds their own history also.
At the beginning of the 8th century AD, Islam had effectively conquered the farthest land of the setting sun, even though clashes between the Berbers and Arabs continued in many areas. Even today, and albeit having converted to Islam for the most part, Berbers are still a very proud people and clearly see themselves as different from the Arabs. Many Berbers you will meet, especially in the sooks, will try to gain your confidence by confiding that we are Berbers, we are not Arabs, we are honest people!. Sometimes they are right, but often they are just trying to fool you into believing their price is better.
Berbers have their own customs and very special music, and they tend to mingle their Islamism with their traditional culture. As I have said above, they consider themselves as Berbers, not Arabs. In the early days, even those who had converted to Islam were treated as second class citizens, and this took a long time to wear off, some feel that it hasnt, hence their apparent grudge against their conquerors.
Although there is of course, much more to say about the history of Morocco, I will, in this review, only be recounting my personal experience as I travelled through it for a sadly short period of two weeks.
After leaving Ceuta, we headed straight for Chefchaouen (also known as Chaouen and Chechaouen), in the north of the country (well, yes, we drove in from the north!).
It is a picturesque little town in the Rif Mountains, with clean air and beautiful scenery. The drive up there was in itself an adventure, and I have discovered that the shades of green are indeed far more numerous than the ones you will find in the most extensive palette of any painter. I found myself photographing grass for half an hour!
This is where we were first attacked by children. I was 5 months pregnant (so this was 5 years ago) and although my then partner was finding this very normal (having lived in Morocco for the past 7 months), I was finding it extremely annoying and try as I may, in Arabic, French, Spanish and English, they would not leave us alone. We ended up taking one as a guide to find a hotel, and after having tried 4, we settled on the fifth. For a clean double room with a separate (sort of clean) bathroom, we paid £6.
The hotel was a minute away from a restaurant called Aladdin, where we had a delicious breakfast consisting of mind-blowing Arabic coffee (or is it Turkish now?) and home made petits-fours that were so nice, I had to ask the waiter to get me the recipe, but he wouldnt! Huh!
There is a little market in Chefchaouen, but nothing magnificent. The best thing is to walk around the little town and enjoy the scenery. The little Medina is okay, and the Plaza Uta el-Hammam is a busy square, especially in the evenings, but I was put off when, sitting in a café with my ex-husband, I realised that I was the only woman there and everyone was looking at me!
After Chefchaouen, we headed for Fès. Fès is the oldest of the imperial cities and supposedly the symbolic heart of Morocco, but I am afraid I was not very impressed.
I found it too dirty and swarming with people everywhere.
But I must also be honest, we only stayed a day (because there were cockroaches in the hotel we stayed in and it was a 3 star one) and so did not get to see many parts of the city. It was my decision not to stay another day, I suspect it was the pregnancy and the heat, but I did not even feel like discovering anything further.
What we did discover is Fès El Bali, or Old Fès.
It is said that 9400 streets and lanes make up the labyrinth that this old city is. Again, as soon as we arrived (By taxi, having left our car parked in the hotel), a horde of children gathered around us and offered their services as guides. We decided it would be wise to hire one, as Fès el Bali is renowned for its twists and turns, from which exit is virtually impossible without a very experienced pilot. We chose the shiest, quietest one of the lot. He was not only very kind, but an absolutely perfect guide indeed, and shared with us his extensive knowledge about every nook of the Old city.
I was so thankful that he was with us, for the streets are extremely narrow, very crowded and quite claustrophobic. I said I was not impressed by Fès, but I think I lied, for this place was amazing, and although we cruised past houses, fruit and vegetable stalls and many other places at an excessive speed, I did have the feeling that we had travelled back in time. The fact that it was so crammed did not really allow for a leisurely stroll, it was late evening, perhaps we should have tried it in the morning I thought, but our guide assured us it would be the same.
Dark had set in, and we found ourselves, finally, in a street that was quiet, in front of the Karaouine Mosque. The guide said that it was custom to make a wish and put a coin in a slot near the door of the Mosque. I proceeded to do so, my wish being that my child should be born safe and sound with all its limbs and proper faculties. The guide said (I cant remember who told him I was pregnant) you can put a coin and ask Allah to grant you a son!!. I was about to launch a profoundly philosophical discussion about sexism, but ended up holding my breath at the last moment, it was not worth it, I dont think our guide would have quite got my point.
We sat on a step in front of the Mosque, about 3 metres away from it that is, the street being about that width, and admired the beautiful embroidery like metal work on the windows.
Would you like to buy some carpets said our guide.
I have a very good friend here, Berber, who will certainly give you a very good price.
I dont know how, but we ended up at the carpet sellers place.
We were made very welcome. It was now getting chilly, the huge place was carpeted with carpets : ) and made us feel very much at ease indeed. We were invited to sit down, big smiles and all, the entire family started to appear, the typical mint tea with 300kgs of sugar in each little pretty glass was drawn out, many questions were asked and answered as briefly as possible and then the subject of carpets sneakily raised it head!
Oh shit! I thought, I should never.. Was it me or you?...never should have shown even the slightest bit of interest in the matter!!
Ok, I thought. Red carpet. I liked red carpets, with lots of yellow and orange and pink. I want the design to show a water lily coming out of the mouth of a serpent that looks very fierce and with stars all around!
They didnt have this but in less than 5 seconds, two dozens of carpets were laid down at my feet, all red, pink, yellow and orange
I smiled it was just a joke.. just a joke
How much are you willing to pay?
How much do they cost?
Smile. Smile back.
I pointed to the one I liked best (beautiful carpets!). It was about 3x4 metres, made of wool.
It is worth $300 but Ill give it to you for $150.
Polite smile from me. Bursts of laughter from my then partner.
To be honest, I am completely ignorant about the value and acceptable prices of carpets, I dont know if this was too much or not, but clearly I was not prepared to pay this sum of money at that precise moment.
So we left, tea unfinished (diabetes tests proved negative afterwards), smiles everywhere and come back whenever you wish. But he did not try to put the price down.
We paid the guide the equivalent of £5 and he was so happy he nearly kissed us.
We left Fés the following day, without exploring it any further.
There are many Mosques and Madrasas (or Medersas theological colleges) to visit in Fés, as well as souqs and hammams. I am certain there are many other attractions, but I did not get to see them and so from here I shall recount the rest of my trip.
We travelled straight down from Fés into Marrakesh, passing the majestic Middle and High Atlas mountains, a beautiful scenery accompanied us all the way down, truly worth seeing, seemingly untouched by time, although this was clearly just an impression. The air was clean and breathing was a pleasure!
On more than one occasion, on roads which seemed completely deserted, a figure would suddenly spring out of nowhere, and with hands holding colourful things, would start jumping up and down at the side of the road, screaming things I did not understand, and trying to wave us to stop.
I realised what they were selling one day when, having parked not far from a road, we had sat near some rocks to have a bite, and two bodies materialised in front of us, approaching with hands outstretched. They were holding crystals, multicoloured crystals that were almost fluorescent.
I instantly realised they were dyed to look this way. I am by no means an expert in crystallography or geology, but I knew a little about it, and did not remember ever having seen or heard about any such formations or the possibilities for them to form.
They tried to convince us these were crystals that only existed in these parts but seeing our lack of interest, they left, only to return a few minutes later with more real crystals this time. Beautiful white quartz and amethyst still nestled in an egg shaped rock. To cut a long story short, the price went from £40 to £7, and I was very pleased indeed with my quartz egg.
You will often meet roadside merchants like this in Morocco, never look too interested, or you will most certainly be ripped off. Whilst it is good to help these people in their difficult way of making a living, do bear in mind that they Will try to sell you what they have for a ridiculous price to begin with. Haggle like hell, and you may get away with a bargain and they will have earned good money. They will not sell you something if it is not worth it for them.
The magic of Marrakesh is made of nocturnal matter.
Marrakesh really comes alive at night. You can almost see a magic veil slowly descending upon the city, as the food stalls on Djemaa El-Fna square start to light their fires to grill meat and vegetables. Smoke starts to drift in the air as the square gets filled up by the minute. But more of this later.
In the 60s and 70s, Marrakesh was one of the most visited Hippie Cities, it is still a main attraction in Morocco and very rightly so, you are likely to meet tourists from every corner of the world, and many Moroccans too!
The city of Marrakesh is the second largest city in Morocco, with a population in excess of 1,500,000. It was founded in 1062 AD by the Almoravid Sultan Youssef bin Tachfin (The Almoravids were a confederation of various Berber tribes), and at one point, was one of the most prominent artistic and cultural centres of the Islamic world.
It is a city which has suffered many ups and downs throughout the years, and its history is long, complicated and at times, painful. I shall not go into detail about this here, but will simply mention that after another episode of decline, during the 19th century, it was helped back to its feet with the aid of the French during the protectorate period (1912-1956) and has been standing on relatively firm legs since.
There are many things to do and many places to visit in Marrakesh, and its must be said that it is one of the safest cities in Morocco and one where you are much less likely to be a magnet for beggars, simply because the presence of the police is ubiquitous and the police really put the beggars off.
Djemaa El Fna Square is I believe the number one attraction. It is a huge square in front of the extensive and very interesting as-Smarrine Souqs. During the day, it is surrounded by orange and grapefruit juice merchants, as well as spice, nut and some olive vendors. The juice is fresh and delicious and costs around 20p a glass, but do make sure you ask the vendor to clean the glass properly and watch him do it, as they tend to just take a glass from one person, immerse it in a bowl of water and fill it up again!
Nothing seems very special about Djemaa El Fna during the day, apart from a few musicians and the very colourfully dressed water vendors, not much goes on. It is usually too hot (temperatures in Morocco can reach 45 degrees Celsius during the summer) and most people prefer to be in the shade somewhere.
But when the sun starts to set and the sky puts on its pastel lilac, pink and orange night dress, spirits as if from the past start to emerge on the scene, slowly and gracefully. If you are sitting at a table in one of the many rooftop cafés surrounding the square, you can watch the metamorphosis take place and marvel at the fluidity with which the panorama changes. It is almost palpable, yet mysterious.
Food vendors set up stalls in the middle of the square and this is when the smoke I mentioned earlier adds its ingredient of charm and wonder to the whole picture. Musicians and other performers begin to sprout from everywhere, magic potion charlatans lay their carpets and remedies on a carpet and sit down to await visitors, and before you know it, the dark has set in, the square is bursting with life and colours, noises, smells and a unique spirit.
It is enchanting, it is, I repeat, like another world and you could spend a whole night just walking around, watching the performers, listening to the very good musicians, sampling the (cheap and delicious) food, discovering the remedies sold by the men I called charlatans, although I have no idea what they are really called. Then you may want to have a walk through the souqs, which stay open until very late.
And talking about the souqs, whether by day or by night, they are amazing indeed. Although just as labyrinthine as Fés souqs, I found them somehow less claustrophobic and more colourful.
It is advisable to hire a guide to navigate through them; we had a friend as a guide on our first visit, and managed not get lost on our subsequent explorations.
The variety of the merchandise on sale is quite staggering; there are all sorts of leather goods on offer, from shoes to bags, jackets and so on. Carpets of course, in all shapes, sizes and colours, either made of wool or silk mainly. Furniture, lamps, food, textiles, pottery . You name it, if it isnt there, they will invent it on the spot!
One thing we have learned through our Moroccan friend is that, all the goods have a price for Moroccans and one for tourists. No need to say here that the difference between the two is immense. We were told that the tourist price is at least 5 times that charged to the locals. Some sellers will try to raise it even more, depending on how gullible you seem to them.
Haggling is a necessity; no one in their right mind would give you a correct price to start with. They expect you to haggle, they relish the challenge; no haggling would utterly disappoint them and ruin all their fun!
NEVER Ever seem very interested by ANYTHING. This will guarantee that the price you get will be much higher than what it is. Casually look at things in an almost condescending manner, holding them between your thumb and index; ask lost of unnecessary questions (and some useful ones) and then laugh when they tell you the price, then walk off. You will be called back almost certainly, do your haggling bit nonchalantly, but do have a clear idea of how much you are prepared to pay.
There are definitely fantastic bargains to be made, even if you are slightly ripped off, it will be worth it. I bought beautiful leather sandals at between £4 to £6 each, which is very cheap by any Europeans standard, but our friend later told us we could have got them even cheaper. I still felt I had had a very good deal.
I also bought a very nice woollen carpet (1.5 x 1 metres) with a price that started at $150 and ended up at £30. That was a bargain indeed!
One thing I do advise you to buy is dried fruit, nuts, spices and pickles. They are delicious, fresh, most certainly organic and very fresh indeed. I did not even try haggling when buying these, as they were really cheap to start with.
There are many other places to visit in Marrakesh.
Mosques of course, and quite a few to mention, so I shall only talk about one.
Koutoubia is one the first Mosques you are likely to encounter; it is only about a15 minutes walk from Djemaa El Fna and is probably the most famous landmark in Marrakesh. Its minaret is the tallest in the city and can easily be spotted from any direction, unless you are in a souq. Of the three most famous minarets, the other two being Tour Hassan in Rabat and the Giralda in Seville, Koutoubia is said to be the oldest and best preserved.
It was built in the 12th century by the Almohads (Moroccan movement of very conservative Muslims, also known as al-muwahhidin, those who proclaim the unity of God).
There are many madrasas (or medersas) to visit also, but not having visited any, I shall not mention any in this review, which is too long already, and I am still in Marrakesh!
Before leaving this beautiful city, I find it essential to point out, if only by name, the many other places to visit in and around it:
The Palais el-Badi, is Marrakeshs most famous palace and was built between 1578 and 1602. Although once renowned for its beauty, not much is left of its former glory, but it is still worth visiting.
There is also the Palais de la Bahia, the Museum of Moroccan arts, the Saadian Tombs and the many Gardens there are many beautiful gardens in Marrakesh and should you happen to go there, I advise you to put them on your list of things to visit. There are too many and clearly, Marrakesh needs a review of its own, but I must now lead you South
We left Marrakesh without really wanting to, but I had to get back to work in a few days and if I wanted to see the south, no further delay was permissible.
Back in the car, with 4 litres of orange juice and lot of water, a variety of nuts and dried fruit, sunshine and music, and happiness was becoming a word I could easily relate to.
From Marrakesh, we drove straight through the glorious snow covered High Atlas mountains all the way down to the very last village before the Sahara Desert. This village is MHamid, but the road to MHamid is the adventure, and so do allow me to share part of this with you.
Straight is not a word one should use when referring to Morocco. Whether you are talking about the roads or the minds, things tend to twist a lot, in a nice way
We did not stop in any villages on the way to MHamid, except to buy bread and water. It took us two days and one night to get there, but not without countless stops to admire the incredible sceneries that unfolded before us.
The word Atlas is to me weighty with poetry, because when I open an Atlas, I am transported to the many places I want to know more about. To travel along the High Atlas mountains was a lifting experience, I kept looking at them and thinking about how they must have formed, their shapes, their colours no time to go into geology right now, but even if you have no clue and are not interested, you cannot help but be awed at their beauty and their multiple colours.
There isnt much to do but admire, breathe in the fresh air, watch a couple of shepherds and their flocks and enjoy the peace. Peace is very hard to find, as you may well know, so is in itself a precious experience.
Leaving the Atlas mountains, we drove through the Drâa Valley, and spent the night in a palmeraie, but not before we had admired the sunset through the palm trees.
A funny thing happened to us the next morning.
Having driven well into and between the palm forest, we parked the car in a place we were convinced no one could see us. There was no one, there was Nothing around us!
We slept in the car, having lowered the backseats and made ourselves very comfortable on our duvets and pillows. The next morning I awoke around 6 am and watched the dawn break. My then partner woke up soon after me and I started joking about the way that wherever we went in Morocco, there was always someone asking us for a Dirham or a pen or anything.
Imagine someone comes asking us for a Dirham here I laughed.
Then I sat up to take in the scenery for the millionth time and in the distance, between the palms, I saw something moving. I assumed it was some animal, but the closer it got the more humanoid it appeared.
No!! Not here! How? Where what the ?
My partner wouldnt believe me when I said someone was coming towards us. The most annoying thing is that I badly needed to relieve myself and now this I quickly calculated that he needed a few more minutes to be very close to us and hastily went behind the car then I came back and started making coffee.
By that time, there was no more doubt as to the race to which the visitor belonged. It was a very human looking teenager, who parked himself a few palm trees away from us and sat there staring. We had some coffee, some bread and cheese, put the coffee away, folded the duvets and stacked them with the pillows in the back of the car, all this taking about an hours time, during which the human had not moved from his spot.
Just curious we thought. But as we took our respective seats in the car and started the engine, life suddenly came back to our friend, and he started walking towards us. He stopped in front of the drivers window, extended the palm of his right hand and said: Dirham?
We laughed all the way down to MHamid.
It wasnt funny though. I could not understand this. There is a lot of poverty in Morocco, but most people do have food everyday. I have visited many other very poor countries where people went without food for days, and this has never happened to me. I could not help but feel outrage at the lack of dignity that so many locals showed and my Moroccan friends told me that this is a very normal thing in their country, even though they clearly felt ill at ease with it.
We arrived to MHamid, a desolate and tiny village in the middle of nowhere, around 10 am. We quickly found a hotel (well, there arent that many) which is owned by a Moroccan gentleman, all dressed like a Bedouin, who had lived 25 years in Switzerland. Sadly, I have lost his address, but I am certain that if you get there and ask for the man who lived in Switzerland, you will be taken there in no time.
The rooms of the hotel were clean and so was the bathroom. The owner was extremely kind and very interesting and breakfast was heavenly. Fresh butter and hot bread, delicious coffee and some fruit. We paid £4 a night for a double bedroom.
For those who wish to visit the Sahara desert proper, MHamid is one point of departure, but not the only one. However, you are really close and many excursions are on offer. Whether on camels back or in a 4x4, for a day, a week or more. Prices vary a lot, and haggling may need to be used.
We, however, did not take this opportunity. Time was one factor, but the main one was the fact that I was pregnant and surely this would have been a risk I was not willing to take.
We did however, drive our car to the limit of the village, near a large sand dune, behind which the Sahara lay.
Our car was a very old and battered Peugeot 405, and we literally drove it to the limit of a gravel road, in front of which lay nothing but very very VERY fine sand, then the dune.
We walked on the dune, took pictures, played with the sand and got back in the car to have a bite. Sure enough, 2 minutes later, 3 children walk up to us asking for something. I spoke to them in Arabic, making sure they did understand, which they did, and told them:
We will give you a dirham each, a pen and 2 honey biscuits each, but you must swear on the Koran that you will leave us in peace after this, you know what swearing on the Koran means, dont you?
Of course they did, and that was very cleverly mean of me, playing them like that, but by then, I had developed a neurological disorder due to the constant begging for anything, that had not ceased ever since I had set foot in the country. I came out in rashes and brief neurotic fits whenever anyone approached me with this look.
They took their gifts and left. I was very confident and convinced this had worked. We had half an hour of peace and then, I looked in the rear view mirror and saw a congregation of about 15 kids walking towards the car. Completely freaked out, my partner left his sandwich on my knee, started the car and instead of entering the reverse gear, he drove straight into the sand dune, where both front wheels promptly sank into the fine quartz dust. Try as he may, reversing was now useless and I was about to cry.
By then, the throng of children were surrounding us and my partner was cursing everything and everyone. He got out of the car and told me to sit at the wheel while he tried to push the car out.
To cut a very long indeed story short, let me just say that, upon seeing us in this situation, the rest of the village decided to come to our rescue. There must have been at least 50 youngsters around the car. Pushing, pulling, messing around, but in truth, only 2 were really being helpful.
It was hot, I was seriously p****d off, the only woman in a very short dress and I was made to swiftly realise that. After about 2 hours, the car was freed and we managed to reverse it onto safe ground. We decided to give them 50 Dirham for their trouble, but I told my partner to give it to a very specific person, who was the one who really did most of the work. This he proceeded to do.
As we left the dune, swearing never to return again, the scene that was left behind us was that of a teenager, holding his arm up as far as it would stretch, with the 50 dirham note firmly clutched in his hand, and the rest of the 50 or so kids, jumping around him trying to reach it.
I hope he escaped.
We left MHamid after only a day and travelled the same way up to Marrakesh again and then back to Ceuta. We did not stop in any other major place, so this is where my Moroccan adventure ends.
Needless to say, I only saw a small part of this vast country and there are many other cities to visit there. Essaouira by the Sea, Casablanca, Rabat, Tangier and many others
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD
Yes. You cannot possibly talk about Morocco without mentioning the local food.
Moroccans turn into magicians the minute they enter a kitchen. They all seem to know how to cook and can turn any ingredients into the most succulent dishes.
The variety of dishes is far too great to detail fully, but as many of you may know, Couscous is a major one. And once you have tried a home made Moroccan Couscous, you will know what couscous is meant to taste like.
Tagines are absolutely delicious, and can be vegetables only, chicken or lamb based. They are cooked in a terracotta dish with a cone shaped top. Depending on where you eat them, they will taste different, but are truly heavenly.
Restaurants all over Morocco are relatively cheap, and all the ones where we ate had marvellous food. Various meat dishes, salads, vegetables and many pulses on offer, especially in markets. We invited our friend to a rather posh restaurant once, and the three of us had roast lamb (a lot of it), salads, chips and a vegetable dish. Oh yes, and wine. The bill was less than £10.
If you eat out on Djemaa el Fna from one of the many stalls, the prices are almost risible, but the quality is not always the best, look at the meat you are going to buy and make sure it isnt over cooked.
Hotels in Marrakesh are so numerous that it is very hard to decide which to choose. From Luxurious hotels to youth hostels, the prices are more than correct. We paid about £10 a night, for a double room in a 3 star hotel with a café just in front of Djemma el Fna, but please bear in mind this was 5 years ago.
Having made some quick research though, I can see that hotel prices in many cities in Morocco are still very cheap and you can still get rooms for £5 a night in youth hostels, and pay less than £50 per night in some fantastic hotels.
The larger international ones, such Le Meridien are much more expensive, but accommodation is widely available.
Morocco is a country I would definitely recommend and it certainly is a country I would visit again. Despite the inconveniences mentioned, the Moroccans are friendly and kind people and when you get to know some of them well, it becomes easier to forgive the others. Many Moroccans are very well educated and / or very artistic and are very interesting people indeed.
If only for the landscape and the food, and considering that flights to Morocco are relatively cheap, if you are looking for an exotic experience that will not cost you the Earth, Morocco is most certainly a first class contender.
© Lola Awada 2005
Its 12.00pm waiting in Heathrow Airport waiting till 5.40pm for my BA flight to Mohammed V airport bound for Casablanca Morocco. Looking round Duty Free could spend a fortune in here. At last called to Gate 56 to board. Cant wait to get on board I know in 3hrs 15mins I will be touching down in Morocco. Arriving at Mohammed V airport there is a beautiful water feature in the airport. The one thing I did notice they have a lot of police and security in airport, more than in Heathrow.
Going to Security they dont speak very good english good job I can speak Arabic well enough to get me through here. They have porters as well in the baggage area. Ok they need tipping but they will take your luggage right through to the car park.
Out side the temperature is 27oC and it still only 7.00pm here. The palm trees and scenery are beautiful when you step outside. The language in this country is Arabic, French and Berber some people can speak little English.If you want a taxi I would suggest that you use a red petit taxi as they are quite a lot cheaper then the white taxis, the white taxis charge 3 dirham per person but you can be in there for 1hr as they take 6 people at a time and go here there and everywhere before you get to where you want to be.
So I get into a Red taxi and do notice that some of the taxis look like they should not be on the road. If they were over in England they would not pass an M.O.T.
I am going to Hay Hassini which is not far from the beach. The beach is still very busy with people playing football as its Sunday and most families spend the day on the beach.
The moroccains are very family orientated and enjoy spending time with their families.
The beach is very clean and tidy. They have police on horses patrolling, cleaners walk the beach picking up litter.
The currency in this country are Dirhams and you can not take them in or out the country. Roughly 15 dirhams to the pound.
Going to have a look round the local market, very busy lots of bright cloth,live animals, food as well. I was near a stall looking at the cloth for some new clothes. Turned round and a woman purchased a chicken, it was killed and cleaned while she waited. Talk about fresh food.
That is the culture of Morocco they have Halal meat so everything is alive until someone purchases it, then its killed and cleaned.
I have found the material I want for my new clothes, they will make it for me and collect it tomorrow nite all ready to wear.
It cost me 30 dirham per metre (£2.00) that is cheap compared to England.
Going to meet the family I am staying with now. Cant wait to see them. The mum will have cooked a traditional Moroccain Tagine for me. WHich is potato,carrots, peppers, chicken or lamb and spices.
They have a lot of spicy food here. Tagines,Kofta,Olives,salads with nearly everything. You dont see frozen meals here.
The local goods are cloth, olive wood,pottery,gold,spices and billra which are slippers made from leather.But some comfortable.
Please do respect there country as it is a Muslim country so you do hear the Adhan 5 times a day. Which is the call to Pray. You can not enter a mosque without been covered properly. The famous Mosque is Hassan II in Medina and It is absolutely beautiful, its set by the sea so the view is spectular. Men and women do not pray together,they have seperate areas to pray. The mosque has lots of water features round it.
Morocco is not far from the Atlas Mountains which you can go up when you start it may be hot but as you get near the top you will find it is cold and have snow on top of mountain.
There are some beautiful places in Morocco, Agadir & Marrakech are very touristic but get off the beaten track if you can and go where the locals go. Essouira, Jadida, they are beautiful little villages.
Just be careful round the souks (markets) as they have beggars and lifters so ladies watch your handbags. As the markets are busy you dont know that they may be behind you and you think you have been bumped into but it may not be.
I have found this country to be cheap compared to England and I always bring lots of spices, cloth, and olive wood back.
Hope this helps you with you look at Morocco.
The word Riad in Classical Arabic stands for a garden. This evolved in time to refer to a Moorish patio garden. The definition in Morocco now describes accommodation of traditional or historic character and of a high standard reflecting quality and local charm. So that’s how Morty and I stood at 10.15am squinting in the unaccustomed sunshine one January morning having just flown on a 7.00am flight from Gatwick landing at Marrakech airport, and apprehensively wondering which of the strangers collecting their luggage from the carousel were to be our six travelling companions on our ‘Riad Adventure’ Bit of a risk really, booking a seven day holiday knowing we’d be travelling in a small people carrier with just them, a driver and a guide. Especially as I’m a certified coward and we were about to journey together over Morocco’s highest vehicular Atlas Mountain passes and I didn’t really want my screams to upset them too much! Abdullah the driver and Abdullah the guide soon gathered us up and within minutes the eight of us were sitting in a beautiful restaurant garden in Marrakech surrounded by orange trees and sprinkling fountains eating salads, charcoal grilled seafood kebabs and quaffing cold local beers. This soon broke down any reserves and although we were from all quarters of the UK and of various age groups, it became apparent that we all had one thing in common, we were all looking forward to our Riad Adventure immensely. My first impression of Marrakech was the soft, warm ochre coloured buildings, palm trees and the backdrop of the snow capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains, the highest mountain range in North Africa set against the deep blue cloudless skies, and yes, it did cross my mind that we were due to cross them the very next day! However, we waved goodbye to Marrakech as we were leaving at once to drive to the Asni Valley for dinner and an overnight stay prior to crossing the High
er Atlas and were to spend our last two days back in Marrakech in the luxury Villas Des Orangers. Plenty of time then to explore the Souks, the medina and the market-place on our return. Its winter in January in Morocco. The mornings and nights are cold and during the day the climate is as pleasant as an average July summer day, so it is a perfect destination for a winter break. Hence, in the early evening of the same day as we drew up in our sturdy van, having passed through lush farmland, olive groves and small Berber villages in the enchanting and lush Asni Valley for our first overnight stay in the Auberge Au Sanglier Fume, we were chilly. Imagine our surprise when we were shown to our rooms? They were all set round patios with orange trees, date palms, water features and dove cotes, traditionally decorated with Berber furnishings and each with an enormous, roaring log fire and a supply of logs outside the door opening onto a terrace. A quick freshen up and across the courtyard into an authentic Berber restaurant, again with the biggest log fires we had ever seen, for a typical wondrous meal of Moroccan salads, flat bread, meat and fish tagines with local vegetables and fruit. All washed down with local wine, beers and mint tea. Another thing the eight of us had in common, we all liked a drink! Needless to say that later that night we slept like babies as we drifted off, the silence of the hours of darkness only broken by the crackling, sweet smelling logs. Moroccans speak Arabic, Berber, French and some English. Their hospitality and respect towards our rather odd crowd of four couples who had only just met a few hours earlier was delightful and appreciated. Virtually all Moroccans are Sunni Muslims so alcohol is only served in hotels and city restaurants. In fact, during our week’s travels Abdullah our guide informed us beforehand if we were stopping for lunch where alcohol wasn’t served and we were invited to
bring our own. Hey! I can do lunch sheltering from the hot sun under a Berber tent overlooking dramatic gorges and mountains drinking refreshing mint tea with my char-grilled meatballs and salad! I can and I did! So how did we fare driving over the spectacular Tizi-n-Tichka pass, the main road that took us through the Higher Atlas to Taroudant? Thankfully, in a negative kinda way, there was a dramatic drop in the number of tourists because of the political climate, but unfortunate for the Moroccans. This meant we met almost no oncoming traffic during the steep, hairpin bending, ice covered, treacherous, sheer dropping, narrow and frankly terrifying journey (Excuse me please, I need the bathroom) It was stunning at a height of 2260m (7415ft) but I could hardly look! However I was sitting in the front of the vehicle and on the side of the sheer drop most of the way, so, amidst much laughter from travel companions at being such a wimp, I booked my return seat at the back of the bus, even though we were returning five days later by the Tiz-n-Test mountain pass, only 2092m (6860ft), low by comparison! You will need a good head for heights to appreciate the spellbinding views. This journey took us to the 1000 year old Taroudant, a pretty Berber town ringed by mud brick battlements. We stayed for two nights in the renovated Pasha’s palace, the Hotel Palais Salam, in a delightful suite of rooms and ate couscous sitting cross legged on Berber settees accompanied by songbirds and terrapins on the lamp lit patios. We then travelled in the shadow of the High Atlas to Ouarzazate (Renamed by us ‘Where Is That?’) and stayed in the palatial Meridien Berber Palace. All a bit 5***** and International and we all agreed we preferred the simpler Riad style hotels with genuine hospitality and closer to the traditional Moroccan lifestyle. We then moved on to travel through the entrancing Dades Valley, also called the &
#8216;Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs’ Do you know what a Kasbah is? In this part of Morocco they are fortified enclaves where wealthy sultans lived in splendour together with their extended families and concubines. Many are in ruins but some have been bought by the wealthy French, Spanish and Moroccans to be renovated and restored to their former glory, often converted into luxury homes or exclusive hotels with golf courses in splendid surroundings. Forget that Gites in France-buy a dilapidated Kasbah! On the fifth day we returned to Marrakech via the lower pass, for the piece de resistance! A two night stay in the elegant Villas Des Orangers in the Medina. Words almost elude me in trying to describe it. Our suite of rooms had a private terrace with orange trees, rose bushes, fountains and discreet musicians (Renamed by us ‘El Chas ’n’ Dave’) playing local music. Our bedroom had a balcony overlooking our lounge area where we played at Romeo and Juliet! Take the time to visit the website http://www.villadesorangers.com to view the true beauty of this unique Riad. My lasting memories of Morocco are bargaining in the Souks for rugs, leather, carved walnut, silver, spices, herbal remedies, pottery, lamps and textiles. The man in the Souk in Marrakech pulling teeth on the spot and offering instant false ones. The snake-charmers and the Iguanas! The haunting call to the Mosque and even in the remotest areas, the lone shepherd laying down his prayer mat to face towards Mecca to pray amongst the sheep, goats and dromedaries. The immense mountain ranges consisting of every shade from white snow to deep reds, browns, greens and amber with rock formations that must be a geologist’s dream. And for my title? The indigo of the sky, the mint of the verdant areas, the henna of the ochre buildings, the saffron of the spices. Rose petals strewn over our dining tables. Having our hands washed in perfumed
water between courses poured from ornate silver kettles. The varieties of foods were all fresh and locally produced, it excited me picking an orange from a tree, providing a very healthy cuisine. We should take note! Our worst meal? The legendary national dish called Bastilla, basically a pigeon pie. I love pigeon, but although the filling was deliciously rich and tender, the pie itself was of filo pastry covered in icing sugar. Too much conflict in taste for my palate! The women collecting and carrying huge bundles of logs on their backs to keep their homes warm during the cold nights and doing their laundry in the swift flowing rivers, beating it with a stick and draping them to dry over olive bushes in the midday sun. Tree climbing goats! They climb trees to get the fruits, to eat the skins of the kernel, drop the kernel on the ground which the shepherds collect to pound into oil! Morty being offered less camels for me now I’m nine years older, than he was offered on our visit to Egypt. Depreciation? The Moroccan currency is the dirham. We needed a lot of dirhams for tipping, even taking a photo of a mule required payment, and I don’t blame them. Consequently our group song became in true Pink Panther style: ‘ Dirham, dirham, dirham-dirham-dirham-dirham-dirham-de-da-da-daa-da-da-da’ Every time we are fortunate enough to visit somewhere new to us in the world I go with an entirely false idea of what to expect. I always return home as an enlightened person and the richer for it. Morocco was no exception. It is a land full of surprises. From snow capped mountains, lemon groves, vineyards, flowing rivers, sand dunes of the Northern Sahara, Atlantic and Mediterranean beaches, palatial hotels, simple inns, medieval Souks, the Mosques, complete with the fascinating history, architecture, culture and lifestyle of the Moroccan people. Go visit!
It all started late one night... Because Kathy and I were the last two people to order our tickets from www.travelocity.com, we ended up on a 7:30 AM flight from Heathrow to Madrid. This necessitated catching a 4 am bus from Oxford. So, not having slept a wink, Katherine and I met at the Oxford bus station at 3:45 am on the morning of November 30. Although these travel arrangements were less than ideal, they did at least allow me to verify that the kebab vans are, in fact, open past 3 am. When we got to Heathrow, we had about an hour to kill before our flight, so we went to an airport cafe. Kathy had crepes. I, working on the theory that breakfast is what one has after one has slept, decided that no type of food would be inappropriate for me at this point. So I ordered the "breakfast pasta" which consisted of (seriously) linguini with bacon and cheese in an olive oil sauce with a fried egg on top - strange combination! On the flight to Madrid, Kathy was seated about 10 rows ahead of me. I was one row ahead of the three most obnoxious people on the plane. In fact, they were the most obnoxious people over the age of three that I have ever encountered on a plane. I found out later that Kathy could hear their conversations just fine from her seat. I got less sleep than I had hoped for on the flight. Once in Madrid, we grabbed our bags (the first 2 off the plane!), put them in storage, and headed into Madrid. We went into the national library, but they told us we weren't allowed to look at any of the books. This was strangely reminiscent of the Bodleian. So we gave up and got lunch and just wandered around the city for a few hours before heading back to the airport to retrieve our luggage and our friends -- Jacqui, Mike, Dean, Jason, Jade, Chris, and Nick. From the airport, we took the subway to the Plaza del Sol, which was packed with people. Not surprisingly, none of the hostels in the area had room for 9 people. After
a brief encounter on the street with a kindly old scam artist who claimed he knew the perfect place for us, we split into two groups and found lodgings for the night. After a huge paella dinner, we headed off to bed. The next morning, after something of a late start, we headed off to the Prado, which blew me away. It has a long room almost entirely full of Raphaels. I could live in that room. After the Prado, Jacqui, Mike, Jason, and I left on a train for Sevilla. Dean and Jade stayed in Madrid a few hours longer and took the next train. Chris, Nick, and Kathy were meeting some other people and heading off in a different direction. Right after dropping us off at the train station, Dean and Jade were mugged by two guys. The exchange went something like: Mugger #1 (playing good cop): You Americans? Dean: Australian. Mugger #1: Very funny. You're laughing now, but you should be careful on these streets. There are a lot of dangerous characters here in Madrid. Mugger #2 (playing bad cop): (pulls a syringe out of his pocket, with the cap on the needle) Don't make me use this. Mugger #1: That's okay, we don't need to come to that. Just give us some money, and everything will be okay. Dean: (gives him 200 pesetas) Mugger #1: I know you have more than that. Dean: Listen, we've been very nice already. Mugger #1 (pauses and gazes into the distance, possibly entering the Twilight Zone): You're right. You have been nice. Muggers: (let Dean and Jade walk away) This is the story as independently recounted by Dean and Jade. In Sevilla, we managed to find a hostel room that had neither heat nor hot water. We didn't recognize the importance of the absence of this until much later, though. We headed out for dinner. After walking around for a while looking for a place to eat, Mike began protesting loudly: "Why are we walking around so much? We're on holiday!" (This mirrored hi
s explanation of why he wasn't coming to Morocco with us: "I'm on holiday! Why would I want to go somewhere where they don't have toilet paper?") Getting into the Spanish mentality, we had dinner from 10 pm until about 1:30 am. And many, many jugs of sangria (which I hadn't liked when I tried it in the States, but wow, it was good in Spain). And Jason got a bit too drunk!. Dean and I kept taking his drink away; Jacqui kept giving it back to him. By the end he was (very loudly) protesting his sobriety with statements like (bear in mind that most of us at the table were either Politics or International Relations grad students): "I'm sober! Honest! Ask me anything. Ask me about deliberative democracy!" The six of us then stumbled home from the restaurant, with Dean, Jason, Jade, and I linking arms and laughing the whole way. Jacqui and Mike, embarrassed, walked behind us - at a distance. We went to bed, froze all night, and woke to the possibility only of a cold shower. We switched hostels in the morning. Jacqui, Mike, Jade, and Jason headed for a day in Cordoba. Dean and I stayed and explored Sevilla. We spent an hour or so in the majestic cathedral, which is beyond description. Then we headed for the river and took out one of those two person boats that you paddle with your feet. We all met back in Sevilla for dinner that night (not nearly as exciting as the night before), and then we went to a flamenco nightclub which was apparently an underground club during all of Franco's reign. It was really cool! That night we went back to the hostel and Dean, Jade, Jason, and I all lay on the beds in Jason's and my room discussing the interesting day we had had. The next day, Jacqui and Mike stayed in Sevilla while Jade, Dean, Jason, and I went to Torremolinos, a tourist trap on the Costa del Sol. It was disappointing -- English is the first language there, everything is touristy, and it was off season
, so no one was there. It was vaguely warm, so we went and defiantly sat on the beach, but then the sun got lower and we got really cold. So we were sitting on the beach, using towels to cover ourselves for warmth. With Dean's brilliant insight -- "It's just not hot. That's the bottom line" -- we went inside. That night, Jon, another student, flew in and met us. The next morning, the five of us took an early bus to Algeciras, then a ferry to Tanger, Morocco. Immediately upon stepping off of the ferry, we were surrounded by a crowd of about 20 "guides." Guides in Morocco practice a naked form of extortion -- what you're really paying them for is to keep the other potential guides away from you. It's quite unpleasant, they try to rip you off at every turn, they're incredibly pushy, and everything they recommend is suspect because they get kickbacks from customers to certain taxis, restaurants, hotels, etc. Jason and I got money from a cash machine and recommended that the others do the same. Dean insisted that this was unnecessary, as the train station would undoubtedly take credit cards, and besides, there was bound to be a cash machine at the train station. Of course, they neither took credit cards nor had a machine. Jason and I paid for the train tickets to Marrakech for everyone. We had several hours until the train (it was an overnight one), so we decided to go get dinner. Deciding that the luggage storage place at the train station was somewhat suspect, we piled all of our luggage back into the cab that brought us to the station and told the cabbie to take us someplace for dinner. The cab's trunk didn't close, so it was held down with bungee cord. During parts of the ride to the restaurant, the crowd on the streets (pedestrians, mopeds, donkeys, and other cars) was thick enough that the cab slowed to a crawl. The pedestrians closed in on all sides of the cab, and Jason (who was sitting in the front) s
aid to those of us in the back, "Keep an eye on our baggage." Seeing someone get too close to the trunk, Jon bolted out of the cab, and we all followed. Of course, no one was trying to steal anything from us, and the crowd around the taxi thought this was hilarious. "Calm down, calm down!" they said in English. The restaurant was good, but radically overpriced, in order to pay for the kickback to our cab driver (a free meal and some money, too). When we left the restaurant, the cabbie gave some money to a kid who'd been watching the car for him. The kid immediately passed it along to someone else, who passed part of it to someone else. Everything there works like this. Amazing. We headed back to the station to wait for our train. While there, we met a man who told us he knew 8 languages. He demonstrated this by counting to 10 in each of them. He turned out to be a drug dealer. We decided that's why his linguistic legerdemain was best expressed in numbers -- he could probably also say "grams" and "the good stuff" in eight languages, too. Dealers are everywhere in Morocco. Imagine an entire city of Washington Square Park and you start to have an idea about Tanger or Marrakech. Apparently, Western tourists are drawn there by Morocco's reputation from the 60s as a drug haven. But penalties, even for possession, are incredibly strict, and there are apparently a number of Westerners languishing for years in Moroccan prisons on possession charges. We told the dealer no thanks and got on the train. Because we had different interests, Jade, Jason, and I split off from Dean and Jon when we reached Marrakech. It was about 8 am, and we went in search of a hotel. After waking the night desk clerk, we found a place to stay right on the edge of the medina (old city). We were the only people in the hotel. This is about as off-season as you can get. We decided to spend that day in Marrakech and use the ne
xt two days for day trips into the mountains, into the desert, and to some waterfalls. In order to start making our plans, we asked the front desk if they could help us plan our daytrips. "No problem," we were told. Later, we asked how we could get to the waterfalls. "Go to the bus station," they told us. Thanks. So, we headed off in search of a travel agency to try to line up a guide or something. After going to several, we found Ahmed, whose office was less than inspiring (but, as Jada put it, "at least he has a fax machine"). He arranged for a driver for us to take us over the Atlas Mountains to see some Kasbahs and the edge of the Sahara the next day. We wanted to go to the waterfalls (the Cascades d'Ouzoud) the next day, but left that up in the air. Then we headed off to the souk (marketplace) in the Marrakech medina. The souk is essentially indescribable if you've never encountered it. The first thing that caught our eye was the snake charmer. He was trying to charm a cobra, but the cobra seemed like it would rather sleep. The charmer's assistant kept hitting the cobra with something to try to make it move, but the cobra was resolutely uninterested. So, I guess to keep the crowd interested, he brought over a smaller snake and draped it around Jade's neck. "Not poisonous. Not like the cobra," he assured us. We moved on. We walked around for a while, shopping and haggling with the local merchants. They start out by charging people (especially tourists) at least 5 times the real price. After a while, it occurred to us that we were really spending 20 minutes haggling over 2 quid, but somehow 20 dirhams sounds like a lot more than 2 quid. In any case, the proudest moment of the trip came when a merchant exclaimed to me, "You're a tough bargainer. You must be Berber!" I considered saying, "No, just Jewish," but I refrained. We ate dinner at the food stalls that
were amazingly good, amazingly cheap (we each had a great vegetable cous cous dish and meat kabobs for about 2 quid each), and not a little scary. As you walk through the area where all the stalls are clustered, the cooks come running at you and try to convince you to eat at their stall. All the food is sitting out and has been for some hours (last time I was in Morocco, in the summer, there were flies everywhere. Not so many, thankfully, in December). But great food! As we were walking back towards our hotel, we passed the monkey area. This is where the guys with pet monkeys on leashes try to get you to pose for a picture with a monkey and then charge you for the privilege. We'd heard that sometimes the monkeys were sick, so we decided to steer clear. As we're walking along, Jade suddenly says, "Watch out for the monkey man!" and Jason turns around to see a guy charging at him with a monkey yelling (I'm not making this up), "Touch the monkey! Touch the monkey!" Jason gets out of the way, but the guy catches up with Jade and, despite her best effort, he gets the monkey onto her shoulder. She's sort of nervously twitching, trying to ask the man to take his monkey back, when Jason turns around and sees Jade with the monkey on her shoulder. Thinking that she asked for it, Jason says impatiently, "Jade, come on. Quit messing around; we have to go." Meanwhile, the monkey man is telling Jade, "You touched the monkey! 20 dirhams!" I couldn't stop laughing long enough to be helpful to anyone. Monkey jokes would recur for the remainder of the trip. The next day, we woke up at about 6:30 to meet our driver at 7 for our trip to the Kasbahs. Our driver's name was Hamid, and Ahmed (the travel agent) came with us (we figured we were so overpaying him that he had decided he could take the day off). On the way to the desert, we had to pass over part of the Atlas Mountains, which were absolutely beaut
iful (and quite cold at the top). Driving over them required going over switchbacks along sheer cliff faces with no guardrails. But Hamid was good and went pretty slowly. Nonetheless, Jade got a bit sick on the way up. As we came down out of the mountains, we began to get into the desert, which was also gorgeous, but in a completely different way (and very hot). After a while, we stopped and went to walk around in a Kasbah in the middle of the desert. Hamid and Ahmed didn't want to stop there but we (okay, mostly Jade) insisted. And it was incredible. It's this huge structure made, essentially, out of mud. It has to be repatched every year because of erosion. And people have been living in it for hundreds of years. Absolutely astonishing. My reaction: "This is the coolest sandcastle ever!" On the outskirts of the Kasbah, we met a kid who offered to be our guide if Jason, in return, would transcribe a letter for him into French so that he could mail it to his friend in France. We said okay, but then when Jason offered to transcribe the letter, the kid hedged and said he'd find someone else to do it. So instead we give him 50 dirhams. He says he doesn't want money, he just enjoys making new friends (but, naturally, makes no move to give the money back). Then he gives us his e-mail address! Somehow, this failed to strike either Jason or Jade as incongruous, and neither of them really listened to me as I mumbled, "But if he can't write..." Then our guide says he wants us to meet his family, so he takes us back into the town near the Kasbah. On the way back, he asks if Dan and I are married. We say no, and he then says something like, "Ah, so he must not yet have enough camels for you." He then offers (half-jokingly?) a thousand camels for Jade. Jason and I consider the offer (our reasoning: if we come back without Jade, that's a net loss. If we come back with Jade, that's to be expected. But jus
t think about what a major coup it would be if we could come back with a thousand camels! And besides, how cool would it be to stage an invasion of the Magdalen deer park with a herd of camels?) Ultimately, we rejected the offer. When we got back to town, an older man -- possibly the kid's father -- comes in and proceeds to spend half an hour trying to sell us rugs and crafts. We have now figured out what the kid's ploy was. The older guy keeps telling us cheesy stories with lines like, "It is the custom of the Sahara!" in a low, hoarse whisper. I could swear I heard the swell of cheesy movie music in the background (and, indeed, this Kasbah was where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed), but it may have just been especially melodious bleating by the local goat population. We left, sans rugs, and promising to email our new friend. Hamid drives us a little further, to Ouarzazate, the gateway to the Sahara. Another Kasbah there, but not nearly so interesting. It's now time to head back. Because we stopped at the first Kasbah, we're running late. This is important to Hamid and Ahmed because it's Ramadan, and they have neither eaten nor drunk since sunrise, and they want to get back in time to break fast with their families. So now we're going back over the Atlas, on switchbacks over sheer cliffs without guardrails, and we're going fast. This was a scary ride. We get back just as the sun was setting. The whole day, Jade, Jason and I had been snacking on dried dates and apricots. We had offered some to Hamid and Ahmed to be nice, but they of course refused. When he dropped us off at our hotel, Hamid literally dove at the fruit. It was really funny. Being in a Muslim country -- even as secular a country as Morocco, which observes Ramadan more as a cultural celebration than a religious one -- during Ramadan was certainly interesting. (And for those who think the commodification of religion is a Western phenomenon: we saw bo
ttled water advertising a "Ramadan special" price?) We were unsure as to whether we wanted to go to the Cascades the next day with Ahmed or whether we wanted to spend less money and arrange our own trip. Ahmed gave us his cell phone number and told us to call him that night. We later decided we did want to go with him. But he gave us the wrong number. We had dinner again that night at the souk and took in more of the spectacle. The next morning, we awoke early, checked out of the hotel, and headed to the bus station. We had heard conflicting reports on how long it took to get to the Cascades -- anywhere from 1 to 4 hours -- and we had to be back in Marrakech in time to catch the 9:00 pm overnight train to Tanger. We got on a 9:30 am bus that went somewhere near the Cascades. We were clearly the only non-Moroccans on the bus. We got on the bus at about 9:10. At about 9:25, Jason -- the only one who speaks French in our group -- decides to get off the bus and go back into the station to mail a postcard. About 30 seconds after he gets off the bus, we start pulling away. Jade sprints to the front of the bus. Jade: Do you speak English? Driver: Non. Français. Jade (in English): My friend's not on the bus! Driver: (looks quizzically at Jade) Jade: (frantically makes stopping hand motion) Driver: (slams on the breaks, runs out of the bus) Finally, we found someone to translate, and the bus driver burst out laughing when he found out what the "emergency" was. A few minutes later, Jason comes wandering out of the station, looks where the bus used to be, and visibly panics before we call him over. Finally, the bus gets underway. The bus is a 2-man operation: there's the driver and another guy who hangs out the rear door. The second guy, whenever he sees people walking along the street, yells at the driver to stop. The bus stops and then the second guy gets out and bargains with the pedestrian
s until they reach a price at which they agree to take the bus instead of walking. So we pick those people up and move on. It takes about 4 hours to get to the closest point to the Cascades where this bus goes. At that point, we catch a cab, which takes about another hour to get us to the Cascades. It's now about 1:30 pm. The busses stop running back to Marrakech at 2:00 pm. Our cabbie is the only person in North Africa who doesn't speak French. (Jason, in the middle of nowhere in Morocco, is trying to call his dad (who speaks Arabic) on his mobile phone. Shockingly, he can't get a signal.) Finally, however, the cabbie manages to convey to us that no, he can't take us back to Marrakech after we've seen the waterfall. We panic. When we get near the falls, we meet a local guide who tells us, no problem, he'd arrange for a cab to take us back and the cabbie would just break fast in Marrakech. He said the cab would cost us 500 dirhams, which was reasonable, and lucky, as we only had about 700 dirhams between us. The guide leads us around the falls for a while. They are quite possibly the most beautiful natural things I have ever seen. I can't even begin to describe it. The word "Edenic" fits, but isn't very descriptive. In any event, Jason, Jada, and I have tentative plans to just spend a weekend at the falls sometime in the Spring if we can. I wish I could say more about the falls, but I just won't be able to do them justice. The guide told us a story about an English man who had married a Berber woman, bought a plot of land near the falls, and was building a small hotel there. Jason and I thought that English man had his priorities perfectly in order. When we get to the end of the tour, we were planning to tip our guide about 50 dirhams. (It was only a 1 hour tour, after all). He demands 500. Under other conditions, we would have just laughed and given him 50, but we were dependent on him to get
us our taxi back -- otherwise we'd be stranded in the desert and miss our train. So we bargain him down to 200, which we just barely had. At first we thought we only had 680 between us (remember, the cab was going to be 500), and he started looking at our wallets as we were looking through them. He tried insisting that we take our dollars or pounds to other tourists and trade them for dirhams to pay him. He refused to accept 180 instead of 200, causing Jade seriously to contemplate directing physical violence his way (she's tough, you know -- she played basketball in college!) Fortunately for us (and perhaps more so for the tour guide), we finally scraped together 200. Now it was time for us to get our cab. At first, the cabbie wants the 500 in advance. We refuse, afraid he'll strand us in the desert. We offer to pay 200 in advance. He says never mind, we can just pay it all when we get there. This really makes me think -- if all he wanted was some guarantee that we'd pay up, then why not accept the 200 up front? Maybe he really was planning to dump us in the desert? Anyway, we got back to Marrakech, had one last dinner at the souk, said a fond farewell, and got on our train. During the night on the train, Jade got really sick. We got a cab in Tanger and asked him to take us to a pharmacist. By the time we got there, Jada was crying in pain. The pharmacist looked at her and said, "You don't need a pharmacist; you need a doctor." So the cabbie took us to a Red Cross clinic. The place was really clean, and the doctor seemed really competent, but I was still nervous about leaving Jade in the hands of third world medical care, especially when the doctor said that she wanted to give Jada a shot to help settle her stomach. "Make sure the needle is sterile," I said to Med-bound Jason. "Oh gawd, I didn't even think of that," he said. But it was sterile and everything was fine, although the shot didn
9;t seem to do Jade much good. If she was going to need any more medical care, we figured the best thing we could do would be to get Jade to Spain, so we got on the next ferry. Jade slept the whole time, and we landed in Algeciras a few hours later. Because we'd been in email contact with the people who had stayed in Spain (yes, Marrakech has internet cafes, but you would not believe how hard it is to type English on an Arabic keyboard), we were planning to meet a bunch of people in Granada, so we caught the next train there. Because the dividers between the seats on the train couldn't be raised, Jade slept on the floor of the train, which brought some looks from the conductors. I just kept saying, "Ella está enferma," and they would move on. When we got to Granada, we were met by Kathy, Chris, Nick, Scott, Dave and Seth. They had already got us a hostel room, which was incredibly nice. As we headed from the train station to the hostel, we told them some of our stories from Morocco. At one point, Jason began to tell them about how he took a picture of a snake charmer and didn't give the guy any money and the snake charmer picked up his cobra and started charging at Jason with the snake to demand money. The only problem was that this was what had happened to my dad and me the last time I was in Morocco, six years ago. By the time we left the train station, it was about 10:00 pm, so we had literally been travelling for the past 24 hours, Jade was still feeling really bad, and we were all just ready to collapse. We put Jade to bed and got her what food we thought she could handle, and then the rest of us went out to get a quick dinner. We met up with Tegon, who was also traveling in Spain and who had, apparently, just run into Kathy, Chris, Nick, Scott, Dave, and Seth earlier that day on the streets of Granada. I hadn't met Tegon before but I really enjoyed spending time with her. After dinner, some people went out
dancing, but Jason and I went back to our room and collapsed. The next morning, Jade was feeling a lot better, but she still stayed in bed while the rest of us met for lunch. After lunch, everyone except for Jade, Jason, Tegon, and I left for Madrid. We spent a fairly lazy day in Granada, although we did climb up some hills overlooking the city, from which we had an amazing view. The next morning, we spent about 4 hours wandering around the Alhambra. The Alhambra was the old Moorish city in Granada, which was the last Moorish holdout against the Reconquista. The Alhambra is absolutely amazing -- incredible intricate Moorish architecture and carving and gardens. Stunningly beautiful. If you've never seen it, you really, really should. That afternoon, Jason, Jade, and I took a 6 hour train from Granada to Madrid. We were met by all of the people who had gone ahead of us (except for Kathy, who had already flown home). Once again, they had already gotten us a room, which was, once again, greatly appreciated. By the time we got in, it was almost midnight, so we had a quick dinner, and then went to bed. The next day, we all departed to return to the dear old UK. Because of logistical issues, a lot of us were on different flights, and I was the only one of our group on my flight. When we landed, I kept forgetting that we were back in a country that spoke English. I said "gracias" to the bus driver when he got my bag, and he looked at me oddly. That was when I realized how glad I was that I had a good amount of break left to recover from my holiday...
PART 1 - GETTING STONED. PART 2 - HASSAN PART 3 - LIKE HAITI OR IRAN? PART 4 - SEX PART 5 - MOROCCAN BOYS PART 6 - WHERE AND HOW TO GO $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ STONES were being thrown at me. There was blood on my hand. I was standing at the entrance gate to the Moroccan city of xxxxxxxxx. The teenagers who were throwing the stones were presumably not wildly keen on the sight of a rich western tourist who was carrying a large camera. I reported to the police station on three occasions after being threatened or hit. On the third occasion the police officer in charge decided to give me a hard time. He suggested that my passport might not have been properly stamped or might be out of date. I began to get the impression that something was seriously wrong with Morocco. I came across a small malnourished, ragged child staring at some postcards outside a shop. I gave the boy a few coins. He kissed my hand gravely and thanked me many times. Not all Moroccans are louts. In my 4 star hotel, the barman was arguing with his colleagues. A hotel employee decided to empty his nostrils of mucus as my drink was being served. The restaurant was full of flies. The streets of Fes were full of litter and insects. There were huge piles of refuse at every road junction. Moroccan cities also seem to have more than their fair share of the mentally backward (caused by inbreeding?) and the mentally ill (caused by poverty and powerlessness?) Figures for March 2002 show a 35% drop in the number of package tourists arriving at Agadir airport. I was in the main square in the Moroccan city of xxxxxxxxxx one sunny morning (May 1st 2002). There were riot police, and ordinary police and soldiers stationed in the square. There were riot police down the various side streets and sitting in cafes. There were plain clothes police and uniformed officers on all
the major roads. In the square there were speeches given by the smartly dressed leaders of one of the 'left-wing' parties. These leaders were dressed like the mafia.The crowd which had gathered to listen was small and their applause was less than lukewarm. Riots are common in Morocco. In 1955, Berber tribesmen descended on the village of Oed Zen and killed every Frenchman they found. On 20 June 1981, up to 600 people were killed in rioting in Casablanca (Le Figaro 1 July 1981, page 2). In 1984, up to 200 people were killed in rioting in cities such as Tetouan (Le monde 26 Jan 1984, page 4). A greater danger than riots is the driving in Morocco. My taxi driver drove with either one hand or no hand on the steering wheel and he loved going right up close to the vehicle in front. France has 2.6 deaths per 1000 vehicles. Morocco has 25.6 deaths per 1000 vehicles, making it the second most dangerous country in the world in terms of motoring. While I was cycling in Morocco, I was chased by savage dogs and savage children demanding money. The children terrified me as they looked very hungry and as tough as slum kids from Liverpool. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ PART 2 - HASSAN So what is happening in Morocco? Morocco's former king, Hassan, was said to be worth $40 billion. Out of the 100 richest people in Morocco, 'the top 50 are in the armed forces or police.' 'The fortune amassed by the 20 richest army officers would be enough to pay off Morocco's foreign debt of $17bn.' I visited a shanty settlement. I am not brave; I simply wandered in by accident. This was a place of barking dogs, piles of rubbish, home made shacks with no water supply or sewage disposal, and ragged children who looked seriously malnourished. A high wall hid the shacks of the poor from any tourists on the main streets. Almost 65% of the population l
ive below the poverty line 'and the situation is deteriorating'. According to ex-army officer Ahmed Rami, who is now in exile, the former King of Morocco, Hassan, was a puppet of the Jews and of the CIA. According to Rami, King Hassan could not take a step without the Jew André Azoulay, a Zionist "adviser". Azoulay - and people like him - allegedly made the important decisions, such as helping the rich get richer, and being sympathetic to Israel and the USA. Education, the media and the whole of social life were regulated by these advisers, not by the Moroccans themselves. At least 25% of Morocco's population of 29 million are unemployed. More than half the population is illiterate (70% of women) and two-thirds of people living in the country do not have access to drinking water, 87% are without electricity and 93% receive no medical care. Morocco makes its money from the receipts sent home by Moroccans working abroad (most Moroccans want to get out of Morocco because of its corruption), from cannabis (sold in Europe), from smuggling (stolen cars and other goods), from phosphates (used in farming), from fishing (sardines), from farming (most of the best land is owned by a small rich elite, including army officers and politicians), from textiles (most Moroccan industry is still medieval and there is much competition from cheap-labour countries such as Turkey), and from tourism (Morocco gets about 2 million tourists per year while Spain hosts 45 million; Morocco has surprisingly few hotel beds). The farms of the elite have been given much help and produce lots of oranges and vegetables intended for export to Europe; but Europe would rather buy its fruit and vegetables from the likes of Spain or Portugal. Morocco is no longer self-sufficient in wheat but has more oranges than it knows what to do with. The farms of the poor suffer from having too many people and not enough wate
r. The rural poor escape to the cities -Tangiers, Rabat, Casablanca and Marrakesh - where they crowd into shanty towns on the outskirts or even in the centre. I visited a poor farming area. The children's faces looked pinched. Few of the girls went to school. The houses had no water or toilets or electricity. Transport was by donkey. The 5 star Gazelle d'Or hotel, near Taroudant, has been visited by the likes of the Duchess of York and Michael Portillo. It refused to let me in. Rooms cost hundreds of dollars. Not far from the Gazelle d'Or I came across villages with falling down houses and ragged children. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ PART 3 - LIKE HAITI OR IRAN? Morocco has a new king, Muhammad VI. In all the main towns and cities there are large posters showing his face. (A bit like Baby Doc's Haiti?) His concern for his fellow citizens is very different from the attitude of his father, and his nickname is "king of the poor". The king heads the Muhammad V foundation, which acts like a humanitarian NGO, and sometimes travels to outlying villages to bring tanks of water to drought victims, and support micro-development projects. "He visits the sick and takes care of the destitute. Numbers of stories are told of his goodness, compassion and generosity, and some people literally worship him." According to Moroccan Professor Muhammad Tozy, "His attitude to ordinary people is undoubtedly sincere, but in addition it is politically astute since it cuts the ground from under the feet of the Islamists, who had until now monopolised charitable work in the poor neighbourhoods. This made them very popular. Now the king appears as a major rival in terms of religious legitimacy, since he is the descendant of the prophet Muhammad and 'commander of the faithful', but also in terms of solidarity with the deprived and excluded."
The new king has also taken an interest in the issue of freedom and human rights. Less than a month after the death of Hassan II, he spoke about the "disappeared" and the "victims of arbitrary arrest". Speaking in Casablanca he underlined the need to respect "human rights and individual freedoms". He dismissed Driss Basri, former minister of the interior and mastermind of a policy of repression that lasted almost 30 years. Will the new king be able to prevent an Iranian-style revolution? Islamism is spreading at a fast rate, taking advantage of the poverty and misery. The elite in the army are hardly likely to allow changes that will deprive them of their wealth! The politicians are deeply divided and there are over 30 political parties. When he came to power, the new socialist Prime Minister, Youssoufi, undertook to straighten out the economy, decentralise administrative bodies, clean up public life, fight corruption, reform justice, combat poverty, develop low-income housing for the very poor, introduce a national pact for employment and, of course, find a solution to the dispute over the Sahara. Not much has been achieved. The figures for illiteracy, poverty and healthcare have scarcely changed. Many reforms are incomplete, though some of them, such as electoral reform, changes to legal procedure, labour law or the law on public freedom, are vital to the continuation of the transition process. And there is still high unemployment, as well as discrimination against women, corruption, feudal authoritarianism and sporadic human rights violations. In the poorest neighbourhoods people are turning to the Islamists and not the socialists. The Islamist Justice and Welfare association founded by Sheikh Yassin visits the sick, helps them to buy medicine, contributes to funeral expenses, organises evening classes for the schoolchildren and supports
single women, widows and divorcees. What do the Islamists stand for in Morocco? How many are there? A big crowd - almost 100,000 - turned out in Casablanca for a demonstration against government plans to change women's status. A landslide victory by the Islamists in the coming elections is possible. They are very well established in the towns and suburbs and, increasingly, in the country as well. They are close to the people, helping the poor, sick and students, and they have networks all over the poorest neighbourhoods. They are active in welfare, whereas the left, even the far-left, no longer bother. The left "has lost contact with the people." A quote from Le Monde Diplomatique: "Latifa, aged 45, teaches maths in a secondary school in the suburbs of Casablanca. She says "The middle classes account for barely 5% of the population, compared with more than 35% in Tunisia. Morocco's dominated by a system of networks, nepotism, clans, interconnected families who would rather give a job to an unsuitable, incompetent relation rather than a highly qualified young person from a poor background." Enough of politics. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ PART 4 - SEX Moroccan cities are full of female prostitutes. But they are generally for the Moroccans (soldiers and those not yet married) and not for the tourists. AIDS is very widespread. My male guide, Hamid, walked ahead of me with his male friend. Hamid spent most of the time gently rubbing his friends back or holding his friend's hand. According to the experts, Moroccans like spending time with a single friend of the same sex. Same sex friendships are very important for Moroccans all through their lives. There are few limits to intimacy in same sex friendships. Moroccans 'usually marry out of a sense of duty.' According to 'Culture Shock- Moroc
co' by Orin Hargraves (Kuperard), "Homosexual relations among boys and young men are common." "Pederasty is exceedingly prevalent" wrote Edward Westermack in "Ritual and Belief in Morocco." In Morocco, homosexual sex by tourists is heavily punished; and sex with minors is very heavily punished with long jail sentences. In any case, tourists are not loved by the average Moroccan who sees the tourist as an alien The hotel, the Gazelle D'or, at around £600 a night, is rather special. Visitors have allegedly included Michael Portillo, Jacques Chirac, Fergie, Rory Bremner, Mick Jagger, hosts of pop stars, statesmen, politicians, personalities, and 'the world's wealthiest closet Queens.' According to Scallywag magazine, "As far as Westminster is concerned, the Gazelle D'or was first "discovered" by the notorious gay MP Sir Charles "Charley" Irving who died from aids in 1993. Irving, who chaired the Commons catering Committee, was famous for his private parties in the Pugin room in Westminster where he outrageously flirted with the male members of staff. Many of the 100-plus gay Tory MP's who inhabit "The Palace", often furtively, were fellow guests........ The REAL attraction of the Gazelle D'or is not just the exclusivity, or the fabulous luxury. It is, quite simply, that they boast one of the most superlative men-only Turkish baths, Sauna and Massage Parlour in the world, manned by hand-picked and specially trained swarthy Berbers who are most willing to accommodate every whim of their customers. The whole concept of the place is designed to be a veritable paradise for gays." $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ PART 4 - MOROCCAN BOYS Some thoughts- Some educated young Moroccans admire all things French and Western. But a large number of Moroccans reject all thi
ngs Western and non-Islamic. The latter group can be very hostile to tourists. Sorcery plays a big part in Moroccan lives. There seems to be as much belief in 'magic' as in Islam. The kid who thinks you are a foreign 'devil' may be frightened of the evil eye. The shoeshine boys troubled me. If I had my shoes shined and paid 30 pence, then six other boys would appear and they would follow me, requesting money. If I gave money to a kid whose photo I had taken as he sat on a donkey, then six kids, then twenty six kids would appear, all demanding money. One group of boys threw stones at me after I had refused to give them cash. There is a law against troubling tourists; but it has not entirely solved the problem! Moroccans seldom seem to feel guilt or shame. They do not seem to feel guilty when they have cheated you. They may only feel shame when they have been sent to Coventry by their fellows, for example for breaking Islamic rules. How do I explain the 'rough' conduct of moroccan boys? The Moroccan boy is expected by his mother to be spontaneous, demanding and egotistical. The boy is king. The mother is of lowly status. The father has either gone off with another woman or is out at the cafe or is somewhere else. "The father typically remains absent from the household through major portions of each day in his child's life," according to 'Images and Self Images' by Dwyer (Columbia University press). The father and the mother seldom love each other. Their marriage was one of convenience. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ PART 5 - WHERE AND HOW TO GO Morocco is for the holiday that is exciting and adventurous. It is a trip into the Third World. It is not necessarily going to be stress-free. Morocco needs tourists. It's economy is in trouble and tourism is one o
f the few areas where expansion can take place. But, not all Moroccans welcome tourists! So, it is probably best to avoid places like Casablanca, because of the violent crime, and Tangier, because of the hustlers and occasional muggings (I got mugged at knifepoint on a main street in Tangier in broad daylight). Agadir is generally geared up for sunshine worshippers, but is not very Moroccan. You'd be better off in the Canary Islands. Fes is fascinating, but expect a lot of hassle and a lot of litter and filth. An Imperial Cities Tour would be a good bet as you would be escorted most of the time. Marrakech is probably your best bet, but go with an organised tour which will protect you from hassles. Choose your hotel carefully. Generally the higher the price, the better the hotel! Ouarzazate would be a bit too hot for my liking, but you might like it. Don't expect to find much to do, other than organised trips. Essaouira is a pleasant fishing village. But you might get bored after a week. Taroudannt is a good base for organised excursions into the mountains, but the town itself has little to offer. There are lots of 'adventure' trips into the mountains. Remember it can be cold and primitive up in these hills full of scorpions. And there are few toilets. Most Moroccans, especially those over 40 years of age, are reasonably kind and helpful. Don't be put off by the stone throwers. Don't go looking for romance; extreme poverty and ignorance are not romantic. Don't go looking for sex; the brothels are for the locals, the very rich celebrities, and the Arabs from the Middle East. Do go looking for the beauty of the architecture and the mountains and the fascinating rawness of Africa.
In this account of my time in Morocco I'm going to tell you about my amazing experience of this fascinating country. I've written another (still awaiting completion) giving advice on the potential dangers travellers will encounter and how to deal with them. I know this is a long opinion so I hope you don't get bored reading it! Right then, our time in Morocco (I travelled with two friends) started in the port of Tangier, after the roughest ferry crossing of my life! I was just glad to be on dry land again so unfortunately was pounced on by the throngs of hustlers loitering around the port. We were "led" to a hotel (admittedly not the one we had intended to stay in but a pleasant one nonthelesss), and after getting rid of this "guide" slept soundly. The next day the culture difference really hit me. Do people actually have jobs here? The streets were packed with locals of all ages (mostly young men and children walking in groups to nowhere in particular). Four year olds selling chewing gum and blind or crippled beggars are a common sight. It's tempting to offer a few coins to one, but that will encourage a thousand more to follow you around. It's best to smile and shake your head and walk on. I wouldn't recommend a long stay in Tangier, there's so many more interesting places to visit and if you're on a tight schedule (like us) you'll want to board the first train out. Whilst waiting for our passage out we sampled some "Moroccan whisky", or mint tea. The mint infuses into the hot water and several spoons of sugar added. Often, absinthe is added and our first one definitely had some, as I began to feel a little dizzy after four cups! It's certainly worth a try though. Marrakech was our first stop, the overnight train from Tangier arriving around 8am. We found a wonderful place to stay, in the heart of the "ville nouveau", or new town.
For £3 each we got a large room facing a courtyard filled with orange trees - heavenly. Walking round the new town during early evening I began to realise just how fascinatingly random and disorganised Morocco is. The main "square" consists of about six wide avenues all meeting at one small roundabout resulting in an everlasting chaos of beeping horns and shouting. Traffic lights don't have all that much use. It was so strange and amusing to watch. Those worried about having to sample food from a different culture needn't worry. Every restaurant or cafe caters for even the most boring English tastes. It seems rude to ask for egg and chips though, without first trying a tajine or authentically prepared couscous. A home-made tajine in particular is simply divine. I felt perfectly safe walking round the new town during the evening, but if I were a single female traveller I would only venture out in daylight; unless you're experienced it really isn't worth the risk of being a target for locals. We headed out towards the High Atlas mountains the next day, they looked supremely impressive as the taxi twisted backwards and forwards along the clifftop road. We stopped at Asni and got another taxi to the picturesque Berber village of Imlil at 1700m above sea level. I realised how the locals must have suffered a few years ago when a flash flood dislodged huge boulders from the towering mountains and sent them crashing to the valley by which the village stands. The earth has been torn away and I'm sure many people lost their homes. Spending a day in a Berber village was and altogether more relaxing and friendly experience than what we had seen in the Arab towns. After finding a room for £1.50 each we discovered the villagers to be incredibly welcoming and helpful, at least those who paid any attention to us were. Imlil is a great place to start a trek up to the highest mountain in Morocco, Djebel Toub
kal at 4167m. From Imlil the walk to Toubkal is hugely impressive. We passed emerald green fields, villages hewn out of the rocks and later on huge waterfalls of ice. We stayed at the Toubkal mountain refuge before ascending the final 1000m to the summit. The walk, while not too challenging offers fantastic scenery. Lying on a flat rock when the air is deadly silent and there is absolutely no one around is simply paradise. I felt alone in the world and for a while shut out everything and it was heaven. A truly unique experience. Now a bit about the cities. We contemplated hiring a guide to explore Marrakech's Medina (old town), but we found it wasn't really necessary. The medina is where a traveller really gets a feel for true Moroccan culture because the new town has an air of Europe about it. The Djemma el Fna ( I think that's how it's spelt) is the place to go. In this huge square you'll find dancing monkeys, snake charmers, story tellers and many more performers. However fascinating these are, I felt a pang of guilt paying to watch a chained monkey dance, but you have to remember the owners have no other way to make money. It feels better helping them than giving money to plain beggars. The souks (markets) in Marrakech are extensive but are no match for those in Fes, which I'll come to later. I think it's also true to say that crafts on offer in Marrakech may not be Moroccan originals, whereas most things sold in Fes are made there. I'm not saying don't explore the souks in Marrakech, they're amazing in their own right but go to Fes first and you'll be wishing you purcahsed there. The surprising thing about Marrakech was that we encountered no hustling at all, I believe special "tourist police" are now employed here to combat unofficial guiding. We reached Fes by train from Marrakech. Arriving in the heart of the new town again, I was expecting a much more run down city ho
lding the ghosts of past glories, but it was so much more pleasant than Marrakech. It seemed more compact and European, probably because the streets were narrower and palm trees lined every pavement. It also seemed cleaner than Marrakech. the attractions of the new town were identical to those everywhere else, though unfortunately, unlike Marrakech, the streets were deserted by 10pm and seemed lacking in the same sort of atmosphere. In Fes the medina is the place to go. It's huge (for a medina), with a population of 300,000, yet still only a mile across. It's also the most traditional of Moroccan medinas, with a greater concentration of alleyways than anywhere in the world (I think). An official guide is certainly reccomended because it would be so easy to get lost within the incredibly narrow alleyways and then become vulnerable to hustlers and children. We opted for an official guide and it was well worth the £10 pounds we paid for the five hours he accompanied us for. He showed us the stunning royal palace and you really must get a view of the city from the surrounding hills - you can see the seemingly impenetrable mass of buildings and alleyways and be thankful you took a guide! The medina was breathtaking. The guide led us round at quite a pace and we were just swept along by the rush of the crowd. I was amazed how they knew their way around becuase there were so many different routes to take and infinite dead ends. It's probably a good thing to tell your guide if you absolutely don't want to buy anything. We were led into several craft shops and some owners made us feel slightly uncomfortable because they reasoned we were tourists therefore had money and tried their hardest to make us part with this supposed cash. We are students so don't have the spare cash to buy an expensive carpet, but many wouldn't accept this. I saw more this day than the rest put together and I think we rushed it too much, you
'd get much more out of it by taking more time. Sadly we had come to the end of our two weeks so had to board the ferry again the next afternoon. Looking back, we really hardly scratched the surface of what Morocco has to offer yet we did so much. I would love to see the desert and explore more of the stunning mountains. I'm definitely coming back again!
I felt almost dizzy in the sunshine, disorientated, excited and a little scared. Everything was so different, my senses were almost over powered with new sounds, sights and smells. For this was Morocco a land of contradictions and I was quite alone. I made my way slowly across the square to find a cafe so I could sit for a while and adjust to my surroundings. I ordered a coke and took it to an upsatirs balcony so I could overlook the Jemaa el Fna, which I read in my guide book was the liveliest square in Marrakesh. I now felt much more secure, part of it all and yet safe. The square was a buzz of people and happenings. I could see dancers, jugglers and even a fire eater, there were stalls selling all sorts of foods often heated or kept warm on charcoal stoves. I had said to myself before setting out from England that I wanted to see the unusual and Morocco certainly provided me with this. Morocco, tucked away in the north west corner of Africa, I found to be a mixture of styles and cultures. It doesn't seem to be able to make up it's mind whether it is African, Arabian or European. Diversity is everywhere, in the towns and in the landscape. There are fertile plains, deserts, surrounding seas and the amazing Atlas Mountains that cross the country from the north east to the south west. To think, snow topped mountains and hot, dusty deserts what could be more different? My stay in Marrakesh was full of wonder for me. In parts I seemed to have dropped back to a bygone age, especially as I wandered through the maze of the souks (market streets) and medina (the old town). A myriad of alleyways seemed to stretch endlessly with shops full of leather, brass, aromatic spices, carpets and clothes. Recently coloured material hung to dry, high up between the buildings, tradesmen sat working cross legged in windows and there was a constant surround of colour and noise. Haggling is the name of the game if you should
want to buy anything, there are no fixed prices. From what I could see the traders started off at double what they would eventually accept. Most of the shopkeepers were friendly and pleasant but some were aggresive and and pushy. Marrekesh has also much more, palaces such as Bahia and the Dar Si Said, the famous city walls - beautiful at sunset which brings out the rich ochre colour, marvellous gardens and fascinating sights such as the Tombs of the Saadians, where imperial families are buried in exquisite temples. I was sorry to leave. I decided to move on to the sea resort of Agadir, about 230 km distance, and boarded a bus. It was getting dark and the bus suddenly stopped, the driver banged the steering wheel with his hands, got out of the bus and started to walk off in the direction we had come from. I had no idea what was going on and knew only that we were somewhere in the Atlas mountains. After about half an hour I got out of the bus as everyone around me seemed to be smoking and grumbling. I stared into the darkness, seeing very little until, as if by magic, I was surrounded by children begging for money, "Un dirham, un dirham". I gave them a few coins and got back on the bus. Begging, because of the poverty, is everywhere in Morocco and can sometimes be quite unsettling. In one town I remember a young man scurrying towards me at great speed on all fours. He was wearing sandals on his hands as well as his feet. It was so sad. Stories abound that some parents disable their children so that they will be more succesful at begging by pulling on the heartstrings of visitors. If this is really true I don't know. Back to me in the mountains! After nearly four hours another bus pulled up behind and we were all transferred on to this with our luggage and made our way finally to Agadir. I presume the original bus broke down but I never really found out. Agadir, on the Atlantic co
ast, is sanatised Morocco. The original town was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1960 and a new city has been built in it's place. It is now a mixture of commerce and a holiday centre for foreign visitors. To me this wasn't what I had come to this country to see, but it did have a massive beach some 10 kilometers long, so that was a nice consolation. There was little begging or hawkers on the beach, while I was there, as the police were often walking up and down enjoying all the topless girls! They seemed to be quite strict with their own people. I saw some Moroccan women in their traditional clothes sitting on the pavement waiting for a bus. The police made them stand up. There are lots of hotels in Agadir, but I had to share my room with familiar friends - cockroaches! I came across lots of these on my travels unfortunately. Further north of Agadir is the sea port of Casablanca, the biggest town in Morocco with over 2.9 million people. It's a mix of cultures again with the old Muslim Quarter (98% of Moroccans are Muslim) along side a modern city with shanty towns on the outskirts. The port handles over three quarters of the country's commerce. It boasts the largest Mosque in the world, which was completed in 1993. To me the most interesting towns are the four Imperial Cities. Marrakesh I have already mentioned, the others are Fez, Meknes and Rabat which is the present day capital. These cities are filled with history and were once capitals of their own part of the Moroccan empire. Briefly, so that you won't doze off: Fez is the oldest, dating back to 800, with a wide range of architecture. The old town is somewhere you can easily get lost so a guide is recommended. Official guides carry identification cards with them. Most speak French as this is the second language of Morocco after Arabic, but there are usually English speaking guides available. Rabat is fairly mode
rn and even the old part of the town doesn't seem quite as exotic and interesting as Marrakesh. Meknes dates back to the 12th century but was extended greatly in the late 1600's by the local sultan who wanted to build something to rival Louis X1V's Paris. I enjoyed Morocco and would go again but to travel and not as a holiday. When I decided to write this opinion I jotted down what came to my mind immediately I thought of the country. The first few things on my list were: snakes, hands outstretched for money, couscous, Marrakesh, Atlas mountains, mint tea, camel ride, souks, water sellers and goats that climb trees. The snakes! Snake charmers were everywhere in the old towns and they seemed to have a delight in puting these awful creatures round your neck, this can happen even in restaurants! Then, of course, they want money for doing so. The first time I was terrified but they didn't feel quite as bad as I imagined - no smut please, I'm behaving myself in this op! Of course you have to have a ride on a camel, quite a peculiar swaying motion as they travel along, and that is when I saw the goats. As there is virtually no ground level vegetation the goats climb the trees to eat the leaves, most odd. I could actually write pages and pages about Morocco but I'll have to come to a close. I'd recommend anyone to visit Morocco, it's an interesting experience, as I've already said it's an exciting mix of cultures with the ancient ways merging in with the new. I loved it, but it was a mistake to go alone. I did feel vulnerable and a little uneasy at times, but I do tend to poke about perhaps where I shouldn't. The popular holiday resort of Agadir isn't my cup of (mint) tea. If I wanted a beach holiday there are much better places in Europe and the food will be better. Couscous. Yuk! Yes, take a look at Morocco if you haven't been. ;-> Kay
Morocco The Stats. Morocco is situated in the Northwest corner of Africa and his a population of approximately 30,000,000. Most of the population speak Moroccan Arabic, however Berber, French and English are also widely used. Rabat is the capital city. Islam is the state religion. The economy is mainly agriculture, tourism and phosphate mining. Bartering is necessary - otherwise you will be ripped off! Known for Mint tea and nice carpets. In recent years Morocco has began to advertise itself as a tourist resort. Television adverts have begun to appear on our screens advertising Morocco as an exotic holiday resort. Although Africa may seem quite far away, Morocco is not all that far away from Spain. Morocco is about 4hrs fight away from Britain but it is also 1 hour by ferry from Spain. If you are looking for an opinion on a package holiday, I am afraid I can't provide that for you. I visited Morocco in 1992 with a group of friends. We stayed in a variety of accommodation and campsites - which were recommended in the book "Morocco - A Rough Guide" Our group also had the added advantage that the group was lead by someone that knew the country and language extremely well. I would therefore recommend a package holiday, unless you are able to go with a similar kind of group with a leader that has background knowledge. I spent most of my holiday in the Marrakesh area. I also visited the a tribal village in the Atlas mountains called Taddert. This was a weekend trip lead by a guide. This to me was the real Morocco, far away from the tourist hubbub. Our group slept in the open air on the mountain side, saw a beautiful sunrise then went on to the village, where a friend of our leader stayed. This family were poor but they treated us like royalty. We had planned to stop for only a couple of hours but they insisted on making us a meal. This was quite difficult for us because our group was lar
ge and this family was so poor. To refuse this hospitality though, would have been offensive to the family. We knew that their budget for the week would have been blown, it was a dilemma but we saw it as a blessing. The food was cooked on a charcoal burner and served with multitudes of mint tea. Mint tea is the customary drink, even served in shops. It is extremely refreshing sweet drink which is served in shot like glasses. At first this might seem awful but you will probably find that you will become extremely thankful of this drink because it revives you from lethargy in the heat. Poverty is evident in Morocco and begging is not uncommon. In some cases families are so poor that children's bones are deliberately broken, so that they can get more money to beg. It is harsh I know, but you as well to be prepared for it. (A stern "la" meaning no and a wag of the index finger is the way to deal with unwanted begging.) Other tips. Try and learn a few basic phrases. Moroccans are used to English speaking tourists but I have found that if you try to learn a few basics, it is appreciated. Try to be culturally aware. As in most Muslim countries the body is precious. For a women to have her head & shoulders uncovered or to show alot of leg in the street is offensive. Obviously it is accepted and you will not want to remain covered up all the time but I would encourage you to consider showing respect to the Moroccan Culture. I would also suggest that you invest in a rough guide book and a phrase book. Lonely Planet Books have produced a very useful Moroccan Arabic Phrase book. It includes the phrases written in Arabic - so if all else fails you can point at the phrase! I believe Berlitz have also produced a Moroccan phrase book. Westerners are regarded as rich - Let's face it we are in comparison, so watch out. Thieves are about and people will try & rip you off, so you will need to Barter. Also
if you are a woman with fair skin & blue eyes expect to men to drool over you. The combination of being western (perceived as rich) and your colouring is unusual, so men may give you a bit of hassle. One day whilst at the market with male friends, they approached and asked what they would like in return for my hand in marriage! (the men who asked that the men were my brothers) Knowing the word "la" (No) comes in very useful in Morocco. Don't be afraid to sound stern, sometimes an authoritive No is the only way. Morocco is a land of contrasts. In parts it seems barren, yet extremely fertile in others. (especially coastal areas.) Morocco is economically poor but rich in culture. It is impossible to capture the full experience - sights, sounds and smells of this beautiful land in writing. If you are the type of person that likes to life in the clouds, and think the world is all nice, then perhaps you will not like Morocco. It can be smelly, dirty and hardship can be seen on most street corners. I can only suggest that you try it out for yourselves!
"The Kingdom of Morocco (Arabic: المملكة المغربية) is a country in North Africa with a population of 33,241,259 people. It has a long coast on the Atlantic Ocean that reaches past the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea. It borders Algeria to the east, the Mediterranean Sea and a relatively narrow water border with Spain to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to its west. There are also two Spanish exclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, bordering Morocco to the north. The border to the south is disputed. Morocco claims ownership of Western Sahara and has administered most of the territory since 1975. Morocco, a constitutional monarchy, is the only African country that is not currently a member of the African Union. However, it is a member of the Arab League, Arab Maghreb Union, Organization of the Islamic Conference, Mediterranean Dialogue group, and Group of 77, and is a major non-NATO ally."