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Morocco

Morocco

Two weeks in North Africa. During Ramadan. Interesting times. This will be a long post!

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I've taken a week to get my thoughts into order, as if I'd written this immediately after leaving Morocco, I'll admit this post probably wouldn't have been completely objective regarding certain elements of my two weeks in the country.

I guess things didn't help the day we were meant to depart when our ferry was delayed. Leaving Gibraltar was a breeze, and the drive from there to Tarifa barely took half an hour. I'd already organised parking, so after leaving my car, my friend and I wandered down to the docks, already aware we might be in for a delay. Upon arriving, we were told there was no news, and just to wait, so we headed for a nearby cafe for breakfast, then another bar for a beer, waiting until noon before returning. With still no news, we walked to a nearby ticket seller, and they told us there would be no sailings for two days!

With accommodation already organised, my friend and I agreed we would be getting to Tangier, one way or another. So we walked to the bus station, eventually boarding one for Algeciras. Upon arriving there, our day was made even better when, trying to change our tickets, we were informed that the dock at Tarifa was now open, and that a bus would arrive soon to take us back. Argh!

We eventually boarded at around 17:30. The sea across to Tangier was rough, and I'm glad I don't suffer from sea-sickness. But we made it to Tangier without a problem, and the docking and immigration process was a breeze.

First impressions were, admittedly, pretty good. Sure, the roads were absolute chaos, but the people appeared friendly, and our riad (Kasbah Rose) had organised a taxi to pick us up. I learned something very quickly when, enquiring about the price, he simply said, "Whatever you like, just include a tip." We made it to the riad in one piece, having driven through the utter chaos that was the medina. Again, first impressions were great. We were offered mint tea, which my friend and I soon grew to absolutely love, our room was pretty damned good, and our host, Mohammed, had plenty of good advice about where to eat, and also organised a tour for us the next day. We ate at the Rif Kebdani, which had some terrific reviews on TripAdvisor. I tried a tagine, which is a staple of Moroccan cuisine (apparently) and some kebabs. We were stuffed by the end.

Our one and only day in Tangier had my friend and I taken by private drive on a tour around Tangier and the local region, taking in plenty of the sights. The highlight was probably the Grottes d'Hercules (Hercules Caves). We were taken to numerous other spots, including the exact point where the Atlantic and Mediterranean apparently meet, but the caves were the highlight. Once that tour was over, we wandered the medina and the city itself, particularly the main road skirting the beach.

The next stop on our itinerary was Chefchaouen. I can say, hand on heart, this was my favourite stop on our tour. Firstly, because it was just utterly gorgeous. Secondly, the people are genuinely friendly and helpful. After only a couple of days in Tangier, I knew I was already wary of certain folks. I organised a guide for us the one day we were in town, and he was fantastic, taking us through all the districts, explaining the history, while also taking us to the Spanish Mosque, which gave us the most spectacular views of the blue city. Things like that live long in the memory...

I will be honest. We knew that travelling during Ramadan would make certain things awkward, like finding a place that sells beer. But Chefchaouen was practically dry, only one hotel selling, and it was a dreary old place, not a particularly appealing place to sink a bottle or two. Not making a complaint at all, two weeks sober would do anyone good, just an observation! Being honest even further, if everywhere else had been like Chefchaouen, as the only annoying people were those continually trying to sell hash, then memories of our time there would be fonder...

The third stop of our Moroccan adventure was Fez. Straight off the bat, I will state that our riad, Dar Hafsa, was absolutely fantastic, the owner, Abdul, went out of his way to help us and his house mouse, Mohammed, was nothing but friendly. A definite highlight. Abdul organised a tour of Fez for our first day, and then a tour to Volulibis and Meknes for our second. Volulibis was superb, some of the best Roman ruins I've seen, and I can only recommend the place to visit if you're ever in Morocco. Meknes... eh, it wasn't as bad as Fez...

But it was in Fez that my opinion of our adventure started to change. I like to think I'm a generally open minded person and take people at face value. Probably makes me a sucker at times, but hey, that's life. But Jesus wept, Fez almost had me ready to head back to Europe after just a couple of nights. Let's list the annoying people:

False guides - the amount of men wanting to guide us to a riad, hotel, hostel, or some sight or other beggared belief. And saying 'No' didn't always work. And, unfortunately, using certain colourful language to tell them to go away would only escalate the situation.

Bulls*** artists - here's an example. My friend and I were returning from dinner, just about to turn down the street towards our riad, when a young men told us the medina was closed. This was despite that all the lights were on, shops were open, and our street was well lit with people coming in the other direction. The amount of times we were told certain things were closed meant we just ignored everyone (and once or twice they were not lying!)

Con artists - the number of scams being run, not just in Fez, would make your eyes water. Don't get me wrong, most Moroccans are honest, friendly, hard-working people, just like everywhere else. But, strewth, there were plenty we met who saw us as nothing but walking ATMs. If you want to know what wandering the Fez medina is like, take a look at some of the horror stories on TripAdvisor. I honestly think my friend and I were lucky, particularly our first day when we had a guide. If not, I'm sure we'd have been ripped off more than once.

After Fez, my friend and I were rather distrustful of nearly everyone. We were catching a train to our next destination, Rabat, and being ripped off by the taxi driver didn't help our moods. As I said at the time, it's not the amount, no more than a few quid, it's the principle of the matter, particularly when you know you're already being charged 5x more than a local to begin with.

Travelling first class to Rabat was interesting, and it was certainly far cheaper than doing so in Europe or the UK. We'd been asked more than once 'Why Rabat?' but, after visiting the city, I'm glad we did, as there was certainly enough to keep us entertained. Unfortunately, while my stomach has coped with everything up to then, as I'd been generally cautious what I ate and drank, I was hit hard during our second day, which meant I didn't really leave our room. Lesson learned, and it took a day or two until I felt well again. I had entertained the though of heading to Casablanca, but from what I'd read, it was even less interesting than Rabat. To be honest, the only reason I wanted to go was because of the movie. There is a 'Rick's Cafe', nothing but a tourist trap offering overpriced food and drink. Best avoided...

It was another train, again first class, to our final stop, Marrakech. Our train ride there was great as we were joined by fellow travellers, and a couple of locals, the three or so hours flying by as we shared stories, mostly about travelling, while the locals shared their knowledge of the country and also of our final stop.

I still wasn't feeling great during our first full of three days, so that was a write off. Our second day was taking in most of the sights... except most of the medina and souks. There are a couple of reasons. One, neither my friend or I were interested in shopping. I was carrying a backpack and small bag, and both were heavy enough without adding worthless junk. Two, my friend loved reading TripAdvisor reviews and admittedly the horror stories really put him off. After our experiences in Fez, even I wasn't particularly bothered about heading in and getting lost. It's known that traders in Marrakech are even more aggressive than Fez, and if the horror stories are true, I knew one of us would have probably blown our tops by the end.

So, as a relaxing break, for the third day, I booked us a tour to the coastal town of Essaouira. Fantastic decision, even if I say so myself. Laid back, quiet, peaceful, gorgeous. Didn't take many photos, I didn't have my phone out too often in Morocco as a whole, but it was nice to wander the old town and not be harassed constantly. We had a guide take us around for around an hour, then had a couple of hours to wander ourselves, grab a bite to eat, then got back on the bus back to Marrakech.

My friend was flying back to England from Marrakech. As my car was still in Spain, I had to take two trains. I grabbed an early train that returned me to Casablanca, and after a ninety minute wait, I took one of the new Al-Barouk TGV trains to Tangier. I'll put it like this. It took longer for the train to go from Casablanca to Kenitra, than from Kenitra to Tangier, the train hitting 320km/h in sections. (Morocco has high-speed rail. What are you doing, UK????)

I had a final night in Tangier, and after two weeks, I'll admit I'd enjoyed most of my time, but I was ready to head back to Europe. I was tired of what I would call subtle harassment. People always trying to sell you things. From men standing outside restaurants. You couldn't walk along the street without taxi's constantly beeping, offering rides at 5x the cost. I'd grown so distrustful that people being genuine trying to help I virtually dismissed out of hand. Am I to blame for that? I guess it's for others to decide, but until you've experienced some of what goes on, I will say that you cannot judge.

So, I'll happily admit, my final day in Morocco, I purchased a ferry ticket for the first one leaving, and stayed by myself in the hotel I'd booked, only a stones throw away from the docks, until the next morning. I'd enjoyed more of Morocco than I hadn't. Some of the sights I'd seen were unforgettable. Every single riad was great, most of the owners or those who worked within them being fantastic, nothing but helpful or just genuinely friendly. I'm also glad we were there during Ramadan, as it provided a look into a culture so completely different to our own.

I don't miss the Adhan, no matter how beautiful it can sound... And I most definitely don't miss haggling over everything. Just name a price, and if it's reasonable, I'll pay it.

Overall, my impressions of Morocco are a mixed bag. Our first few days were fantastic. Tangier was a welcoming eye-opener into a new culture, and Chefchaouen will live long in the memory. And Rabat was a pleasant surprise after hearing so much negativity. Fez is the first city in all those I've travelled to which I know I will never visit again, not even with a gun to my head. Marrakech wasn't as bad, simply because we avoided the medina and probably the worst aspects. The only reason I'd return there is to see what's it like outside Ramadan. And if I did visit Morocco again, I certainly wouldn't stay anywhere near a medina!

Anyway, the ferry back to Spain left nearly on time, and I was back in Europe around noon, ready to restart my European adventure.

Posted by benjamin2981 13:17 Archived in Morocco Tagged history morocco essaouira ferry ramadan medina riad chefchaouen scams souks touts Comments (0)

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