Morocco is a beautiful country, and it’s surprisingly massive and filled with endless sights. My mind wanted to see the souk of Fez, ride camels in Merzouga, surf in Agadir, and hang out with smugglers in Tangier. Realistically, I only had ten days and could merely have a sample out of this fantastic country. Here’s a little run through of my whirlwind trip through Morocco last January with friends, Camilla and Katja. In the same vein as my Northern Macedonia and Albania post, I just want to reminisce a bit and go back to new adventures soon. Thank you and enjoy!
When I tell Moroccans about my trip, they’re usually a little bit shocked that we were able to fit so much into a ten-day itinerary. Honestly, it felt more like a month. Here’s what our ten-days looked like, starting in Agadir in the South and ending back there to fly back to Copenhagen.
Upon arriving in Agadir after a long four-hour flight from Copenhagen, we found out we had just missed the last buses to Essaouira, where we had booked several nights at Green Milk Hostel. So, we decided to spring for a taxi, which was a bit expensive but decently cheap split between the three of us. Considering it was a three-hour drive from Agadir through the late night, it may have been a bargain. The driver wouldn’t let me sleep, as I was sitting in the front and he wanted someone to brag to. He reveled in the brilliance of the Moroccan mind, that no Moroccan needs Google Maps because it’s all “up here” with a hard point to his noggin. He also said all Moroccan’s are multilingual, using himself as a polyglot example by speaking Arabic, Berber, French, and English. Yet still, conversation with him was painfully difficult for any topics outside of his English language script. Still, I’m impressed by his confidence (and I certainly can’t speak Arabic or Berber). He steered through every roundabout like a race driver, shouting “quack quack quack” every time (“quick quick quick”?).
When we finally arrived in Essaouira, he parked outside the Old Town and asked where our hotel was. I showed him the map on my phone, and he had no idea where it was. He went outside, asking every local he could find but could not get directions. My phone told me it was an eight-minute walk, so I felt ready to make the trek. Eventually, we just grabbed our bags and left, and he sped off back to Agadir as my phone guided us to our lovely hostel for the night. iPhone won that one.
Moroccan cities can be a bit foreboding when arriving at night. The streets are narrow and poorly lit, and everyone seems to be staring at the tall pale Danish and American aliens walking down the street. The hostel took a bit of finding in the dark, but eventually, we arrived and went out for our first bite of Moroccan food at a little local hole in the wall, serving excellent chicken and preserved lemon tagine. Soon, I would learn all Moroccan restaurants have the same menu (more or less,) but all equally delicious.
Essaouira is the perfect city to introduce oneself to Moroccan culture. I could not have imagined a better city to start out in.
The city is fairly quiet, with a lot of tourists but enough old life to allow for a legitimate ‘Moroccan’ experience. The souks are wild yet fragrant with spices, the fish markets are swarming in seagulls yet fresh and beautiful, and the locals are perhaps the most welcoming compared to other parts of Morocco. As well, the white walls of the city make for hours of strolling.
The city is incredibly windy, and surprisingly cold in the winter. But the beach is calm, filled with mint tea salesmen and locals enjoying the sun.
Green Milk Hostel was a hub for enlightened travelers, and it seemed that everyone we met was incredibly well endowed with decades of wisdom. We spent long nights sitting together on the outside patios, playing cards under the stars and just talking about life. This is where I started asking travelers, “What words do you live by?” It’s one of those perfect hostels that one could spend weeks in, and many of the travelers there had been staying for longer than expected, enjoying the windy white-walled city and the enlightened wanderers.
Yet we had to keep moving. We took the bus to Marrakech, about three hours ride from the Essaouira bus station to downtown Marrakech to stay for a night before moving on. We did not see much of the city, but we arrived at night and paid too much for a taxi to our hostel. When we arrived, a random man walked with us several meters to our hostel, then demanded we pay him for showing us where the hostel was. “No way, I knew where I was going.” He gave me a sad, pained look, and held his hand out expecting something for his service, but we just ran into the hostel.
The next day, we took the train North with the intention of staying in Fez. Along the way, we wanted to have a few hours in Casablanca just to experience the fabled movie city. Moroccan trains are surprisingly nice, on the same level as any train in Central or Eastern Europe, with excellent views throughout.
We sat in a compartment with a South African mathematician, working at a Univesity in Ifrane. He taught us how to survive in Morocco, particularly with the knowledge that we were being ripped off constantly. When we arrived in Casablanca, a filthy city, taxi drivers tried to rip us off continuously as we tried to make the journey to the Hassan II Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world.
My advice for Moroccan taxi drivers: demand that they use the meter. If they give you some excuse, just leave and grab another taxi. There are hundreds, and many will use the meter if they see you angrily exit another taxi. I usually threw in a tip for those taxi drivers that didn’t try to rip me off.
After the Hassan II Mosque, which is actually quite beautiful, we went to the fish market and were ripped off paying extra for a fish meal. It was pretty tasty, but not worth what we paid. In Morocco, it is safe to assume that anyone will offer to sell you something for double the actual price. When bartering, always begin at half the asking price or a little bit lower and work your way up. One salesman gave me a ridiculous price and story for a mass-produced tray, and my bartering price made him say: “For that price, you can take a photo with it.” So I did.
I would say avoid Casablanca completely, but maybe you may find something enjoyable about it. I only experienced a huge city of people wanting to scam me at every opportunity.
Next, we moved on to Fez, which is a magnificent city. Again, we arrived at night and wandered through the dark streets aimlessly in search of our hostel. We eventually did and passed a man who also tried to get money from us in exchange for his guidance. We passed on that opportunity and found it on our own. There are plenty of fantastic places to stay in Fez, but our hostel was particularly gorgeous and brand new. Really, every hostel in we stayed at in Morocco was gorgeous, filled with wonderful people, and extraordinarily cheap.
Medina Social Club Hostel offered some delicious food for dinner, so we sat and met with Esther, a wine saleswoman and aficionado from England. We would drag her around for the rest of our time in Morocco. She won us over instantly when she told us about the man she passed coming to this hostel. This man would turn out to be the same that we passed, although he was much tamer with us. For her, a lone woman, he offered to guide her to the hostel. She said no thank you, I know where I’m going. He then proceeded to offer some marijuana, at an extraordinary price, just for you my friend. She said no thank you, I don’t smoke. Running out of options, he offered marriage. She said no thank you, not interested. Desperate, he offered a taste of his “Moroccan banana” with a devilish smile. To which, she was grateful to be safe by the hostel’s doorstep.
Despite some eccentric locals, Fez is a wonderful city. A walk through the confusing medina is an entirely unique experience, warranting several days just to acquaint oneself with every strange corner of the city. It’s phenomenal, truly a way to see the past.
I know I have not painted locals so well, but there are many fantastic Moroccans that don’t want to scam you or offer their bananas. Our host in the next city was an example of a warm and overly accommodating Moroccan. After Fez, we changed our plans up a bit and went with Esther to Meknés, the old capital right next to Fez. Meknés is a lot less touristy, and most certainly the best place to buy any souvenir. The prices are much lower, and the salesmen are much more laid back. Tagines are only US$1, and rugs are much more reasonable than in Marrakech or Fez. This is also the best place to buy spices. Likely, if you make friends with one salesman, they will take you to their friend in the spice business elsewhere in the bazaar who can sell saffron and other wonderful spices at incredibly low prices.
Our host was extremely friendly as well, organizing a driver to take us to the nearby Roman ruins of Volubilis and the center of Moroccan Islam, Moulay Idriss, which was only recently opened to non-Muslims. The driver was fantastically kind and took us to the beautiful ruins for a great price.
The scale of the ruins is absurd, featuring an entire Roman city that has been decently kept up. This visit was one of my favorites of the entire trip. Next, the driver took us to Moulay Idriss, where a friend of his took us out for a walk. I wasn’t getting a great impression from the guide friend. He could not speak English so he would speak Spanish to me and I would translate for everyone. He told us that we would just go for a walk, for no more than thirty minutes, and we could pay him whatever we felt “in our hearts”. He took us to the beautiful mosque, which is still off-limits to non-Muslims, telling us that “animals like you are not allowed in” (I truly wish I were making this up). I probably should have stopped the tour there, but for some reason, I wanted to see where it would go. He took us further through the city, where he was genuinely kind and interested in our lives, showing us the sites and the amazing history of this city, which was the first Muslim city in the nation. We walked further, and at the end of the tour he stood in front of me and held his hand out, expecting something. I told him I would pay a bit, as I truly only had around six dollars on me. It was not enough for him, and he began to make a fuss asking for more, to which I told him he could not expect more since I had to translate every word he told us, and since he called us animals. That was not enough, and he demanded more. I opened up my empty wallet, showing him that he had cleared me out. I emptied my pockets, showing a few cents worth of coins, telling him I had nothing more “in my heart”. At this point, I was yelling. This made him very self-conscious because doing unofficial tours is a big crime in Morocco, and he could be heavily penalized if a police officer had seen this going down. He eventually gave up, taking the leftover pennies in my hand, and we went on our way.
The driver seemed to know by the fed-up look on my face and did not say a word on the forty minute drive back to Meknés. I’m a fairly calm person, but one thing that instantly enrages me is when I know I’m being taken advantage of. Yes, I should have foreseen what was going to transpire sooner, but I think both parties could have handled that situation better. Upon return, our wonderful host made us some tea and made us comfortable.
I don’t mean to paint such a negative portrait. I truly love Morocco, but the scamming taxi drivers enrage me. I hate feeling like I am being treated like a walking wallet, and there are a lot of people in Morocco that will take advantage of that. My proficiency in angry French increased immediately, and I now feel confident to argue over any taxi price in pissed-off French.
But there are also some truly fantastic people, just joining in the beauty that is Morocco. We stayed a bit in Marrakech, and the city is quite beautiful, but not extremely note-worthy. For our last few days, we went to Tamraght, just about thirty minutes North of Agadir. Here, we stayed at the Lunar Surf Hostel where I caught my first waves since learning how to surf as a ten-year-old in Australia. The hostel, just like every other hostel in Morocco, was filled with incredibly welcoming hosts and amazing guests. We would wake up early to meditate, do yoga, and then eat a massive delicious meal with the other guests. I would go surf and return to sunbathe and read and learn how to weave baskets. Like Essaouira, this is the kind of place where one could easily get sucked in and spend a few weeks. The hosts took us out into Agadir to their friends at the bazaar, who sold Camilla a beautiful rug. The hosts also made gigantically delicious dinners and would make a bonfire for us all to enjoy. Essaouira was the perfect laid back entrance into Morocco, and Tamraght was the best way to decompress after all the hustle of the medinas of larger cities in Morocco.
I’m still not sure how we fit so much into ten days, but all I know is that I need to come back to Morocco. The scammers and banana salesmen weren’t enough to drive me away, because the majesty of the Atlas mountains, the savory smell of tagine, and the warmth of the welcoming locals made me yearn to return. I plan to return in February because there is simply too much to experience in Morocco. One could spend months, and merely scratch the surface of this amazing country. If you plan to go, make taxi drivers use the meter, start the barter at half the asking price, make sure to eat all the different tagines (and maybe buy one, I use mine almost daily), talk to locals, and don’t accept the banana offer. The country is wonderful, and there are millions of beautiful people to encounter across its diverse landscapes. So enjoy!