"Al-Maghrib 2010 & 2011" Morocco by maykal
Morocco Travel Guide: 10,400 reviews and 30,016 photos
I've had a guidebook to Morocco for well over a decade, but for some reason it took me until last year to finally use it. I don't know why. I mean, given my interests, Morocco should be the perfect destination. Wild Atlantic beaches, rugged mountains, empty deserts, labrynthine walled cities, bustling souks...and lots and lots of Arabic...all just a budget flight away from the UK.
Maybe what put me off was the constant advice not to go to Morocco, given by Arabic experts. "The dialect's so different you won't understand anything," they said, "you'll come back speaking more French than Arabic". Not an ideal place for a learner, I was told. Better to go to Egypt, or Syria. Then there were the horror stories of extreme harrassment all over various travel forums. Touts clinging onto tourists and following them round everywhere they went, overcharging the norm, people demanding money for all manner of made-up services. That all put me off going too.
But the guidebook still sat there on my bookshelf grinning at me, and I found myself reading about all these remote corners of the country that sounded fantastic. Oujda, Essaouira, Tarfaya, Chefchaouen, Figuig, Oualidia, Ouarzazate...the names sounded so exotic, so un-Arabic because of the Berber influences and the French spellings. Colourful photos of men in wizard-like jellabas, mountains of spices in markets, deep red mud-brick houses and white-blue mosques, gleaming multicoloured tiles all over the place.
The colonial history intrigued me too, little Spanish enclaves, French zones, and international dens of espionage, and of course the whole Western Sahara issue. The guidebook was well thumbed despite having never visited Morocco.
Well, I decided that I couldn't stay away any longer. I needed a holiday, a trip abroad, some sunshine, and some Arabic practice, but with flights to other Arabic speaking countries being well out of my budget, I was drawn to Easyjet's website which offered very cheap flights to Agadir and Marrakesh. So in January 2010, I landed in Agadir with a vague plan to head south in search of winter sunshine and adventure, then to make my way to Marrakesh for a flight home. In two weeks, explored the souks of Inezgane and wandered aimlessly around the weird and wonderful Spanish outpost of Sidi Ifni, before enduring painfully long bus rides through the desert to the main towns of Western Sahara, strange Laayoune, dusty Smara and lonely Ad Dakhla, as far south as I could go overland without a visa. I greatly underestimated the distances involved, and it was a race back up to Marrakesh, meaning I hardly saw anything of that most famous of cities.
It was a successful trip, not least because it changed most of my preconceptions. Nobody hassled me, the local Arabic wasn't as indecipherable as I had been led to believe and I didn't need to use a single word of French, and the places I went felt well off the tourist trail. It was a sort of adventure, and one I was willing to repeat, vowing to return to Morocco soon.
March 2011 and it was time to discover the north and its imperial cities. Starting in edgy, seedy Casablanca, I hopped on a train to the elegant capital Rabat and the former pirate hotspot of Sale across the river. Heading north, I spent a few days in Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains, famous for its blue houses and its kif (hashish) production. Then it was time to tackle Fes, a city that delighted, frustrated and annoyed me in equal measure, its maze-like old city full of beautiful buildings and persistent touts. Meknes, another imperial city just down the road, was exactly what I needed after Fes, a relaxed place from where I made a trip out to Roman Volubilis and the holy hilltop town of Moulay Idriss.
All too soon, it was time to board the plane home from Casablanca, only this time I couldn't decide if I had enjoyed the trip or not. Every day there had been amazing sights to see, but every single day there had also been something that had evoked a different emotion, namely anger. I had expected some hassle, but Fes and Chefchaouen in particular took it to a new level. It was impossible to do anything without someone grabbing my arm, trying to steer me into a shop or force their services as a guide upon me, overcharging me for coffee and trying to drain me of dirhams at every turn. Hello my friend you want smoke something i show you nice place this way for tanneries no mister is closed that way you come here you looking hotel big room ensuite very cheap price tea coffee chicken leather sandals you want tour very cheap not expensive my friend you no talk today maybe you are paranoid racist mister hey where you go?
What seemed like normal conversations struck up in cafes almost always turned to a request for money in some form or other, and it just drove me mad, made me reluctant to speak to anyone after a while. I realise that not all Moroccans are like that, and I met several who were as friendly and helpful as anyone else I've met on my travels, but they were definitely in the minority wherever tourism has become big business. Chefchaouen was perhaps the worst, as the touts got aggressive and abusive if I tried to ignore them, but Fes wasn't far behind. Even with Moulay Idriss, a tiny place, I remember the irritating faux guides more than I remember the actual town. It all left a rather bitter taste in my mouth.
So...Morocco...still so much more to explore, and I still find myself flicking through the guidebook, daydreaming about future trips to the Atlas Mountains or the oases in the east or the towns along the coast. But...do I have the energy?
This page will be a sort of index of the places I visited in Morocco, along the lines of my Tunisia and Iraq pages. I'll add a few photos from each place, and write some general tips about Morocco...but since buying a new camera, my photos are huge in size and take aaaaaaaaaaages to upload to VT, so it'll be happening shway shway (little by little)...
I don't have much to say about Marrakesh really, as I only had a few hours there, having underestimated the distances... more travel advice
Smara didn't use to exist in guidebooks, and while Moroccan tourist literature used to admit to its existence, it was... more travel advice
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