It’s never easy for me to start writing a traveling post because I always end up feeling I couldn’t capture the full essence of the location, especially when it’s about a big country with a rich and ancient culture that it’s practically impossible pretending to know everything in a 9-10 day trip. But I have to start somewhere, otherwise and if I always focused on including every single detail for every topic, I’d end up not posting at all or writing posts the size of Encarta 2000. So, dear reader, get yourself comfortable with your favorite beverage, because this will take a bit.
Morocco has always been a mysterious place for me. Having divided in my mind the world in East and West, Morocco never quite fit either of them due to its history, the origin of its culture and, contradictorily, how close it’s located to the rest of Europe. Adding the cliche comments you usually hear from people and how it’s well-known that as a woman it isn’t recommended to visit the country, made it seem as a farthest destiny than the 2.5 hours it takes to get from Barcelona to Marrakech.
Having been born in a country with a lot of prejudice in the worldwide eye, I never paid much attention to those stories. People told me I was going to get offered money to spend the night with someone, that locals would ignore me in restaurants or that my partner would receive uncomfortable comments because of me. In this case, it turned out to be a whole bunch of old stories.
I want to say old and not “fake” stories because, according to what the locals told us, the whole country and especially big cities have gone through many changes through the last couple of decades where globalisation has had its consequences, just like the rest of the world. In the case of the Morocco Kingdom, they have opened its doors to a massive quantity of tourism and an accepted adaptation of the occidental culture in specific sectors.
The most important thing you need to know if you travel to Morocco is that they have 5 official languages, among the main ones you find Arabic and the Berbers languages with seven variances, if I remember correctly what the taxi driver told us; French comes next as a secondary language and most people who work in the tourist sector can speak English, Spanish and sometimes even Italian. If you’re like me and you don’t know any of the three main languages, you will definitely find a way to communicate with the locals as Moroccans are not only extremely kind, but also open to learn.
Our first destination was the imperial city of Marrakech; a city with terracotta walls famous for its squares and night markets, and for having a Medina (or old city) considered a World Heritage by the UNESCO. Inside of it, you can come across postcards of all kinds: from the streets humbly adorned with stray cats to jewels like the Badia Palace, the Kutubiya Mosque, five-star hotels at affordable prices, as well as a dozen gardens. You probably won’t be able to visit all of them but they definitely are worth one morning of your trip to visit a couple of them as they’re a country’s pride.
It didn’t take us more than a day to realise the kindness coming from the locals and their interest in helping us if we were lost. Some of them asked us for a few dirhams in exchange of their help and others, showing an even more genuine interest, said our gratitude was more than enough. However, the Medina is not that big, so finding touristic sites such as gardens and palaces isn’t difficult if you take the mosque as a guide and follow the main streets.
We had received many recommendations as there is much to see and do in the red city, but nobody warned us we would had to walk dodging motorcycles, some cargo mules and even bicycles with three passengers on board. If you like movement, a city that lives more at night than at day and you’re ok with a bit of chaos, Marrakech is for you.
Among my recommendations are the Yves Saint Laurent Museum (of which I already made a post here), the delicious argan oil and olive soaps, taking naps during the hottest hours of the day so you can spend the night walking through the markets. Don’t be afraid to bargain prices and definitely don’t worry too much about your safety or your belongings. Despite the bad stories you may have heard, the tourist is very taken care of and respected. It was crystal clear for us after a series of misfortunes that we suffered during the trip due to health issues.
Our trip to Marrakech concluded after 4 days, and although it was difficult for us to leave our rooms at the Riad Kasbah whose staff made us feel at home, we were eager to venture into the Atlas. Our plan, although we must accept it was chaotic due to the long travel hours and very few of sleep, started on the coast of Essaouira, towards the Ouzoud Waterfalls, to continue in Fez and finish in Casablanca. I must confess if I had to do it again, I would do it exactly the same way with the exception of Casablanca, which was the city we liked the least.
We found that the perfect way to rest from the long hours of travel was to stop at carpet workshops at the cities’ outskirts where, for a few dirhams, you can enjoy a freshly made mint tea with fresh leaves and stay there for an hour or two. I was honestly one of the best experiences from the whole trip.
When we arrived in Essaouira we knew we were no longer in the chaotic Marrakech and that we had a beautiful landscape that inspire patience and calmness by the locals, even though the streets were as busy as before. A place where you could breathe the breeze of the sea which is only a few meters away from the Medina.
The heat was definitely one of our main concerns before the trip. We knew the ideal time to visit Morocco was in spring or autumn and that temperatures could reach 50 degrees Celsius in summer. Luckily, or as the driver who gave us a tour told us, thanks to global warming temperatures are no longer as high as before in the country, and what was once a scorching summer is now a perfectly tolerable one.
Although I was prepared with long dresses that covered me up to my feet (and which I repeated over and over again because I only took a small suitcase with me), I felt very cold in Essaouira, and that is something we could had never imagined. Heat? Truth is, we didn’t feel it that much (and we are definitely thankful for that).
in this look –
Massimo Dutti long dress,
in this photo –
Subtle & Simple dress
Our next destination were the Ouzoud Waterfalls, an area in the Province of Azilal famous for its landscapes and one-day visits, although I would recommend that if you want to rest from your trip, you should definitely take at least two days because driving by the Atlas is tiring.
Upon arriving at the hotel we knew there was a terrace overlooking the waterfalls because of the photos we saw when we made our reservation online, but no photo can do justice to the true magnitude of this place; it’s like finding yourself in an oasis, a little Vietnam or a paradise in the middle of nowhere made of terracotta stones, blue-green lagoons and wild flora that seemed designed. There are two ways to do the route, one is by taking the concrete stairs and the other one is by the rural road made by the local cargo mules. I recommend doing the second one, just be prepared to feel pain in your muscles the next day. Ouzoud, without a doubt, was the highlight of the whole trip.
From Ouzoud to Fez there were, according to the map, six hours of road travel. It sounded long but it didn’t intimidate us, especially because when traveling with a group there are ways to kill time and taking turns when driving. No one told us the Atlas would get even more complicated, and that the six-hour journey would actually take us ten. Ten. That night we arrived in Fez with our bodies half dead and our souls defeated.
The next day, and mainly thanks to the wonderful breakfast that every Riad included within the reservation price, we came back to life. We only had five hours to be in Fez and, while we were conscious that we wouldn’t be able to see every bit of it, we also knew that our feet were still functional.
One thing I want to recommend you, especially if you’re worried about getting lost in the city, uncertain of where to eat or buy carpets at a good price, is to hire a tourist guide who speaks your native language at your hotel. They are affordable, kind, honest workers and sometimes they’re funny and make jokes. To make the most out of Fez we hired one of them (Hi, Hindi!) to see the city more efficiently.
We visited the oldest Medina, which is also the largest pedestrian area in the world and a World Heritage by the UNESCO as well. We don’t know if it was luck or not, but being a holiday the streets were almost empty and the shops were closed, we couldn’t find stores open but we enjoyed the architecture a lot (some of it from afar, as in the case of mosques where you can only go inside if you are Muslim). The city was preparing to celebrate the Eid al Adha, or the Feast of the Lamb, so despite all shops were closed, there was lamb trade in the streets.
Our visit came to an end, and with a half-sweet, half-bitter taste from our short visit to Fez, we promised we would return to the city someday with enough time to not only experience it entirely, but to also know more about the local people who showed us a genuine kindness that I’ve only found in very few places in the world. Because I don’t want to extend this post anymore, I will only say I actually lost my phone for a whole day and when I went back to look for it the shop’s manager had kept it safe in a drawer and asked me for nothing in return. Priceless.
The road to Casablanca, compared to the Atlas, was quite calm. Who could have imagined that the moment we arrived in the city we would suffer an anxiety attack while driving in it. While in Marrakech people drove fast and without sense of proxemics, Casablanca seemed to lack from every single driving rule.
Our friends had already warned us that Casablanca was a very European city and had little to do with the rest of Morocco, and while some of them agreed that the city was not worth to include on this trip, others told us how much they had liked it, so we decided to give it a chance and forge our own opinion.
In short: We didn’t like it. Although the city is known for its history, its emblematic film (and one of my favorites), and as the country’s economic capital, it lacks from all the charm of the rest of the Moroccan kingdom and instead of seeing it as an African extension of Europe, it felt more like an American city. And not the good, trendy ones.
But, if for some reason you should visit it or you are open to give it a chance, I recommend visiting the Mosque early in the morning, La Villa des Arts for contemporary art, L’Eglise du Sacre-Coeur for architecture and Rick’s Café, which, although it isn’t the same as the movie because it was filmed in Hollywood, it’s a nostalgic look at what was a time of cultural changes for the city. Ah, yes, always take a taxi because being a city so big and with an American feeling so ingrained, it’s not very kind to pedestrians.
Morocco is no longer a mystery to me. It has become a country of friendly people, of delicious fruit, where the best mint tea I have tasted in my life is made, of people who support themselves, of artisans with richness in one of the oldest religions in the world which, nonetheless, they won’t try to impose you.
In my mind, it’s no longer that country in which women can’t make her own life decisions, where is forbidden for them to walk on the streets, to smile without a veil or do everyday things like driving a car and, even less, a country which you can’t visit as a woman.
I must accept I started this trip with many prejudices but Morocco took, along with its plates of lemon chicken tagine and kindness in each corner, a little piece of my heart.