Monday, November 4, 2013

8 days of Morocco

Morocco, Jul 2013

I made a journey to the Kingdom of Morocco for a wedding with Fred. It gave us a good and valid excuse to travel (again). For me, it was something exotic; first time on the African continent.

You can skip the text too and follow this trip in pictures.

Impressions and travel tips:

First impressions, it was more what you'd imagine of a country in the Middle East than in Africa because of the Arabic culture/background. Morocco has a rich history, so there is plenty to see but preservation works are what you'd expect of a developing nation. What I really liked is its natural wonders. You have the sea, the mountains and the dessert all in one. Though we didn't have enough time to see it all.

What I didn't like about Morocco is consistent with many developing countries around the world, too many people out trying to make a quick buck out of you. People you will offer to bring you around, sell you things, try to over-charge you etc etc and some are very aggressive. The medinas particularly has many kids especially begging and peddling things. If you are a seasoned traveller, you'd know how to walk away from these situations unperturbed. Otherwise, it can spoil your trip. We had someone who tried to rip us of at every city. Puhhh!

Chicken cooked in Tagine
To have a stress-free trip, follow a guided tour. This is one of those countries that where it is best to have a guide from a reputable company to show you around. If you like to travel free and easy, take some trips recommended or organise by the hotel you are staying in and mix and match them. Don't follow just follow someone on the street.

Eat only in places where the prices are stated (we had an experience that they still tried to over-charge us despite the price on the menu- claiming that the servings where different). But don't let this put you off on trying street food though, just be wary of being over charged.

It doesn't mean of course the people of Morocco are not trustworthy, just the few that preys on the tourists really make themselves felt (since you are a tourist). There are 'tourist polices' around but hey, making a living is hard and much harder for countries trying to lift themselves out of poverty. The counter balance of it all is that we also met lots of lovely people. People are warm, friendly and speaks many languages most of the time. Very impressive.

View from a hill
Women at the market
On languages, a treaty between France and Spain regarding Morocco, split it in into a Spanish sphere of influence and a French sphere. It ended in 1956, when both France and Spain recognised Moroccan independence. So you have plenty of people who can speak Spanish around as well a host of Spanish tourist on the 'Spanish side' but most people speaks French all around if case you are wondering which colonial power made the most lasting impressions. The official language is still Moroccan Arabic, so if you speak Arabic you are in luck! However, seems that more and more people are speaking English too as British and American tourist are starting to come in more and at all the tourist places I had no problems with English. Fred did most the other talking in French.

On safety, my feeling is the country is still generally safe. You don't have this feeling that you are in imminent danger and people are not hostile even to tourist.

As a female traveller when going in a Muslim country I always go prepared with a large scarf, cardigans and long pants. Hey, you've gotta be respectful. You'd find that in some cities like Tangier and Tetouan, while it is modern there are hardly any local girls wearing sleeveless shirts. In Casablanca everything got shorter and skimpier. But 'tis better to err on the side of caution when you are not sure how to dress.

A Riad
One another note for female travellers, the tea saloons are mainly for men only, I don't think that they'd chase you away but it is a male domain and you'd be hard pressed to find any females there at all. I heard there are some which are female friendly.. but I don't think it was something I was dying to do- so I didn't make any effort to find one. Seems that the places for local women to mingle is at the Hammam... now that's something I'd like to do! Oh, Mosque too are off-limits to non-Muslims. So do ask before barging in ;) Some place don't let you take pictures.. but these are the 'standard' kind of things. Life also starts late, people and stores start buzzing around 11-ish, people have late dinner and the street crowd is still 'alive' at 10pm. 

One more tit-bit, the word 'riad' comes from the Arabian term for garden, "ryad". A lot of old houses are being renovated as hotels are called riad when they have a garden in the middle. Those without are called "dar". A stay in a nice riad (or a dar which is usually cheaper) is worth your while but read enough reviews to choose a good one and not an 'imposter'. ;)

So now, let's get to it.

Here's our itinerary:

Tangier - Tetouan - Chefchaouen - Fes - Meknes - Rabat - Casablanca


Tangier, Tetoun & Chefchaouen are all a part of the Spanish protectorate, so you could easily see these influences all around.

We flew in to Tangier and rented a car at the airport. If you could drive, this is by far the cheapest option of getting around. Just make sure you rent a GPS too, do not depend on road signs. Other friends who came to the wedding had experiences being stopped by the police in Casablanca to just give you some trouble to get some money. So wear your seat belts and have all your papers (passport, car registration..) in place - don't do anything illegal too. We did not have any problems personally though.

The beach is not the type that I'd swim in (I am a beach snob) but it is pleasant for walks and gives the city an airy feel. There is less tourist and less number of people hassling you which I liked. The city was clean too.

The medina was really rustic, well lived in, rustic - no 'touristic' feeling at all.. you still see people living and working in small little 'stores', making bread, selling stuff.. being just by the coast give it a very nice feeling. One side of the Medina overlooks the ocean and over these ancient walls... lots of development is taking place. Oddly the medina felt undisturbed by what is happening around it.. maybe that's how the Moroccan Medinas managed to survived for centuries.

For the night, Fred has a friend who has a sister who worked in a chain of swanky hotels and got us a room here for free.. connections, this is how things work around here ;) 


When we visited, I remarked how cleaned it was... the reason we soon found out, the King was there for a visit. I am not sure if it's always like that but it was clean and organised.

Again, you don't get much tourist here and many people spoke Spanish and French. There is also a lot of Andalusian influence still in these parts.

Medina of Tétouan is the UNESCO list and most probably has not changed much in the last few hundred years. The royal palace in Tétouan is situated just outside and by one of the entrances to the Medina. The city is easy to discover by foot, with nice public squares and old buildings.  It is a really pleasant place to walk around. Again the city feels more like something you live in rather than something to wow tourist. So depending on if you travel for 'wows' to for the want to experiencing how the locals live, you level of excitement over this city will differ.


Now this place has a 'wow' factor.  First of all, it is in different shades of blue and Chefchaouen is situated in the Rif Mountains giving it a surreal landscape suited for picture taking.

We made only a day trip here but it was good enough to get some good pictures and off we go to Fez. Maybe we are not at the peak season because it was not too packed and we like the easy pace of the place. But a large number of hotels and souvenir shops seem to indicate that many tourist do come.By the way, the Chefchaouen region is supposed to be one of the main producers of cannabis in Morocco. I didn't. 


By far the most 'wow' in diversity and complexity of the Medina. Medina of Fez (another UNESCO site) is the capital founded by the Idrisid dynasty between 789 and 808 A.D and home to the oldest university in the world. Many people has seen Fez in pictures at least. The colourful Medina is vibrant with life. It is also home to many chic hotels and riads.

This is one of the places where we stayed 2 nights and had a guide to bring us around the Medina. Was really worthwhile. We stayed at Riad Laaroussa and it was superb. Place was nice and the people where great. Definitely would recommend this.

A note though, be careful of where to park and who carries your luggage. While we ate at a few places, the dinner at the hotel was Fred's favourite.

I also tried the Moroccan Hammam for the first time at the hotel too... it is splendid.. awesome.. greattt.. ahh... best scrub ever.. the massage was also good too ;)


Driving from Fez to Meknes, we visited the Volubilis (another UNESCO site) this is the Mauritanian capital, founded in the 3rd century B.C., is an important outpost of the Roman Empire. It is worth a see for the landscape.

The City of Meknes (also a UNESCO site) had quite a few sights sights to visit but are frankly not worth the walk under the hot summer sun as they are out of the Medina. By this time we were also exhausted by all the travelling and were worn out a bit, also now the we were really starting to feel the summer heat which was less obvious along the coast.

We stayed in another Riad, a bit less nice than the one in Fez (but cost less too) with lovely people and a nice dinner at the Riad. If you find a good Riad with a good cook, you don't have to go far to find good food. It is also stress free! 


We made a short detour on our way to Casablanca to visit Rabat - capital of Morocco. Drove around the city a bit and went to The Mausoleum of Mohammed V & Hassan Tower in Rabat and call it a day. Most probably it is worth a night for people that like cities, it seemed modern and lively enough to hold enough fun for shopping and eating but we were hurrying to our last and final destination...


I read that the film Casablanca was not film in Casablanca.. but I think this must be the most popular 'name' that most people would know. A huge contrast with the more conservative cities, it is the essence of a modern developing city with the largest mall in Africa or so they told me. The mall's pretty nice and everyone was impressed by the aquarium in the mall. What hit me is that if you came from big Asian cities, big malls are a way of life- so you tend to be pretty 'meh' about it but get excited about the Medinas.. while most locals are excited to show you the mall instead.

For the wedding, the bride and groom rented bungalows along the Dar Bouazza beach (we stayed there 2 nights). In the bungalow, there were many parties and beer pongs played. Friends of the bride and groom came from all over but mostly France where the bride is from and where the couple is now staying.

The wedding was definitely something of a first for me. The bride made lots of gorgeous gown changes and each is accompanied by a group traditional dancers. Dinner starts very late, I think it was about midnight and people mostly talked, drank tea and dance. The guest had lots of fun without alcohol- which is pretty hard to accomplish! I also fell asleep in the middle of the ceremony, it was 3 am or so.. and I dozed off.. but I woke up refreshed and party ended 5 am I think... this is also a first, sleeping at a wedding.

The bride also organised that all the girls get to rent a Kaftan, a traditional Moroccan dress. The couple also made many efforts to bring their overseas guests around and organising everything..puhh the amount of work. Good thing both of them are fit handball players. I'd be dead tired. Amazing effort on the couple's side.

Last thoughts

By the end of this trip, I was exhausted... If I had more time I would love to visit the mountains, Atlas and Rif and see the desserts but you can't do everything.. and I didn't see the goats climbing trees too. darn.

Here are 2 of my favourite things from the trip (other than the sights and landscape):

1. FOOD. I love the tagine especially with lamb but there are plenty of other great stuff to eat. I love the Couscous dishes and the mashed vegetables particular the mashed eggplant (carrots and cauliflower are apparently nice mashed too.. who's have thought? Oh, and you wouldn't miss Moroccan tea - everyone will serve you some ;)

2. Moroccan bath (hammam). There are many places to do it, but as a first timer - I choose my hotel for some privacy. Coupled with a massage afterwards, you come out feeling like polished silver!

So, did I enjoy it? Yes. Will I come back? Not likely. There are many more places that I'd like to plant my flag on and I'd come back if there is a special occasion but otherwise.. there are many white spots on the world map for me to fill.

Follow this trip in pictures. I took close to 700 pictures so these are some of the few random ones I chose.

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