Morocco, Cats & Cous Cous

Who would have known that the men of Morocco were such big fans of the Spice Girls?! Seriously, within two hours of touching down in the country we had already been referred to as the Spice Girls. I was thenceforth deemed to be Posh Spice, although we did lack a Baby Spice so spent the entirety of our almost-three week stint in the country looking for a suitable Baby – we found many.

I feel like this needs to be catagorised somewhat otherwise I’m just going to get lost, so I will take you on a little guided tour from city to city…

Fez

Yes, this is where the name for the little red hat with the tassel comes from. No, said hats are actually really difficult to find. So initially it’s a little bit of a culture shock. It’s like an intense Mediterranean riddle of streets but with a definite North African vibe, especially considering the intense heat and the fact that we had decided to travel there during Ramadan!

Getting lost in the medina of Fez is very easy. Unfortunately, getting people to point you in the right direction is almost impossible as not many locals speak good English (cue my minimal memory of GCSE French) and most people are just trying to direct you to the tanneries anyway. Fortunately we did escape the medina in the end, although that did happen to be at the hottest point in the middle of the day…

Fez can be summed up as an experience. I loved it, of course, and some day I will go back and conquer the medina.

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Day Trip!

We got a fabulous cab driver (who tried to photobomb a lot of our selfies much to our delight) and he took us to the ancient site of Volubilis, the town of Moulay Idriss and the city of Meknes. Not much to say really other than it’s possibly worth going to these places. Volubilis is incredible, Moulay Idriss will give you some fabulous views if you can brave the walk up to the lookout in the heat, and Meknes is just another example of a working Moroccan city. It’s full of stray cats and restaurant owners trying to out-do each other and get you, the prize tourist catch, into their empty restaurant.

We only had two true fiascos that day. One being our cab driver fell asleep while we were away in Meknes for a while and then when we returned none of us had the balls or the heartlessness to wake him. The other was when we were stopped at a police checkpoint. Albeit we did make more of this than it was, discussing in detail how we would escape the cab and hide out as Moroccan goatherds until the whole thing had blown over, it was a little disconcerting, if only because it was getting really quite hot in the car.

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Chefchaouen

The blue city! It was very blue and it was very pretty. Chefchaouen is situated in the Rif Mountains in Northern Morocco and it is far more laid back than Fez or Meknes. We stayed for a number of days while we all relaxed, slept a lot, found a couple of places that sold pizzas (we’re Brits abroad, sorry) and I honed my bartering skills. I managed to get a scarf down to 65 dirhams, still probably tenfold its actual value but it’s a generically nice enough scarf and 65 dirhams amounts to about £4.30 so I can’t complain.

The fun fact that we learnt about Chefchaouen quite quickly is that it’s a very relaxed place for more reasons than just its scenic tranquility. Usually more noticeable outside of Ramadan, Chefchaouen is a weed-smokers paradise. The Rif Mountains produce approximately 42% (as our Lonely Planet guidebook told us) of the global supply of marijuana. We were approached countless times by men asking firstly if we were American (no) and secondly if we wanted to smoke (again, no). On our walk up to the beautiful Spanish mosque which overlooks the town there were a number of shifty looking guys heading off the beaten track, there was a distinct strong odour and then we bumped into a man who later offered to show us his “farm”. We declined and he called us paranoid, however I couldn’t help but think that in fact he was the paranoid one. We later found out that it was for the best we avoided this man’s farm. A guy staying at our hostel told us that he had gone along with these offers a few days before and had subsequently ended up being locked in a room until he handed over enough money that he let them leave. He told us in such a blase manner that I was a little confused, but then again maybe he was just too stoned to care.IMG_7048 Tetouan to Tangier…

So this was one day. It felt like a week. If you ever happen to be in Morocco, more specifically Chefchaouen, and think it’s a good idea to go to Asilah via Tetouan, it’s not. Don’t do it. You’ll rue the day you ever made that choice.

We got on a “luxury” coach and cruised out of the Rif Mountains towards Tetouan, a little further North, expecting that we could grab a Grand Taxi which could easily ferry us over to the coast and our next destination, Asilah. I had read a few less than positive stories about Tetouan but, in the way of things, these stories online tend to be overblown and unrealistic. Therefore we went for it.

As soon as we arrived in Tetouan we were immediately approached by a number of men who were offering to get Grand Taxis for us. One man, draped in the universal symbol of authority which is a high-vis jacket, dashed off down the road to retrieve a taxi for us. In the mean time we were approached by another man who told us not to trust him. He continued to lead us away from the coach terminal towards where he said the taxis were. At this point high-vis guy came dashing back and chased after us. He exchanged words in Arabic with our new guide and they seemed to become rather heated. It is, I would imagine, the first and last time that two men will fight over me.

After our new guide reluctantly won us over, he led us to a line of taxis outside his hotel. All of the drivers were telling us that we couldn’t pay less than 600 dirhams, but we weren’t about to buy into an overpriced taxi journey with one of our guide’s friends, from whom he was likely getting his cut of the 600. So, yet again, we walked sternly back to the bus station under the midday heat and found a new helper. He told us he worked at the station and would go to the taxi park to get us a much cheaper ride. An hour and a half later, when he still hadn’t returned, we made some inquiries and it turned out that he in fact did not work at the station and wasn’t coming back.

After a gruelling 5 hours sat in Tetouan, we departed on yet another “luxury” coach to Tangier, our last hope. As the sun began to set, we pulled up in Tangier, jumped in the first taxi we could find and eventually arrived in Asilah. That was a long day indeed.

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Asilah

With the beauty of a coastal Mediterranean town, the cooling sea breeze that cut through the overwhelming heat and the huge amount of stray cats one would expect of any typical Moroccan town, Asilah was a pleasant change from our other stops. Albeit with a couple of hiccups along the way…

On our first night, we ended up eating dinner with our legs balanced up on our chairs and our eyelines firmly fixed at each other. We had attracted a very particular cat to the table – not out of the ordinary since it happened a lot in Chefchaouen – because this cat had the most extremely prolapsed anus one could ever fear to see. Caught between thinking that it was either some sort of afterbirth or perhaps a loose intestine, it definitely put us off of our food. We lived in fear of that cat for the rest of the stay.

After we had recovered from the shock of that feline encounter, been to the beach and been followed by half the male population of the town, and further explored the beautiful little medina, I had one thing on my mind. Henna. Henna is, I imagine, a big business in Morocco as tourists adore it – yes, I am one of those tourists. Having always been a henna fan, I thought it would be a shame to miss an opportunity. So when a few Spanish speaking women who knew no English lured me over and started piping the brown paste onto both of my arms at once, I didn’t really want to say no. Telling them to stop was something I should have considered though. I did manage to pull away eventually, but not before they could grab two of my friends and illustrate their skin either. Then they started demanding money. Refusing to give them the money which they requested and with some local men stepping in to help us out, the biggest argument erupted. When the henna ladies began to wield stools and shoes as weapons, we decided it was time to go. We scattered, eventually regrouped and then ran back to the hostel. There is no such thing as a restless day.

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Rabat

Our first train journey to the capital, Rabat, was oddly uneventful. When we arrived, we were met by one of the men who worked at the hostel and walked back toward to medina. It was a huge medina. Not as big as Fez but still a bit daunting when compared to Chefchaouen or Asilah. This was no normal hostel too, it was a surf school. None of us could surf and in our whole stay only one of us even tried (hint: it wasn’t me).

It was in Rabat that we met some wonderfully fun American travellers, both in the hostel and out in the medina. This led us to celebrating the 4th July among the Moroccans breaking the fast of Ramadan on the beach. It was a surreal experience and one that I won’t easily forget. It’s amusing how much you can learn about other countries from the travellers you meet. With the American students who put on the Independence Day festivities were also a handful of Moroccan students – a group of fabulous individuals who I would very much hope to meet again some day. Not only because they were so sweet, friendly and helpful but also because they took us to a karaoke bar. I love karaoke.

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Marrakech & Ourika

Easily the most well known city to the outside world, Marrakech didn’t disappoint (even if the heat was blistering). It was the first hostel which we stayed in that had air conditioning, which was a total bonus and went down a treat when trying to get to sleep at night.

The main square in Marrakech is an experience all by itself. The snake charmers, monkeys and over ten separate orange juice stands did add to the charm – even if I’m not a fan of keeping animals in those sorts of conditions or orange juice with pulp. We did once venture out into the maze of street food stalls with almost our entire hostel to have dinner together which was an experience. The owner did deviously charge us for the bread but I’m willing to let that slide considering what a nice night we had overall. This was only made better by the fact that we then went to a bar. An actual bar. I only found out in Marrakech that it is in fact illegal for a Moroccan to purchase alcohol during Ramadan, so the tourist bars in Marrakech definitely made up for two weeks of semi-sobriety.

From Marrakech we also ventured out on another day trip to ascend the Ourika waterfalls. When we were told that we would be visiting these waterfalls, no mention of the extent and nature of the walking was actually made. Therefore I can now proudly state that I have hiked up and literally climbed a series of waterfalls in flip flops. It was an incredible day. I would relive it over and over if I could.

The morning that we were actually headed home was oddly sad. Going to the airport in the morning was more difficult that I could have imagined, and that’s not only because I’m scarcely a morning person. I was taken back to when we arrived in the country and when we were picked up from the airport by a taxi driver whose car boot was half filled with vegetables. I was a little scared if I’m honest, but in the end it turned out to be one of the best little adventures I’ve had and I won’t be forgetting it that quickly.

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So what did I learn from this Emma vs. Life…

  1. If the cat looks like that and it makes you want to vomit, it’s probably a prolapsed anus
  2. There is only so much couscous a human can eat before needing a pizza
  3. Trust people, because when you go travelling half the fun is in making new friends and learning some new things along the way – so put yourself out there

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