When I wrote notes for this post, they went like this: visit the local bakeries and eat all the things for three dollars and pretend you are in 1920 (minus the tv). visit the hotel in tangier. and also go to tangier purely because it is tangier. hunt down a piece of giant crumpet.
For a very brief guide to Morocco, that’ll probably do you. They are certainly some of my stronger memories. But for a guide that is a wee bit more informative (but that’s all I’m promising), follow me…
I base a lot of what I do around food, mostly the eating of. This was what my decision to visit Morocco was based on. I don’t know why Will agreed… probably because ‘what the hell, we are already in Granada.’
So we jumped on a train, a ferry and then into a taxi with a lunatic at the helm and found ourselves in the heart of old Morocco. Without a lot (or…ahem…any) prior research or knowledge of the country- apart from I really like tagine and oranges- we found ourselves in a hectic, touristy place where we knew no-one and nothing. Not even the language, because it turns out French is the widely used second language in Morocco! (See, no exaggerations, we really had no clue.) So pay heed to my first piece of advice- I wish there had been somebody there to tell us.
Before you arrive in Morocco, organise some volunteering or some couch-surfing or something you can do that will place you right in the middle of some regular Moroccan lives. Or speak French. Because if you don’t speak French, you don’t really know anything about the country and you have no real plans, you will probably find yourself following the hordes along the tourist trail and meeting the sort of locals that feed on the naivety of the hordes. And this would be (and was, for us) a huge shame I think. Morocco is quite a beautiful country (in a very desert-y way) and the locals, the real, locals are amazing, hospitable, friendly people. Rather a different breed to those afore-mentioned locals that line the tourist trail. But unfortunately it is quite hard to meet anybody real when you are only visiting places that aren’t really real. Beautiful, picturesque, lovely… but not real.
So piece of advice the first, and most important: Dive right in, deep, and you will have an incredibly rich experience. Especially if you time it well enough to be part of a local festival or holiday. Remember that and Morocco will reward you.
After making a lot of new friends and memories, it’ll be sightseeing for you. Because no matter how ‘authentic’ a trip you are going for, you will do some sightseeing. And if you don’t, why? You are in a new place, there are so many new sights! These are quite good:
Chefchaouen. Insanely touristy -think all the shops sell shit you don’t need and all the restaurants sell overpriced, rather rubbish food- but it is all blue. A thousand shades of blue. A blue medina that is a lot of fun to walk around. Except the kasbah, which is orange- all the better to rock it. Mountains curl protectively around the little village, there are lots of vantage points to climb to and gaze into the picturesque distance, and if you search a little you can find small nooks or crannies (or both) that locals hunker down in and munch on awesome cheap pastries and sweet tea. Do search a little. There are also a whole bunch of fantastic art deco postcards to be collected- but DO NOT post them in the quaint little post box you find hanging on a wall in the village. They will be delivered to nowhere (or somewhere that isn’t the homes of your loved ones).
Essouira. Now, you must visit this town. Not because it is on the coast- the windy coast that is perfect for any kind of board/sail/water sport. Not because there is a beach, with camels on it. Not because it has a market place thoroughfare that is bursting to the alleyways with locals buying mint and cumin and dates. Not because of those alleyways which lead to lots of interesting corners. Not because of the very photogenic nature of the city or the refreshing sea breeze as you wander along the old city’s ramparts. They are all reasons to visit, but they are not the reason. The reason you should visit Essouira is because it is the town with all the vowels. ALL the vowels. That’s all. (All the other reasons too though- it really is a wonderful town to do some relaxed meandering through.
Rabat. Because Fez is awful, awful, awful and Rabat is like a better version of it. I’m being unfair- probably Fez isn’t that bad (??). If you have no problem with piles of people crammed into the twistiest tiniest maze in all the lands and other people frantically looming out of everywhere wanting to sell anything, then Fez will probably reward you with some (very well) hidden gems. I, however, am decidedly not one of those people. Huge crowds make me cross, mazes make me claustrophobic and I don’t want to talk about those people trying to sell me all the things. Rabat is a much more sedate, navigable, welcoming Fez. Rabat is to Fez what Adelaide is to Sydney. It has wending lanes lined with cartloads of fragrant herbs, mountains of fresh spices, live sheep, fresh bread, pastries, sweets and milkshake bars- which you should pop into for an avocado milkshake. It has shops filled roof to floor with vibrant leatherwork and pointy shoes. It’s on the coast, it has a wonderful kasbah perched on a small cliff and being the capital, it is home to lots of places to eat- if you’re willing to explore. It’s wide, tree lined streets make the new town accessible and rather relaxing to wander through. It’s a pretty great city to explore Morocco’s past and present simultaneously.
Marrakech. Of course, Marrakech. This was the only place in Morocco where I was tempted to fill my bags with useless pretties… think blocks of kohl, filigree everything, tiny marzipan fruits and dainty glass vials of god knows what. These are some of the things you can find in the alluring alleys of the medina of Marrakech. As well as everything else you could possibly ever want. And once the lanes become claustrophobic, or you have had enough of getting lost for the day- although it is actually fun to do that here, the Djemaa el-Fna (or ‘that really big square’) is where you will want to head for a glass of orange juice, a chunk of the tenderest lamb and some superb people watching. You can create for yourself a wonderfully filling, varied and delicious dinner by hopping from food stall to food stall here- follow the locals, there are lots to choose from. Just stay away from the men with the snakes- they are all about trying to rid you of ALL of your money. This is the place to really tourist out- there are wonderful museums, palaces, tombs, galleries, parks, restaurants to visit and amazing riads to rest your head in. We stayed in a beautiful old riad, in what was luxury for us and probably pretty damn nice for everyone else, for $30 a night each. This is the place for it!
And do go to Tangier. It isn’t that pretty but it is pretty real. The local coffee shops are completely wonderful with their old men chatting over croissants and cafe au lait, the streets are old Moroccan mingled with old European, you can people watch from the cafes and squares Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs drank and languished in. The streets are wide, the hills are gentle, the sea breeze is wafting. You will walk through literary history and the streets are thick with evocation. It’s Paris without the tourists and the tower.
And the food… if you are volunteering you will definitely be eating some wonderful Moroccan food. And everywhere else you may have to hunt a little and risk a little but it is worth it for juicy hot tagines, amazingly sweet sweets and crumbly pastries, AVOCADO MILKSHAKES!, giant meat sandwiches, and weird Moroccan street food which is tasty and odd. And DO NOT leave without eating a piece of giant crumpet. You’ll find it.