It’s been a while since our last post and we know it! Therefore we are treating you with a massive post about our 3 weeks in Morocco. Our first time in Africa was beyond expectations and it has grown into an experience we will never forget…
It was truly our first time stepping into Africa, the land of our ancestors where humanity originally came from. Morocco was our choice since we heard lots of good things about it. Coming from Spain, we entered through the closest harbor, Tangier. The weather and the landscape were kinds of the same but it changed as soon as we met our host. Never before we had a pickup service when we stayed somewhere, only in Morocco. Because we booked his apartment, he picked us up at the harbor for free, gave us lots of information, served us breakfast while himself is fasting, and even fixed us a Moroccan number. That’s the real Moroccan hospitality for you…
However, Tangier doesn’t really have much to offer for us besides the very busy medina. Since we came around the middle of Ramadhan, the fasting month, it still wasn’t as crowded as usual. The old city has its charm, but it’s definitely not for the fainted heart or hygiene freaks. In Ramadhan, the Muslims fast from before sunrise till sundown. A whole 16 hours of no eating and drinking!! In this period, the shops, restaurants, cafés were mostly closed in the day and open in the evening. Supermarkets are open normally because people still buy stuff to prepare for breakfast (breaking the fasting) in the evening.
After Tangier, we quickly moved to Chefchaouen, a very picturesque city that no one should miss. The houses in the medina are painted blue, as initially practiced by the Jewish community back in the days. The blue color represents the sky, which reminds them of heaven and God. Due to religious tensions, the Jews fled the country, but how come the blue painting remains? People say the blue color repels mosquitoes, others say it keeps the place cool, or to represent the Mediterranean sea, or simply because it looks nice. Though some say that it’s just to attract tourists. Whatever the motive is, there’s no doubt about its beauty. Just stroll around and get lost in those blue alleys, blue stairs and blue doors with white and beige tints in between.
Leaving the blues behind, we went further south to Fez. It’s known for its tanneries with pools of colorful dyes and curing mixture. This practice has been running for almost a thousand years and hasn’t changed. Spared from the modern day chemicals, these tanneries still use plant-based dyes from poppy flowers (red), indigo (blue), and henna (orange), cedarwood (brown), mint (green), and saffron (yellow). Focusing on the colors can be a good distraction from the pungent smell of the curing mixtures. The first mixture is made of cow urine, quicklime, salt and water to loosen the hair and excess debris. Then after drying it goes to the second mixture of water and pigeon poop (contains ammonia) to soften the leather. It might be a good idea to bring mint leaves to make this visit more bearable 😉
As you can see, the workers plunge into the pools where they knead the leather. Of course, without mint leaves on their nose… Fez also has a labyrinth-like medina with several very intense marketplaces. We were lost trying to find our homestay, located in one of the many small alleys in the medina. The GPS couldn’t find our location, even technology failed on us! Many people tried to trick us saying they will guide us, but we knew these guys were not to be trusted and they would ask money eventually. Though people warned us about this, we would have known anyway. Unless you are very naive, you will be able to see their ‘fishy’ looks. In the end, we asked a random guy and he was kindly showed us the way despite being in a rush himself.
Ait Bouguemez (Atlas)
Going further south, we went to Azrou, a quiet city in the middle Atlas and from there to Ait Bouguemez, known as the happy valley. By chance (internet) we found an amazing guide who showed us incredible landscapes and gave us unforgettable experiences. We cannot imagine it being the same without him.
Blooming flower beds in front of the majestic mountains, narrow canyons, natural pyramids, having lunch and siesta in front of the waterfall, riding a mule, having dinner with a Berber family. That’s where we had our best tajine ever.
My parents, my brother and his girlfriend joined us on the last day of Ramadhan for 9 days of family-traveling through Morocco. Our main goal was to take them to the legendary Sahara desert. From the camel’s back, we enjoyed the scenery of orange sand dunes, blue sky and a serene breeze of wind. We stayed in the desert camp under the starry sky. Truly a magical wonder!
Along the way to Marakkech, we visited a date plantation. Now we know that date trees are dioecious or double house, which means where one tree has female flowers and the other tree has male flowers. The fertilization occurs manually. People climb up and spread the seeds to the female.
Another cool sight in Morocco is the Kasbah, which is the keep of the old city or the fortress. It’s made of natural materials, like rocks, earth, mud, wood, makes it look like castles coming out of the earth. Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou is the most popular one, where you will see loads of tourist buses. For us, that degrades the experience so we would rather vote for Kasbah Telouet as the most special one. Despite the ordinary look on the outside, the rich interior offers colorful tiles, decorated ceilings, scenic windows and of course the non-existing amount of tourists. When we were there was no one else, this place really stole our hearts. How it came to be was because of the wealth of the original owner, Thami El Glaoui, known as the lord of the atlas. He is the chief of the Glaoua tribe, who made his fortune in the taxation of agriculture and mineral resources.
Arriving in the infamous square in Marrakech, we were just stunned by all kinds of things going on there, simultaneously. Musicians, dancers, snake charmers, people selling toys, the juice stands calling out for us, persistent restaurant salesmen, and of course the drug dealers. It was the first time we had aggressive salesmen, almost like trying to pick a fight with us. We went up to the rooftop cafe to see everything that was going on there, from a distance. We got the view without the hassle of those salesmen. Really worth it…
With advice from the local, we went to Sidi Kaouki, a town close to Essaouira on the Atlantic coast. It has the nice beach view minus the crowds from Essaouira. Again from another local, we heard about another very quiet beach and we enjoyed lunch with fresh grilled fish in a cave, hidden from the sun.
All in all, we’ve had epic scenic views so diverse like one day we were in Switzerland and another day in South America. We’ve had genuine hospitality, hassles of people offering their service, tourism ruining experiences and we’ve also seen and experienced dirtiness over and over again. The good, the bad, and the ugly, sometimes all happening at the same time. But that’s the magic of Morocco!
Our travel advice for Morocco:
In case our post allures you to visit Morocco, we put together some tips below:
It’s no secret that people try to rip you off in touristic places. So bargain and play hard to get, especially for a taxi, souvenirs or food. Once you stay a couple of days in the country, you will get the feeling of what the normal price is. Then you will also be more comfortable in bargaining.
- Go to lesser known places
Popular places are, in our opinion, overrated. If you see it in the top 10 of TripAdvisor, chances are you are not alone. Tons of people will already be there swarming the place with their phones and selfie sticks. If you’re not a fan of that, you better escape to the quiet hidden gems. Ask locals, go deeper in your search than the top 10, go to places hard to reach, then you’ll find the serene beauty, just like how we found Ait Bouguemez and Sidi Kaouki!
We (still) believe in humanity. We believe that if you respect people, they will respect you back. The Moroccans have their culture, their habit, and their struggle. Do them a favor and try to respect them. Practically speaking, it’s about avoiding revealing clothes, and it shows how respectful you are to their culture…
- Take a guy with you
Traveling as a couple is apparently advantageous compared to a girl alone or multiple girls. We’ve heard a lot about girls getting harassed and being treated aggressively. With us, they were never aggressive, except that time in Marrakech but Marrakech is Marrakesh 🙂 So having a guy beside you is a safer way of traveling. This might sound like anti-feminist, but that’s how it is in Morocco…
As usual, for even more and detailed pictures, head over to our pictures page that is now fully updated !!