Likes & Dislikes

Opinions

“A few days ago I got back from a trip to Morocco. We started from Casablanca, and visited Marrakesh, Fez, Rabat and back to Casablanca, then flew home from there. Phew…
(By the way, to give you an idea of my travel experience: I’m no expert, but I’m what you might call a seasoned traveler. Much of the last ten years has been dedicated to this pursuit, both as a job and a hobby. I’ve been all around the Eurasian region, and the Middle East, from Muscat and Kabul as far as Delhi. I only write this to show that I know my way around, and have experience of both five-star luxury and the proverbial pigsty.

Morocco is a fascinating country, and well worth visiting, but you should probably leave your European standards at home. Don’t be alarmed if people poke you, grab you by the sleeve, etc. – or drive like maniacs. That’s just the way things are here, and most of the population are devout Muslims. So the point is, don’t be shocked if things are a little different. Try to go with the flow, but also pay close attention to how much money you’re spending! As disinfectant, I’d recommend brandy or gin – they worked for me, at any rate!
(BV, 2017)

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“If you’re looking for a truly exotic experience at an affordable price, and you don’t mind a few rough edges, it would be a real shame not to check out Morocco. This North-African country is not for novice travelers, because you could easily end up paying way over the odds for everything you buy, and suffer some kind of nervous breakdown. It’s important to haggle decisively with vendors, and keep your wits about you!

Personally, I really didn’t care for Morocco. We travelled in a triangle from from Casablanca to Marrakesh to Rabat and back by car. The dirt and stink were omnipresent, and I found it really unpleasant to have to haggle over everything. Someone even hit me in the Marrakesh bazaar because I didn’t want to hand over paper money for his services as a ‘guide.’ It may be true what others say, and maybe there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had in Morocco for more hardened travellers, but for us it was unfortunately just a big disappointment, and we won’t be going anywhere similar for our holidays in future. (2018)


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“We took a long walk in the old town of Tangiers, and the view from Cap Spartel is spectacular. The highlight of the week for me was definitely Chefchaouen, which looks just like a beautiful picture, and is full of cats. This place alone is definitely worth 2-3 days. I started in the Medina of Fez, then went on to the oasis at Jardin Jnan Sbil, which was like a calm sea after the old town. A relative of our Couchsurfing host here prepared a henna painting, which is practically obligatory for girls and women. There are lots of 1-2-day bus tours (www.viator.com) of the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara and certain Berber villages, all of which depart from Marrakesh. (The Berbers are a people indigenous to Northwest Africa). Most of these tours involve camel rides, which I tried, but certainly won’t try again. Even before I climbed on I wasn’t sure whether it was a good idea. The camels didn’t seem too happy about the arrangement either, and I’ve since read that the conditions these animals are held in often amount to animal cruelty.” (2020)

Morocco - arcade - z.h. photo

Practicals

Transport

Driving

“Morocco’s roads are more or less okay, although in the Atlas Mountains we often came across roads washed away by rain, and bridges that hadn’t been repaired in years, which sometimes necessitated a bit of off-road driving. The roads swarm with traffic cops whose only aim is to extort some money, and we came across them frequently, once or twice in the middle of nowhere, but most often in the vicinity of settlements. A Moroccan road trip cannot be taken without a few police stops en route. Usually, it’s all about the fine. They like to jump out of nowhere, from behind a tree, especially after a 60 sign, and if you’re doing 64, they’ll come after you. We were given fines of 100-200 dirhams on several occasions.” (2018)

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"I took the train from Casablanca to Marrakesh. Since our original train was canceled, the next one was so crowded that not everyone could fit in: I was only given a seat in the doorway. Although smoking is prohibited on the train, passengers walk out to the doorway to smoke en-route. Usually hashish. And there are some guys that offer it, too, before adding that “it’s from the mountains, not European shit. It’s a real knock-out, buddy.” I refused, reflecting that it might not be the best idea to wander alone through a big foreign city while completely stoned. During the long train journey, I chatted with a couple of people, and after a couple of joints, a young guy was happy to interpret all the way with his minimal English skills, so I could chat with anyone who turned around at the end of the train.” (2018)

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"For the four of us, renting a car was the quickest and most convenient option. Most places, especially the remotest ones, are of course most easily reached if you have your own set of wheels. Alternatively, there are cheap bus services, and so-called Grand Taxis between the cities – the sort that waits until they’re full before departing. There is also a good train service in the north.

I didn’t rent a car from home before arriving in Morocco, despite the many recommendations of online car rental in internet posts. Instead, we arranged a car in Marrakech the day after our arrival, although we were disadvantaged from the start because it was both the end of Ramadan and a Saturday, so a lot of shops were closed. Fortunately, the business instinct was not completely dead, and the winner among the companies researched online and then called by telephone was Majdoline Travel. We got a brand new Dacia Logan for €28 a day, which included full deductible cancellation insurance, which could be paid by card, and unlike the big multinational firms, they did not insist on freezing a sum of money in my account as collateral. In addition, they are very close to Djemaa El Fna Square and the medina, where most riad accommodation is. The car was picked up in the medina and returned at the airport at no extra charge. In high season (spring and fall) it may be worth arranging the car in advance, since presumably then it will be harder to get one so cheaply. A fair business.

Most destinations in Morocco can be reached on a normal asphalt road with a normal car, an SUV is only needed if you specifically want to off-road. There are many opportunities for this in the Draa Valley, the Sahara, and the Atlas Mountains, but renting an off-road vehicle is much more expensive, and for us, the Dacia was enough for the tour. Gasoline is cheaper than in Europe, at a little more than a dollar a liter.” (2018)

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“From the fifth day, we rented a car and kept it right until we dropped it off at the airport in Fez. We booked the car on the Discover Car Hire website and picked it up from Holiday Inn Car Rental, and since the place written on the confirmation document was not the same as the pick-up point where the car was first taken to us, the guy didn’t have his credit card reader and we escaped the 10,000 dirham deposit (approx. $1,000). A credit card is a must if you do have to pay a deposit, and we didn’t find any places where that amount would be much less.

A car can also be rented locally, which may be cheaper and less cumbersome, but we wanted the security of knowing it was booked. The extra cost was because we didn’t drop off the car in the same city where we picked it up. If I were to redesign the trip, I would plan it more carefully (e.g. the desert tour could have been planned so as to take us back not to Marrakesh but to Fez). We got a car with a perforated wheel, which was revealed by the constantly beeping low tire pressure signal, but since the smallest village also has a gas station and pressure gauge, we inflated it every few hours and left the problem for the next customer to deal with.

Gas was around 11 dirhams. Traffic in cities is really as atrocious as they say, it is by no means recommended for beginners, and even tests the nerves of those with great driving skills. There is hardly a soul outside the cities, so the situation is much better there. The roads are full of police officers, at least 10 checks can be expected on a 200km stretch, but they focus almost exclusively on penalizing speed limit violations (so much so that even though there is an end-of-city sign, you can’t step on the gas).” (2018)

Biking

“A big change from Spain. The wide, high-quality road we’d previously been used to was now full of potholes, people, cars, motorcycles, trucks, and animal-drawn carts, all using it without the slightest awareness of any traffic rules. More precisely, a single rule prevailed: the bigger vehicle always has priority. The ruined houses resembled dirty, yellowish-brown cubes with small windows. There was no sidewalk, just dust, dirt and horrible old, crashed cars, motorcycles, and trucks. Many just leave them on the side of the road, because in the heat and dust they frequently break down. As far as I know, Morocco is a world leader in the frequency and severity of road accidents. Not a very encouraging fact for a cyclist.”

Morocco - extreme traffic jam in the morning

Morocco - - Marrakesh - spectacular railway station - o.a. photo

Morocco - Marrakesh - railway station - main hall - l.b. photo

Food

“Hygiene: The accommodation we stayed in was all fine, and in cities, the rubbish is swept up every morning. There is plenty of dust in the bazaars, and the smells of many animals suffuse the country. We didn’t get food poisoning, which is a minor miracle because of the raw meats stored without a refrigerator, though of course, we didn’t dare eat in any of the slightly more suspicious places. We were a little more cowardly than the previous time, and maybe that was why the trip became less low-budget.” (2018)

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“Of the main dishes, the tajine was my favorite – it is a meal which can be prepared in almost endless ways. Tajine is actually the name of the clay pot in which it is made and in which it is served. It’s a great little invention, just put the meat, vegetables, spices, and fruit into it and push it into the oven. What is special is that the food is not fried or roasted, but rather steamed, and so the taste will be amazingly fresh and intense, and the meat will be buttery. I tried many things, but the absolute taste bonanza that won my “finest food I’ve ever eaten” award was of this type: it consisted of lamb, orange onion jam, raisins, and sesame seeds. If you’re in Marrakesh, don’t miss the Jad Jamal restaurant in Ben Youssef Square. Even if you’re not hungry, you can relax here, at an oasis of tranquility in the middle of the ever-bustling Medina. From the roof terrace, you can see the whole old town and, in addition to enjoying a cold cocktail, you can also take good pictures from here.”

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“I drank tap water everywhere and had no problems, but for those with more sensitive stomachs, bottled water may be a better choice. On the streets, they sell freshly squeezed pomegranate and other fruit juices (2-3 euros). What I was there for was Moroccan tea. For them, tea is a ritual, consumed in all seasons and at different times of the day. Their tea is made from green tea with fresh mint and plenty of sugar. It may also be wise to remain cautious when it comes to food, though I didn’t, and often ate at street vendors or random restaurants. On the positive side, plenty of their national dishes can also be found in vegetarian versions. In Tangier, I came across some peculiarities such as snail soup (a very French feeling!). The same vendor also had a baguette in which they put boiled potatoes and boiled eggs. I ate salty chickpeas cooked here (€1).

The Moroccan soup (€3) was less to my taste, as it was too spicy. The soup was served with bread which is flat and pie-like. In Chefchaouen I tried the couscous with vegetables (€2), which was very good (Moroccans eat couscous every Friday). In Fes, I was lucky enough to enjoy a traditional breakfast in the company of my host’s family. The hearty breakfast was a pancake-like, sweet pie with butter, jam, and homemade cheese. Tagine tasted best, which is prepared by cooking vegetables in a cone-shaped clay pot. It is a very simple dish, but all the more delicious for it. I have a sweet tooth, the ad could not miss out on the Moroccan walnut-honey cookies. I would have preferred to have brought home a few pounds of these.” (2020)



Morocco - tagine pot - j.a. photo

Morocco - Harira, a soup made of tomato, lentils, and chickpeas - z.b. photo

Shopping

"It’s impossible to avoid contact with the locals, even if you don’t want to buy anything. In the bigger markets, in the old towns, it’s best to avoid wandering alone, because in these zigzagging, labyrinthine alleys you quickly get lost. Of course, maps and street signs are no help at all (in fact, I never once saw a street sign). Instead, you have to hire a driver, who will take you to all the sights and tell you the local history. At the end, of course, he’ll want to bring you to some shop – usually on the pretext that the view from the roof is spectacular. By the time you get back downstairs, they’ll have prepared the mint tea, and it would be a hard-hearted person who could refuse it or the apparently fantastic shopping opportunities that are presented afterward. This is made easier to accept by the fact that Morocco is genuinely not an expensive country, and they really do offer locally produced handicrafts for sale. Metalworkers, textile weavers, painters, carpet sellers, jewelers… They’re genuinely cheap, and of good quality, which is a dangerous combination… Of course, you don’t have to buy – there’s no compulsion, either on the street or in the stores. At the same, your driver is sure to end up with a wounded, offended expression, so be prepared for that – even if you went into the shop he recommended, and paid the price he asked. This is part of local communication. We are white, and we have to pay more than the locals because we are rich. Every single white person.”

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“Prices are constantly changing, and the value of a product is entirely relative. At first, you may feel like everyone wants to cheat you, but really – as another traveler told me – you simply have to understand that bargaining here is part of a game, and part of the culture. Not to mention that there’s really a lot of poverty here and we’re comparatively wealthy tourists, so you’re not mistaken if you feel like they want to charge you as much as they can get away with.
In a provincial city you can generally have a coffee for 6 dirhams, or about $0.50, and eat lunch in a restaurant for about 35, or about $3.50. We took taxi trips of 20 kilometers for between 20 and 50 dirhams. If you don’t like a price, you don’t have to accept it, or alternatively, you can attempt to haggle. With street vendors and market sellers you can always bargain the price down by a third, or even to half price if you’re good at it. Prices are, in any case, much lower than in Europe, so you generally won’t spend too much, even if you accept their first offer.” (2018)

Morocco - slippers - Elter photo

Morocco - artisan market - m.o. photo

Morocco - Meknes - market - cow legs - n.e. photo

Fun

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Morocco - musicians - that string instrument is called guembri - b.l. photo

Public safety

In Morocco, public safety is generally good. The presence of police forces in tourist centers, transport hubs, and major roads in big cities is highly visible. Pickpocketing is a typical form of crime in more crowded places (marketplaces, ports, train stations), while robbery is less common.In the evening and at night, avoid the alleys and bazaars (medinas).

Be careful as their secret police in covert actions, sometimes provoke tourists by offering them small quantities of drugs. The principle of zero tolerance applies to all drugs, according to Moroccan law. In drug cases, Moroccan courts apply the full rigor of the law, and on appeal seldom decide to reduce the length of imprisonment.

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This happened in Rabat:


"Now a young guy in a black T-shirt came up to us to take some money from my buddy, Tamas. He didn't let go of it, but this guy pushed him harder and harder until finally Tamas packed up and jumped onto his bike. The guy ran after him, and we hurried along behind. After a few hundred meters we slowed down at an intersection. As soon as we crossed to the other side, the guy pulled out a huge knife and cut Tamás’s belt bag off him, then ran down a side alley. We would have gladly chased him, but the knife made us more cautious. we followed him on a bike, tried not to lose sight of him, and hoped to get help from someone. Normally, Moroccan cities are full of police, now, of course, we didn't see anyone anywhere. In fact, there was hardly anyone on the street, the guy knew very well when was the best time to rob someone.

Not long after, we found a police officer reading a newspaper who spoke to the center and two plainclothes cops were sent out. The bikes and our stuff had to stay behind, and we were taken by police car to a station outside the city, where we waited for long hours in a disgusting, prison-like basement. The police did not speak English, only French, and Arabic. This was the international cases department. They finally took a statement from Tamás, who, in addition to all his money, also lost his passport and ID cards. The data was put on a wrapping paper-like sheet, then he was given some slightly more official-looking documents, which would apparently allow him to leave the country with no problems, and without needing to go to the consulate. Praise be to Allah.”


Morocco - police vigilance on the beach - m.g. photo

Morocco - a lighter serves to measure the size of a scorpion - g.t. photo

Background

Morocco - national flag - many of the old flags in Morocco's history were red in color.

Destination in brief


Morocco in brief
Morocco is located in northwest Africa. It is a kingdom and, in geopolitical terms, is part of the Arab world. The Mediterranean Sea washes its northern coastlines, and the Atlantic Ocean its western coast. Neighbors: Mauritania (south), Algeria (east). The closest distance between Morocco and the Spanish coast is merely 15 kilometers (9,3 miles).
The Arabic name for Morocco is al-Maghrib al-Aqsa, which means “the extreme west” and indicates Morocco’s place as the westernmost country in the Arab world.

Size: 446,550 km² (172,414 mi²) – Morocco’s topography is quite diverse as its northern coast and interior regions are mountainous, while its coast is characterized by fertile plains where much of Morocco’s agricultural production takes place.

Capital city: Rabat, but Casablanca is by far the biggest city in Morocco

Population (in 2020): 36.7 million – 99% Arabs and indigenous, Arabized Berbers. Berbers are descendants of the pre-Arab inhabitants of North Africa. Inside and outside Morocco it is an implicitly accepted idea that Moroccans are actually mixed Arab-Berbers. Many Moroccans look down on black Africans.
Moroccan Berber women still have tattoos in geometric designs on their faces, sometimes covering much of their forehead, cheeks, and necks. These are marks of tribal identification and date from a time when it was necessary to be able to spot women of one’s tribe who had been carried off in raids.

Language: Arabic - Moroccan Arabic has many different phonemes that are not present in standard or even in classical Arabic. Moroccan Arabic, though it has its roots in the original Arabic language, gained its richness due to a unique blend of various cultures.

Religion: 99% of the population is Sunni Muslim – Islam is the official state religion in Morocco.
The Kingdom of Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament.

Average net monthly salary: about 600 USD (2020)

Official currency: dirham (MAD)

Most frequent surname: Alaoui

The liver, not the heart, is traditionally considered to be the symbol of love in Morocco.

Optimal timing for a tourist visit:
April-November if visiting the northern parts of the country / March-May and October-November if visiting the south and Marrakesh.
Morocco is a safe country for tourists. Pushy hustlers are a quite typical and can be very annoying, yet tolerable. No compulsory vaccination is required.  Hygienic conditions are fairly good, especially by African standards. Tap water is drinkable in most parts of the country!

Most important tourist attractions:
The so-called imperial cities: Marrakesh, Fez, Meknes, Rabat
Hassan II. Mosque in Casablanca, Tangier, Chefchaouen, Essaouira
Daddes Valley, Draa Valley,


Geography

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Morocco - extensive sand pit - j.d. photo

History

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Morocco - Volubilis - Triumphal Arch of Caracalla from 3rd century BC - K Elter photo

Nowadays

As far as romantic relationships are concerned, the situation is that guys are already free to do almost anything they like. They can party, drink, and flirt with impunity. The flaw is that they can do it mostly with foreign women because the parents of local girls still don’t take kindly to this. But let’s face it, in the age of the internet and cheap flights, the world is a wide-open place. Plus there are always house parties, where young people do what they’ve always done – especially after a glass or two of vodka. Or they choose domestic party tourism: on the weekends, everyone (especially the girls) travels to the next city over and does exactly what she pleases. So chances nobody who knows them will see them. I saw them. That's right, teen babes arrive in hordes every weekend. They go to bars, discos in mini outfits, and practice the gold digger profession (not my words, but those of the local guys), or else they just have fun like girls at home do.” (2018)

People

, The locals are helpful. Outside the medinas, people are not at all the aggressive, pushy hucksters I met in Egypt. Public safety is also much better – you can go out to the suburbs here too, and I walked quite a lot at night and got away with all my valuables and body parts. Young people are quite open and love to get to know you. People often stopped me on the street and asked me to take a picture of them, or just asked where I came from and where I was going, and they were happy to give me directions and so on. They are quite liberal, and at all conservative in their Islamic faith. Women, for example, wear European fashion, and are as happy to talk to you as the men.” (2018)
 

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“I made the mistake there of reading too much about Arab people on the internet before my trip, and specifically about everyone wanting to rip me off. That was true quite a few times – they were very enthusiastic about trying to show me the way somewhere, then asking for money for their help, and following me until I gave them something, but many times I felt like they really wanted to help, and it was rude of me to pass by them without a word. Because after a while, we pretended not to hear them. It’s hard to pick out the few people who really want to be selflessly hospitable in a country when even a 10-year-old boy manning a store gives back less change than is due, saying he’s keeping it as his pocket money.

Overall, I can’t say they seemed particularly kind, or hospitable; we didn’t feel welcome to tourists but felt rather like a potential source of income, who can safely be fleeced for as much as their conscience allows. It may be a bad basis for comparison, but both

Morocco and Cuba are very poor, yet Cuba has this unconditional zest for life, something that should be taught to everyone, the ability to be satisfied with life in spite of the circumstances. I didn't really feel that here.
Moroccans don’t like to be photographed. Even when the man was just a small dot on my photo of the bazaar, he came over and berated me for not asking permission for the photo, and when he saw that it was unrecognizable, there was no problem anymore. It would have been nice to take more pictures of life, as it’s an interesting culture and very photogenic, but most of the time I didn’t want to directly provoke them, and you have to respect that.” (2018)


Morocco - locals - Elter photo

Morocco - women - Elter photo

Morocco - old men - z.g. photo

Agadir - Main beach on a weekend - s.i. photo

Morocco - Rabat - men playing cards at the Andalusian Wall - n.e. photo

Morocco - Fez - mothers&kids - v.j. photo

Tourist etiquette

“Despite the fact that Morocco is a photographer's paradise, Moroccans don't like to be photographed – they kept waving that it’s forbidden, and even sometimes come over shouting ‘no photo! No photo!’ This happened once or twice when I’d taken a photograph of a great view, and they only calmed down when I showed them the picture, where they appear as, at most, small dots in the distance. Yet here, too, the smartphone is in everyone's hands, and many times I saw that bizarre scene where a woman in a chador takes a selfie.

Throughout the trip, only a few people said yes to a photo: an elderly goatherd climbing amid argan wood trees, an old guy frying donuts in Mirleft, who we went back to every day, and a self-appointed guide who demonstrated how many ways a turban could be tied on his head. That’s right, Moroccans don’t like photography, and it’s worth respecting that. This includes the theme of dressing. I saw a lot of tourists in Marrakech and Essaouira in shorts that didn’t cover their bottoms, and in other skimpy clothes. No matter how modern and western it is, Morocco is still a Muslim country, I don’t think it’s right to completely ignore the dressing habits here. You don’t have to walk in a chador, but there are temporary outfits between the two extremes.” (2018)

Attractions

Essaouira

Morocco - Essaouira - port - Elter photo

Morocco - Essaouira - street art - j.f. photo

Meknes

Morocco - Meknes - Bab Mansur al-'Alj or Bab Mansour, a monumental gate in the city - v.j. photo

Morocco - Meknes - patio - v.j. photo

Morocco - Meknes - v.j. photo

Chefchaouen

Morocco - Chefchaouene - blue stairs - v.j. photo

Rabat

Rabat - beach - K.T. G. photo

Tarifa to Tangier

On a previous occasion, I was in Tarifa and I failed in the attempt. The attempt is to get the ferry from Tarifa to Tangier. Not you might think the most difficult thing to do. At the first attempt: I racked up at the ferry port with its little booking office with four or five […]...

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