Morocco Rocks the House
Well, I don’t know about y’all and all this nonsense I hear about being fearful of travelling to Africa. My travel mate and I had a blast in Morocco.
For me, the adventure started in February 2005 and ended in March 2005. I got a really good deal on a ticket from Texas to Casablanca, Morocco through Orbitz for a little over 700 USD, including taxes! The only drawback was the overnight on the return in Chicago, and staying at the horrid Days Inn Chicago Addison O’Hare in Addison, Illinois. Beware and don’t stay there.
I arrived late in Casablanca about 7:30 p.m., so it was already dark outside. This made me quite nervous but I teamed up with a very pretty lassie from Australia named Kate. She convinced me to stay at the youth hostel.
The hostel was clean and well located; not far from the wild and beautiful Atlantic ocean and away from the touristy area of Central Market. It was convenient, yes, but since I had to share the room with four other females, it was uncomfortable.
It was also kinda cold in Morocco and cold in the room too, with no central heating and no hot water for a shower. You cant beat the price though, about 5 USD per night including breakfast. The exchange rate started at 8.5 then dropped to 8.4.
At the hostel, I met a red haired Finnish woman in her late 50s who lamented the fact that she has a history of always falling for the wrong man. She told me she kept getting sexually and emotionally involved with younger Moroccan men who used her for sex, money, travel,clothes and even a passport. Then they left her.
While I was there, she fell victim to yet another scam. Her camera needed some kind of a card and she gave a man we had just met the equivalent of about 75 USD; a heck of a lot of money in Morocco.
The man came back with a card, left and while she and I were walking around and enjoying the windy Cornich, her camera flashed a “non functioning” message. The card was all wrong. Ooops she did it again – man gone, money gone, no refunds and no exchanges.
I only stayed one night in Casa, then took the train to Rabat, the modern and unhurried capital. Using the Lonely Planet guide, I stayed at the Hotel du Centre in the medina for about 100 dirham for a double. The room was clean, but rather gloomy and the curtains were in shreds. Showers were outside the roon, on a separate floor and cost an extra 10 dirham. It is under construction, so there was much noise, dust and overall pretty wretched.
It was time to move, so I found the Hotel Maghreb for abut 70 dirham. Overall it was better but the toilets were squat and non flushing. This hotel also cheated me out of 15 dirham (less than 2 USD) when the manager lied and claimed I lost the hotel key and he had to redo the whole lock. I was too sick to fight, I just moved to another hotel.
I got very sick most likely from the filthy non-hygienic food handling practices and Immodium did not help. Eventually, I made it to a pharmacy and bought over the counter codeine and an anti spasmodic.
I ate a lot of the street food and it was delicious, but of dubious cleanliness. I sampled fried fish that tastes like meat. It is smashed on bread topped with raw onions and a spicy tomato sauce. You can also get grilled liver, pieces of very tender beef and more treats for just a few dirham. There are also all kinds of cheap restaurant food in the medina for 30 dirham and even less.
You will also meet guides and other hustlers who claim they just want to be a friend, blah blah. Experienced travellers know the spiel.
In Rabat, I met one such creature named Imadi who, despite being told I neither wanted nor needed a guide, he insisted on hanging out with me. Initially he was fun and I treated him to lunch and a trip to the sparse and rather boring Archeological Museum (10 dirham).
Imadi then began dropping hints that he was having a problem and owed someone money, then he changed his story and said he needed 250 dirham (a small Moroccan fortune)to buy his mother “some things”. He told me so many lies, I guess he couldn’t keep track of them, but I remembered what he said.
He was multi-lingual and we found we communicated better in Italian of all languages.
Imadi invited me to his home and I accepted. He lived in the medina. Once there, we sat on the couch listening to music from his vast collection of counterfeit CDs. He then leaned toward me and asked me for “a kees”. I pretended not to understand.
Most Moroccans have clean and tidy homes no matter how poor they are. His home that he shared with his mom and brother was grimy and cluttered. The kitchen was actually dirty with garbage strewn in different places.
I moved to the Hotel d’Alger in the medina. It was by far the best, in that it was cheap and clean (50 or 60 dirham.) I stayed long enough to recover from my illness.
I told Imadi I was leaving the following day. I can still hear his piteous cries outside my window repeatedly calling my name like Romeo to Juliet. “Delenn, Delenn, Delenn…”. He sounded like a forlorn lover, but he was just after money. I ignored him and packed my bags.
Suddenly, I could hear the sound of rapid footsteps coming down the hall and then without warning there was a violent twist on my doorknob. It was not even preceded by a polite knock. It scared me but thankfully I had locked the door. I then angrily and loudly told the manager to go away, in English.
Just a reminder: All females need to be cognizant of their own personal safety.
You don’t need a guide to navigate Rabat’s medina. After a couple of days, it is easy to do on your own. Fruit and other food items can be bought from the central market, which is very interesting in itself. It is also fascinating to watch the sausage makers put the meat in the machine, watch it glide inside the casings and see the man quickly loop it into cigar shapes.
I also liked watching the women make the flat breakfast bread and spread butter inside the square folds to ensure flakiness. I couldn’t get enough of seeing how warka is made too. Warka is a paper thin dough similar to phyllo and there is an artistry to making it.
While in Rabat, I took the local bus for a few cents to Temara. These buses are in terrible condition with hard ragged seats, a ticket taker who checks and metal poles that are useful for holding on to. It’s always a bumpy ride guaranteed.
A don’t miss are the potteries located on the road to Marjan, the huge French supermarket. They don’t mind demonstrating their craft and showing you around.
I recommend a trip to Sale, Rabat’s sister city and by all means take the little rickety crikety rowboat. Its only a few dirham and it’s fun. There is a nice second hand market there called Souk el Kebir but Sale is difficult to navigate without a Moroccan friend.
From Rabat, you can also go to Temara. It is not much but it is very quiet and the detailed ironwork on the buildings and doors of houses is absolutely gorgeous. It would cost a fortune in the States.
It was time to move on, so I bought a first class train ticket from Rabat to Marakesh, for about 15 dollars. I met a nice man named Kalil who goes to Marakesh just to buy dates from his friend. He was very helpful to me with luggage, lunch, shopping, hotel hunting et cetera. He even returned a few days later to spend some time with me.
His friend who works in the Marakesh medina surprised me with a gift I didn’t open until I arrived home. It was a mixture of delicious dates, walnuts, almonds, peanuts and white raisons. What a lovely and tasty reminder of my trip.
In Marakesh, I stayed at the Hotel Ichbilia, which is clean and bright. For 80 dirham, I got a double room. The showers are outside the room, but the water is hot and plentiful! That is the good news. The bad news is that people are always trying to scam you out of your last dirham. For example, the manager told me one price for left luggage, then changed his mind not even 10 seconds later and doubled the price. I was furious but I paid.
From Marakesh, I went to the Ourika Valley. I was amazed by the beauty of the mountains and terrified by the speed of the whacked out but fearless taxi driver. He seemed to pay no attention to the sheer drops or the winding, narrow mountain curves with oncoming traffic from high speed taxis returning to Marakesh. Oh, did I mention no seat belts?
From Djemma I took a petit taxi to the grand taxi stand (10 dirham or so), then took a shared taxi (25 dirham for 5 people)to the valley.
I was the only female in the car and I became quite anxious as we were going deeper and deeper into the mountains, much to the amusement of the all male passengers. “Don’t worry!”, I was told.
The views from the window were unbelievable! Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and demanded to be let out. I suppose it didn’t help me that I had just re-read Malika Oufkir’s book: Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail. It tells of her and her entire family’s imprisonment by King Hassan II (her surrogate father) for over 20 years because the king punished them for sins of her biological father who attempted a coup and failed. Her youngest sibling was only 3 years old.
In the Ourika Valley, I met some Berbers who invited me into their homes for tea but since I was alone I declined, fearing someone might drug me. Maybe I was a little paranoid.
I met a young man who had two pet Barbary apes. It was rather sad for me, an animal lover to see her and her baby chained to the front door, but I realize people make pets out of many creatures. To put a positive spin on it, he verbalized and demonstrated care and concern for them.
There is much to do in Marakesh. I loved the souks and was thrilled by the excitement of the old second hand market near Souk Semarine. It is strictly for Moroccans, I was told. It is where slaves used to be sold. Now it is run by Berber women; a place where second hand clothes are bartered and magic charms, potions and lotions are sold.
It is an outdoor market and looks to be right out of an Indiana Jones movie. Here you will see strings of fat yellow amber cascading from the top of the stalls, endangered tiger and leopard skins, dried birds of prey carcasses, replete with huge feathers, live exotic animals like falcons, eagles, brightly colored lizards, jars of insects, seashells, enormous skeins of brightly colored wool and more.
In Marakesh, you can’t beat the street food. Freshly squeezed orange juice for 3 dirham a glass (35 cents). With your meals you get wonderful red olives and homemade bread. You can choose from hot, fresh, tender fried calamari, char grilled liver kebobs with chunks of fat in between the meat for moisture and flavor, lamb sausages, fish, tangia, couscous and chicken and much more. Stay away from the chicken though. It is tough enough to whup Mohammed Ali in his prime!
If you do go, please say hello to my friend Abdul in stall 25. Tell him DeLaine from Texas sent you.
I recommend purchasing a phone card. It can be used for both local and international cards and the cost is nominal about 40, 60 or 90 dirham. It is better than fumbling for change. Just don’t forget to retrieve the card when prompted.
Morocco is a country of contrasts, the ancient and the modern juxtaposed. You will find this even in people. My friend Karim is a modern man, employed, educated and sweet, but he firmly adheres to a belief in the evil eye and explained in detail how it works.
From Marakesh, I took the CTM bus to Taroundant, a small ancient walled city called “Little Marakesh” because of its souks and tannery. I stayed at the Hotel Taroundant for 100 dirham. It has a nice garden with fake critters, is clean and centrally located. From the hotel you can reach just about everything on foot, but try a calech (horse and buggy) for a few dirham.
Shopping is better in Taroundant vs Marakesh. I have a friend there who invited me to have lunch with him and his family. The home was spacious, immaculate and very beautiful. We feasted on tender beef tagine with prunes. Simply scrumptious. Moroccan hospitality is legendary. His mother even gave me a lovely scarf because I was cold.
My travel mate and I also took the bus to Essaouria. We stayed at Hotel Majestic for 100 dirham for a double. It was well located and clean enough with hot water. The views over the ocean as the sun was setting were great. The gulls were hungry and enormous! Like in the Alfred Hitchcock horror flick, they swoop down on you.
We ate by the ocean and had the seafood platter of different types of grilled fish for 70 dirham, including calamari and sardines. We also had a strange looking red fish that came to us with its mouth agape, as though screaming. We thought it was funny. The food was good and plentiful but a little too salty for me. I ate it anyway; all of it, so it couldn’t have been too bad huh?
Morocco is great. There is no other place like it for the exotic and the thrill of it all.
I will forever be indebted to those kind Moroccans who took me into their homes and showed me unbelievable kindness. Inshallah, we will meet again.