12 Things Morocco Will Teach You
Looking to take a trip to Morocco? Here's 12 things you should know before going.
1. There’s more to a desert than sand
In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever come across such varied landscape. The scenery is breath-taking. A trip to Morocco is wasted if you don’t make a trek to the “sandy” desert. Speed around the curves of the Anti & High Atlas Mountains which give way to the Dades Gorge lined with deep red rock formations and greenery. Sip tea with Berber families in Ait Ben Haddou, where homes are made of clay and hay, and iron bars keep children from falling out. The plantations where olive, fig, date, pomegranate and peach trees are harvested provide a cooling oasis as you head into the Black Desert. Quench the thirst of camels and donkeys who await your arrival by the side of the road at one of the wells which belong to a complex irrigation system. Watch a Berber carpet be hand-woven by a woman and marvel at how dyes are made by firing spices. Test your balance as your camel gets up or lies down, knees smacking the ground. Feel your throat constrict as you climb a steep dune, the hot sand burning your toes and choke on the sand that fills your mouth as you sand-board down. Find ripe prickly pears along the side of the road and try not to sting yourself on its sharp needles as you open the foreign fruit. Watch the sun rise and fall, a sharp round white ball. Let the dry heat hit you, and the muddy waters cool you down.
2. Marrakech makes London seem like a village
A motorcycle whips past. A boy yells, “This street is closed,” in hopes of directing you out of your way to make a bit of cash. Water is splashed onto the hot tiles. Flies surround the meat being butchered late into the night. Kittens prowl like lions, digging into the depths of trash. Souks are filled with useless trinkets, lamps that are too large to fit in a suitcase and pants that certainly aren’t worth 20€. Beggars whip their hands out whilst monkey carriers want money for just being looked at. You can’t stop for a minute without someone wanting to “help you” for a price. Men lurk. Women are hard to spot. The sounds of prayer, that calming wail. The donkeys racing past. The other donkeys collecting the daily trash. The turtles being sold? The moment of peace a quiet street provides before a local finds you. The pulse of the city when the sun has long gone to bed. The beautiful pink colour of the buildings. The safety of a riad door.
3. I get why people prefer Essaouira
It’s quieter. And actually quite cool. Known as the “Windy City,” the Atlantic Coast provides a constant breeze that cuts the warm air. The locals let you be. The fish is fresh. The menus have more variety and cater to cheese lovers. The white buildings with blue doors are calming. Begin the day with pastries from Patisserie Driss, followed by lunch at the Mega Loft. And if you’re willing to splurge on dinner, Umia is a safe bet, with chocolate fondant like no other.
4. It’s not a destination place
You don’t go to Morocco to tick major sights off of your bucket list, as you would in NYC. Mostly because there just aren’t any. Yeah there are palaces and tombs in Marrakech worth a visit (the Jardin Majorelle pretty pricey for what you see especially if you’ve just driven across the country), but more than anything you go to soak up the culture. Marrakech will accustom you to the fast-paced bargaining way-of-life while the calming riads and spas showcase the importance of good hospitality. Essaouira is where you can find refuge, but also delve into your sporty side with surfing, kite-boarding and horseback riding on the beach.
5. It’s civilised
I know how that sounds. But it is. Architecturally, Marrakech reminded me a lot of Jaipur, India, as they are both pink cities. But rarely did I see homeless people, and I certainly didn’t witness folks washing themselves or defecating in the streets. There are no cows or oxen blocking the roads where drivers actually adhere to the rules. Wild cats & kittens are far more aplenty than wild dogs. And whilst driving through the “countryside” showed us the poor quality homes made of clay, rarely were they in severe disarray or simply rubble. Most surprising was the amount of trendy restaurants and almost London-prices we found in larger cities. As a generation who thirsts after wifi and data, apart from our night in the desert, we were never far from connectivity. In fact, it seemed as though all anyone ever did was play on their phones in the souks.
6. You will turn into a tagine
Morocco has 4 food staples: tagine (meat & fruit stew prepared in a sizzling clay pot), couscous, pastilla (meat-filled pastry topped with sugar & cinnamon), and brochette (grilled skewers). Travelling through the desert, you will have your fill of well-priced traditional cuisine, so don’t be ashamed when you cave and try a camel burger given the chance in bigger cities. We didn’t have a single bad meal (okay apart from my pizza topped with veggies and human hair), as we visited fusion restaurants in Marrakech like NOMAD, El Fenn, Le Foundouk, and Café Clock where we overlooked the city perched on rooftops. To our disappointment most fruit counted as dessert, a smart choice given how full you become with hardy dishes and the heat. But eat it. The watermelons and cantaloupes are refreshing and perfectly sweet.
7. Being hassled is unavoidable
But it’s not as bad as I imagined. No one called out “America!” or “England!” the way I’d been told they would. The men starred, but rarely muttered or groaned under their breath. I did have boys pinch my butt twice, to which Tyler asked if I could “put that away,” but luckily no proposals of marriage (which has happened to me aplenty in France). More than anything, if you look, you’ll feel obligated to buy so you find your eyes focused on not being hit by a scooter or watching your purse. Fending off locals who want to “help” gets annoying very quickly, but trust me when I say you’d rather follow your wrong Google Maps (it WILL be wrong) than negotiate a price they suggest worthy of their time. Like, sorry … you threw yourself on us and now want money? No babe.
8. It’s hot but
not that hot. Travelling in July is obviously peak heat time, but let me tell you I’ve experienced summers in Chicago and New York that are far worse. You’ll be dehydrated from the dry heat, but I’d take that over humid heat any day. That said, we witnessed a few heat strokes and the locals not knowing how to help. The worst being in a restaurant where the server wanted to charge for water to help some poor girl. He might as well have asked: still or sparkling?
9. The people are beautiful
Maybe I just noticed this because London is a desert when it comes to good-looking men. Or maybe it’s just because there were only men to see. But Moroccans have beautiful skin tones and complexions that really bring out their light-coloured eyes.
10. Best brush up on your français
While many speak English (it’s now a part of the school curriculum), comprehension is minimal. I can’t count the amount of times Tyler got laughed at as he asked, “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” When you’re so jolted out of your comfort zone, it’s nice to be able to communicate.
11. You’ll meet lots of locals
Throughout our ride through the desert we constantly stopped to chat with locals. Policemen asked if we’d transport official documents to the next town. Others wanted our driver’s advice on schooling for their daughter. Each taxi either had some random already sat in the passenger seat, or we’d pick someone up along the way. Hitchhikers were common. Not accepting tea and sit down was definitely a faux-pas.
12. One week isn’t enough
At all. This was supposed to be a somewhat relaxing vacation. But we changed riads and hotels almost every single night. We were physically exhausted and yet unsatisfied as Rabat, Casablanca and Fes were also on my “to-see” list. I suppose that just means there will have to be a next time.