Ahh Morocco… still deciding if I like it or dislike it. The people can be coarse, rude, and even aggressive. But they can also be nice, generous, and hospitable. The latter being few and far between. The other travellers here can be hoity toity Europeans in short shorts with white legs gleaming in the sun and cameras the size of my backpack draped around their necks. Or they can be a completely different breed of dreadlocked hippies slowly strolling the narrow lanes with nothing more than a purse or wallet. And the sights. The new cities or “Ville Nouvelle” are just like a modern city in Spain, with wide cobblestone streets fringed with palm trees and trendy restaurants with little appeal to travellers, especially backpackers. On the other hand the old cities or “medinas” are an incredible contrast. Every city in Morocco has a medina, a walled city, which can date back as far as 1000 years and it is usually smack dab in the middle of the Villa Nouvelle which has sprouted up around its crumbling walls for the past couple centuries.
The moment you leave the MacDonald’s and KFC’s behind, evade the traffic and chaos of the Ville Nouvelle and walk through the massive, ancient key hole shaped doors of the medina, you instantly step back a millennium. As you walk through the labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys, fruit and vegetable stands glow in the thin streaks of sunlight that penetrate the stone walls which often tower a couple of stories overhead. Men at each stand yell and sing to acclaim the freshness of their produce. Meanwhile you have to dodge donkeys charging down the street hauling anything from tools to garbage.
Dariece and I are no good with directions so after just a couple of turns in this endless maze of madness we are completely lost. This is what Morocco is all about for us. Not so much immersing in the culture as we usually try to do, but rather walking through this time warp as spectators and trying to pass through without being noticed, as though changing something would send a ripple effect through time and somehow change the present. For us, Morocco’s real beauty always lies within these walls.
Another huge part of Morocco for us is the food. Perhaps some of the best food in all of our travels. Whenever you go to a restaurant here you get a big plate of olives and bread. We tend to pass on the olives. And the meals can range from delicious shawarmas and paninis to couscous with chicken, or tasty tagines. Tagines are a sort of tasty stew often with chicken or beef, and loads of veggies, all cooked in a clay pot which keeps the meat incredibly moist and tender. Yes we could get used to the food here.
The food is amazing and the old cities yield some of the most rewarding and awe-inspiring experiences we’ve ever had, so how is it that Morocco doesn’t rank as one of our favourites? Well, it’s hard to give Morocco a high rating on our overall country scale for a couple of reasons. One being the people, who bargain hard but not happily, who smile with you as long as there’s still a chance of getting something from you, and who will take you anywhere, as long as you pay them. Of course this is not the “true essence” of the Moroccan people. This is only the people who are in the tourism business or who are jaded by the presence of package European tourists. Nonetheless, they can be annoying and exhausting to ignore and avoid. I have had a couple of great experiences with people helping or talking with me with no ulterior motive, but as I said above, few and far between.
And the other reason that Morocco hasn’t tipped the scales and made us sad to leave is the accommodation and overall value for money. Because of its close proximity to Europe the cost here is far from cheap, especially when comparing to Asia, which we have trouble not doing. Rooms are cheap yes, $15-30/ night, but in most cases you get what you pay for. Often a damp musky cave with no windows and a hard mattress with 2 lumpy pillows is what greets you at the lower end of this price range. We have been lucky a couple of times and had very nice rooms for a very good price but good rooms are like genuine local hospitality, generally hard to come by.
All in all I must say I like Morocco. Despite its flaws, it does have an amazing amount of beauty and in a lot of areas it carries a cool old/modern vibe that meshes well within its cities and adds up to a unique travel experience. Perhaps we weren’t able to give Morocco a fair chance because we both caught a nasty cold in the mountains that has lasted about 7 days, or maybe our thoughts of Morocco have been tainted by the jaded locals that seem to crowd the bigger cities. If we had stuck to the smaller, quainter villages things may have been different because our favourite places here were those smaller towns. I think it’s because the people there have kept their patience and just continued with their old fashioned customs, instead of opening carpet shops and haggling rich Europeans.
Maybe it was the few bad people experiences that left a bad taste in my mouth for Morocco, because it certainly wasn’t the food. And I don’t know what was a bigger pain in my neck, waking up on a rock hard pillow, dodging hassle in the big cities, or looking left to right so fast trying to follow the hypnotic mayhem of the medinas. Either way Morocco is an amazing place. Although maybe not a country I will be planning a return trip to before any in Asia, it still gets a piece of my heart because I do like it. If I were to bundle up all the hassle and good experiences together the latter outweighs the former. So in a couple of days we will say goodbye to Morocco and head to Egypt. A place that probably ignited my earliest travel interest. I’ve dreamt of gazing at the pyramids and trying to decipher ancient hieroglyphics since grade 5 when we studied it in school. It will also be another check on the long list of things to do before I die.