From a scary taxi ride through Casablanca to a truly magnificent piece of North African architecture, my visit to Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca was wonderful. This mosque is the second largest in the world after Mecca and is one of the few mosques that allows non-Muslims to enter.
This is the first in a series of posts about what to pack for specific destinations. I noticed an unbelievable amount of Google traffic searching for information on what to pack for Morocco, one of my favorite previous trips. Since I never touched on what I packed for Morocco, I decided to write a post about it. Occasionally I’ll revisit this topic for other destinations that require certain types of clothing or gear.
Morocco is a very unique destination. Located in North Africa but still carrying the vibe of the Middle East. Morocco is full of culture, languages, sights, great food, amazing landscapes, and best of all, relatively safe. This makes it a popular destination for independent travelers and backpackers flock to the various areas around the country.
Morocco is not your every day tourist destination though. Being a conservative Islamic republic, you should be mindful of Moroccan’s customs and be respectful in your dress. This means that, despite the often warm temperatures, you should not plan on walking around in shorts and short-sleeved t-shirts. This goes for both men and women.
For men, jeans, khaki’s and cargo pants are acceptable and long sleeved t-shirts, thin jackets, or lightweight casual button-down shirts are recommended.
Women can generally follow the above recommendations but just be mindful to not wear tops that expose cleavage or have short sleeves. It may not be considered risque in western culture, but these items are generally unacceptable in Moroccan culture.
Recommended Packing List:
4-5 shirts (or blouses) – preferably long sleeved
1 jacket or sweater
2 pairs of comfortable pants
swim suit – if you’re visiting the beach
hat – especially if you’re visiting the desert
enough socks and underwear
comfortable sneakers or hiking shoes
toiletries – don’t go overboard, but shopping for your typical toiletries in Morocco might be difficult
digital camera – smaller is better
Morocco isn’t particularly dangerous, but places like Tangiers do suffer from slightly more than normal amounts of petty theft. If you are spending time in any medina areas and want to take photographs, a small camera is a better idea. Remember, this is where Moroccan’s live and work and aren’t necessarily tourist areas, despite the popularity of them.
Taxi drivers. You’ve got to love them. It doesn’t matter what country you are in. They always have a unique trinket dangling from their mirror and are happy to provide you with lots of advice on wherever it is you are traveling. Especially so if they pick you up at the airport and you have a big backpack or you’re dragging some luggage behind you.
Unfortunately the first person you usually meet in a new country isn’t always the most trustworthy.
You hop in the car and tell the driver where you’d like to go. Often times they respond by telling you that hotel is booked, it’s dirty, or unsafe. If you don’t know any better, you might believe him and let him take you to a place he recommends.
Of course what he doesn’t tell you is that he is getting a commission for taking you to that place.
This is the oldest trick in the book and happens more often than you might believe. Just last week I had it happen to me. Twice.
So how do you avoid this? First of all, stick to your plans and know what you are getting in to. If you are arriving somewhere late at night, it’s probably a good idea to book accommodation for your first night.
Another trick is charging you a flat rate versus using the meter. This hardly works out in your favor. Some places I have been (Morocco for instance) generally don’t use the meter and offer you a flat rate before you get in. My experiences were fair and the prices were very cheap. Recently in Costa Rica though, we agreed to pay 4,000 colones (about $8) for the three of us to be driven across town to a restaurant late at night. We had a tough time finding a cab so we just agreed and off we went. After dinner we flagged down another cab and headed back to our hotel room. He turned on the meter and it came to 1,000 colones. We realized we were ripped off the first time and always insisted on using the meter from then on.
All this negative talk about taxi drivers probably makes me look like a pessimist. In reality, I’ve had some great conversations with taxi drivers and they are often very nice and enjoy meeting foreigners. Especially if they want to practice your language. I’ve had full conversations about American politics, tourism and the economy–all in various, and probably butchered, languages. Often they can be insightful and entertaining, looking for somebody to chat with just like you are.
On the other hand, I’ve been ripped off (usually for such an insignifigant amount it’s laughable) and attempted to be taken advantage of. So be careful and have a plan. Don’t let a taxi driver boss you around. They usually will take “no” for an answer very easily so insist on going where you want to go.
Have any funny (or horror) stories about taking taxis around the world? Share them in the comments below!
Here is a short article I wrote for Dig Magazine, CSULB’s monthly publication. My day-by-day travelogue is posted here on Have Pack, Will Travel.
“Where is all the sand?” I thought to myself when I landed at Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca, Morocco. It turns out that much of Morocco is actually very dense with forests and vegetation. The Mediterranean climate is much more comfortable than one would imagine when contemplating a visit to North Africa.
“Bienvenue en Maroc! Welcome in Maroc!” I frequently heard while walking down busy streets. Not knowing whether I was French, English, or American, they were sure to cover their bases and make sure I understood that I was welcome in their country.
Enjoy my travelogue about my week-long journey through Morocco. Such an amazing place full of life, language, and culture. Morocco ranks very high on my list of places I would recommend backpackers visit.
We all had to leave pretty early to reach our respective destinations so we had set the alarm for 4:00am. Perfect timing as the morning call to prayer was just sounding as we awoke.
It was freezing at that time of the morning but we started packing up and getting ready to leave as quietly as possible so we didn’t wake up any of the other visitors.
Unfortunately we had a last minute change of plans. One of the girls had become pretty ill and didn’t feel she could make the 6-8 hour bus ride. They already had ferry tickets booked from that port, but decided to take the taxi with me to Tangiers as it was only a 2 hour drive and they book a ferry from there.
Once we were dropped off at the main taxi terminal it was time to say goodbye. Our driver already grabbed another driver who would take me to the airport so the goodbyes were very short. In fact, once I hopped in the taxi and started driving away I realized there was so much I didn’t get a chance to say to my new friends. I am sure I would have enjoyed my trip just fine even if I did not meet them, but spending it with them was wonderful. It’s amazing how you can meet people from halfway around the world and become instant friends. We enjoyed several days together and shared moments that will last us all a lifetime. Then, before you know it, it’s all over and you might not ever see them again.
Well thank goodness for the internet at least so we can all keep in touch occasionally.
The airport is about an hours drive from the center of Tangiers so I had a bit of time to chat with the driver. The only problem was the language barrier. Tangiers, being so close to the tip of Spain, has a heavy Spanish influence and many people from Tangiers speak Spanish. Of course, the driver spoke Arabic, but to my surprise he didn’t speak French! Nearly everybody speaks Arabic and French in Morocco. Being from Southern California, I understand Spanish pretty well, but I don’t speak it all that great. The same went for him with French. So for an hour we talked about all kinds of things, Morocco, food, my trip, where I was from, and even American politics. But the funny thing was that he continued speaking in Spanish, and I would respond in French. It was the best we could do and we both understood eachother fairly well. It was amusing to say the least.
The Tangiers airport was small but hectic. There were no assigned seats on the EasyJet flight and despite being in the first bording class, I was not able to get through the rush of people until the very end. The Spanish passengers who must have all been on holiday were quite rude and didn’t seem to care for the airport’s procedures.
The flight was only about an hour and I soon arrived in Madrid. I found a payphone and called Vicky, a girl from Lithuania who was now living in Madrid. I met her on CouchSurfing and she told me to call her when I arrived. She was unable to host me, but recommended an area where I could find a cheap and safe place to stay. I took the metro there and found a private room in a two-star hostel for 50 euros. It didn’t seem to pricey at the time but once I did the conversion I realized it was about $80!
Vicky and I planned on meeting up around 9:00pm to grab a drink and do some sight seeing. Until then, I enjoyed my nice clean room and took a HOT shower. It was nice to have a private room, bathroom, and hot shower for a change.
Since I had an early morning flight and was only in Madrid for the night, I ventured out to see the city. I was given a nice walking map at the airport and it came in very handy. I walked all over the area near Puerto del Sol just gazing at the beautiful buildings, cobble stone roads, and amazing statues. There was a food and music festival going on in one of the squares so I listened to a great jazz band and was tempted to try some fresh prosciutto (ham/bacon, a specialty of Madrid).
I was quite hungry and decided to get dinner before meeting up with Vicky. Madrid has more restaurants in such a small area than I have ever see before. The choices were virtually limitless and I had a hard time deciding on what to eat. Once I found a menu that looked good I grabbed a seat on the patio and did some people watching. I was disappointed to find out that they were already out of the paella dish I wanted to try. I was tempted to go somewhere else but I didn’t and regretted it. My meal wasn’t very good at all. A chicken and rice dish with a half-cooked egg yolk cracked over the top. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either. Unfortunately it upset my stomach later though so that was disappointing.
I did some more walking around and ran across Cervantes statue in one of the parks. Something about it really struck me. Maybe it was that I had just finished reading Don Quixote a couple of months prior. Or it could have been how my professor had told us about this exact statue that was erected for the great Spanish author. Whatever it was, I had completely forgotten that it was there and found it only by chance. Don Quixote was an amazing book and Cervantes a wonderful writer. My only wish was that I was profeccient enough in Spanish to read it in its native language.
It was time to meet up with Vicky so I headed to Puerta del Sol where all the young people hung out. I found Vicky and we decided to go grab a drink. We sat down in a bar that was playing some loud electro music and after one mojito for her, and one diet coke for me, we decided to leave.
Vicky was fairly new to the area. She moved there from Lithuania to study. I was impressed that she could speak Spanish and English fluently, not to mention her native language.
Madrid really is a wonderful city to just simply wander by foot. We did that for a while and she pointed out a few popular landmarks to me. Eventually we decided it was late and she asked where I was staying so she could take me there. I told her that I had my map and had already mastered the city, so I insisted on walking her home and then making my way back. Anyway, it offered me a bit more sightseeing before I had to leave. OK, I got a little lost on the way back when I put my map away, but that’s OK. Whenever I realized I didn’t know where I was, I just pulled the map out and figured out my location.
Finally I returned for the night and fell asleep quickly. In the morning it was time to pack my bag and take the metro back to the airport. The week had flown by and I had an amazing time. I wished I could have stayed longer but I had to get back to my job and school.
After our wonderful night we awoke and decided to go see what was available for breakfast in the square. There are a handful of small restaurants all which must cater to the tourists of Chefchaouen. At the time, we were about the only ones. We saw one or two other small groups that obviously weren’t from around there and the patios at the restaurants were pretty much deserted.
Each place staffed an English speaking employee to recruit people who walked past. They all seemed to offer the same small selection for breakfast so we sat down at one and enjoyed some fresh orange juice, a selection of bread and jams, and a cup of coffee. The girls opted for mint tea. Even though my teeth were rotting from all the sugar in the mint teas I had already drank that week, I probably should have ordered another cup as well instead of coffee. It’s the official Moroccan drink and you should really enjoy it when it’s available!
After eating the girls wanted to walk around the shops and see what was for sale. Rob and I decided that we MUST check our email so we went to the internet cafe.
When we were finished getting our internet fix we walked back to our room and ran in to Youssef again. He invited us over to where he lived (right next to the small hotel we were staying at). We sat down in his modest place and started talking. His walls were lined with rugs that he wove. Although our tastes obviously differ, many of them were very impressive and I could only imagine the time it woudl take to complete just one, let alone the dozens he had.
He offered a coca-cola and we politely accepted. He ran downstairs and was gone for several minutes. When he returned sweating, with two ice cold coca-colas in hand, we were a little confused as to where he went. He told us he ran down to the store to buy them for us! We felt terrible and apologized. We assumed he had them on hand and that’s why he offered them to us. Again, he told us that it was not a problem and that we were his guests in not only his home, but his city and he wanted to make us feel welcome. Such a kind gesture is unheard of where we come from so Rob and I were extremely touched by the generosity shown by Youssef.
He asked what we were planning on doing for the day and we told him that we were going to walk around and see the city. He told us there were some great hikes up the hills and he would love to show us. Even if we wanted to turn him down, I don’t think he would have let us so we gladly accepted and went off to find the girls.
We began to walk up a pathway that overlooked an area of a stream that was built so the locals could wash their clothes.
We continued hiking up side of the hill and were soon rewarded with beautiful views of Chefchaouen.
Eventually we reached what Youssef called “Spanish Mosque” but I believe it to also be called the “Destroyed Mosque” based on the guidebook. It was a very small structure, maybe 10 feet x 10 feet, with narrow stairs that went up a couple of stories to provide a wonderful view of the valley down below.
After taking in the views for a little while, we headed back down the path and walked down the other side of the town with its blue and white washed walls that are often synonymous with Chefchaouen.
When we made it back to the main square, we decided to tour the kasbah and old prison. A quick 10dh donation to enter and we began the several story climb to the top of the prison which offered a great outlook over the city.
We were all pretty hungry after the hike and went to a restaurant that Youssef recommended for lunch. He had a pretty bad cold and decided only to have some tea despite our encouragement for him to eat (we really wanted to treat him to lunch to pay him back for all the help and generosity he had shown us).
Surprise, surprise. I had another chicken tagine. Trust me, these are to die for. So flavorful and juicy!
Rob, Lauren and Lizzie needed to purchase bus tickets for their trip back the following day so we walked to the station with Youssef and he helped them purchase the correct tickets. They were heading to one of the port towns several hours away to take a ferry back to Malagra, Spain. I was going the opposite way to Tangiers to take a flight back to Madrid, Spain so I decided I would just hire a taxi when I needed to leave.
With their tickets out of paradise in hand, we headed back to to our rooms to clean up. Youssef invited us for dinner again. We were surpised they would want our compay again but we agreed only one condition. That they allow us to purchase the items needed for dinner. He was hesitant but agreed. We felt it was the least we could do. We gave them 100dh, about $13, and it fed nine or ten of us. Not a bad deal I’d say! My only request was that for us to have chicken, since I’m a chickentarian and I really wanted to have a filling dinner.
I was quite surprised, and a little disturbed, when Mohamed, the man responsible for all the cooking, came home with fresh chicken, feathers and all! He went up stairs to prepare it and I was a little freaked out but put it behind me quickly. I guess I didn’t realize that the supply of frozen chickens would be sparse in Morocco!
Dinner was wonderful again. We had the tasty chicken served over a bed of rice that was full of flavor. The effort and quality put into food there is really amazing. They love their cooking, that’s for sure.
It had been a long day and we were full. We ventured back to our rooms and hit the hay. There was no question that our final full day in Morocco had been wonderful. We were able to spend some time in a beautiful town that was pretty far off the beaten path, meet some great people, and best of all, enjoy some amazing food!
I was planning on staying in Fes for most of the week and taking day trips to the surrounding area. I suggested visiting Bhalil and Volubilis to Rob, Lauren, and Lizzie and they seemed interested. After some thought, they decided to head to Chefchaouen, a town in the Rif mountains, and invited me. While I was looking forward to seeing the Roman ruins in Voulubilis, I decided that Chefchaouen did sound very nice and that I’d prefer the company of my new fronds than trekking it solo. So we packed up our things and headed for the CTM bus station.
When we arrived we were told that all the buses were sold out for the day and that we should try the station located in front of Bab Boujeloud, the entrance to the old medina.
There is one thing to understand. CTM buses are generally what tourists take, and are priced higher than the buses for the locals that we were about to use. On a positive note, they were only a couple of dollars.
When we arrived at the station we were told that there wasn’t a direct bus and we had to go to Ouezzane and “see” if there was another bus to Chefchaouen there. Without much choice, we paid for our tickets and spent an hour or so grabbing lunch at one of the vendors at the station. Supposedly I had a chicken sandwich. To be honest, I’m not sure what kind of meat that was in the bread but it was definitely tasty. The cook was very friendly ad patient with my mediocre French but wanted to practice his English by complementing the beauty of our female companions.
Shortly after finishing our meal we were approached by a man who said he was the driver and told us our bus was boarding soon. He took us to the bus, loaded our bags, and then demanded 10dh for each bag. We paid and took our seats. After sitting there for about 30 minutes and never seeing him again, we realized he was just hustling us for some change. The small amount was so trivial that we just laughed that somebody would go through so much trouble for pocket change.
The bus wasn’t the most comfortable and broke down twice. I’m not sure what was wrong but the driver managed to fix it after a few minutes.
A 20-something Moroccan man struck up conversation with us after hearing that we were going to Chefchaouen. He said he lived there and we would need to take a taxi because there was no bus going there that afternoon. We were a little hesitant to trust him but we went ahead and accepted his help in finding a taxi. He negotiated a very good deal for the taxi and asked if he could ride with us. We were happy to share it with him and we covered the cost. For over an hours drive up a small mountain, I think we only paid about $10-15 between the four of us. The only bad part was that the four of us had to squeeze in the back seat
Eventually we arrived in Chefchaouen and mentioned that we were going to find a room at Pension Znika. Our new Moroccan friend Youssef, told us that he lived next to Pension Znika. We didn’t quite believe him, as we have already had our fair share of people doing anything they can for a tip, but we were too tired to try and navigate Chefchaouen with our guide book’s map and we let him take us there.
After walking up several hilly streets we finally arrived at Pension Znika. Youssef came in with us and spoke to the owner. After a short conversation, he told us the price for two rooms which was considerably cheaper than the guide book listed. We each paid about $7 per night. I thanked Youssef and went to give him a tip for his help. He immediately told me that he would not accept and that he was just being a friend by welcoming us to his town.
After that, he asked if we would like to go get some tea with him after we got settled and cleaned up. We agreed and went up to our rooms. Pension Znika is in a very nice small pension with a handful of colorfully decorated rooms. The best part is the roof terrace and its beautiful view of Chefchaouen.
We met back up with Youssef and went out for some tea. We spent a good hour or so asking him many questions about Morocco and Chefchaouen. When we were finished, Youssef insisted on paying for our drinks. I believed he was being genuine but there was no way we would let him do that. As we were finishing, he asked if we would be interested in going to his place that night to enjoy a tagine for dinner. We couldn’t believe that this guy who we just met could be any more friendly and welcoming.
We of course obliged and after a short walk around the main square, we headed over to his family’s place. We realized by his “family” he actually meant his good friends. Since they don’t have their own families there, they spend most nights together enjoying dinner and company. When we arrived, we were surprised to see an American couple who another one of the guys had met and invited over. There were at least 10 of us enjoying dinner. We had a giant tagine with beef and an amazing an interesting base of peas and other vegetables and tasty juices. I personally don’t eat beef so I enjoyed scooping up the peas with my bread and dining on that for the night. It was very interesting sharing one big plate of food with everybody using nothing but our hands.
Remember, when in Morocco it’s polite to use your right hand ONLY for eating. You can imagine what the left is commonly used for.
We must have spent several hours at dinner. Everybody was incredibly nice. Some of the guys spoke good English, some did not. There were three languages going around the room, Arabic, French, and English. In fact, the man responsible for the cooking started speaking some basic Japanese to me since I said I knew a few words.
Probably the best part was the corny jokes that one of the guys was telling. Meeting travelers is obviously a common thing for them and he likes to have each one tell him a joke or cheesy pick up line. My favorite was, “Do you know how much a polar bear weighs? Enough to break the ice. Hello, my name is Abdulsalam.”
We were cracking up to say the least!
When we returned to Pension Znika all four of us were in awe of how our day had transpired. Stressed beyond reason earlier, we ended up having an amazing night with some extremely friendly people. It turned out to be one of the most memorable nights of my life.
We were wide awake so we quietly went up on the rooftop terrace and gazed at the stars for about an hour. The sky was so unbelievably clear. Nothing like what I am used to at home. It was truly breathtaking.
With some new travel partners I was excited to get on with my first real day of enjoying Morocco.
The hostel put on a small breakfast consisting of pastries and cafe au lait. The pastries were very tasty but it’s always difficult for me to transition from the typical hearty American breakfast I eat at home.
Dominique, Rob, Lauren and Lizzie and I decided to explore Fes el Jedid, the new medina of Fes. While it is called the “new” medina, it is anything from new. Built about 900 years ago, the medina is a walled medieval area where most people live, shop, and eat.
It wasn’t a very far walk so we passed on taking a cab. Before arriving at the entrance to the medina, we passed the king’s palace with it’s beautiful tiled walls and towering carved doors.
Entering the medina is like stepping into another world. The walkways are thin and often difficult to navigate with the crowds. You had better be prepared to hug a wall when a donkey cart comes rolling through!
You’re presented with an abundance of sights, sounds and smells. Fresh foods are being cooked in a stall next to a shop specializing in rugs or finely woven silk. The goods are amazingly beautiful with the exception of freshly butchered legs of lamb and the occasional head as well. That was certainly a surprise.
The new medina was less threatening than expected. The guide books warn of unofficial guides looking to hustle you or rude shop keepers whistling at passing girls. We had a few people try very hard to get us into their shops, but we didn’t have any problems.
After exploring the winding streets of the new medina we headed to the Jewish cemetery and paid 10dh to enter. Fes once had a very large Jewish population and nearly every one of them who died there were buried at this cemetery. Bleached white headstones mark the above ground graves and a few small mausoleums have lit candles that look like they had been burning for weeks. At the far end was a wall which offered us a great view of kids playing football down below.
After the cemetery we headed back to the hostel and had Abdullah help book us an official guide to tour the old medina in the afternoon.
The girls decided to buy some snacks for lunch at a small shop but Rob and I opted for a bigger meal. We found a street front cafe and took a seat on the patio. For about $4 or $5 I had a salad with a plate of chicken kabobs, fries and hummus. It was quite tasty and the price was certainly fair.
Back at the hostel we met up with three people from Scotland who had also hitch hiked all the way to Morocco. They asked about joining in with us on the tour. Dominique decided to go at it alone so we had a group of seven. The tour guide didn’t seem to mind. It was much cheaper being split seven ways so at the end we gave him a pretty decent tip.
Fes el Bali, the old medina, was fascinating. It was much larger than the new medina yet the walkways were much thinner. It is built on a hill and there is no method to the layout of the hundreds of streets. I would have been extremely lost without a guide.
He took is to a mosque/madressa which I was surprised to be able to enter. It was small, but so unbelievably detailed that I was in awe.
There were so many sights to stop and look at but eventually we made our way up to where the leather tanneries are located. We visited a shop where we were shown some leather goods (the story of any tour in Morocco will likely involve being taken to a shop). After a short sales pitch we were walked to the back of the shop where there was a wonderful view of the tanneries below. Unfortunately the work had already ceased for the day but the smells coming out of the pits was powerful and unique.
Through out the tour we taken to several shops. While none of us young back packers were planning on purchasing anything we enjoyed the short demonstrations we were shown. It was interesting to see their techniques up close and in person. The mint tea at the rug shop was quite tasty as well.
Despite not planning on purchasing anything, several of us bought some scarves from a silk shop. Not only did they show us how they wove them, but they then proceeded to dress me up in one and show how a desert crossing Berber man would cover his face from a sand storm. I didn’t think the look was very fashionable for me, but I found a couple that my sisters would like so I bought them each a nice silk scarf.
One thing I was looking forward to was picking up some spices for my tagine recipes back home. We visited a big spice shop and I picked up a bunch of Ras al-Hanout to smuggle back in. The girls all got some henna done on their hands as well.
Before the tour came to an end we samples some fresh almond filled pastries. They were amazing!
When we finally returned to the hostel for the evening we were all starving. We found a restaurant that was recommended to us not only by our guidebook, but a random stranger on our way. I’m pretty sure he wanted a tip but I don’t think any of us gave him one for reaffirming our choice in dining.
As every other meal I had so far, the food was wonderful. Chicken, golden raisins and some vegetables cooked in a tagine, served over fresh couscous. So juicy and full of flavor.
The food took a little longer than expected though so I went back with two of the other guys to make sure the hostel would keep the doors open past the 10pm curfew to allow the rest of our group to pay the bill.
Unfortunately they got lost on the way back and the security guard went to sleep. We had to wake them up when they arrived around 11pm and he wasn’t very happy!
Several of us stayed up and hung out on the patio again and met some other people who were also staying there. Long night of chatting with people from all over the world. It’s always interesting who you can meet halfway across the world.
I awoke early to the street traffic outside my hotel window. The plan for the day was to head to Hassan II Mosque and take a tour. That’s right, a non-Muslim entering a mosque. It’s rare, but Hassan II Mosque allows visitors at certain times to take a tour of the unbelievably large and beautiful structure. It’s truly a marvel to see and is one of the most impressive religious sites I have ever seen. As a matter of fact, it is the second largest mosque outside of Mecca.
I’ll leave all the interesting facts up to you read at its wikipedia page. You can also watch this video I shot in HD (you’ll have to click the link to go to the vimeo page to watch the HD version. It will only play in SD embedded in my blog).
I decided to walk to the mosque since it was early and I got lost in the medina. What a site it was though. The walkways are very narrow and cramped with vendors bringing their produce through to get ready for the day. Plenty of live animals waiting to be sold and butchered, eggs, potatoes, and more were making their way to the market.
After about 45 minutes of walking north through the medina, I ended up right back where I started. Apparently I wasn’t going north the entire time. I opted for one of the plentiful and affordable taxis. I believe it only cost 10dh which is less than $2.
After my short tour of the mosque, I headed back to pick up my things at the hotel and made my way to the train station. I managed to find my train just as it was about to leave the station. I boarded and took my assigned seat in the correct compartment thanks to one of the attendants. I probably wouldn’t have been able to decipher my ticket without him.
The compartment had six seats and I was the fifth and final passenger to sit there. There was a Moroccan man dressed in western attire and a couple wearing traditional djellabas. I said “bonjour” and sat down excpecitng a quiet six-hour train ride. I was surprised to hear the couple start speaking to each other in English with British accents. After talking to them for a while I learned they were British-born Pakistani and purchased the djellabas during their holiday in Marrakesh.
We talked a lot during the train ride and the Moroccan man chimed in with some information on Fes as he was from there. Soon enough, he offered to set me up with his friend who was a guide (considered a requirement for navigating the medina). I had heard the warnings of unofficial guides and was reluctant to trust him. He assured me he was official and would show me his id card that they are required to show. Eventually I agreed so he called him on his cell and asked him to meet us at the train station.
He was waiting for me when we arrived and was very friendly. He showed me his id, tucked it in his pocket and we got in his car along with his driver. He offered to drop me off at a hotel and then pick me up the next morning for our tour. The only problem was that he refused to take me to any of the hotels I asked to go to based on my guide book. He had an excuse for every one whether it was dirty or used by prostitutes. I began to realize he was hustling me and asked to be dropped off at the hostel. He reluctantly agreed.
When we arrived it was closed. I assumed he only agreed because he knew they would be closed at that moment. I knew I needed to ditch this guy and luckily for me a tall backpacker came walking up. The guide was talking to his driver over by the car and I mustered up enough French to tell the guy that I needed to get away from this guide and to pretend to be my friend. He told me that the book said the hostel opened at 6:30 so we had an hour to spare.
I went over to the guide and told him I was going to get food with my friend and that I wouldn’t need him anymore. He insisted on meeting me back at the hostel to make sure I found somewhere to stay. I didn’t have any way to change his mind and left, hoping he would be gone when I returned.
I learned the backpacker’s name was Dominique and he was from Germany. He spoke a French a bit better than me but his English was very good so we opted to use it. We walked to a cafe and did as all Moroccan men do in the afternoon. Sit on a cafe patio and drink mint tea for an hour or so.
The hostel was open when we returned and sure enough, the guide was sitting there drinking tea with the owner. He got up, and told me the place was all full and he would take me some where else. I asked the owner if this was true and he said yes, but gave me an odd look. The guide started speaking Arabic to him and even though I didn’t understand most of what they were saying, I could tell he was pressuring him to turn me away.
I went up to the guide, gave him 100dh and thanked him for his help but that I was going to go on my own. He gladly took the money and agreed to leave but not before he gave me his phone number so I could call him tomorrow if I needed the tour after all.
Once he left, Abdullah, the owner, came to me and apologized. He said that the guide is official, but he works off the clock to make more money and basically was threatening him to turn me away. He was glad I understood his hint and stayed. His bed situation was pretty unorganized and he had a difficult time finding beds for Dominique and I but eventually he put us in a private room that we split.
After hanging around the hostel for a while I heard three English travelers being turned away by Abdullah because he didn’t think he had enough beds for the lone male (the rooms are not co-ed). As they were about to leave I told them to stay for a few minutes and I spoke to Abdullah. I reminded him that there was an open bed in one of the male dorms because Dominique opted to share my room instead of taking the last bed. The three of them were glad we figured out a solution because it was dark at this point and it would be difficult finding someplace to stay.
I chatted with them for a while and asked about heading out to dinner. They agreed and so did Dominique so we headed out to a restaurant that Lonely Planet recommended. It was definitely marketed to tourists as everybody there was American, but the food was wonderful and the price wasn’t too bad.
Once back at the hostel we sat outside on the patio for a few hours chatting. The weather was wonderful and it was nice to have conversation that wasn’t challenging due to language barriers.
I learned that Lauren, Lizzie, and Rob had hitchhiked all the way from England. Coming from America, this was one of the craziest ideas I had ever heard. Apparently though, it is a fairly common thing to do in Europe. They weren’t homeless travelers or anything. They were all university students and did it for charity. They had people sponsor them financially and then the money went to charities of their choosing. I thought it was not only brave and adventurous, but very respectable that somebody would do that to help others.
We headed to bed after a while and decided to tour the new medina on our own the following morning and then take an official tour of the old medina in the afternoon.
It was an extremely long day that had its ups and downs but when it was all over, I was quite pleased I was safe and made some new friends along the way.