Something many people are not familiar with is bartering. In America it’s very rare to barter for any goods or services in a traditional marketplace. Of course things like eBay and Craigslist have changed the way we shop, but for the most part, Americans don’t enter a store and offer half of the advertised price and expect to get away with it. In some countries, that’s exactly what you are expected to do though.
Check out some of these great stories, bits of information, or pieces of inspiration found via Twitter in an August 14th edition of Travel Link Roundup.
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.
Language is important.
Pretty obvious, right?
Being American (technically Canadian-American but who’s counting?) I am always surprised by how few of us speak a foreign language. Sure, in California many people speak Spanish, but not nearly as many as you would expect.
One of the things I always tell people is that they should learn at least a few conversational basics when traveling to a foreign country.
I did a lot to cram in some French and Italian before traveling to Europe for my first backpacking trip. I was in no way fluent, or even comfortable speaking either language, but what little I did know helped tremendously.
Many Americans expect that since they are paying tourists, they should be catered to. If you use Paris for an example, you’ll realize that Paris does not live off of tourism! It’s the cultural center of France and if no Americans visited, they would hardly miss us.
I saw this first hand when ordering lunch at a small cafe. I managed to ask for a particular sandwich and a glass of tea but I could not understand the price. I politely asked, “parlez-vous Anglais?”
“Yes, a little,” she responded and told me the price in English. I paid, thanked her in French, received a kind smile and enjoyed my food.
Shortly after another young backpacker came in and asked for something using only English and didn’t even bother to try French. The same lady who was so friendly to me responded, “je suis désolé monsieur. Je ne comprende pas Anglais.” He made a couple more requests in English but eventually left frustrated and hungry. The lady looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and smiled.
To her, a few Euros were less important than the cultural pride. This attitude is very common not only in Paris, but anywhere that does not rely solely on tourism.
But surely you don’t have the time to enroll in a class and practice for several months before traveling.
So here is the real secret I promised:
Never heard the name before? Well Dr. Pimsleur created a wonderful technique for learning language and has produced fantastic audio programs.
While the full versions with nearly 50 hours of training are quite expensive, there is a great alternative if you wish to get started and learn the basics, whether it be for fun or in preparation for a trip.
The insert Pimsleur Learn to Speak & Understand programs contain 16 lessons (each unit of the full program has 30, so you are getting about half of the free unit). The best part, they’re pretty cheap on Amazon.
Of course, they hope you enjoy them and decide to move on to the full course. If you do, I believe there is an upgrade program for purchasers of the intro versions.
Let me tell you first hand that these work very well and will prepare you for many common situations such as asking (and understanding) directions, ordering food, or exchanging money. Of course you’ll learn how to politely interact with people in that language and how to ask for help if you are unable to understand.
I tried several different French audio training tools before coming across the Pimsleur program. The other were ALL a waste of money.
Here’s the list of all the ones I have used and enjoyed success with:
Again, I am far from fluent in any of these (except French which I went on to study for a couple of years) but learning these basics will be very rewarding.
Sure. You can usually get by with English and hand gestures, but being able to speak a language can help in ways you’ve never imagined.
Have you tried learning a language before your trip? Post a comment and let us know how it went. Have a funny language story? Please share!
“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.