Two and half weeks. Forty-nine hours in the car. Sixteen hundred miles. Thousands of photos, & me and my dashing gent.
How about we HOW TO this Moroccan road trip, buoys and gulls! (I saw that on a ferry in New Zealand once, designating the gendered bathrooms. Still kills me.)
Brimming with culture, color, and bustling markets
HOW TO: Dress.
Morocco is 99% Muslim. Cover you shoulders, knees, and boobs. Skip any spandex. It’s not a complicated riddle, and you don’t need to be draped head to toe in everything oversized, nor is a hijab necessary. If you’re not traveling with a man in your party, you’ll have a harder time and will likely want to err on the side of extra conservative. All of that being said, I saw plenty of European tourists in crop tops, tube tops, and short skirts. No one was hurling insults or spoiled, cartoon inspired fruit. But I wouldn’t want the shame and scorn it generally incurs on the street—particularly in the smaller towns and cities.
Historic seaside town, full of fish and crumbly architecutal delights
HOW TO: Eat.
Tajine. Tajine. Tajine. Let's start a slow chant. In reality, it would be similar to chanting grill, grill, grill in America—it speaks of the method of cooking, not the actual food inside. But that food is always tender, juicy, and steaming hot as the lid of the clay pot is theatrically pulled away at your table. To accompany, your beverage staple will no doubt be the ubiquitous silver pot of mint tea.
One of the surprises in Morocco is that unlike Europe, restaurant tipping is customary which we didn’t realize until a few days in. Ten percent for a sit down meal, 30-50 cents extra at a cafe. Another, bigger surprise were the cafes themselves. A large portion of our time was spent driving, cruising through rural towns where options were limited. Cafes didn't appear to be friendly, welcome oases of food, but rather silent, sit-still men's clubs, skilled in the art of making hungry, foreign women feel uncomfortable. We often went hungry.
A peaceful gem in the mountains
HOW TO: Shop.
The bad news: haggling. The good news: things are cheap enough that if you really don’t want to, you can surprise every shopkeeper by agreeing to the initial price. They say you should only pay about 30% of the starting offer, making the seller begin the negotiations. I was content to put in a half assed attempt, and I walked away with 2 leather bags for which I paid 90% of the starting bid, for the luxury of not having to argue over dollars and cents. I’m a Minnesotan. It feels rude and I just don’t want to. But I'm proud that I at least tried, after several rehearsals with Eric, a few sweaty wipes of my palms, and numerous aborted missions.
AÏT BENHADDOU + DADÈS GORGES
Ancient sites turned movie sets, and the world's most dangerous road
HOW TO: Not get hassled.
Psych! You can’t! Put plainly, no one was ever friendly with us unless we paid them. And even then, it was often stilted. The Moroccan culture felt hard to penetrate, with hard lines drawn between local and visitor. What culture we could manage was solely designed for tourists, with strong emphasis on the wild exoticism of Africa. (To me, that’s the same as visiting Hawaii, then feeling like you can relate to all of America as a result.) Could I have tried harder to make a connection? Sure. But at some point, I decided to let go of the idea that I was traveling and resigned myself to the post of tourist. My stress levels were too high to tolerate much more.
A hot slice of the Sahara, home to Bedouin tribes
HOW TO: Sleep.
We stayed in palaces (no, really) and we stayed in some dumpy shit holes. (Not really. But one bathroom smelled so foul, we had to hold our breath to enter.) And the unanimous verdict is that a riad=the rad way to go. Typically tucked off a side street marked by a discreet door, a riad is a traditional Moroccan home built around a central courtyard. Features commonly include fruit trees, intricate tiling, and a fountain. The design was originally meant to convey inner reflection and allow privacy for the family’s women. Marrakech has the cheapest + best + most to choose from; I would return just to spend a few weeks lolling from riad to riad. Lodging was overall pretty cheap in Morocco, considering that for $125 you can find a chain motel in Milwaukee, or for the same, you can snag a room in a former pasha’s palace in Fes built in 1372.
Oldest working medina in the world
HOW TO: Rent a car.
First let's talk about how to sign contracts—you better make sure you can read the language they’re in before you commit your pen to the paper. We were bullied and misled into paying an extra $350 on our $600 car, and our experience with Avis left a horribly sour taste in our mouth. I'm still happy we decided to rent for the whole time, but maaaaan. (Oh, right: we were also given a car with leaking tire.) Bottom line: know what the company policy is. Stick to your guns. Brush up on your French. Fortify yourself against your jet lag before going in to do battle.
The Blue Pearl, full of paint and pot
HOW TO: Drive.
Stick to the speed limit. Even though the signs will be illogically and sporadically posted, drive slower than you think unless you want a speeding ticket. (We did not drive slower than we thought, but we at least now have an interesting souvenior. Whoops.) On a two lane road, of which there will be plenty, a left blinker from the vehicle ahead of you indicates that the way is clear for you to leap frog. Park on the outskirts of a medina town and walk your way in. The lanes are narrow and already full of pedestrians, animals, and other vehicles trying to squeeze past you on a one way. On your walk in, don't tell anyone where you are staying. They will ask. And then they will demand payment for pointing you in the right direction, regardless of whether you need it or not. We had one hustler demand 30 Euros for showing us the 5 alleyway turns to our hotel. A hotel which didn't even cost 30 Euros. Side note: Fes is especially horrible. You will hear a constant, "You are lost!" echoing after you in every alleyway, regardless of where you are trying to go, in the hopes of having their services utilized. Download an area map when you're connected to Wifi, then use it offline while you're wandering. The little blue dot will still know where you are.
Modern capital city
HOW TO: Talk about it.
Oooooooff. Despite my doubts in publishing this (in doing the obligatory re-read, this is not sounding overwhelmingly positive) I’m pushing this out into the world, oh, Internet! Yep, it’s a pretty place, but I found it pretty difficult. Am I glad I went? Sure. Do I have complicated opinions surrounding feminism especially, and colonialism as it relates to respecting someone else’s culture? Absolutely. I also hope you'll tell me all about your time spent there, or you'll remember to drop me a note when you go—I'd love to hear from you. :*
PS: a video link, chronicling the trip with the help of George Ezra.