Phil's Travels | Morocco - Jan 2017
Created 14-Jan-17
236 photos

Two weeks in Morocco gave me a taste of the country. Ryanair fly direct from Dublin to Marrakesh. Morocco is geographically close, but is very exotic, the sights, sounds, and smells an assault on the senses, a fascinating place. Marrakesh in January can be chilly, especially after dark, as in the hot desert of the Sahara, nighttime comes and temperatures plummet. But days are sunny and comfortable. The main square in the old medina is Jemma El Fnaa. It's a huge square with all kinds of stalls selling everything from leather goods, brass ornaments, handicrafts, to fake Rolex watches, Gucci bags, etc. Like in Egypt you will be approached by hustlers trying to make a sale, or they'll insist you visit their shop where they'll try to flog you a carpet. You can ask if they have one of the type you see in the movies, a magical flying one.. Sometimes these touts and hustlers can be really annoying and persistent. I felt like saying 'F off and leave me alone!' But best to just ignore them. You'll also see snake charmers and guys with Barbary apes chained to them,which they want you to pose with for photos, and then fleece you for whatever they can. These monkeys taken from the Atlas mountains endure a pitiful existence. And the snake charmers train the snakes by having them strike at hard objects which cause pain, and so the snakes learn to associate striking with pain. The other way is to sew their mouths closed with just enough space for their tongue to protrude. My advice is to avoid both the monkey men and the snake charmers.In the evening the square fills with food stalls and you'll have musicians and other entertainers. Watch your pockets! The pickpockets here are professional. if you're carrying a visa or debit card, memorize then scratch the last 3 digits off the back of your card, retailers always ask for the last 3 digits to authorize a sale. The food in Morocco is wonderful, I'd recommend trying dishes with lamb, chicken and seafood. The tagine is a slowly cooked stew in an earthenware pot, it's really good, with lots of flavour from their spices. There are little stalls and restaurants everywhere, and it's very inexpensive, especially if you eat where the locals do.The old leather tanneries are worth seeing, an ancient tradition, bring a handkerchief or something to cover your nose, the stench can be pretty strong. A couple of hours drive from Marrakesh and you'll reach the coastal town of Essaouira. An 18th century fortified town, a tad too touristy for my liking, and this was January. But it was nice to relax by the sea and watch the kite surfers. Near Essaouira you may see goats which regularly climb up trees to munch on the leaves and fruit, these are argan trees, from which argan oil derives.The goats are detrimental to and stunt the growth of this endemic tree.North of Essaouira I visited Safi, the main fishing port, and famous for its ceramics, I visited a workshop and watched them mould these beautiful pots from clay. Then on to Oualidia, Morocco's "oyster capital," Some nice stretches of beach nearby, enjoyed jogging on the beach. I then returned to Marrakesh and took the train to Fez, the medieval capital of Morocco.Fez is famous for it's medina, which holds the record of being the world's largest car free urban area. It's a maze of narrow alleyways, some barely wide enough for a donkey to pass. All the guide books and the locals tell you that you need a guide to avoid getting lost. I wandered through the alleyways and several faux guides approached me, one young fellow offered to guide me for free. But after 15 minutes or so he asked for money, when I refused he said I'd have to find my way out by myself. No problem, I told him to go away, my mobile phone has a built in compass as one of its apps, and Bob's your uncle.The medina in Fez is one of the most amazing places I've been, more so than in Marrakesh.It will really overwhelm the senses. It also has a huge tannery, the world's largest, they try to charge you to enter but there's a leather shop beside it that offers views to the tannery free of charge and you can see it all from the balcony, and avoid the stench I endured in Marrakesh. Next stop after Fez was Chefchaouen, close to Tangier in the north. In this town and in the north of Morocco the locals speak Spanish as their second language, rather than French which is the norm in most of the country.There are even a couple of places, Melilla and Ceuta, which are Spanish territories in Morocco, both of these cities surrounded by security fences, as would be immigrants who enter either of them would be entering the EU. Chefchaouen is famous for its houses which have a blue white-wash on their walls. Very pretty. It's also known for its marijauna, which is grown locally. I had several people try to sell me marijuana. No way Jose! I can imagine someone being set up here and arrested by the cops, and finally being released after donating a large dollop of baksheesh. Onward to Meknes, an old imperial city with its grand palace and high walls surrounding the city. You'll enter through huge wooden gates at intervals. Unlike other Muslim countries I've been to, many of the mosques and mausoleums in Morocco don't allow entry to non-Muslims. I can't imagine a church in Ireland or elsewhere refusing entry to a non-Christian. Mosques, like churches or monasteries can be beautiful pieces of architecture, so it's a shame to see this discrimination. Traveling in a Muslim country you'll often find that your hotel, or riad in the case of Morocco is close to a mosque.Five times a day you'll hear this call to prayer.This loud discordant wailing sound will wake you at dawn, perhaps 5am. Bring your ear plugs..Close to Meknes I visited the partly excavated Roman town of Volubilis. This is a very special archaeological site, and has beautiful coloured mosaics preserved in situ,depicting various animals like lions,elephants,monkeys, and scenes from daily life. Absolutely stunning! Traveling on by bus I reach Rabat, the capital. Once a haven for Barbary pirates, in fact the town of Baltimore in County Cork, Ireland was attacked and plundered in 1631 in the largest attack by North African pirates in the British Isles.Today it's quite a pleasant city with wide boulevards and nice parks, and the old medina. I never tire of wandering around these old bazaars.
From Rabat I take the train back to Marrakesh.And so I end my Moroccan adventure. It's a good country to travel in, very interesting, people are friendly and talkative, the food is really good. I must go back some day to trek in the Atlas mountains and spend a night under the stars in the Sahara. That'll be another day.

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