Morocco in a week
My Morocco trip in November started off with something strange.
I flew with British Airways to Marrakech, the fourth largest city in the country, after Casablanca, Fes and Tangier.
Captain: We have a bad news.
(It’s not something that you want to hear on a plane!!)
Captain: Due to the bad weather in Marrakech, we don’t have enough fuel to hover above the sky so we will land in Casablanca, get a refill and hope to bring you all to Marrakech.
We were an hour or so late when we were in Marrakech.
From Marrakech Airport to City Center
The city center is only 12 minutes away from Marrakesh Menara Airport. The taxi fare to the center has to be pre-agreed. They charge MAD150 as they explained there is a night surcharge. I asked the taxi driver to call my hostel so that I can verify this information which turned out to be true sadly. There is also a public bus number 11 available.
Getting lost in Marrakech
I stayed at Young and Happy Hostel Marrakech which was about 5 minutes walk to the medina. It’s €9 per night with breakfast! No complaints at all.
It’s already night time when we were in Marrakech. First thing was to get our stomach filled. You would be constantly approached when you walk past the medina. The food they are selling are pretty much very similar with about same price.
On the next day, we explored the medina quarter by getting lost in those narrow alleys and lanes.
How the scam works in Marrakech
While we were wandering, we were often approached by the locals. Next, they would volunteer to be your tour guide and show you around the city.
How I got scammed (almost)
There were quite a few men telling us there’s a special market day that he can show us. Another man said that he would bring us to a tannery as we would need a guide for that. So he took us to a meeting point and then handed us over to another man. By that time, we were in a leather tannery in Marrakech. The man handed us a sprig of mint to mask the smell of dye and animal hides. Clearly I knew that he was going to ask us for money once we were done with the ‘tour’. We decided to escape earlier to avoid further embarrassment. We made up an excuse and said thank you goodbye. Before I left, he asked us to pay and return the mint (well, of course). No money was given to him except his mint.
Seriously, it was so exhausting to untrust people. When you were told about the following, most of the time, they are not true.
- If you want to see the tannery you need to hire a guide.
- There’s a special celebration today and I can show you – for free.
- That street is closed.
- The place that you want to go is closed.
- “Let me show you, no charge”
How to avoid being scammed?
The tannery scam wasn’t the first scam. There were times we were approached.
At the beginning – 1) completely ignore them; 2) say no and walk away; 3) this case is rare, if they follow you, say a firm NO again and probably…walk faster.
In the scam – just like what I did, make up an excuse, say goodbye and remember to return anything that they have given to you.
Too late – It’s never too late as soon you would realize it’s a scam. Just don’t go further. Walk away. You would be asked to pay for sure, just say no, you will get nothing / I don’t have cash / any excuses would do. Worst case scenario, make a fuss and threaten to call the police.
The next few days we were off to the Sahara.
In fact, I didn’t have much time to visit Fes.
Fes is the second largest city in Morocco. It is also very famous for its leather products. Stuck in the grand taxi from 10am till 4pm, I arrived at Fes just right before the sun sets and was welcomed by another possible scam. A man claimed himself to be the tourism board of Morocco was offering help to locate our hostel. Oops. Is this some kind of new tactics to scam tourists?
The hostel which we supposed to stay at were fully booked so some time was spent on looking for another one.
However, probably the first and the last genuine hospitality from a local, the hostel owner – he referred us to his friendly riad hostel which we had a really good rate. A riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. He warned us not to wander off the alleys and lanes at night as it is not safe.
Anything outside this Blue Gate is a complete different world.
Roaming in Chefchaouen
Another day up at 6am-ish to catch the bus to Chefchaouen, one of the highlights of this trip. It is rumored that the medina was painted in blue by the Jewish refugees who settled there in the 15th century. They considered blue as a symbol of sky and heaven.
I stayed at a traditional blue ‘apartment’ in Chefchaouen called Casa La Hiba at €30 per night per private room. My room was on the second floor where I can barely use any Wi-Fi reception. Having said that, it is conveniently located and offers good view of the blue city.
I wish I have more time in Chefchaouen because I will definitely go for a day hike.
Food in Morocco
Probably it’s my problem. I don’t find much varieties of Moroccan food, mostly salad, couscous, tagine and lots of bread. Restaurants also offer western cuisines like pasta and pizza! So happen the pictures I took were all about tagine…
Maybe it’s my problem again, there’s nothing much to do in Casablanca though it’s the largest city in Morocco, and also the ugliest, in my opinion. The streets are dirty and have a funny smell. Air is particularly polluted compared to other cities. Rick’s Cafe (a re-creation of the cafe in the movie Casablanca) was full of tourists, which I did not go. Well, the movie wasn’t even filmed in Casablanca…
Hassan II Mosque should be the most interesting place to go. It’s the largest mosque in Morocco and 13th in the world.
So if you don’t have enough time, just skip Casablanca. You would miss nothing.
Flying back to Lisbon, Portugal by this flight…