Morocco

 

Trip Summary:

Dates:    June 5th to June 20th

Year: 2014

Main Language of Country:   Arabic (then French, then English)

Capital City of Country: Rabat

Transportation Used:   Plane, Bus, Camel, Taxi

Currency: Moroccan Dirham (MAD)

Accommodation: Hostels, Riads

Number of Photos Taken: 2043

Favorite Place: Chefchaouen

Average Cost of a Full Meal: 4 – 12 Canadian Dollars

Average Cost of a Night per Person: $10 to $35 (breakfast is usually included)

Strange Foods Eaten: Stuffed Pigeon, Pastilla (meat pie pastry…weird but delicious)

Tap Water Drinkable: No

 

 

Introduction:

I went to Morocco the summer after I graduated from the University of Calgary. I had spent several months after school applying to jobs and struggling to find anything as the economy was very slow in Alberta. Rather than get frustrated, I decided to use the time that I had to do some of the travelling that I had always wanted to do.

Prior to this, I had done a bit of travelling within Canada, different places in the United States, a school trip to Japan, and a few places in the Caribbean such as Mexico and Honduras. But never anything significant or out of my comfort zone.

My trip to Morocco was also my first time travelling overseas by myself. Before the trip, I did everything that I could to try to find someone else that was able to go with me, and when I couldn’t, I nearly cancelled the trip altogether. After a lot of thinking, I finally committed to the trip and booked my flights. I guess I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the start of something that would change my life forever.

A lot of people say that travel helps you discover yourself and that you’ll learn who you really are when you travel by yourself. And, while I don’t necessarily believe that, it did change my perspective on what is possible when you commit to it and it helped me gain confidence in so many different ways.

I’ve always been a huge introvert, and have read and heard about other people’s travel stories about going to these crazy places and making friends with people from all around the world and I always thought that it would be tough for me to do that. Once you put yourself out there and push yourself to try new things however, you’ll surprise yourself with what you are capable of.

More than anything though, the trip sparked a love of travel and photography and gave me a small taste of how much there is to explore in the world. Because of this, Morocco will always hold a special spot for me and is one trip that I will never forget.


TIP: Before you get any further, here is a quick list of words that might be helpful to know:

  • Riad: A traditional private home (turned into a hotel or place to stay) that typically has a central courtyard
  • Souk: The market area of Moroccan cities. It’s usually a crowded and confusing maze of shops
  • Tangine: A clay dish used to cook a traditional stew, usually with meat, vegetables, couscous, and spices
  • Hammam: A traditional bathhouse (tourist ones are similar to a spa and massage)
  • Medina: The old walled sections of Moroccan cities
  • Petit Taxi: A taxi that’s a hatchback.
  • Grand Taxi: A taxi that’s a regular-sized car.
  • Minaret: A tall tower of mosques
  • Berber: The native inhabitants of North Africa. They were nomadic people that settled Morocco prior to Arab arrival

 

Marrakech: (June 5 – 7)

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My first stop in Morocco was Marrakech. It’s likely the most popular travel destination within Morocco, and also serves as a good hub to access many of the other areas in the country.

Before arriving in Marrakech, I had booked my first couple of nights at a hostel and had arranged to be picked up at the airport. I wasn’t totally sure how to use the taxis or busses and with the language barrier, I didn’t want there to be any issues getting to the hostel.


TIP: I stayed at Marrakech Rouge Hostel. The location and the staff were great, and I would recommend it to anyone. I met a lot of other travellers during my time at this hostel and it served as my home away from home for the first half of my trip. And they have endless mint tea, so that’s a bonus.


 

When I got off the plane in Marrakech, however there was no sign of my pickup anywhere. I waited for about an hour or more hoping that someone would show up. To paint the picture for you, I was by myself, at night, with no internet or phone, with no directions or phone number, in a city that is renowned for having maze-like streets that make it impossible to find anything, but virtually guarantee you getting lost in a very short time. Oh, and I had trouble communicating with anyone because of a large language barrier (English is the distinct third language, with Arabic and French being the primary languages) so it was hard to get much help from anyone.

I also wasn’t thinking and I didn’t write down the address of the hostel before hand, so I only had the name of the hostel to go by. Without getting into too much detail though, I was eventually able to catch a taxi into the city centre and found someone that was able to guide me to the hostel. I’ll likely never forget that taxi ride, or walking through the busy streets at night with my heavy backpack, hoping that I was being taken to the right place.

All in all, it worked out with no real issues but it was definitely a scary moment and not the best introduction to Morocco (or to travelling solo), but I think that’s part of travelling and at least makes for a story.

My flight over from Calgary had a layover in Amsterdam for 8 hours and after being on three different continents in one day, as well as the time zone change and lack of sleep, I was exhausted. I didn’t get to sleep long, however, because at 5:00AM I was woken up by the morning call to prayer, which scared the shit out of me and didn’t let me get back to sleep afterwards.


TIP: Throughout Morocco (and other Muslim countries) there is a call to prayer 5 times a day. It’s a voice that you hear throughout the city from the speakers at the top of the minarets of the mosques. The first one is around 5AM and the last is around dusk. It’s tends to be quite loud if you’re near a mosque and is very haunting sound when you first hear it. Typically it lasts for a few minutes.


 

Anyways, after a bit of a rough start to the trip, I started to explore the city. Marrakech is like no place that I have ever been before. You could spend days and days wandering the ancient streets and alley ways, getting lost and found over and over again. It’s a place with different sights, sounds, and smells around every corner. With the narrow streets, the arched doorways, and the red-brown sandstone walls, I kept expecting Aladdin and Abu to come flying around a corner on a magic carpet.

At the centre of the medina (the walled, and oldest, part of the city) is a square called Djemma el Fna. This is the hub of all of the action and where I would always try to return to when I got lost or turned around after wandering the souks and alleys. The square is lined with cafes, and restaurants and during the day it is filled with snake charmers, juice stands, medicine men, and merchants selling goods.

 

Djemma el Fna Square in Marrakech.


Throughout the evening, it gradually fills up and by the time that the sun goes down, it’s filled with musicians, story tellers, merchants, games, fortune tellers, and food stands. You can buy everything from full meals and fresh grapefruit juice, to lanterns and goat heads if you wish.

Because Marrakech is an ancient trading centre for the area, Djemma el Fna is where all of the local farmers and producers would bring their goods to sell and trade. The square was historically the place where all of the locals and visitors would gather to mingle and be entertained during the evenings. This still goes on, and you feel like an outsider looking into an ancient tradition as you wander the square, but many of the visitors nowadays are tourists from around the world rather than locals from the surrounding areas.


TIP: If you want to get into the action, grab a seat at one of the tables in the centre of the square and try having a meal there. Otherwise, if you’d rather relax and take in the action from afar, find a table at one of the restaurants or cafes that surround the square and get a meal or a pot of tea.


 

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I won’t go through all of the different sights that you’ll find throughout Marrakech, but I would recommend getting a map (the hostels and riads usually provide these when you arrive) and exploring it yourself. Don’t be afraid to get a little lost from time to time.

You have to pay to get into some of the sights, and it usually isn’t much, but I didn’t find the sights overly impressive, and used them more to get a rest from wandering the hectic streets.

I checked out a few palaces, mosques, and medersas (schools) but the alleys and markets (souks) themselves are where you will get immersed in the craziness of Marrakech (in a good and a bad way). Pictures really don’t do it justice and it is quite overwhelming and thrilling.

 

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TIP: Mint tea is a very common in Morocco and you’ll find it everywhere. You usually drink it in small glass cups out of stainless steel tea pots with lots of sugar added. It seems weird to drink hot tea when it as hot as it usually is in Morocco, but I never complained!


 

After a couple of days in Marrakech, I decided to book a guided tour to the Sahara desert through the hostel.

Sahara: (June 7 – 9)

The 3 day Sahara trip started out from Marrakech and crossed the Atlas mountains the first day. As we crossed the mountains, I realized that they were a lot taller and more impressive than I had expected them to be. I had heard that there was great mountain biking in Morocco, and my short time through the mountains on the first day of the tour already had me wanting to return with a bike to explore all of the trails that I saw. The road that crosses them is really narrow and twisty with pretty minimal guardrails along the side which made for a slightly scary experience.

 

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The views were awesome though and the higher altitude made for a very welcome change in temperature. The heat in Marrakech had been around 38 to 40 degrees Celcius, but the temperature dropped very fast as we headed higher in the mountains.


TIP: Multi-day tours are a great way to meet new people. There’s something about travelling in a small group in a foreign country that makes it very easy to get to know people and make close friendships. I was lucky and the group that was on the trip with me were all students from different parts of the world that were studying in Germany for a year together. They were very welcoming and a lot of fun throughout the trip.


 

On the other side of the mountain there were tons of small villages and towns built on the hillsides or edges of cliffs. The buildings were all the same red/beige color and seemed to be part of the landscape itself. Pictures don’t really show how cool this all looked but I think it’s a sight that is very much unique to Morocco.

 

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Alongside these buildings, there were a lot of crumbling remains of older buildings and Kasbahs which gave the whole area an ancient kind of feeling. The Kasbahs were far more impressive than I had expected to see in this area, with high walls, turrets, and elaborately decorated walls, windows and doors.

Coming from Canada, which doesn’t have the ancient history like other places of the world, it was easy to let my imagination run wild imagining these places when they were first settled, and when the Kasbahs were first built. It seemed like some of those places were stuck in time, and that the only thing that had changed since they were first built, was the shiny, black, asphalt road running through the middle of town.

On the first day, we stopped at a place call Ait-Ben-Haddou, which was near the town of Ouarzazate. This was a cool place that has been used as a film location for shows like Gladiator and Game of Thrones. The problem with tours is that we had to follow a guide around and didn’t have very much time to look around ourselves. It would have been nice to have more time to wander and explore, but you can’t have everything I suppose.

 

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As we travelled through more of these small towns south of the Atlas Mountains, I realized that the people in all of these places add to the exotic feeling with their colorful traditional dress. You also very rarely saw the people in these places driving vehicles, but instead everyone walked, rode mules, or simply sat in the shade of trees or buildings to avoid the hot sun.

The further that we went, the landscape changed from high mountains, to rolling hills, to valleys, to completely flat, desolate, plains of rock and sand. The first night we stayed in Dades Gorge which was probably my favorite place on the entire tour. The rock formations, steep walls, and again, Moroccan villages and buildings in this area made this place one of the coolest places I’ve ever seen. There is a video game that I’ve played called Far Cry, and this place reminded me of that game…except that I wasn’t running around with a rocket launcher and machine gun on my back.

 

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The place that we stayed was really cool too because it was right in the gorge with the creek running just outside of the window, and I think that was probably the best sleep that I had the entire trip.

The next day we did more driving and checked out a few towns, Todra Gorge (apparently a popular area for rock climbing), and eventually ended up in Merzouga on the edge of the Sahara by evening. We then headed into the desert on the back of camels, which was not as fun as it sounds. Aside from being quite painful and uncomfortable, it felt like riding a drunk horse, or maybe riding a horse drunk, I’m not sure which.

 


Besides this though, the scenery was spectacular and the dunes were really cool, and far larger than I had expected. That night, we were to sleep in a makeshift camp in the desert, and when we arrived we dropped our stuff at camp and climbed the largest dune to watch the sun set and do a bit of sand boarding (also not as fun as it sounds). Watching the sun set from the top of a dune in the Sahara desert, however, was probably more fun than it sounds and is something that I will likely remember forever.

 

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That night, we sat around a campfire and ate supper while some of the guides from the trip played berber drums. The next day, we did the entire drive back to Marrakech in reverse and almost the entire day was spent in the vehicle.

Essaouira: (June 10 – 11)

Essaouira, Morocco


We arrived in Marrakech the night of June 9th after the Sahara trip and I spent the night with the friends that I had met on the tour and we exchanged information so that we could keep in touch. The next morning, I hopped on a bus out to the coastal town of Essaouira (you say it kind of like Ess-Ow-Ear-Ah).


TIP: All of the travelling that I did between cities was by bus. I used the CTM bus system, which is the national bus service. It was very affordable and comfortable and was usually on time within a few minutes. To get a bus ticket, you can either ask at wherever you are staying and there are some shops in the city that sell tickets (although you’ll never know where these are unless someone shows you) or you can go directly to the CTM bus terminal and buy a ticket from there. I typically got my tickets a day or two before I wanted to leave and there are usually 2 or 3 departure times per day between most places. In all of the places that I visited, the CTM terminals were within walking distance to the places that I was staying.


 

It was a strange feeling waking up in the Sahara desert (the driest place on Earth) one morning and arriving on the humid Atlantic coast the next morning. Anyways, Essaouira reminded me of a combination of the pictures you see of Greece with its white washed walls and blue windows and doors, and California with it’s laid back, surfing atmosphere, all with a unique Moroccan twist with the markets and dress of the local people.

 

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It was also one of my favorite places that I had travelled to in Morocco yet, and I wish that I had more than the one night to stay there. The town is very laid back and relaxed compared to Marrakech, and I loved the sounds of the ocean and the smaller size of the town. Like Marrakech, you can wander the shops and souks, and the shopkeepers are far less aggressive in trying to show you their wares. There is also a long beach where people surf and kite board, as well as a small harbour for all of the fishing boats. The city was a major trading port at one time, and there are walls around the city that used to protect them from invasion. You can walk along these walls for a different perspective of the city.

 

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When I was there, they were getting ready for a music festival that happens each year and there were stages being set up. It would have been a lot of fun to be able to stay for that!

 

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It was also cool for me because Justin and Scott from Departures stopped there on their
trip to Morocco as well as one of my favorite photographers, Trey Ratcliff. It was a strange feeling to recognize a lot of the places from the Departures, as well as Trey’s pictures.

I stayed the night in a small place called Riad Lunetoile. It cost about 280 Dirham, which was roughly $30 to $35. The place was unbelievable, and I was completely shocked when I walked through the small door off of the street. It had about 3 different floors and a balcony at the top that looked over the ocean.

 

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Unfortunately, something that I had eaten that day caught up with me and I had to spend the night on the bathroom floor. I can tell you with authority, however, that the bathroom was exceptional. Fortunately, by the morning, I was feeling somewhat better and I was able to explore the city some more before I caught a bus back to Marrakech.


TIP: I stayed in low cost hostels for most of my time in Morocco. They’re great places and make it easy to meet other travellers if you’re by yourself. If you’re looking for some privacy or something with a bit more comfort, you’ll find that there are many Riads (which are basically old private residences that have been turned into places to stay) which are excellent. You get great value for accommodation in Morocco, and you’ll find that $40 to $60 goes a long way and will get you a great, quiet place to stay, and there are often private pools as well.


 

Imlil: (June 12 – 14)

Again, I used the Marrakech Rouge hostel as my home base and spent another night there before heading to a small mountain town called Imlil, to try to climb Mount Toubkal (or Jebel Toubkal), which is the highest peak in Northern Africa.

This is something that was on my list to do before I left home but I wasn’t sure if time would allow it, or even if it would be logistically possible, so it was exciting to be able to figure out a way to make it work. I arranged the trip from the hostel in Marrakech through a guy named Jamal Imerhane (www.toubkalguide.com). I was given his contact from the hostel, and he was able to arrange transportation to and from Imlil, a place to stay at his lodge in Imlil (which is creatively called the Imlil Lodge), as well as the guided overnight trip to climb the mountain.

 

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TIP: The mountain isn’t very difficult and you could easily climb it yourself. A guide makes it nice because it can be a bit tough to find the trail out of Imlil, and it’s nice to not have to worry about meals or anything along the way. But if you are set on doing it yourself and are able to find a map, the hike itself doesn’t require a guide. There is a base camp about halfway up that has bunk rooms and places for tents that you can stay at.


 

 

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It also felt great to have some time to really soak in the mountains that, before Imlil, I had only quickly driven through on the way to the Sahara. Again, the change in scenery was completely different and it was strange going from the humid coastal town of Essaouira, to the extreme heat and bustle of Marrakech, to the peacefulness and cool weather of Imlil.

Once you leave the cities you really see the natural side of what Morocco has to offer and it really is spectacular. You begin to realize the variety of scenery and landscapes that Morocco has to offer which makes it a very unique place to visit. I also find the people are a lot friendlier out of the city, and you aren’t constantly dodging mopeds and donkeys or being harassed by shop owners.

About the hike, we left the morning of June 13 from the trailhead in Imlil to begin the hike. My guide, Mohammed, was a young guy with great English. There was supposed to be another person (or maybe a few) on the trip with me but for some reason they didn’t make it so it was just Mohammed and I, which was kind of a cool experience.

 


The trail itself goes up a valley past a few Berber villages and there are some really great views along the way. It took about 5 hours and 7 cups of mint tea to reach the base camp where we stayed the night before trying to summit Toubkal the next day.

If you’re curious, the refuge sits at 3207m and Toubkal’s summit is 4167m making it the highest point in North Africa. Scott and Justin also climb Jebel Toubkal in the show Departures, and if anyone has seen the show, in the episode Justin complains most of the way up this hike and barely makes it to the top.

 

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I also met a group from London who I was going to climb the mountain with the next morning. They were a group of seven 36 year old guys who were in Morocco because one of them was getting married in a few months and they were all getting together for a trip before the occasion. They were really friendly and I played cards and ate supper with them for the evening before the hike. We played a game called Sweaty Betty (or Hearts as I knew it), and the stakes were high, as the winner got to decide who slept in which tents.

That night, when I climbed into my tent and I went to sleep, I wasn’t feeling quite right. I ended up waking up shortly after going to bed and couldn’t fall back to sleep. Throughout the night I felt progressively worse and we were supposed to wake up at 3:30 AM to begin the hike. This meant that throughout the night I slept for only an hour or two.

When we began the climb in the morning I knew that I was going to be sick, as I felt just like I head in Essaouira a few days before, and it wasn’t long before I had to turn back to the camp. I’ll spare you the details but for about the next hour I revisited everything that I had eaten over the past few days. It was an awful experience, and the worst part was that the refuge was closed up, so I couldn’t even find somewhere warm and comfortable with proper washrooms.

As I sat by myself by the creek that flows beside the camp, I watched the headlamps of other climbers as they slowly made the ascent in the dark which made the whole situation worse. I managed to get a few hours of sleep after this and even began to feel slightly better. I then asked the guide if we could try to climb again even though we were now several hours behind the group from the morning. I couldn’t go home knowing that I didn’t give it my all.

He agreed that we could try, but wasn’t confident that we would have time to make it to the top. We decided to try and climbed for about an hour. We made exceptionally good time but my legs were very shaky from being sick and the cramps in my stomach made every step very painful. It was about this time that we crossed paths with the English group that I had started out with in the morning heading down the mountain and I talked to them for quite some time about what was ahead.

I was forced to decide if I would continue climbing by myself or turn around and head back to Imlil with the rest of the group. I struggle with the decision, but eventually decided to turn around for the sake of preventing overexertion and dehydration which could compromise the remainder of my trip. In fact, at that point, just making it back down to Imlil was going to be difficult enough.

 

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It’s hard to describe the feeling that I had when I was two hours from the top of a climb that I had been looking forward to for months and had, just the day before, been positive that I was finally going to be able to complete and now just realized that I had to turn around. Physically turning around and heading down after the rest of the group felt like a huge personal defeat and I had a lot of negative and bitter thoughts for the next few hours. Just being around the group from England though lifted my spirits and they had a lot of great things to say and great humor which made the whole situation better and for which I am very thankful.

Looking back though, I learned a lot of lessons that day. For one, I learned that there are a lot of things when travelling, and in life in general, that are simply out of our control. Even with the best of plans, there are always unseen factors that can either compromise or add to an experience. Being sick was one of those factors that I couldn’t have prevented that wrought havoc on my plans and goals, yet meeting the group from England was something that enhanced my experience like I would have never anticipated.

It is these unexpected surprises that make travel so intriguing and, rather than trying to control everything, you simply have to adapt to these situations as you encounter them and make the best of it.

I also learned over the course of the trip that travelling is very much a series of high and low moments. There were times during the trip that were some of the most memorable and positive experiences of my life, but with that comes some very lonely, stressful, frustrating, and low moments as well. In the low moments, however, I always try to remember that the feeling will pass and that around the next corner there are many more great experiences waiting. By remembering this, even the bad moments don’t seem as bad and it really helps you get through the tough times and keep a positive attitude.

 

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The last thing that I learned is that your attitude towards the situation around you is everything and I think that was definitely the case during my time on Toubkal. When I was holding on to the negative thoughts, everything around me felt negative as well. But as I began to let go and try to enjoy the experience for what it was, I was able to salvage the rest of the trip and I really think this made a huge difference.

Once we returned to Marrakech I regretfully parted ways with the English group, and headed back to the Hostel Marrakech Rouge, which had begun to feel like a home away from home at this point. I still wasn’t feeling 100%, but I felt significantly better and I went ahead and booked my bus tickets and hostel in Chefchaouen for the next day.


TIP: You can price out different bus routes, but I had to book two seperate tickets. One from Marrakech to Casablanca, and then a second one from Casablanca onwards to Chefchaouen. From what I remember, you can also take a train or bus to Fes, and then a bus onwards to Chefchaouen as another option.


 

It was about a 10 – 12 hour bus ride up to Chefchaouen, which marked the end of my time in the south of the country, and the start of the final leg of my Morocco adventure.

Chefchaouen: (June 15 – 18)


Chefchaouen is a small town in the Rif mountains of Morocco and, without a doubt, it was my favorite place that I travelled to in Morocco. Everyone is friendly and laid back (it may have to do with the excessive hashish smoking that the people here enjoy). The terrain here is also different from the south and, although the mountains are quite small, they are covered in trees and are quite steep.


TIP: Head up to the Spanish Mosque for some awesome sunset pictures. You won’t be disappointed!


 

All of the walls in the medina of the city are painted a light blue colour which makes the city have a magical feel to it and it sometimes feels like you’re walking around a place from a Dr. Seuss book.

 

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I even asked a man one day why the walls are painted blue and he told me that it is meant to repel mosquitoes. I’ve actually read this somewhere else but I’m still a bit skeptical. I think the real reason is that it was introduced by Jewish refugees who settled here when they were fleeing Europe in World War II, but who’s to really say. I do know, however, that whoever sells blue paint in this city must be making a fortune.


TIP: The bus station in Chefchaouen is a little ways from the main square and, as the town is built on a hillside, it is quite a steep climb up to the square. Most of the hostels and Riads are located near the square, so I would recommend that if you are arriving by bus, you take a taxi up to the main square. When you’re heading out, you can always walk from the hostel to the bus station because you’ll know where it is, and it’ll all be downhill.


 


I stayed at the Aline hostel in Chefchaouen and was lucky enough to meet another group of travellers from Canada. I spent a lot of my time in Chefchaouen with these guys exploring the city and watching the World Cup matches in cafes and restaurants around the main square. One night, we ran into yet another group from Canada which made a total of 8 of us. I’m fairly certain that this qualified us as the largest concentration of Canadians in all of Morocco.

One of the days, we all headed out to a place near Chefchaouen called Achour. This is a hiking area about 30 minutes from Chefchaouen that seems to be a bit of a local secret. Once you arrive you hike up a valley with a creek running through the bottom until you reach a large waterfall and pool at the top.

 

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TIP: You can take a taxi from Chefchaouen out to the Achour and they will drop you off and return later on to pick you up, depending on how long you want to stay.


 

The hike takes about 2 hours and you pass lots of small waterfalls and pools along the way. I think it was probably one of the best waterfalls I’ve seen and swimming in the pool below was a great reward after the hot hike. The whole area seemed to be a world away from Chefchaouen and felt more like South America than Africa. Just another small wonder of Morocco I guess.

When we returned to the city that evening after the hike, I decided to try something called a hammam. I didn’t know much about what this was but I think it’s the same thing, or similar anyways, to a Turkish bath (which I also don’t know much about).


TIP: The day before, I had asked some of the local people about the hammams and found out that there are designated times for the males and females. So if this is something that you want to check out, make sure to find out the different times and make a note of them.


 

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Anyways, I asked around in some of the shops until I found a hammam. After heading inside and talking to the owner I was taken into the rooms. There are a series of three connected rooms that you progress through and each room has a domed roof, and flat tiled floor that reminded me a lot of the inside of a crypt or tomb.

At the far end of the room was a fountain in the wall with hot water pouring out of it. They then get you to lay on the tiles while they throw buckets of water on you. Then you move to the second room where you again lay on the tiles while they scrub you with black abrasive mitts. They do this quite aggressively and it’s sort of like how you might scrub a pot after you’ve made pasta on the stove, but then fallen asleep on the couch while it was cooking and then all of the noodles end up getting stuck to the bottom (maybe I’m the only one that seems to repeatedly have this problem).

Anyways, the whole process borders on being painful, but you end up with this great clean feeling after. Then the third room is kind of a rest and recovery room after the treatment you’ve just endured. For the entire process, I was the only person in the whole place except for the owner and his son, but as I was sitting on the floor in the third room, some of the locals started to arrive and I realized that I had shown up a little bit early.

I got the feeling that the hammam was kind of a social gathering and could be compared to something like going for coffee or drinks at home. It was kind of a cool experience as I was the only non-local there so it felt like a brief look into the day to day lives of some of these people that you usually don’t see from the window of a tour bus.

That being said, it was definitely outside of my very small comfort zone, but I think it is these kind of experiences that help to get a real feel for the cultures and places that we visit. I also realize that going to a Moroccan hammam isn’t the most exotic or crazy thing in the world, but it is something that I ordinarily wouldn’t try and it pushed my comfort level enough to make the experience rewarding and is something that I likely won’t soon forget.


TIP: There is a lot of great hiking around Chefchaouen, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to nearly as much as I would have liked. If you like to hike and have enough time in the area, make sure that you put this on your to-do list.


 

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My time in Chefchaouen came to end way too quickly, and it’s somewhere that I am certain that I want to return to some day. Take my advice and put this place on your bucket list…you won’t regret it!

 

Fes: (June 18 – 20)

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Fes was the last stop on my Morocco adventure as this is where my flight out of the country left from. I arrived by bus from Chefchaouen and only had two nights and one full day in the city, so my time there was fairly rushed and limited but I managed to do a lot of exploring and got a good feel for the city.


TIP: I found the food in Morocco to be quite good. I really enjoyed the fresh olives (and olive oils), chicken pastillas (which are kind of a crazy meat pastry), tagines (which are meals of vegetables, meat, and rice or couscous that have been cooked in clay pots called tagines), and couscous.


 

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Fes had the largest and most confusing medinas of all of the cities that I had been in so far (apparently the medina is the largest in the world). There were streets and alleyways everywhere and in no particular order or direction. Although this was intimidating and confusing it made it really interesting for exploring. There also isn’t a main square like in Marrakech that you can use as a reference, so it made exploring and getting unlost, particularly difficult.

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In the morning I headed out to check out one of the many tanneries that the city is famous for. The tanneries are really interesting, and there are a bunch of vats that are filled with different things that are used to treat and dye the leather. Some of these things are goat and cow urine, salts, and pigeon poop. Because of this, there is a strong and unique aroma that accompanies a visit to one of these tanneries.

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Later in the day, I met a big group at the hostel and we went to a music festival that was in the city which was quite an experience. There was a stage set up in a small square along one of the walls of the medina. It was just one more of those unique things that I experienced in Morocco that I wasn’t expecting to find.

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When it started to get dark after the festival, we hiked up to the Merenid Tombs overlooking the city. There is a great view from the tombs and it gives you a totally different view and perspective of the city. It was hard to find your way around in the darkness, so it’s definitely something that you would be better to check out during the daytime.

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This wrapped up my Moroccan adventure, and the next day I caught my flight out of Fes and over to Croatia where I was going to spend two weeks making my way across the country.

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Conclusion:

My time in Morocco was something that I will never forget and was my introduction to travelling solo. The experiences from Morocco changed everything that I knew about travel and is where I think that I caught the travel bug that I had heard so much about (and no, I don’t think it was the travel bug that made me sick in Essaouira, as well as on the Jebel Toubkal hike, but who knows?).

The variety in landscapes and the rich culture of Morocco make it a unique place to visit and it’s like nowhere else in the world. The sights, smells, and sounds in Morocco will keep you on your toes and continually surprise you around every corner.

Continue reading about my adventure, and check out my next stop on the trip where I fly to Croatia.


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