Morocco, a seat by the window please!

So, I’m in the middle of a big, long adventure and part of this adventure is Morocco: a place I’ve always dreamed of visiting.

To get here, I leave from the Spanish enclave of Ceuta and make a land border crossing, which I approach with trepidation. I’d been prepared to deal with misleading touts harassing me and trying to sell me forms that are free, being hassled into taxis I didn’t want and all-in-all having a very challenging day. I was very pleasantly surprised at how smoothly everything went. I caught a local bus to the border, walked across, received a form from a uniformed man, had my passport stamped and walked out to the taxis.

The taxi drivers, of course, wanted me to take a taxi all the way to my final destination – but I was very clear that I’d be taking the taxi to Tetouan, to catch a bus one tenth of the cab fare. I caught a collective taxi, sharing with four other people and the driver. At Tetouan I bought my bus ticket waited a few hours for the next bus to leave. When it was almost time to catch my bus, I walked outside and experienced my first problem in Morocco. I’d been told that Morocco was two hours behind Spain, and yesterday that had been true, but as of today, it was only one hour behind. So having wound my watch back, I walked out to find my bus had in fact, well and truly departed. A lovely Norwegian girl delivered the bad news. It turned out we were headed to the same place and thankfully, it was possible to get another bus in 30 minutes. It was a very hot, sticky and winding few hours up into the mountains to visit a city that must be one of the most beautiful and unique in the world – Chefchaouen. Almost the entire city is painted a stunningly gorgeous shade of blue. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s all up and down cobbled streets, sitting on the side of a mountain. It is so surreal and beautiful that sometimes you just have to stop-still to take it all in.

My new friend told me about Akchour, a beautiful river town, and we decided to visit the next day with another girl from the hostel. Akchour was a 40 minute petite taxi drive through the mountains. Akchour is a tiny village that everyone visits for the river. The river is wonderfully cold in the heat of the day. We walked alongside the river following a rough path, which occasionally involved clambering over rocks, for at least 40 minutes – looking for the perfect place to jump in and cool off – when we asked some locals (being the week after Ramadan, there are a lot of holidaying Moroccans) if there’s a good spot nearby. They say keep going a little more, there’s a beautiful spot which is perfect for swimming. They were right. It was beautiful beyond words. Plenty of other swimmers were already taking advantage. We’d seen adorable hut restaurants on the walk, which seemed like the ideal place for lunch, so we started back. We enjoyed a meal of tagines, tea and coke, in a small, rustic shack, listening to metal tagines bubbling away on a fire. It turned out to be an exceptionally delicious meal and cost about $10 for the three of us. We got in a taxi back to Chefchaouen. We were relaxing on the rooftop of our hostel, when we decided to check out the medina. The Chefchaouen medina is lovely, with all the blue buildings, and it’s a very chilled-out place. There’s hardly anyone hassling you, and it’s small enough that you don’t get too lost – though it’s hard to be lost when you don’t have a destination. We saw a lot of the medina before finding the central square, where we decided to have dinner. In one of the restaurants with a rooftop terrace about seven floors up, we watched a spectacular sunset and had another delicious Moroccan meal.

For my final full day in Chefchaouen, I dragged my butt out into the heat to look around and attempted to rock (visit) the Kasbah. But there was an entry fee and the clerk didn’t have change for my large notes, so I didn’t go in. I was sitting, reading and dawdling over a snack, when I was approached by Georgie, originally from England and now living in Spain, who was also travelling alone. She sat and joined me. We ended up spending the rest of the day together and made plans to meet up again.

The next day it was time to leave Chefchaouen. As beautiful as it is, three nights is plenty of time – unless you’re particularly interested in hikes (in 35 degree heat it’s difficult to be enthusiastic about hiking).

I slept through most of the bus ride to Fez, enjoying the air conditioning on the five and a half hour trip. The Riad I’ve picked to stay in is beautiful, which I’m pretty stoked about (Riad Verus for anyone interested). I dropped my bag, changed out of my travelling clothes and went to the central common area. I’d seen a few people hanging out and hoped to get a few tips for the next day, and possibly some dinner companions. I was not disappointed. We had dinner at a restaurant called the Ruined Garden, which is set up in ruins of a courtyard and decked out with plants, making a lovely setting. The prices weren’t cheap, but the food was excellent – as have all my Moroccan meals been so far.

One of the guys from dinner was having breakfast at the same time I was so I asked if he wanted to explore the medina with me – it’s always great to have company and I was a little nervous about going on my own. He was just as happy to have someone to explore with, so we set off – preparing ourselves to get lost and be hassled. We followed a Lonely Planet route, which started by taking us through a produce area, which was certainly an assault on allllllll the senses. There were fruits and vegetables you’d expect, and of course spices, olives, figs and dates, which was all pleasant enough. And then came a less pleasant part. Butchers displayed such delicacies as stomachs and goats heads. We didn’t linger. We took in many, many different shoe, jewellery and clothes shops and walked past the oldest university/mosque in the world. We saw metal work and stumbled across tanneries. We were led onto the roof of one tannery, as is the standard practice here because you’re not allowed inside, judging by the smell from the roof, I’m not sure you’d want to go in anyway. Fassi leather is generally considered to be some of the best, and most sort-after, in the world. The way they make it hasn’t really changed since medieval times, which was fascinating. I’m not sure what I thought the tanneries would look like, but what I saw was not what I expected. After the tanneries, we wandered aimlessly in an uphill direction and remarkably, found ourselves back where we had started. So much for the maze of Fez.

For the final day of the week, I hung out in the Riad until after 1pm (I was steeling myself to go into the craziness of the medina on my own, thinking I’d definitely get hassled). I amused myself in the common area, hanging out with Sebastián the Riad tortoise, chatting with other guests. When I ventured out, the medina was fine. I wasn’t hassled that much: mostly you just have people telling you that you’re welcome. After shopping, I head to Cafe Clock – the camel burger comes highly recommended by at least four people from my Riad. Sitting on their rooftop terrace with a cool drink, I had the camel burger. I wouldn’t rave about it. Nothing against the meat, but every other dish I’d had so far had been amazingly, deliciously spiced and this was a little lacking. The meat itself was pretty similar to beef.

I absolutely love Morocco! It’s every bit as fascinating and exotic as I dreamed it would be, and there are far fewer annoyances than I’d prepared for. Though every day I wake up and think, ‘is this going to be the day I’m harassed by someone who won’t leave me alone?’ So I psych myself up every morning. The travellers that I’ve met have all been wonderful; so friendly and interesting. Oddly enough, as you can maybe tell, I’ve met a lot of other women travelling on their own. This is so reassuring, given the faces I’ve generally received when I say, ‘oh yes, I’m here travelling on my own. No, I don’t speak any French or Arabic’. Other travellers have been my Saving Grace on this trip, and I’m grateful to the people I’ve met for making every day better.

Author: Jess Gurn

Read more about Jess Gurn’s gap year at http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-blog/jessgurn/1/tpod.html

Morocco-Jess Gurn

Morocco – Jess Gurn

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