Traveling

Morocco: flavors and impressions

Mαροκινές γεύσεις και εντυπώσεις
A Trip to Morocco

In February 2019, I embarked on a magical journey to Morocco. It was a dream I had been chasing for five years. Various circumstances, competing priorities, mismatched vacation times with friends, and time itself had passed over those five years, and Morocco seemed to be getting farther away instead of closer. That’s when I decided to go as a solo traveler!

If you’ve never traveled alone before, I would recommend it to you without a second thought! There are numerous reasons. You’ll meet many people, and some might become your friends! Yet, even if you don’t become friends with anyone, you’ll get to know and meet the most important person in the world better: YOU!

I discovered a bunch of individuals equally eager for adventure like me – I wouldn’t choose to journey with those who are more cautious. Moreover, I stumbled upon an excellent deal and fantastic prospects, and now I’m all set! Ready to embark on a solo journey to a different continent with no apprehensions whatsoever, feeling incredibly at ease, as that’s the only genuine way to relish life!

Of course, a trip, as perfect as it may seem in photos, also comes with challenges and downsides, which is why I’m starting with those!

Preparation

Heading to Morocco and knowing that you’re preparing to visit a different continent, it would be wise to take a look online, so that you’re prepared for what you’ll encounter.

I believe that Morocco is a nation that offers vibrant colors, breathtaking scenery, and an exploration that encompasses all four seasons. During my time there, I encountered everything from snow to summer, spring, and autumn.

Another individual might express their dissatisfaction and claim that it wasn’t worthwhile (I bring this up because prior to my trip, I encountered numerous individuals saying, ‘It’s not as impressive as it’s made out to be. Much fuss about nothing.). Nevertheless, there’s one thing people know about me… Once I commit to something, no one and nothing can sway my determination. Morocco was a destination I had in mind, and I would have visited in any way, to formulate my own judgment!

For those who didn’t enjoy Morocco, it’s likely because they overlooked its true essence. They entered with preconceived ideas and paid more attention to the aspects they didn’t appreciate, resulting in a distorted perspective of Morocco – this is solely my viewpoint!

But let’s start from the beginning!

Morocco is not a spotlessly clean country.

A look at the downsides.

In the heart of Marrakech, there were some less-than-pleasant odors – just like in numerous cities worldwide. Additionally, one of the initial observations is the abundance of cats in the city, which inevitably brings to mind the presence of… mice and cockroaches! Bingo!

Moreover, many items, such as bread, are sold without packaging and handled directly with bare hands due to the absence of bakeries. Therefore, when you indulge in bread, you refrain from pondering how many hands may have touched it prior to you!

In the central square of Marrakech, Jemaa el-Fnaa, there are many wandering street performers. If they see you taking their photo, they will ask you for money (don’t expect much, one or two euros, but they will ask!). There are also those who have various trained monkeys and snakes, and if you approach them, they will willingly show you their act and place the snakes or monkeys on you for a photo, of course, not for free!

On the opposite side of the square lies the renowned street food scene of Marrakech. Essentially, it’s affordable street cuisine. Some brave souls dared to sample it, but I refrained! Nevertheless, I can confirm that those who did try it didn’t appear to encounter any issues – at least I didn’t witness any problems!

The drawback is that, as you stroll through the street food stalls, examining your options, vendors all converge on you simultaneously, vying for your patronage. Their approach can be so persistent that they obstruct your path, which can become somewhat bothersome. In such situations, you must be assertive, firmly responding with a resounding “No thank you!” and striving to continue on your way without letting it faze you. In general, they don’t physically touch or crowd you, in case that’s a concern.

Fes

In the souks of Marrakech and Fes, there’s an abundance of people, especially in Marrakech, where along with pedestrians, countless motorbikes and tricycles weave through the crowds. So, don’t prepare for a leisurely stroll, like in the alleys of Monastiraki in Athens. In Fes’s Medina, there are 9,600 alleyways, and they are bustling with people, making it very easy to get lost. Therefore, having a local guide is essential, and you must keep a sharp eye out to avoid losing them!

Lastly, don’t expect to find the comfortably warm water you have in your bathroom for endless bubble baths. The water will either lack pressure, be cold, or have pressure and be scalding hot. I think I got lucky once and had it just right. Heating in the rooms is also a bit peculiar… air conditioners that don’t work properly, and so on. Of course, I visited Morocco in February, so if you go from April onwards, you’ll probably avoid these issues!

Let’s move on to the positives!

Oh, I forgot to mention that Morocco is becoming more expensive lately due to the continuous increase in tourism! Of course, even as I write this article, it remains more affordable than Greece.

Staying in a riad

Moroccan people prefer to maintain a low profile and avoid drawing attention. Therefore, most riads (traditional Moroccan houses or small mansions with an inner garden or courtyard) may appear unassuming from the outside and not immediately catch your eye. However, once you step inside, you’ll be pleasantly surprised! Spacious interiors, roomy accommodations, and intricately designed mosaics with fountains will surely evoke a sense of wonder. Hence, I recommend opting for a riad over a hotel. Of course, this choice depends on your comfort preferences and your desire to immerse yourself in the local culture.

The majority of riads offer breakfast, freshly prepared on-site. They don’t provide it in a buffet format. While the pace might be a bit leisurely, it’s far from being stingy. They readily bring you fresh and hot dishes upon request. Their breakfast primarily features sweet delights such as pancakes, honey, jams, cakes, bread, yogurt, and crepes. Bread is a staple, and they serve it generously. Additionally, since olive trees abound in southern Morocco, olives are a common addition to breakfast.

Cuisine

Regarding their food, their specialty is the tajine (tagine). This unique cooking method involves preparing chicken, beef, lamb, or vegetables in a clay pot with a distinctive conical lid. Regardless of the type of tajine you choose, it’s served as is. For example, if you order a chicken tajine with olives, you’ll receive precisely that, chicken with olives! No couscous on the side, no potatoes! You need to request these separately.

Personally, the tajine dishes I tried, didn’t particularly impress me. However, I found the pastilla quite delightful. This Moroccan pastry features layers resembling phyllo dough, dusted with powdered sugar and filled with either vegetables (I tried the vegetable pastilla and was pleasantly surprised) or chicken.. I understand it might not sound overly appetizing in the description, but the flavor is truly exquisite. If you give it a try at a reputable restaurant, you won’t forget it!

Roadtrip

Morocco is a vast country with numerous attractions to explore, so a combination of road trips and domestic flights will be necessary to efficiently cover the extensive distances. One highly recommended experience is a camel trek in the Sahara Desert, followed by an overnight stay at a desert camp.

Thrill ride

Another thrilling adventure to try is what I fondly refer to as the “desert thrill ride” – a 4×4 excursion through the desert. You won’t be behind the wheel; experienced drivers will take care of that. However, make sure to secure yourself tightly to avoid any jolts when navigating the sand dunes. It’s akin to an exhilarating roller coaster experience.

Time for Argan Oil

I also believe that a road trip to the Atlas Mountains is a must! Somewhere along the way, you’ll stumble upon the women’s agricultural cooperative producing Argan Oil. Don’t even think about buying Argan Oil from anywhere else. Only at the cooperative can you find the authentic product, albeit at a higher price point. They’ll even explain the process of extracting oil from the kernels of the Argania Spinosa tree (known as the “tree of life”), which grows in Morocco.

Did you know that Argan Oil is used in cooking, provided that the kernels are roasted? I didn’t! Of course, the oil used in cosmetics and hair care is not suitable for consumption as the kernels used are not roasted. So, don’t try this at home, as we have other culinary oils for that!

Casablanca and Beyond #Not

Our plans to visit Casablanca didn’t quite materialize, which means we missed out on exploring Morocco’s Atlantic coast and, consequently, the charming city of Essaouira. The journey to these places is definitely worth it, even though Casablanca might not be the main attraction. Additionally, we didn’t have the chance to discover the renowned blue city of Morocco, Chefchaouen. With a total of 8 days in Morocco, time constraints prevented us from including these destinations in our itinerary.

Our adventure commenced in Marrakesh and concluded in Fes, with a quick flight between the two cities. Then, we embarked on an exciting road trip to explore the rest of the country. Our route took us through captivating locations like Merzouga, where we spent a memorable night in the Sahara Desert. Along the way, we also passed through Errachidia, Aoufous, and the picturesque Ziz Valley, all of which are like hidden oases in the heart of the desert. Although we didn’t have the opportunity to explore these cities on foot, we made sure to capture some stunning aerial photographs to preserve the memories.

Sahara

Following our overnight stay in the Sahara, we embarked on a journey towards the Dades Valley, a highly renowned Moroccan valley, primarily celebrated for its breathtaking landscape, often likened to the Grand Canyon. The majestic rock formations, steep bends, significant elevation, all intertwined with the beauty of nature, give rise to truly awe-inspiring vistas. This gorge stands out as one of the most remarkable sights I’ve ever encountered, and it’s advisable to explore it before sunset! While exploring the Dades Valley, make sure not to overlook the Monkey Fingers, alternatively known as the cliffs of Tamlalt, and seize the opportunity to witness the extraordinary creations of nature!

Kalaat M’Gouna

After leaving the valley, which is essentially located in the Atlas Mountains, we headed towards the Valley of Roses (Kalaat M’Gouna). During the blooming season in May, this area becomes renowned for its abundant roses and the predominant pink hue that characterizes it! I recommend you to acquire rose water, body/hand creams, and similar products. These are crafted by the locals using natural ingredients and are of exceptional quality. I wish I had bought more than just one!

Ouarzazate

Continuing our journey, we arrive at the next town, Ouarzazate. The studios of this town have hosted the filming of many famous movies such as Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Asterix and Obelix, making it Morocco’s equivalent of Hollywood. Film productions provide job opportunities for many people and contribute to the growth of the region.

A little further south from Ouarzazate, you’ll come across Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou. Some episodes of the early seasons of the Game of Thrones series were shot there (Daenerys’ kingdom). It’s worth taking a stroll, climbing to the highest point, and capturing perfect photographs! The uniqueness and beauty of this town were so overwhelming that I didn’t know where to stand or what to photograph first.

In general, Morocco conceals extraordinary beauty and colors. It hides landscapes that you don’t often encounter. Be willing to cover countless kilometers and capture numerous images. If we hadn’t embarked on this road trip, I would have missed out on many of the things I saw.

Hot Air Balloon Adventure

I also ventured on a hot air balloon ride. To be honest, I didn’t find it worthwhile for several reasons. If you’ve tried skydiving before, you might find the hot air balloon ride rather average, if not somewhat underwhelming. Moreover, it was quite costly without justification! We shelled out €170 per person, and that was only because we were a group of 14! Lastly, aside from the sunrise, the scenery left much to be desired. We were floating above a plain, and that was about it. I can certainly say I grew weary of it quickly. A hot air balloon ride truly shines when you’re soaring above captivating landscapes, as is the case in Cappadocia. Perhaps it’s worth considering the experience there!

In conclusion, it’s worth mentioning that Moroccans are notably friendly, courteous, and accommodating. This underscores the importance of being vigilant at the airport! Even if you’ve completed the check-in process, it’s crucial to arrive at least 2.5 hours early!!! The airport tends to be congested with numerous security procedures, and even if you’re the first at the check-in counter, you could still find yourself pressed for time!

I wholeheartedly recommend this journey, as long as you plan it meticulously!

So, embark on your adventure, and savor every moment to the fullest!

 

*Photo by Sergey Pesterev 

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