Tagged Morocco

From a crazy city to the blue city

The three day Sahara tour dropped us off at our hostel in Fez. We stayed in Hostel Funky Fes close to the medina.

The Fez medina is the biggest one in the world. And it was crazy.

It seemed like and endless maze. Donkeys were walking beside you, chicken and geese were being sold alive, cats were eating rotten food in the corner, there were loud sounds and intense smells. And you couldn’t ask for directions because everyone was saying a different thing.

“This way, my friend!”

“Where are you going, my brother?”

“I can help you!”

It felt like being in a fantasy movie with witches trying to lure innocent children into their boiling cauldron.

I was ready to lose it. Then suddenly, after walking for what seemed like hours, we turned a corner and saw the restaurant that the hostel staff had recommended to us.

After dinner, we made sure to ask the restaurant staff for directions back to the hostel. “Just walk straight.” But in the medina, there is no such thing. After getting lost again, just minutes after leaving the restaurant, we decided to walk back to the restaurant and grab a taxi to the hostel. For 20 dirham, I say we should have done it straight away.

From Fez we continued north with local bus company CTM.

After a three hour journey, the bus dropped us off at Chefchaouen, a town situated in the Rif mountains. Often called Chaouen by locals, the town used to attract many hippies with its easy-going lifestyle, and still does to some degree. Stepping out of the bus, a strong scent of marijuana immediately floated into my nostrils. Besides weed, Chefchaouen is famous for its blue buildings.

Climbing up towards our hostel we spotted many people wearing straw hats traditional to this area.
Climbing up towards our hostel, Riad Baraka, we spotted many people wearing straw hats and clothing traditional to the area.
Riad Baraka is situated right at the Rif Mountains. Its terrace is a great place for 360 degree views over the town.
Riad Baraka is situated right at the Rif Mountains. Its terrace is a great place for 360 degree views over the town.

So how can a town with nothing but blue buildings be so fascinating?

Well, first of all, every single door is different.

Just like in the rest of Morocco, there are cats everywhere.

In contrast to the blue buildings, locals wear colourful outfits.

 

And walk their goats.

The streets of Chefchaouen feature cute details that make a photographer enthusiastic.

Unfortunately the hygiene standards in Morocco are nonexistent, so on the final day of our trip, I got a gut-wrenching stomach bug that lasted for weeks after the trip. No matter how careful you are, avoiding a stomach bug in Morocco is not easy, but luckily the bug didn’t hit until my final day in Morocco, which allowed me to enjoy every single day of my trip.

Shukran Morocco!

Camels, tajine and sand everywhere

“Are there sand dunes in your country, too?”

A Berber man named Sair asking me this made me feel like the luckiest person on Earth.

All this man had ever seen was sand, sand and more sand. How could he possibly understand what the rest of the world looks like?

It was humbling getting asked this question. It reminded me how blessed I am to be born in a Northern European country. How blessed I am to have time, money and courage to explore different corners of the world.

We had slept for the night in our hostel after an interesting day in Marrakech. The following morning at 5.30 am, the call to prayer sounded around the city and woke us up.

After breakfast, Sair picked us up from our hostel for a tour to the Sahara! We had booked a tour with Morocco Excursions, who offer various day trips as well as longer tours. A three night Sahara tour starting in Marrakech and ending in Fez costs 290 € per person. The price includes a car with a private driver, all activities, accommodation, breakfasts and dinners. Only lunches and drinks are payed separately.

The tour includes thousands of kilometres of driving, but luckily there are many interesting stops along the way.

 

Argan trees grow in this part of the world, so we got to visit an argan oil factory, where nuts are still crushed mechanically by Berber women. Argan oil is mostly used in skin and hair care, but it can also be consumed as food.
Argan trees grow in this part of the world, so we got to visit an argan oil factory, where nuts are still crushed mechanically by Berber women. Argan oil is mostly used in skin and hair care, but it can also be consumed as food.
Our journey continued towards Aït Benhaddou, a fortified clay city, where movies such as Gladiator and Babel were filmed.
Our journey continued towards Aït Benhaddou, a fortified clay city, where movies such as Gladiator and Babel were filmed.

Most locals live outside of the city, but there are still a couple of families living in the area, making a living mainly from tourism.
Most locals live outside of the city, but there are still a couple of families living in the area, making a living mainly from tourism.

It seemed like a white sheet of paper at first, but over the flame, an image of the desert slowly started appearing before our eyes. The man had painted the artwork with saffron.
It seemed like a white sheet of paper at first, but over the flame, an image of the desert slowly started appearing before our eyes. The man had painted the artwork with saffron.
 This woman was living in a humble clay hut with just goats and cats as her company.

This woman was living in a humble clay hut with just goats and cats as her company.

We continued to Ouarzazate, a city famous for its film studios. CLA Studios has an expensive entry fee, so instead Sair took us to the Cinema Museum.
We continued to Ouarzazate, a city famous for its film studios. CLA Studios has an expensive entry fee, so instead Sair took us to the Cinema Museum.
The Cinema Museum was quite small and completely random! There were things like this throne, an A4 print of Nicolas Cage, plastic horses and X-files music playing in the background. An interesting experience to say the least!
The Cinema Museum was quite small and completely random! There were things like this throne, an A4 print of Nicolas Cage, plastic horses and X-files music playing in the background. An interesting experience to say the least!

We slept the night in Ouarzazate, continuing our journey the next morning, stopping in a few of the local towns only to snap photos and to buy water.

After a pit stop to fuel the car, we continued further into the Sahara desert.

Our next stop was the Todgha Gorge in the Atlas Mountains. The tall cliff walls beautifully frame the stream running through the gorge. The path next to the stream is well paved, so it’s easy to walk around the area and admire the majestic gorge.

After stretching our legs around the gorge for a while, we sat back into the car to continue our journey towards a shop where a Berber family sold mats made out of camel hair.

We got served mint tea everywhere we went. Morocco being a Muslim country, alcohol is not consumed, but instead the locals enjoy mint tea, also known as Berber whiskey.
A Berber woman spinning thread on the shop floor.
A Berber woman spinning thread on the shop floor.
The hospitality in Morocco was incredible. Our driver, Sair, even drove us to his house, where we got served mint tea again. The mint tea has to be poured from high above the cup to create "the turban" — a layer of foam on top of the drink. The mint tea is often sweetened with a massive block of sugar.
The hospitality in Morocco was incredible. Our driver, Sair, even drove us to his house, where we got served mint tea again. The mint tea has to be poured from high above the cup to create “the turban” — a layer of foam on top of the drink. The mint tea is often sweetened with a massive block of sugar.
Sair's wife drew a beautiful henna tattoo on my hand.
Sair’s wife drew a beautiful henna tattoo on my hand.

Once we reached Ouarzazate, we only had time to drop our bags at the hotel before getting on our camels! A Berber man waded through the fine sand in his sandals while leading our camels through the desert.

 

My backside was hurting from the coarse blanket placed on the camel, and sand was prickling my skin. But the tears in my eyes did not stem from this. It was the peaceful feeling, the swaying walk of the camel and only sand as far as the eye can see. After walking for a while, we stopped to watch the sun set over the Sahara. It was one of the most surreal, beautiful and overwhelming experiences of my life.

We continued a bit further in the darkness until we reached a Berber camp.

We had a chance to try sand boarding. For someone who has never even snowboarded, I found it surprisingly easy. And so much fun!
We had a chance to try sand boarding. For someone who has never even snowboarded, I found it surprisingly easy. And so much fun!
After settling down at the camp, we were served delicious tajine, a traditional Berber dish.
After settling down at the camp, we were served delicious tajine, a traditional Berber dish.
Then it was time for Berber disco! We learnt to drum, sing and do a pretty funky camel dance.
Then it was time for Berber disco! We learnt to drum, sing and do a pretty funky camel dance.
We slept outside under the stars. No light pollution in the Sahara, so you can just imagine the brightness of the starry sky. We could see the entire Milky Way from here.
We slept outside under the stars. No light pollution in the Sahara, so you can just imagine the brightness of the starry sky. We could see the entire Milky Way from here.
No dangerous animals in the Sahara — just cute kittens everywhere!
No dangerous animals in the Sahara — just cute kittens everywhere!

The camel ride in the sunset and spending the night in the Sahara desert was definitely the highlight of the tour. The following morning we got up at 6 am and boarded our camels in the darkness.

The sun rose beautifully behind our back…
…before we returned back to the hotel where we descended our camels and picked up our things from our hotel room.

After riding in the sunrise back to the hotel, the day ahead consisted of a tour around the region with a four wheel drive.

Gates in the Sahara mark the borders between regions.
Gates in the Sahara mark the borders between regions.
We stopped by a market square, where all the vendors were selling dates! There are over 100 varieties of dates growing in Morocco.
We stopped by a market square, where all the vendors were selling dates! There are over 100 varieties of dates growing in Morocco.
Views from the restaurant terrace, where we ate lunch.
Stopping by a small shop to buy water.
After visiting shops, restaurants and markets, we ventured towards an area with just sand. This was Sahara.
After visiting shops, restaurants and markets, we ventured towards an area with just sand. This was Sahara.
A small boy showing us a desert fox, native to the Sahara.
A small boy showing us a desert fox, native to the Sahara.
We visited nomads who had migrated from Eastern Africa all the way to Morocco.
We visited nomads who had migrated from Eastern Africa all the way to Morocco.
They played traditional music and danced for us.
The nomads played traditional music and also danced for us.
Sand literally everywhere.
Sand literally everywhere.
At many of the pit stops, there were berbers selling handcrafts.
At many of the pit stops, there were berbers selling handcrafts.
Nomadic dwellings. Nomads build dwellings in the desert, live there for a few years and keep going.
Nomadic dwellings. Nomads build dwellings in the desert, live there for a few years and keep going.
As a traveller, it was reassuring to see the nomadic dwellings. Some people are just not meant to stay in one place.
As a traveller, it was reassuring to see the nomadic dwellings. Some people are just not meant to stay in one place.
We also got the chance to visit a tiny hut in the Sahara, where we got served mint tea again.
We also got the chance to visit a tiny hut in the Sahara, where we got served mint tea again.
This girl was living in the modest hut with her grandmother.
This girl was living in the modest hut with her grandmother.
A berber cemetery. The position of the stones marks if there is a woman or a man buried in ground.
A berber cemetery. The position of the stones marks if there is a woman or a man buried underground.
There are water wells in the Sahara that nomads use during their travels.
There are water wells in the Sahara that nomads use during their travels.
Boys walk long distances to fetch water for their families.
Boys walk long distances to fetch water for their families.
Surrounded by nothing but sand. It’s in moments like these that I realize how people are like these sand particles: they are all needed to create this vast desert, but on their own, so tiny and insignificant.
Surrounded by nothing but sand. It’s in moments like these that I realize how people are like these sand particles: they are all needed to create this vast desert, but on their own, so tiny and insignificant.
For our final night in the Sahara, we ate delicious stuffed flatbread, also known as berber pizza. The restaurant was cozy but after dinner we hurried back to our hotel as the owner started negotiations about trading me for camels...
For our final night in the Sahara, we ate delicious stuffed flatbread, also known as berber pizza. The restaurant was cozy but after dinner we hurried back to our hotel as the owner started negotiations about trading me for camels…
The next morning we started our long drive towards Fez, where the tour ended. Unfortunately, the very fine sand of Sahara made its way into my camera and broke it, which prompted me to buy a water-proof and shock-proof camera upon my return to Finland.
The next morning we started our long drive towards Fez, where the tour ended. Unfortunately, the very fine sand of Sahara made its way into my camera and broke it, which prompted me to buy a water-proof and shock-proof camera upon my return to Finland.
On the way to Fez, the sand shifted into a more forested area, where we stopped to say hello to wild monkeys.
On the way to Fez, the sand shifted into a more forested area, where we stopped to say hello to wild monkeys.

I have to say, I’m usually not a big fan of organized tours. You run around everywhere, seeing lots of stuff, not really experiencing anything. But the pace with Morocco Excursions was just right! The itinerary was well thought out, with enough pit stops but also time to wind down. We didn’t rush from one sight to the next, but instead spent time with different people. This was great, as people really are the main reason we travel.

A day in magical Marrakech

When I found a one-way flight from Madrid to Marrakech for 40 €, I was super excited. As I was so close to Africa, I realized the opportunity to visit Morocco had come.

But then I got scared. I had never been to Africa, let alone a Muslim country.

Even though the name of this blog is Ammi’s Adventures, I’m not nearly as brave as I’d like to be. I’ve written before how it’s important to face your fears, but at times I find it hard to follow my own advice. Reading travel forums about solo females being hassled in Morocco scared me. And even though many people wrote about the wonderful experiences they had in Morocco, the negative messages stick to your head so much easier.

But usually, honesty pays off. I was scared about the prospect of traveling to Morocco alone, but I wasn’t scared to let people know this. After openly sharing my fears, a male friend traveling in Spain at the same time as me, agreed to join me on my trip.

The Moroccan coastline as seen from the plane — Janne and I are about to land on African soil for the first time in our life!
The Moroccan coastline as seen from the plane — Janne and I are about to land on African soil for the first time in our life!
We stayed at Hostel Rouge in the medina (old town) where we were welcomed with mint tea from the hostel's friendly staff.
We stayed at Hostel Rouge in the medina (old town) where we were welcomed with mint tea from the hostel’s friendly staff.

After dropping our bags at the hostel, we had a look around Marrakech. We were surprised how quiet a Saturday afternoon at the main square, Jamaa el Fna, was. There were almost no people around and the few locals we saw were minding their own business. We were expecting a culture shock but found Marrakech to be relatively calm.

The first sight when arriving to Marrakech were some lonesome horse carriages. The lack of crowds took us by surprise.
The first sight when arriving to Marrakech were some lonesome horse carriages. The lack of crowds took us by surprise.

From the square we continued to the souks — an endless maze of stalls selling herbs, clothes and handicrafts. The shop owners were knitting hats and carving wood in their stalls, from where they sold their items. The colours and smells of the souk really awaken your senses. Women are draped from top to toe, but still look very fashionable, wearing clothes and scarves in all imaginable colours and patterns.

In Morocco, there’s basically two options for lunch: couscous or tajine. Couscous, granules made out of durum wheat, is probably more known in the Western world than tajine. Tajine is a North African dish cooked in a cone-shaped ceramic pot. Both couscous and tajine are usually served with meat. In the vegetarian option the meat is usually just left out, but sometimes the meat is replaced with eggs, olives or chick peas, leaving you with a dish that’s not as bland as just steamed vegetables. Being a vegetarian in Morocco is not easy, being a vegan is almost impossible unless you cook your own food.

Olives and lentils as an entrée, before being served tajine in Marrakech.
Olives and lentils as an entrée, before being served tajine in Marrakech.
The restaurant was on the second floor and it was interesting to look at the souk from above. From up here, you could never imagine all the life going on underneath the shades.
The restaurant was on the second floor and it was interesting to look at the souk from above. From up here, you could never imagine all the life going on underneath the shades.
A random goat was hanging out on one of the roofs.
A random goat was hanging out on one of the roofs.

Sunset came and so did the people! Finally Jamaa el Fna was alive: smoke from the stalls selling food, children running, people laughing, music and performances. It was a stark contrast to the calmness of the square at daytime.

Climb up to a second floor restaurant terrace for a view of the entire Jamaa el Fna!
For 3 dirhams (around 30 cents) you can enjoy a hot bowl of soup at Jamaa el Fna.
You will also enjoyed sitting at a communal table with the locals.

As soon as you leave Jamaa el Fna, the loud sounds of the market square die out and there are not many people around.
Retreating back to our hostel after an exciting day in Marrakech.

So were my fears of solo female travel in Morocco valid? It’s hard to say, since I didn’t experience it. But in Marrakech, I never felt threatened. The locals approached us with curiosity and eagerness, never with aggression. At Jamaa el Fna, the stall owners are trying to get you to eat at their place, but if you decline, they will leave you alone or maybe say a snarky comment. Nobody will touch you or yell at you. Just remember, this is coming from someone who travelled with a male by her side.

I am so grateful that I found a travel companion as my fears might have stopped me from experiencing this intriguing Moroccan city. Once again, travel efficiently removed any prejudice I had about a place I hadn’t visited before.

Stay tuned for a blog post about our trip to the Sahara desert!