Salaam Aleikum and greetings from Morocco! 😀
Morocco is a country located in northern Africa. It’s known as al-Magrib al-Aqsa, or “the extreme west”, because it’s the westernmost country of the Arab world.
Originally, the inhabitants of Morocco were Berbers, a nomadic people, who made their living by trading goods and spices, and by off farming the land. Throughout history though, the Romans, Spaniards, Muslims and the French all attempted to conquered Morocco, which has influenced their art, architecture, music, literature, and cuisine. That being said, 60% of the people still speak Berber here, which is a testament to their strength at retaining cultural heritage. Additionally, the country’s predominant religion is Islam, the official languages are Arabic and Berber, and their flag is red with a green pentacle, representing the five pillars of Islam. 🇲🇦
I had the opportunity to spend one week traveling through Morocco. I’ve broken the trip down into two posts, where I include helpful tips, what went wrong, and what went better than expected. Hope you enjoy! 😀
Travel in Morocco: Fez and Chefchaouen
On Saturday evening I flew into Fez with Ryanair.
Ryanair travel tip: Always remember to check in online and if you’re not an EU member, print off your boarding pass to avoid 60 Euros in charges.
I also exchanged my Euros to Moroccan Dirham at the airport; however, I found that every place I went to in Morocco accepted Euros as well.
My accommodation in Fez was Dar Rabha. I arranged for an airport transfer there, which cost 15 Euros. Public transportation is an option during the day, but the last public bus departed at 7 pm, and my flight arrived after 8 pm. My driver’s name was Mohammad, and he had a sign with my name on it, waiting for me on time. As well, I only saw private drivers waiting at the airport exit, so I’d suggest arranging a transfer if you plan to arrive at night. After 40 minutes of driving we arrived in the city center. The guesthouse worker named Hamza came to get me from the car and walk me to the door, which was very courteous.
My guesthouse had dorm beds, complimentary WiFi and a rooftop terrace. They also organized excursions. Drinking water is potable in most of the country, so free water was not provided.
In general, Dar Rabha took extra steps to ensure everyone’s safety during their stay. When a group of us wanted to go out at night to eat or shop, they had someone walk us there. Don’t get the wrong impression, I felt very safe walking around Fez, but it was easy to get lost, so it was nice to have someone lead you in the right direction. 🙂
Cost: 6 Euros per night
After some shut eye I awoke the next morning to the trickle of raindrops on the roof. As such, instead of venturing out right away, I decided to stick around for breakfast. During breakfast at the hostel, where they offered bread with jam, fresh butter, coffee and tea, I met a group of Australians who were studying in Europe, and on holiday here as well. We all decided to explore the medina together, which is the oldest and largest Arab market in the world.
The Medina of Fez
The Medina of Fez originated in the 9th century. It’s now considered the most extensive and well-preserved area of the Muslim world, since the majority of the space here still serves its original function as a marketplace. As well, the architecture here has both African and Oriental influence.
Wandering the market was a real shock to the senses. I saw gorgeous fabrics and fragrant spices next to stalls with live and dead animals, and heard melodic Arabic music playing alongside men screeching out a sales pitch to hawk their cheap goods. Here are some shots to capture my experience.
While wandering the market, one Aussie girl bought a scarf for 6 Euro and another bought a bracelet for 3 Euro. We also sampled some fresh dates, pita bread, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. We also tried these sweets called shebakia that were folded like flowers, deep fried, and covered in honey and sesame seeds.
I thought it was strange that this dessert was in the same display case as the preserved camel meat, sitting in congealed fat, so I decided to pass on both! One of the Aussies said he would try anything, and immediately asked for a spoon. 🤢I also saw some more unique street food, like these sandwiches filled with hard boiled eggs, lunch meat, goat cheese, chick peas, and spices.Now the Medina of Fez has over 12,000 streets, and it was easy to spend the greater part of my day wandering around here.
Just an FYI, women dress quite conservatively here, with either pants or a long skirt. Personally, I always wore a long skirt with leggings, and a sweater to cover my shoulders.Many local women here also wear a head covering, but not all, considering it’s a personal choice. I read that in 2004 they reformed women’s rights here with a code called the Moudawana, which gave women the right to have custody over their children and the right to refuse their husband’s choice of a second wife.
Anyway, while wandering we also came across the oldest university in the world, Al-Karaouine, as well as, Kairaouine Mosque, the second largest mosque in Morocco.
One of the Aussie guys was quite a chatterbox, so when we visited a school for handicrafts, he began talking with the security guard there. The guard was 46 and had four children. He said he had been married for 25 years. He told us that when he brought his first girlfriend home to his parents, his mother didn’t like her. She said that it wasn’t the right girl for him. Since harmony in the family is so important in their culture, he then let his parents go out and choose his wife instead. He said he was very happy with their choice.
Anyway, in the afternoon, I ventured out on my own to the largest shopping mall here, Borj Fez. I wanted to see the newer district of the city, and see how it was for ordinary people going about their lives here. I found it to be quite relaxing and similar to the West. The mall also had many modern shops, like Adidas, The Body Shop, Swatch, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut.Since the rain was really coming down at that point, I headed back to the hostel to hang out with the guests. While there, I met a group of Canadians who were teaching in Spain, and one who was studying in London to become a doctor. We decided to book a tour together through our hostel to visit Chefcheouan, also known as the “Blue Pearl of Morocco.”
On Monday, at 8 AM, we were picked up by a private driver and driven four hours to Chefcheouan, a picturesque village nestled next to the Rif Mountains.The buildings here are painted in varying shades of blue, which makes it one of the most photogenic cities in the world. 💙
Now there are many theories as to why this city is painted blue. One of the most popular being that this area saw an influx of Jews fleeing here from Hitler in the 1940s, and they painted the city blue, because blue represents the sky, and reminds people of returning to heaven and God. This was seen as a place of refuge, and a literal heaven on Earth. Another popular theory was that the blue helped deter mosquitoes, which seemed to make sense, although I found the first theory to be more interesting and complex.Anyway, the girls I was with were dressed very stylish, since they considered today to be like one long Instagram photo shoot. Hah! 👗 📸
Anyway spent around three hours wandering around here, taking photos of the beautiful doors, stairs and alleyways.
Not all the doors were blue, but still gorgeous nonetheless! ❤
We also perused the local market and a public park, where they had fresh fruits, veggies, and spices on display.
One interesting thing I noticed were the cloaks that men wear here. These hooded woolen robes are very traditional and common dress among the Berbers, and they are known as ‘djellaba’.They also had many souvenirs for sale, and one of the girls bought a white scarf to look like Audrey Hepburn.
To keep our hunger at bay while shopping, we had some fried pancakes called ‘meloui’, which had onions mixed into the dough. It very tasty and cost only .40 cents!In the afternoon we headed back to Fez on another four-hour journey. As a side note, our driver only spoke French and Arabic. Luckily the girls were from Montreal, and could communicate with him as to when we wanted to be picked up. We also took two nice photo stops to check out the beautiful landscape! ❤Just wow! I had imagined Morocco to be mostly a flat desert, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how green the country was, with many mountains, and lakes. ❤Cost: 30 Euro per person for the private driver (public bus tickets can be purchased for 15 Euros round-trip, but this was much more convenient, since the bus departure times are limited)
The Medina of Fez Cont…
We stopped first for some avocado juice, which seemed to be quite popular here. Basically, they blend milk, avocado and sugar altogether, which seems more like a milkshake, but they call it ‘jus’, which is French for juice. Speaking of languages, so far I’ve heard mostly French and Arabic, although since they are so close to Spain, many people speak Spanish here as well. Oh yeah, and English is pretty common too, especially among the salesman in the markets.
While in the Medina this time around, I also visited the local tannery.
Leather goods are a hot commodity in Fez, and the tannery here uses traditional methods to produce these goods, by drying and dying animal skin. When they first get the hides of either camel, goat, sheep or cow, they soak the skin in cow urine, pigeon feces, quicklime and salt. This makes the skin more malleable and soft, as well as, increasing its ability to absorb the natural dyes. After drying, the hides are then plunged into deep vats to absorb the natural dye. Substances including indigo, saffron, poppies, and pomegranate are all used to give the hides such vibrant colors.
When visiting the tannery you have the option of going to the rooftop to see the action from above. They give you a mint leaf to hold against your nose to distract you from the foul smell of the hides. After you can browse the shops to admire the final leather products, including jackets, purses, wallets, shoes and rugs.
Tannery side note: They say the rooftop is free to visit, but they usually want a tip.
Where to Eat in Fez:
In the afternoon we went to Cafe Clock, one of the restaurants recommended by our guesthouse. I had a falafel and hummus platter, while the others had chicken tagine with vegetables, and a camel burger with fries. Tagine is a rich stew of meat and veggies named after the clay pot that it’s cooked in. The camel burger had ketchup mixed with cinnamon and honey. Very tasty!
Cost: 5-10 Euros per entree
Anyway, I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in the beautiful Jardin Jnan Sbil, a palace garden created in the 19th century by Sultan Moulay Hassan. This garden is open to the public, free to enter, and was a lovely place to relax. The birds were singing, families were out walking and sitting on the park benches, and the garden was full of beautiful flowers and cacti.
Well that concludes part one of my Moroccan adventure. In the evening I took an overnight bus to Marrakech with CTM. Stay tuned to hear all about my experience in Marrakech and the Sahara Desert! Until then! 😀
Cost: 17 Euros for the 8-hour bus journey (no WiFi or chargers)