A Taste of Africa…

Casablanca Travel Blog

 › entry 22 of 45 › view all entries

Ok, ok… You got me, I’m in Morocco! My very first venture into Africa!!!!!

It all started in Valencia, Spain, really, when I started looking at the prices to fly there… For not much more than 100 euro we booked a flight from Madrid to Casablanca, and then a return from Marrakech to Paris. We would’ve spent almost that much on a bus from Madrid to Paris anyway, so why not… I’ve always wanted to see Morocco, and Africa in general, and being in Spain and Portugal we were so close that it was just too hard to resist. So, long story short, booked the flights from Lisbon before we headed back to Madrid… You’ve heard all about the next week already, then found the airport in Madrid ok, boarded our flight without any hassles, and we were off!

Landing in Morocco was something else. Even though it’s so close to Europe, it’s still so far away. As soon as you get off the plane you’re smashed in the face by the different sights, landscape, smells, culture, fashion, attitudes… Everything is completely different. There’s a barrage of people at the airport selling accommodation, transportation, hashish, people trying to carry your bags, basically, anything you want if you’re willing to part with your Dirham. So, we fought our way through them all knowing that the train station that we wanted was under the airport, but just needing some fresh air and space to compose ourselves. Silly move, once you’re out of the airport, it’s an absolute mission to get back in, going through all of the security measures again. Lesson learned.

Made our way back inside, found the train station and the right connection, discovered (much to my surprise) that everybody speaks French here as well as Moroccan Arabic. Had to take 2 trains to get to our first destination, Casablanca.

Just the name of the place invokes images in my mind (my imagination has a tendency to wander a lot…) and at first sight it was exactly what I was expecting. An ancient Medina, huge city walls, stalls lining the streets selling everything from snails to herbs and spices to slippers, tiny cobblestone laneways, and donkeys carrying loads of things around the town. And people harassing you as soon as you get there, trying desperately to lead you to their (or their friends, fathers, uncles) guesthouse, hostel, restaurant, café. So, another fight to get through another crowd and we were free. Didn’t take long to find the local youth hostel despite us meandering along gazing at the huge city walls, the dust that seemed to constantly linger in the air, and the crazy drivers/motorcyclists/petite taxis that seemed determined to run us down at any and every corner. The hostel seemed friendly, albeit a little quiet, and the bathrooms were not the most pleasant place I’ve been…

Went for a wander around town trying to adjust to the strange stares that we were getting from, well, pretty much every person we walked past. I guess I tend to blend in pretty much everywhere I go (aside from the huge pack that I’m lugging around most of the time!) but poor Justin has no hope of looking like a local with his blond hair and blue eyes! So, we had to adjust to being stared at like circus freaks for a little while. At least everyone seemed to be relatively nice, even when they’re trying to rip off the silly tourists. Finding a meal on our first night was harder than I ever thought that it would be. I mean, I’m used to language barriers, that was no issue, but every restaurant that we went to was only serving drinks (non-alcoholic drinks, by the way!) We got the same answer everywhere, “No cuisine”. We tried for so long that after stopping for a coffee somewhere we ended up eating french fries at McDonalds for dinner because we gave up (yeah, they have McDonalds in Morocco, right next door to KFC!) Now, you know how much of a fan I am of fast food (ok, well in case you don’t know, I detest the awful disgusting stuff!!!) but it was really a last resort, and we resolved to go out earlier the next day. Spent the whole day seeing the sights of Casablanca, particularly the Hassan II Mosque, the 3rd largest in the world. It was such a ridiculously foggy day, though, that we couldn’t see the minaret. We were a little more settled (despite a horrible nights sleep on the most uncomfortable mattresses in the world…) and were feeling a little more confident in our weird and wonderful surroundings, were savvy enough to find some decent food before spending the evening playing more card games and backgammon at the hostel. After 2 nights in Casablanca, we were ready to hit the road to Tangier in the very North, 6 hours away by bus.

When we arrived, although the greeting was pretty much the same, Tangier seemed to be different than Casablanca. This time, instead of everyone harassing Justin and ignoring me because I’m a woman, they attacked both of us. One moron followed us to where we were going and then wanted money for taking us there, we had a map and directions already and told him over and over that we didn’t want his help. But when we got to the hostel we had a quiet little escape form the world outside. The place where we stayed, Pension Palace, is set around a beautiful green courtyard filled with plants. The rooms aren’t much, lumpy mattresses just like most other hostels, but really, what do you want for 6 euro each per night?!?

Did all the sightseeing stuff in Tangier, the Kasbah overlooking the beach (apparently the local surf beach, they have a surf club there and everything for the 3cm high waves…!) and the Medina (which we were staying smack-bang in the middle of) and there was a few museums and stuff we went to see too. Spent a lot of time avoiding the faux guides that almost demand that you let them show you around for a ridiculous fee (really, who wants to be led around by someone who’s just going to take you to their family’s shops and cafes and restaurants, not to any real sights?) and the guide-thing would only get worse further into our travels…

There’s not a whole lot to do in these towns, and yet it’s so easy to just wander the streets fascinated by the buildings and walls, by the people and the stalls, the colours and the delightful smells! It’s like every corner brings something new, and somebody new to hassle you as well. Everywhere you go throughout the Medina, the food smells so good you can almost taste it, they use so many fresh herbs and spices in the couscous and the tajines… It’s fantastic. Pretty much every night I ate either tajine or couscous, I could live on the stuff. We found a great little restaurant down the road from our hostel, the guy spoke great English (woohoo!) and they were really friendly, the food was awesome even if the place looked a little dodgy to begin with… Oh well, you never really know til you try it I guess. Because there were so many different places that we wanted to see and the towns are mostly fairly small, we figured that we could spend 2 nights in each place and see everything in that time. So, from Tangier we moved onto Fes.

The bus ride there was long, maybe not as long as it seemed at the time crammed into a hot bus on a hot day, but the views along the way were spectacular, and the sunset was particularly beautiful. We had a small map of Fes in the Lonely Planet book, and so we figured that we would be all sorted when we got there. Got off the bus, marched our way through the streams of people and headed out towards what we thought was the direction of the hostel. Pretty soon we realised that we had no idea where we were, and soon after that we figured that wherever we were, it definitely wasn’t on our map. And it was night time. In a strange city. Hmmm… We had no idea which direction to head in, and were completely lost. Somehow we actually found the right direction, it took us about an hour to find the hostel that should have been about 10 minutes away… But we got there in the end, that’s all that matters, right? So yeah, got to the hostel and it was all booked out, but the guy was really good… He showed us another place that was even cheaper, he walked us there and gave us a heap of information about the city and the history, and arranged a guide for us the next morning because the medina there is so big. I’m not a big fan of tour guides in general, but I figured that maybe we would learn a little more about history and culture, and it was pretty cheap, so why not? Found a great little restaurant around the corner where the little old Maitre ’d speaks 6 languages and they have really cheap meals, and then got an early night so we could get out early the next day.

Our tour guide turned up right on time, and took us (by cab, the lazy thing!) to the Medina so we could see the sights. It was everything I have come to expect from tours… We did get to see the sights, but in between everything we went to so many stores along the way… First was the famous tanneries of Fes, they’re something of an icon there now, and we went in to see how everything is made, and then they try to sell you stuff; A carpet factory so you can see how everything is made, and then they try to sell you stuff; a blanket store, same thing; a bakery, same thing; and an old school pharmacy, which I actually really enjoyed. The pharmacy was nothing like modern day pharmacies at all - the walls were lined with rows and rows of jars, all full of natural herbs and spices. The funny little man went through and explained what they have traditionally used all sorts of herbs for, he got a little too chirpy when he was telling me all about natural viagra, but all in all it was fascinating. The big spaces where they dye their fabrics were really interesting as well, to see the way they use all natural products to make all sorts of different colours. It’s so different to the big factories at home where everything is machine made on production lines. Here it’s all hand made everything, it’s fantastic.

In between being dragged between all of these stores, we saw the Kairaouine Mosque (well from outside anyways, it’s Muslims only inside) the Medersa Bou Inania, and pretty much all of the Fes El-Bali.

Once we had seen all of the Old Town and our tour was over, we headed for the new town, there’s no sightseeing to be done (which was actually a nice change!!!) but it’s a really pretty place, really green and there’s loads of beautiful gardens everywhere to sit in and people-watch. Spent hours just sitting amongst plants drinking coffee, then further down Mohammed V (the 2 main streets in every town are called Mohammed V and Hassan II after the previous kings…) we sat by the huge roundabout and watched the world go by for more hours. It’s funny there, sometimes it seems like everybody is trying to scam the tourists. And I mean, of course everyone is not the same, but it feels like it never ends. I lost count of how many times people would come up and talk to us “my friend, my friend” and try to get you into a conversation, and then somehow try to get money out of you. But on the whole, the Moroccan people were really kind lovely people, so long as you know which ones to avoid (same as everywhere I guess!!!)

So, next day leads us to next blog, this one is far too long already.

So, til the continuation of my African adventure, peace!

Love you all.



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photo by: nathanphil