A Travellerspoint blog

Morocco

Desert, Morocco

sunny 102 °F

We leave Fez at 9pm, on an overnight bus to the southern town of Rissani. Not the most relaxing ride as Moroccan drivers are erratic. We get in at 6am and are immediatly bombarded by locals trying to sell us desert tours. One guy was even on the bus with us, so I even got hassled before a left the bus. We had made prior arrangements and we were greeted at the bus station by our driver. We then departed down the road to get to the largest sand dunes in Morocco.

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We arrive at the kasbah and after enjoying a nice mint tea while watching the sunrise we inquired about breakfast. They informed us that it was not included the first morning and we had to wait til dinner, which ended up to be 10:30pm. No lunch either. After a nap and some granola bars, we sweat it out in the desert heat for a few hours til evening. Here we tried using the internet and take showers with no pressure or heat. The owner then informed us we had 15 minutes til we departed on the camels despite being told that we were doing that the next day. Hurried by the guides we head into the desert on camel back. Had a slight delay when one of the camels had issues with a guy from Georgia. It almost reared up and was yelling and chomping. The guy refused to use that camel and insisted on another. This was when we were informed we had to bring our own water and we could buy some from them. Luckily, the Georgian had gallons of water to share.

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Despite the hassle and aggravation of the tour company, once we were in the desert it was all worth it. Gently swaying in rhythm with the camel and enjoying the sunset against the high dunes was one of the reasons we came to Morocco.

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At night we were finally fed a tagine of chicken and vegetables, that was heavenly with cantaloupe and watermelon as a dessert. No pictures as it was by candlelight. We then we entertained by the crystal clear stars and drums and songs of the Berbers. We turned in after watching shooting stars, bats and desert cats.

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In the morning, we headed back and had a breakfast of the local Berber pancake, with jams and honey to dip it in.

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Then we enjoyed another day in sweltering heat and nothing to do other than play card games. If you go to Morocco, the desert excursion is a must but avoid Kasbah Bivouc Lahmada at all costs. There plenty of options here in the desert. We then departed in the morning on another all day bus ride to Marrakesh.

Posted by CulinarySojourn 10:28 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Fez, Morocco

sunny 87 °F

We parted ways with the quaint town of Chefchaoen and headed further south to the the city of Fez. Here it is spelled Fes but the autocorrect always changes it to Few, so I will stick to Fez. The bus arrived late and we departed with four more backpackers from around the world.

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Upon arrival to Fez, we decided it was best to take a taxi as it would only be about 12dh, or $1.50. This was despite Ben's insistence that the taxi ride would kill us. Having traveled in China, it didn't faze me as I was more interested in the meter rather than the mopeds bumping into the taxi whenever it stopped. Or the lack of following the lines if it meant that it slowed down the ride. Immediately after the car stopped we were surrounded by kids telling us where the hostel was and that they would show us the way. This was to be a constant in Fez for the rest of the trip. We climbed to a fort on the outskirts of town to get a better view of the city. Then we headed through the Blue Gate (which looked green to me), which is the oldest gate in Fez.

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We headed into the depths of the Medina (the old city) with a bad map given to us by our hostel and a myriad of warnings received by other travellers. Here again we we beset by men of all ages telling us they were our friends and they knew where we needed to go. In all but one case we actually turned the opposite way they pointed and ended in the correct spot. The one time this trick failed, we simply back tracked to that point and went the other way. At the end of this street the same boy waited and pointed the way. Once again, we ignored him and headed the opposite direction and successfully found our way. Another trick is to ask people with actual jobs or women. We did this three times and were never lied to. Once, when we asked a group of girls, they pointed in the direction I thought we should be going anyways. A male teen then started to tell her to give us bad directions as he kept pointing in the opposite direction and making a lot of turning motions with his hands. An argument ensued about whether to lie to us or not. We went with the girls directions as they confirmed what we thought anyways. Her English was impeccable, showing that she attends school, while the males often had limited and heavily accented English.

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Another issue with the Medina is the narrow and crowded streets. There is over 3,000 of them in the old town although there are only a few that you really use. While the faux guides are persistent, often following for a long time or stepping in front of you, you must be persistent in saying no and push past them. They are a nuisance and what you need to watch out for is the donkeys loaded down with cargo. There wasn't enough room in an alcove when a donkey with leather came down the road and I ended up pinned between the wall and the donkey. Another time, Ben wasn't quick enough and was hit by a donkey carrying rugs.

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Spending days twisting our way through the maze of streets, we eventually learned the layout fairly well albeit with a few wrong turns here or there. If you have one of the major destinations in mind, then there are signs around to point you in the right direction. They are set up high so the locals can't easily mess with them. I found a few signs that had the arrows scrubbed off and some that were written over. While there are stalls everywhere, most of the same type will be in the same area which makes navigation easier.

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The major highlight of the Fez medina is the tanneries. Here they process the different hides to make the leatherwork this city is known for. Once you find them, you must enter a store where they assure you that it is free only to find out they will charge you for pictures. They initially said 5dh per person but we got them down to 1dh each. Most everything is negotiable here. They do give you mint to hold to your nose but it really isn't any worse than some of the streets.

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As for food, we were reluctant to try the street food here as the turn over was low. Closer to evening, more of the locals started to eat but by then the food has stood out all day. We opted for restaurants that were more expensive but were highly regarded by Trip advisor and other online review sites. Unfortunately, the food was mildly spiced and seemingly no salt was used. Either Moroccan cooking isn't what it is back in the states or we were getting whitey cooking. On our second to last day we finally found a good restaurant near the Blue Gate called Thamis. Nicely spiced and flavorful and with the best prunes I have ever had. There was also this great cat at another place that quickly ate up the chicken I gave him.

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This was a free appetizer served to us. Lentils, fried potato patties with harissa (hot sauce).
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This dish is mutton with stewed prunes. Overall the dish was very sweet with cinnamon but the mutton and bread really even out the flavor.
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Here is a great simple meal. Meatballs in a tomato sauce. Crack an egg in the middle and you have a great meal with bread.
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Another staple of the Moroccan kitchen. Grilled meatballs with shredded beets and carrots. Open up the bread and make a delicious sandwich. Staple of many bus stops.
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Posted by CulinarySojourn 07:55 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Chefchaoen, Morocco

rain 68 °F

It is finally time to cross the straits of Gibraltar. We awoke early to the sound of a torrential downpour waiting til it subsided we rushed to the ferry forgetting my towel at the hostel. On the way there several of the sewers were backed up onto the streets and the promenades had holes in their roofs so we were soaked by the we boarded the ferry.

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Once we arrived it was a dash to the free bus to get to Tangier where our connection was located. After the driver gets about a quarter mile from the port, and with our luggage secure in the bowels of the bus, he pulls over and demands 50 dirham (about €5) from us to purchase tickets. Not really having an option we payed up.

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Once we got to Tangier, we immediately had people offering to help us with anything but they were only looking for money. Nice but greedy is how I would describe Moroccans. At the bus station we pushed pass the press of passengers and "ticket sellers" to get to the ticket offices. Here we finally purchase our tickets. I had asked the man if he took euros, to which he replied yes but then demanded an absurd exchange rate of one to one. I pulled out my phone and showed him it is 1 euro to 12 dirhams and we agreed on a 1 to 10 rate. So lost another euro on that.

While we waited we saw a man wearing an Oregon Ducks shirt and chatted with them. They live in southeast Portland and, together with a Japanese girl from Sapporo, we traveled onto our mutual destination. Once again we had an issue with the seats. The driver told us to sit wherever we wanted but at the next stop we all had to move as the seating was assigned. Ben was in full on culture shock by this point. The crowds, the yelling, no one following traffic lines or signals. I told him China was the same and hadn't seen any accidents there, so don't worry. Much to my chagrin there were two major accidents on our way to Chefchaoen. A head on collision and a car driven into a ditch.

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We parted ways with the Oregonions and the Japanese girl and opted to walk to the Medina (old town). Chefchaoen is famed for two things: the blue buildings and marijuana. Although illegal here in Morocco, it is a major crop here in the Rif mountains. Ben was offered some weed about seven times.

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The hostel we stayed at, Riad Baraka, is the best hostel I have ever stayed at. It is a converted 600 year old house that use to house a family per room. The owner is British and has been in Morocco for the last twenty years. Ben's culture shock continued when he was awoken by the Islamic call to prayer 6:30am.

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The food we had was made from the freshest ingredients. For breakfest we had the local bananas, kiwi and melons on yoghurt.

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Dinner was composed of fresh bread that was very similar to ciabatta. We also had a legume soup, chicken briouts (minced chicken wrapped in a filo dough like pastry) and basteeya (pigeon mixed with almonds, wrapped in dough and covered in powdered sugar).

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Chefchaoen being a small town, we ran into the Oregonians again at dinner.

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Posted by CulinarySojourn 13:46 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

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