For whatever reason, it didn’t occur to me when wandering my way onto the ferry from my sleepy Spanish surf town that when I wandered off things would be much different. So landing in Tangier, Morocco, was a bit of an assault on my world. Port cities are never really great (Belfast), and Tangier appeared to be no exception, although it grew on me in the fleeting moments of my time there.
Getting off the ferry and walking towards the walled medina (old town area), a local guy just sort of started walking next to me giving me a makeshift tour. I was annoyed, but I sort of went with it, and he took me to my hostel and tried to let me have him give me a tour of the city at the end. I said no, and he wanted a tip (I just gave him a Euro). Welcome to Morocco – let the selling to white people begin.
The medina in Tangier was a maze of back alleys and side streets, which is a little disconcerting but not unsafe. I made the walk through the main area, by the noisy mosques and overlooks onto the ocean, through the spice shops and hammams (spas), ceramic and leather dealers, taking in the sensory overload of the markets of these kinds of cities again.
I wasn’t eager with the camera to start with – nothing says “tourist that needs help” like pulling out your phone and looking at it, which people here think is some kind of invitation to help and earn a tip. But I did take a picture of the main traffic circle.
My hostel was fine and the people there were nice, and I decided to keep an open mind for Morocco and not immediately judge to harshly. These things take a little time to grow accustomed to again anyways.
But Tangier isn’t known as a highlight anyways, so I got some information on where I should head next and left for the bus station. It was a long walk, but I saw a parade and wandered the “new town” streets, which was actually much more agreeable. People were nice, didn’t really bother me, it was clean, and it looked like a decent city.
Then I realized I had gotten bedbugs from the hostel, so on second thought, Tangier is terrible and never go there. I’m not really sure how bedbugs work, but I don’t think you kill them by handwashing and air drying clothes, which is how things are generally done here (Update: they have reemerged two weeks later – the battle continues).
But anyways, Chefchaouen is the must-see place in Northern Morocco according to the people in Tangier and backed up by the people of Pinterest. Everyone seemed to get it right, because it was an awesome little town.
It’s known as the “blue village”, which I think is pretty self-explanatory. The second claim to fame is that it’s surrounded by fields that supply the marijuana and hash to, well, a lot of people. This entire town seems to break the “don’t sample the product” rule, so it has a reputation for being a pretty chilled out place.
But I really loved the buildings and doors here, and how the people weren’t as annoying or pushy as Tangier. So I took lots of pictures of things.
Pretty legit, right? They told me it would be blue, but it was like, super blue. They also told me I could easily get a bus to Fes by going to the bus station 30 minutes early, but that turned out to be incorrect. Tickets were sold out for an entire day, so I had to haul my roller back up the huge hill to stay in the hostel for another night. Which was fine. Aside from people trying to sell me weed every 2 minutes after dark, it was a nice retreat for a couple days.
Like the rest of Morocco, I had gotten a lot of mixed reviews about Fes. But Tangier had really set me up to succeed with that “it can’t be as bad as this” vibe, so I was actually pleasantly surprised by Fes. It was busy, and they did like trying to sell things and get you to come to their restaurant, but they were neither unkind nor pushy when you smiled and said “no”. I was practicing that – smiling and saying “no” – rather than just putting my head down and running away annoyed. I think it improved my mood.
I met a software developer on my bus ride there, and we went for dinner at Cafe Clock. I had a delicious Almond Milkshake, and now that I made myself think about that again, I really want one. Later in the week, I sat on the terrace and had another one.
All the medinas have fancy gates near them. The “Blue Gate” is the main entrance, which apparently I forgot to take a picture of despite walking by it about 30 times. But I did take a picture of this gate, so good enough.
I was pleasantly surprised by Jardin Jnan Sbil, just outside the old town walls across the street. It had an island, palm trees, cacti, bamboo, fountains, hidden sections and walkways… all around a lovely little place to spend an afternoon if you’re an unemployed, smoking man in your mid-fifties, apparently.
I went back a couple days later when I was wandering with a German girl from the hostel, which was an interesting experience. This kid (18ish?) walked up to us and really wanted to take her picture. He was respectful enough and a happy person, but just didn’t realize how weird it is. I also got a few “lucky man” comments whispered to me as I passed through the streets walking with her.
She was cute enough, but not exactly a bombshell. I just think Moroccan men have their type. It was a weird experience, but you start to kind of understand how some girls can have a difficult time if things like that bother them. Most of the girls traveling took it just fine, as in the end the guys were pretty harmless, but still it’s inexcusably uncomfortable.
Once you escape the medina, the “new city” is similar to any city really. Big streets, big fountains, lots of cars, new buildings. The “mall” was only about a 25 minute walk, so I went there for food and some Moroccan wine (they don’t sell any alcohol in the medina, for religious purposes).
I ended up staying in Fes for about 10 days, so by the end I was pretty much a pro. The riad/hostel I stayed in for most of it was Riad Verus, which was very nicely decorated, had a sunny terrace, and the best WiFi I had found in Morocco. Just stay there though – don’t book the tours or buy stuff from the hostel – it’s all overpriced and they’re kind of dicks about it. Too bad because it’s such a cool place.
I made some nice friends staying here though, so that was nice. I walked to the tanneries with a guy from Portland who was living in Brooklyn, and we got taken for the tour to see the dyes and hides being soaked in pigeon crap to make it soft. Then they tried to sell us leather jackets, but I can’t really pull them off.
Went for a walk with a Belgian guy who came to the hostel, up around the new city walls to the cemetery (above) and an arms museum on the ridge. Seemed like a pretty good view of Fes, despite a local guy up there trying to lead us down a sketchy path to a “better” view. No thanks bro.
I decided to take advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday and go into the desert. The Belgian guy came along, and so did a girl from Arizona who had things planned much better than we did so we just tagged along. The journey started with a 10-hour night bus from Fes to Merzouga.
We had some time to kill before heading into the desert for the night, so we got a tour from a guy that spoke about 5 words of English who drove us around the desert for a bit. Saw some African drum musicians, turtle fossils, quartz deposits, and visited some nomads living in the desert. It passed the time.
Our crew became 5 when a couple people from New Zealand joined us, and we jumped on camels and headed into the desert.
Jean Ralphio became detached from the camel in front of him at one point, and we tried yelling at the camel leader in multiple ways in multiple languages, but it was about 50 meters until something worked (perdon, with a French access, was the trick). But Jean Ralphio was cool about it, just stood still. Had we never gotten his attention, we might still be standing there.
The camels seemed healthy enough, but I don’t like that they just trot them around and then tie their legs together at night. But the camels didn’t seem angry about it.
The highlight was probably seeing the stars at night. Very little light pollution, so they were pretty bright.
So after a night bus, then a night in the freezing desert, we decided to take another night bus to Marrakesh. This one was 13 hours. And it started crammed in the back of a taxi with 875,000km on it with 3 other people, pushed against a door that seemed to have a tenuous grasp on being solidly shut. But I survived, arriving at the bus station with the reward of a bunch of these sweet motorcycle buggies.
Upon arriving in Marrakesh, Arizona girl said she was heading right to Essaouira for a night, which sounded agreeable enough to Belgium and I, so we tagged along yet again. I wasn’t prepared to move this quickly anyways and didn’t have my maps downloaded (and I’m putting off dealing with the busyness of Marrakesh again). But I figured they could leave me behind there, and I’d stay in Essaouira for a bit to chill and work.