Mo-Rockin’ Birthday

Disclaimer: totally stole this title from the birthday message my brother sent me. I’m not so punny. It kinda makes it sound like I’ll be sporting a moustache today but I mean…whatever.

It’s my birthday!

Today, I’m 25, and I’m spending it in the best possible way – travelling. I’m visiting my 25th country and 5th continent. It’s been a year full of adventure! I don’t think there’s anything I’d do differently.

I get the vibe most people think I’m weird, and perhaps I am, but I don’t mind spending my birthday alone. I spent 21 totally solo, but was living near Cairns Australia and spent my entire day at the beach (which is actually what I was doing every day, at the time) so I had absolutely nothing to complain about. This year will be much of the same. Most of the friends I’ve made in Morocco have gone home so I’m spending the morning alone. Tonight I’ll meet up with the friends I’ve made in Marrakech though, so don’t worry everyone, I’m okay!

To make the day a little “special” I hop on a bus out of Marrakech to a nearby beach town called Essaouira. Well. 3 hours nearby. I was going to hit this or the Ozoud Falls, but transport-wise this was much more straight forward so I’ll have to leave Ozoud for next time.

I take it easy, walking around the small fish market along the pier, and through the little town which is full of shops and cafes. It’s a very touristy area but I think that’s a given. I see sea urchins for sale in the market and realize I’ve never eaten one before. A good way to start 25 – with something new! It tastes alright, but you don’t get very much bang for your buck. It’s only 4mdh (free, and you could probably get it cheaper, I didn’t even bargain) but once he cut it open with scissors and shelled out the bad parts, I was only left with 4 small little bites. Still, it tasted better than expected!




I spend some time down on the beach, just people watching. There’s an odd mix here of both women in bikinis, and women swimming in t-shirts and pants. Some even in jeans! I can’t imagine that’s too comfortable. I didn’t bother to bring my bathing suit with me, just came to soak up some rays. I’ve given up on being covered up at all times. Marrakech is HOT and no one seems to follow the shoulders and knees rule, so now I don’t either. I usually wear a sleeveless top that covers me right up to the neck, but exposes my shoulders, and then carry a scarf with me just in case. In case of what? I don’t know. I just feel better about it.

I’m going to have the most awkward tan when I get back to barcelona. My face and arms have gotten a fair bit of sun, but the rest of my body is going to be snow white. Great look.

For lunch I visit a fresh fish stall-like restaurant where I can point and choose what I’d like them to cook. I go for squid, which I think might be one of my favourite foods. What a strange favourite food to have, but I seriously just don’t think there’s much I enjoy more than well cooked, fresh squid. It’s a perfect birthday meal. Like treatin’ yo’self, but still staying on budget at just 30mdh (3€, $4cad) for tons of grilled squid, moroccan salad, and a soda. My server sits down and chats with me while I eat because there’s no one else around, so don’t worry!! I’m not alone!!

The latest bus from Essaouira to Marrakech leaves at 18:00 so I don’t have a ton of time. As a last little birthday treat I get a rad henna tattoo on the beach for 60mdh (6€, $8cad). Kind of a mistake because now I have to be all careful and weird when I’m getting on the bus, but it survives, dries, and I get to peel it off over the 3 hour ride as well.

I go to meet everyone at the nice bar/lounge we went to the other night. I ring in 25 and conclude my trip to Morocco with wine and good people on a patio under the stars in Marrakech.

It’s going to be a good year.

Tomorrow I’ll have to rush off to the airport and return to the daily grind in Barcelona. My life is just the worst.

It’s been real, Morocco.

All I can say, is if you ever get the chance to go, DO. Ignore all the haterz.

Dead Chickens and Hammams

I try to go for lunch on my own but get VERY lost in the medina. I’m trapped inside the market. I keep trying to walk straight in one direction, hoping it’ll take me to an exit, any exit, but of course there is no such thing as straight in this labyrinth. I find my way out of the fabrics section, but now I’m lost in shoes. When I escape shoes I’m surrounded by plates and tagines. Then rugs. I round a corner and am suffocated by the smell of raw meat and fish. Now I’m in a hallway lined with thousands of metal lamps. Did I die? Is this hell?

I’m getting hangry, and the constant “excuse me! Hello! Come inside!” calls aren’t helping. I can’t say it gets any easier to deal with that. It makes me so awkward. I can’t take the time to stop and say no thanks to every human who calls after me, but I feel like an asshole when I keep my head down and ignore them. When you’re walking with another person you’re often in conversation and it’s easier to ignore. Alone, you’re nothing but a damn target. Doesn’t help when you’re aware of how lost you are, either.

By some miracle I escape. I’ve lost about an hour of my life in there that I’ll never get back. Which city official should I contact to suggest they acquire some emergency exit signs?

I’m now starving and having trouble finding an affordable restaurant. I make a rookie mistake and sit on the very edge of an available patio along a busy street. Never ever do this. The entire time I’m eating I have people trying to sell me things, kids begging (one even slowly reached to take my shawarma out of my hands guys, this is real life) and most unfortunately and life scarring-ly, a man carrying a handful of dead chickens grazes my leg as he walks past. Like, WITH the dead chickens. It’s not my day.

Lesson learned, no more patios. Ever.

I meet up with Nordine again (the guy who let me chill at his Riad all day yesterday) and we go to meet up with more of his friends. I now have more Moroccan friends in Morocco, than Spanish friends in Spain, and maybe even Canadian friends in Canada.

We go his friends new house in the medina. They’re a young married couple, so I’m picturing like a standard European/American/whatever apartment…but am very wrong. They live in a 3 story Riad. All open concept with tons of sunlight and fresh air, a guest room, two bathrooms, and a rooftop terrace where we spend the afternoon building a little bamboo sun shelter. Okay, so by “building” I mean “watching as they build”. I don’t do a lot to help, though I swear I offer!

I later learn how much they pay for rent, and I won’t be tacky by listing it here, but all I can say is that I’m probably moving to Morocco now.

Down in the street below we hear screaming, and look out over the edge to investigate. There’s a group of kids laughing while this other kid is on the ground absolutely moaning about whatever they’d just done to him. At first I’m concerned but it becomes pretty clear the kid is fine and just being dramatic as hell. Some of them notice us on the roof and start waving. The kid that’s crying looks up, starts yelling something at us in Arabic, sees me, and immediately changes it to “fuck you!!!” We all die of laughter. Except for this poor, angry little guy, but I swear he’s just fine.

We leave their place, Nordine goes back to work, and I decide it’s time to hit a hammam. This was something recommended to me by absolutely everyone who has already visited Morocco, and I’ve read a couple articles about it. The articles made it somewhat more confusing, though. For example, one article underlines the need to wear a bathing suit. They say some hammams will allow you to go topless, but no where in Morocco is it acceptable to be totally naked. Okay noted. But then the next article talks about the nudity everywhere and how it’s normal. You are not allowed to wear clothes inside. Which is it??!?!

I bring a bathing suit just in case. There are also two choices: traditional hammams and spa hammams. The spa ones are obviously more geared towards tourists, but wealthy locals use them too. These can cost upwards of 150Mdh (14€, $20cad), while the public hammams are only 10mdh (1€, $1) for entry. I clearly opt for the traditional public hammam, and not just because I’m poor, but because that’s a reaaaaal hammam. It’s actually a Turkish thing originally, but embraced full force here in Morocco.

There are separate entrances for men and women, but as far as I can see, they’re unmarked. I luck out big time when I over hear a man giving a tour and identifying which door is which just as I walk by. I had my money on the wrong door and was heading for the men’s so that guide saved me a lot of embarrassment.

Once inside I approach a woman sitting next to a small pile of different shower goods. I explain it’s my first time, with the hope that she’ll offer me a little guidance. I’m not sure if it’s my crappy French or what, but she doesn’t help. Instead, she is inconvenienced by my existence and tries to rip me off. I buy this special olive shampoo that I read about, a little rhassoul (exfoliant) and an exfoliating glove. She quotes me 40mdh. Nordine had literally just told me all bath products should be 1mdh each and entry more than 10. So that makes 13. Not 40. I count it out with her and we get to 15, because apparently soap and rhassoul are 2. Whatever, fine.

Then it’s 5 for them to keep my bag. That I don’t try to argue at all. Please like me and take care of my things.

She points me across the room and tells me to get naked. No dividers or curtains, just out in the open; literally in the  entrance. If I almost walked into the men’s side who’s to say the reverse couldn’t happen? I do as I’m told but confirm that I am supposed to get TOTALLY naked, right? The girl from the internet said that’s frowned upon. No bathing suit? Okay lady. Here I am. Naked. While you stand next to me and collect my things, covered from head to toe in your hijab and dress. She gives me some plastic buckets (two large and one small) and points me further inside to the actual steam room.

I’ve been told hammams are similar to onsens in Japan, where they are used as a way to relax and get clean, but also to socialize. I head inside and say “bonjour” to a bunch of other naked women, and no one responds. Okay cool sweet I guess I’m not supposed to talk, now I don’t know. The internet didn’t prepare me for this!

I walk to the very back where I find my own little shower corner. Already sweating to death, I fill one bucket with hot water and the other with cold. I use the smallest plastic bucket to take a bit from each of the big ones to achieve a bearable temperature, and pour it over my head. I open the special olive shampoo, called beldi, which looks like thick black jello, and is wrapped in newspaper. It’s suuuuper sudsy, which I wasn’t expecting. Next I get out my exfoliating glove and the rhassoul. This is also sold to me inside a piece of newspaper, but looks like little pieces of sand rock or something.

The internet told me that when I started exfoliating, someone would come offer to scrub my back, and that this is normal, and to accept, then reciprocate the offer.

Well guess what? No one in this friendly hammam offers, and im not about to ask. Part of me is okay with this because I don’t really want strangers touching my naked body, but part of me is sad because now it’s like my hammam experience isn’t complete. Did it even really happen if a naked stranger didn’t scrub my back?

This special shampoo doesn’t seem to be doing any wonders for my hair. It feels hella dry when I wash it out, but I guess we’ll see.

My towel is pretty damp from sitting in the steam room with me. Maybe I was supposed to leave it outside? I’ve given up on trying to do the proper hammam things and am now just focused on surviving. Is there a shower where I can rinse off? Where do I dry my hair? Is there a mirror so I can wipe off my melting mascara?

Doesn’t look like it.

I get dressed slowly in the hopes that my hair will do some drying in the process. I’m still sweating to death and it doesn’t feel fair to my new clothes to put them on when I’m still basically wet. Luckily all my clothes are pretty gross at this stage of my trip, so it doesn’t matter.
There is one woman sitting next to me, wearing a full black dress and niquab, chillin, as I’m naked and changing. I don’t think she was in the steam room when I was, and it doesn’t look like she has plans to get naked so I’m not really sure what she’s doing here. Maybe she’s come for the warm and welcoming environment.

I walk out slowly, making sure to leave 5dhm for reception as a tip (the Internet told me to), while kinda hoping they’ll stop me if I’m doing something wrong… like leaving the hammam with wet hair. I haven’t noticed anyone walking around with wet hair since I’ve arrived, and apparently some people go to the hammam like 3 times a week. Where do they dry their hair???? I feel like I’ll probably attract more unwanted attention walking around like this than I do with my normal, dry blonde hair.

I’m half right. As soon as I walk out the door, a boy who’s probably 15 starts asking me if I liked the hammam, if I like Morocco, where I’m from etc etc. He’s just left the hammam too, is adorable, and is just a friendly, chatty kid. He walks me almost all the way back to my hostel, and almost no one asks me to enter their shop our shouts anything after me. Bonus.

I have no photos of the hammam. Clearly couldn’t walk around with a camera photographing naked people, so I just turned to Google to find something I could use as an example. The results are LAUGHABLE. Seriously, go google hammam, and then forget what you’ve seen, because what I did was nothing like that. Just a big tiled room with plastic buckets. Not a spa. The internet makes it seem so glamorous. Or maybe I went somewhere totally sketchy. Who knows.

Back at the hostel I take another shower. I already feel “clean” but am absolutely over heating so I take a follow up cold shower just to cool off. I only used half the olive shampoo at the hammam and kept the other half to bring home, but I think I hate it. My hair looks so dry!!!

I head over to the Riad to meet the squad for dinner. I’m starving. When asked about my hammam experience I talk about the pros and cons, but when I bring up the olive shampoo they crack up. Now they’re touching my hair. What is happening. Oh. Turns out that it’s a special Moroccan BODY SOAP. Not shampoo. Ugh. I did the hammam all wrong. I want a do-over!

I assumed we were all going out for dinner together but I am pleasantly surprised with a home made tagine. It’s a chill night and we don’t go out anywhere because we must rest up for tomorrow; mon anniversaire! They drive me home because it’s dark. While I feel safe here, and stand by the fact that everyone over exaggerates the dangers of Morocco, I didn’t love walking over to the Riad alone earlier tonight. What I just can’t wrap my head around is why people get a kick out of making me/other women feel uncomfortable. Like they can’t possibly think I’m actually going to stop and chat. I can’t imagine they believe I’m going to take it as a nice compliment when they cat call, or tell me to smile. I just don’t see what the aim is. Would genuinely love the opportunity to ask someone one time, but then I’d be stopping to talk and that’s a hard no.

Riad 

I wake up at 7am to say bye to Cesc. He’s getting on an early train to Tangier and making his way back to Madrid before work on Monday. I’ve still got a couple more days but Madré Mia what will I do without him? Will I ever make another friend? If I do, will they also be Spanish? The answer is most likely yes.
I wander around the medina which is absurdly large. Lots of fun things to see though!! Mostly just shops filled with things I can’t buy, but still a fun adventure. I get some quick street food breakfast (Moroccan crepe with fromage is my new go-to) and head back to my hostel. Here, the front desk guys invite me to eat breakfast with them in the kitchen and even though I explain I’ve just eaten, no one cares. So I eat again. So good, but so full. Declining food here isn’t really a thing.

I met a local last night who manages a Riad (hotel) in the medina. He calls to invite me out for a coffee which is great because I have absolutely no plans for the day. After grabbing a drink on a patio in the main square he has to go back to work, but invites me to come check out the Riad. Cools. The place is suuuuuper nice. Very small, clean and calm. This is where real adults stay when they travel, I suppose. No Arabic beats blaring like at my hostel.

His “job” is hilarious because he basically just hangs out in the lobby until a guest checks in, which is gruelling as you can imagine, especially at a Riad with 6 rooms. I also meet the other staff members and we just chill, drinking mint tea in the cool shade. Riads are super interesting. They’re defined by their central courtyard which usually has a little garden or sometimes a swimming pool. It’s all very open air and fresh feeling. Birds singing, still shaded but not enclosed. They’re cool.

This is “inside”

I meet the rest of the staff and get to practice some French because not everyone speaks English. More importantly, I learn more fun things about Morocco! These guys are all Berber, which I first learned a little bit about when I visited the desert and the gorge. They were always referred to as the “berber Nomad tribe”, and I assumed that was that. But no! Not really. The Berber people are the indigenous group of Morocco; pre Arabs, pre Europeans. Some of them still live the nomadic lifestyle and move around in small tribes but, what I learned, is that tons of them don’t. I could be way off base on this, but I think the whole Nomad tribe thing is played up specifically for tourists. Obviously the tribes exist but I find it curious that no one else bothered to mention lots of Berber people roll in the mainstream society as well. The tourism industry probably does the same for the indigenous people in Canada…something I’d never considered until today. Anyway, now I’m woke and I know stuff.

My day gets even BETTER, when they invite me to have dinner with them. They’re having a typical Marrakechi dish, which is just meat, garlic, saffron and a few other spices, thrown into a clay pot, topped with some water, and slow roasted over fire embers for 6 hours. Don’t have your own fire pit? No problem. Bring your clay pot to the nearest hammam (traditional public steam bath-more on this to come. I’ll visit one soon) and they’ll toss your dinner on the embers they use to heat the baths. I literally don’t think it could get cooler.


There is a small rush for check-ins, so I end up sitting and chatting with guests in the lobby. I basically work here now. The Riad is called Riad Menzeh, and I genuinely recommend that you stay here. Look at me, putting my marketing education to use.

We have wine with dinner on the upstairs patio, where I learn that not only does Morocco brew it’s on beer, it also has wine regions. I’ve come a long way from when I thought alcohol was entirely outlawed.

So I had straight meat and bread for dinner tonight

After dinner we head over to meet some of their friends at a bar. Again, I get to go to a cool local bar, not a tourist bar. We drive out of the medina and into the new town, where there are lots of neon lights, malls, a Louis Vuitton, a Starbucks, and other things that wouldn’t pop into your head when I say “Morocco”.

We get to the bar and it’s super chic. Everyone is dressed up. Women are in heels and full make up. I’m wearing the same pants I’ve worn for the last 3 days. I’m genuinely surprised that I’m even allowed inside. This spot is way way cooler than where I went last night. More like a cool lounge, much less like a hectic club, though people are still smoking inside which I don’t think I could ever get used to. I enjoy all the people watching and Moroccan rosé.

Sandwich and Fries 

This included hostel breakfast is just as big and epic as dinner. They keep bringing me more and more mint tea. Big fan. Best 100mdh (9€, $13cad) I ever spent.

We end up being in the town way too early for this bus, and sit in the shade waiting for what feels a little like forever. Sitting and waiting for a bus only to board, then sit and wait for 8 hours. Wonderful.

We’re the only backpackers around and draw a lot of attention. Some people ask for my Facebook name or want to take a picture with me. I am asked many questions about Canada and my marital status. My fake engagement ring has been pretty useless. It’s no longer silver, and has turned my finger green. Not very convincing. Again, no one seems at all bothered by the fact that I’m single and traveling alone with a man.

I manage to get a ticket when the bus arrives and our long boring journey begins. At least the landscapes through the Atlas Mountains are beautiful to look at! I even see some snow capped mountains. Maybe you knew, but I certainly didn’t, that it shows in Morocco! Real snow. Enough snow to go skiing kinda snow. Crazy!
We get a quick rest stop to grab some food and stretch our legs. Cesc orders a sandwich with fries. This is what happens.


After 8 hours of sleeping on and off with my mouth open, we arrive in Marrakesh. Every damn kind of accommodation is a Riad, not a hostel, and significantly more expensive. I mean like 250mdh vs the 90 I’m willing to pay. We walk and walk and walk until we finally find a little hostel called Waka Waka playing cool French rap when we enter. A dorm bed is only 60mdh. Success! They show us a map of the city and we realize we’ve walked from the bus station, through the new town, and then into the old town. So basically across the city. I need a shower and some food asap.

We meet some Spanish girls and an Australian guy in our hostel, who invite us out for dinner and drinks. Cesc and the two Spanish girls can’t understand a word the Aussie guy says and decide not to come out. I joke that I’ve been hanging around Spanish people and not understanding a word over the last whole week, and decide to spend some time with English speakers. He lives and works here with a bunch of his other mates, who we meet on a rooftop patio in the new town. When the restaurant closes we all go next door to a “bar” which is actually 100% a club. Arabic beats are blaring, lights are flashing, and people are smoking inside. Luckily there’s a small patio out front where I spend most of my time to avoid getting second hand lung cancer. Similar to this morning, we draw a lot of attention and I am asked for my Facebook name a lot. I don’t know what it is but I always love that question. Finding weird little spots like this is always a good time! I know it’s not very… culturally immersive or whatever but at least it’s a locals spot!

Toldra Gorge 

Waking up to watch the sunrise is WELL worth it. Pictures will never do it justice of course, so I give up on trying and just “soak up the sun” in the dunes. Horrible attempt at a play on words, I apologize.
We are served a gigantic breakfast, and while we’re eating one of the guides comes through the tent yelling “Marrakesh!” so we drop our food and run. There are only 2 bus options for the day; 8am and 5pm. We were really hoping to get on the 8am but realized it would be a bit too tight to make it. Especially if we rode the camels back to the hotel. The only other option was then to try as hitch hike, because if you’re not in the desert there’s nothing to do here and Im sure we’d be brought to some more rug shops. Luckily, this guy has a desert-ready SUV, and is absolutely RIPPING through the dunes to get us to the bus on time. What a gem.

We get to the bus station with just enough time to pay and board before it pulls away. We don’t book tickets straight to Marrakesh, we plan to stop at a beautiful gorge we’ve heard is along the way, and then on to Marrakesh. Cesc books both tickets, but I only book as far as the gorge because I have more time and might want to stay an extra day.

Tinghir is the name of the town closest to the gorge, which is a little funny because it sounds just like Tangier, the city I flew into right across the sea from Spain. If it turns out we’re heading back that direction I will stop drop and roll off the bus.

5 hours later we arrive in the town and need to sort out whether we want to stay here, or try to find a hostel closer to the gorge itself. It’s about a half hour or longer drive to get up there, but we’re not sure we’ll be able to find accommodation. Again, there is a group of men outside trying to sell us on staying at their hotels and hostels. One man offers us a room for 120mdh (11€, $16cad) each per night, with dinner and breakfast included. Sounds pretty damn legit but after what happened with our last hostel next to the Sahara I’m more than skeptical. We manage to bargain for 100 each and throw our prayer hands up. Inshallah it’s not a mistake.

Similar to how involved Mohammed felt he had to be, I’m unable to say anything to Cesc privately. Our new hostel man, who is actually also named Mohammed, is being overly attentive, but hasn’t tried to sell us any tours yet so that’s a huge plus. The closer to the hostel we get, driving up winding mountain roads, past a beautiful valley, the better vibes I get. So far Morocco’s landscape hasn’t been anything like I expected. It’s much more green and mountainous, but here in Tinghir I see more of what I had imagined Morocco to be. Down in the valley is a lush jungle, surrounded by towering, dry and very rocky mountains. The old kasbah sits between the two, abandoned and crumbling. The stark difference is beautiful and so interesting.

We get to the hostel where we are shown to a huge room with two separate double beds. Amazing. Before coming here everyone told me it’s unacceptable for unmarried couples to travel together, but guess what? Another totally misinformed piece of advice. That may be true of other Muslim countries, I don’t know, but we haven’t had to pretend to be married once. No one has even batted an eye.

We head out to the gorge which is pretty epic. I grew up in a small town with a beautiful gorge but this is totally different. More rocks, so many rocks…all the rocks. The cliffs are higher, and there’s no fun little swimming hole like the one in my home town of Elora. Still makes for a fun little hiking adventure.
Once we get sick of all the rocks and the blazing sun, we decide to head down to the abandoned Kasbah. We hitch a ride with a local, who is the first person we try to flag down. WAY easier than hitch hiking in Chaouen. From the main road we walk through the little jungle, have to cross a river in our bare feet, and do a bit of level 1 rock climbing. It’s totally worth it though, in so many ways. We are the ONLY people down here, which blows my mind because who wouldn’t want to visit abandoned kasbah ruins? On our drive up Mohammed told us that these are often used in films like Star Wars, The Mummy and Express to Marrakesh. I can totally see why.



It’s bigger than it looks from afar. Which actually makes sense considering it was an old village. Getting out of the Kasbah is a little more challenging than getting in, and we don’t get to panic level, but the sun is starting to set and we’re just following what may or may not be a path out and hoping for the best.

Obviously I survive, we make it out before dark, and have no trouble catching a ride back to the hostel.
Our included dinner is absolutely massive and super delicious. We both order cous cous with lamb (which is actually 100% beef, even though they swear it’s not) and we can’t even finish half of it. We meet a few other people at the hostel; not all couples this time!! One guy is traveling solo, there is a pair of German sisters, a couple from Argentina, and a couple from England. Still half couples, but not allllll couples, and not allllll Spanish. Confirmed: other nationalities DO in fact travel in Morocco!
The moon rises over the mountains while we all chill out on the roof top terrace, exchanging travel stories, asking the hostel employees questions about life in Morocco, and listening to chill tunes. One of the guys who works here tells us he is a Berber Nomad, a tribe that, as you can guess, never lives in one place, sleeping in caves and living off the land. He welcomes us to come visit his home on the top of the mountain tomorrow, but I get a slightly weird vibe about it. Why would a Berber Nomad work at a hostel? Someone told me they don’t speak Arabic or French, just their own language, and this guy is speaking to us in both English and Spanish. So I don’t know how legit this “Nomad” is, but going to one of their camps would have been cool if it were an actual thing.

Sahara 

I sleep pretty well considering the bumpy bus ride and upright position I must keep for 10 hours. The bus only stops once, around 2 in the morning, and I don’t even bother to get off and stretch my legs. Too sleepy. It gets COLD in the middle of the night but at least the driver has stopped opening the back door.
We arrive before sunrise, and as I groggily step off the bus there are a few men waiting for those who’ve booked hotels ahead of time, or are in search of one. The first man we speak to is dressed in a long royal blue top with gold detailing, and a scarf, twisted and wrapped around his head. Very desert chic. He suggests we come to see his “hotel” and the word prompts me to say we need something much cheaper, like a hostel. He says he can offer us a room for 50mdh (5€, $7cad) each, which is the cheapest price I’ve paid so far, so we agree to go. It’s not as hectic or invasive as the fresh-off-the-bus hostel scrambles were in Asia. People yelling, holding signs, waving things in your face, shouting prices. Again, everyone made it sound like this would be a nightmare, but really it’s chill af. So chill that I’m a little concerned, but for 50mdh I will sleep anywhere.

He takes us to this hotel by car. It’s literally right in front of a giant sand dune, with a beautiful backyard seating area where he leads us to discuss camels for hire. I envisioned this differently as well. Kinda pictured myself at the edge of the Sahara, bargaining for camels with individual guides. I don’t want a cheesy tour. I’m still hesitant, but willing to hear prices. We spoke to some people yesterday who said they paid 800mdh (75€, $105cad) per night. I just can’t afford that life.

We drink mint tea and watch the sun rise over the dunes while he explains our excursion options. I’m not even IN the desert yet really, and I’m already blown away by how beautiful it is. The sun looks enormous.


He quotes us 500mdh (46€, $66cad) each per night, but we talk him down to 400 (37€, $53cad) which is what we were originally hoping to pay. Sweet. Now we go to see the room which I’m expecting to be a dorm or another double bed we have to share, but instead he shows us a room with two singles, a double bed, and private bathroom. He says we can share this just the two of us. So basically a room for 4 people that we can just have, for 50mdh. I confirm this price again, because it seems too good to be true. He shakes my hand and looks me in the eye and says 50dhm. Alrighty. Realistically, we won’t even be sleeping here because we’ll be out in the desert camp tonight, but it’s a place for us to rest and shower now, and to leave our things. I’m cool with it. I claim the double bed.

I keep saying To Cesc how lucky we’ve been, and how it seems to good to be true. Usually just showing up somewhere doesn’t work out this well. Always works out, but never this smoothly.
I shower, take a two hour nap, and then we head into the town to find food. They offer to make us lunch but we want to check out Merzouga (and find some wifi because there isn’t any at the hotel). The man we met this morning, Mohammed, drives us separately on a sketchy little motorbike to the town, kicking up a ton of sand and dirt when we do some off-roading as a short cut. He tells says something about a market which sounds to me like the perfect place to find cheap eats, and he leads us from the motorbike to a car driven by his “friend”. Surprise surprise surprise the “market” is in the middle of no where and is actually just a shop to buy rugs, jewelry, scarves and everything else I have no intention of purchasing. I realize what’s happening as soon as we pull up and say look man, I have no money for shopping, I just want some lunch, but we’re ushered inside anyway.

Obviously, the shop people are pushy and get pissed off when we don’t buy anything, which always pisses me off in return. They do it to everyone, it’s the cost of being a tourist, but I’m not stoked when they make us walk back to the town. Dickheads. It’s not that far, but still rude. I didn’t ask to come here.

On the walk back Mohammed continues to explain more about the rugs and how they’re hand made by the desert tribes etc etc. They’re obviously super cool but I’m not buying one. I think that’s clear. How many times do I have to say no?

In town, we go to find a restaurant and are followed by Mohammed, who’s trying to tell us where to eat and what to order. We ask for some space and time to wander around on our own. I’m about to start tossin’ elbows. Even when I speak quietly to Cesc Mohammed butts in and tries to take over the conversation. Once, I ask Cesc how to say a word in Spanish, and Mohammed gives me the answer. How is that a thing? We offer to walk back to the hotel so he doesn’t have to wait or tag along all afternoon.
He agrees and backs off, but not actually, because later we see him lingering outside the cafe we chose for lunch. During our meal he comes inside to ask if we want to join a couple at our hotel who are taking a 4×4 out into the desert to see the nomad tribe, but wants us to pay 250mdh each, and wants us to leave now. Like I literally have food in my hands. Faaaaackin hell, mate. No.
I know this is just part of the deal, part of being a tourist in Morocco, but it’s so frustrating when you just want to chill and enjoy yourself but are being pressured to buy things, pay for extra excursions, stay a few more nights, upgrade to the luxury camp. No. No. No.

He ends up hanging around outside until we finish eating and drives us back, which is actually nice because I’m wearing my new Moroccan slippers and didn’t really want to walk 30 minutes down a dusty road. Now he’s offering to take us to his house tomorrow night etc. etc., and I basically just tune out because, guess what? I’m not going. Please just take me to the desert and back sirrrrrr. Can’t you just let me live my life?

I stand by the fact that we’re paying a good price, but at what cost, ya know?
We meet a group of Spanish people at our hostel who will be coming on the trip with us. I am now convinced there are more Spaniards in Morocco than Moroccans. It’s great practice for me to listen and attempt to take part in the conversations but it’s also exhausting to have to work so hard to understand basic things. I get lost a lot and give up on asking Cesc to fill me in.

Another group of Spaniards, a family traveling by caravan with FIVE children, is also coming on our desert trip. If I’m not fluent in Spanish by tomorrow, I’ll be disappointed.

Super bonus though, we compare what we’ve paid for the excursion to what everyone else has paid. The whole trip including camels, camping, meals, and our room, is 450 each. Everyone else is paying 800. Legendary savings status.
Wowzers. Another group of humans has just arrived. And another. Another couple. Will it ever end? What kind of desert “camp” can accommodate 50 people? We were told no more than 20. I hate being swindled. I can’t think of a way I could have done anything differently to avoid this tourist trap. We took our own bus. We actively refused tours. We chose a cheap hostel, and agreed to a guided tour through the desert, but not this. Yet, here we are; being told we’ll be driving to a God damn parking lot before getting on any camels.
We’re told to be ready by 3pm, we wait wait wait wait, and by 6pm we actually leave. The camel riding is fun, though I question the ethics. I don’t see camels being beaten or anything, but I think I’m done with any kind of animal related tourism. Unless it’s cage shark diving. Or swimming with whale sharks. Or regular diving. Or a safari. Definitely no more animal riding, though.


I skip the tourist head wrap, but the 5 girls in front of me have never been more excited. They spend much of the camel ride taking selfies and discussing how to get the best group jumping photo when we arrive at the dunes. Cesc asks me the English word for “pija” which I’m unfamiliar with. In Spanish it’s what you call girls who are overly concerned with how they look and wear a lot of make up. I love it.
Once in the camp I’m in better spirits. Our crew of Spanish people took a different group of camels are no where to be seen though, which is disappointing. We walk out into the dunes to watch the sun set, and meet new people within the camp. Most are, of course, Spanish, but we also meet a nice Danish couple, some girls from Macau, and an American family. There are about 30 people in the camp total so it’s bigger than expected but I was starting to think there’d be 100 of us here.



Dinner is Moroccan salad and a giant tagine for each table of 10. The topic of trip prices comes up, and Cesc and I are victorious again. People have WAY over paid for this on many occasions, but I totally understand how it happens. Im pretty confident they make a quick assessment of you, and set the price accordingly. No one else we meet is backpacking, they’re here for a comfortable vacation, so while they’re surprised by how little we’ve paid, no one seems bothered.
After dinner a fire is lit, the guides are playing drum music, and a dance circle has formed. The moon is so bright it drowns out the stars; pretty amazing when the only light pollution is the moon itself. I lay in the sand and chat with some others until the fire dies.


Our camp is more comfortable than I expected. Thick Moroccan rugs are laid over the sand to create the illusion of flooring, and heavy blankets are laid on the bed to keep us warm during the cold desert night. No idea what the bed is made of though. Legit might be a mattress filled with sand – I’m not joking. No one warns us of snakes, scorpions, poisonous beetles or anything of the like, so I assume I won’t be bitten to death in my sleep.

Fes Medina and Tagines

Our over-attentive hostel owner knocks on our door at 9am to invite us to breakfast. We had decided to ditch the included breakfast as a way to bargain down the price of our room, which I’m certain he remembers, he just wants us to change our minds and pay for. It saved us 50mdh (5€, $7cad) for the night, and we’re just as happy to grab a street bread with some cream cheese to spend 6dhm (nothing) instead.

He’s been very friendly, but also pushy as hell and trying to make us sign up for a desert tour with his friend. We’ve explained about 10 times that we don’t want an organized tour but the “advantages” of booking with his buddy has been explained to me at least 5 times now. I’ve been trying to sneak in and out of my room in order to avoid him until we leave.

First priority this morning is to get our bus tickets to Merzouga. We plan to take an over night bus tonight, as the ride is a whopping 10 hours and we don’t have tons of time to spare. Merzouga is a town just outside of the Sahara, from which we hope to find a guide who can take us into the desert for a night or two. Finding your own guide is clearly much cheaper than booking a tour where money changes hands multiple times and everyone’s taking their cut. I’m also hoping it’ll be a more authentic feeling experience. We’ll see! At the end of the day, visiting the desert is visiting the desert so I’ll be happy regardless.

We take a petit taxi from the medina to the bus station to book our tickets, which coke to 180mdh (17€, $23cad) each. That’s not so terrible when you factor in the money we’ll save by driving through the night. We now have 9 hours to spend in Fes before we need to be back here at the station.

Priority 2 is something I wasn’t really planning to write about so I could make it a surprise, but it became a larger part of my day than anticipated, and became too funny not to document.
I want to buy a little Moroccan handicraft for both my grandmother and my parents, who helped me out a lot in being able to afford this trip. I’ve loved every tagine dish I’ve tried here so far, and the ceramics made here in Fes are beautiful, so I decide that it seems like a fitting gift to send home. I come across a shop within the medina where you can see the tagines being made and hand painted. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of different tagines, plates, bowls, and other ceramics on display up front, while three men are working away towards the back.

I start picking up tagine after tagine, trying to decide on the best sizes, designs, and colours – an overwhelming task. The shop keeper is on me the moment I set foot inside, and is doing his best to help me. When I finally decide on a couple I like and set them aside on the floor, I start haggling for a price. He starts at 200dhm (19€, $26cad) for the two. I respond with a firm, “ummmm, no”. Even though I don’t really know what these should cost…I can promise you it isn’t 20€.

He immediately drops the price in half, to 100dhm, but I push for 90. He agrees, and begins wrapping them up in newspaper. I start to speak – the words are literally coming out of my mouth – asking him to wrap everything very carefully so I can ship it home…when I step over one of the tagines, clip the top with my stupid pointed toe flats, and smash the lid in two.

I could just die. I am mortified. I am filled with embarrassment and self loathing. What’s more, I’ve just lost all bargaining power. Now he’ll probably make me pay 800,000dhm and there won’t be anything I can do about it. I apologize profusely and just want to run out of the shop so I can crawl under a rock somewhere with my giant feet. He goes to look for another tagine like the one I had chosen (and swiftly destroyed), but can’t find a match. One of his associates comes from the back with a tagine that’s actually more beautiful than the one I just smashed to smithereens, but even if it had been absolute trash and I’d hated it, I would have accepted it like a Nobel prize.

I take out 150mdh and offer it to him, still feeling like a dick and wondering how much he’ll actually ask me for. Instead of taking this opportunity to rip me off, he declines my extra money and only takes the 100dhm note. I insist he take the extra 50, but he won’t accept it. I’m pretty speechless. This would surprise me anywhere in the world, but the middle of a touristy Moroccan medina is the last place I would expect to receive this level of generosity. Just one more piece of evidence towards how wrong I believe everyone is about the terrible dangers of Morocco. They are the. nicest. people.


Alright, so now we’ve gotta head to the post office. Poor Cesc was with me through that whole nightmare and ended up having to carry the bag out of the store while I put my money away. He says he feels like he’s holding a bomb and urges me to take it from him. Fair point.

We arrive at the post office safely where I am helped by another nice man. He even pretends to understand my broken French. He gets out a large box to package up the tagines but honestly it’s just not big enough. He gets a bigger box, which I can say with confidence is still not big enough, but he insists. He’s trying to fit the bases and lids in like puzzle pieces, using nothing but a few pieces of shitty styrofoam as cushioning. Obviously the tagines are still wrapped in newspaper but I don’t know if that’s enough to make it across the Atlantic. He wraps the box tightly in thick packaging tape, and all I can do now is hope for the best. Inshallah it arrives to my parents home in an un-shattered condition.


Now we’re free to do some touristy stuff. Fes is famous for a ton of different handicrafts, not just fragile tagines. Leather is huge here, as are carpets, and different metal goods. The tannery (where leather becomes leather) is inside the medina and easy to see by hiring a guide from the street. It’s “free”, but a tip is obviously expected at the end. A guide chooses us, we don’t really choose him, and it turns out he doesn’t speak much English (or French or Spanish, for that matter) but it’s a cool tour despite the language barrier. Leather is gross, smelly and all around just terrible in the early stages, so we’re given some mint leaves to carry around with us. My favourite part is watching how the leather is given it’s colour, done with bare hands to rub yellow dye into the hide. We only see two men working, but you can tell which other people around the tannery must also have that responsibility, because their hands are stained yellow. Not permanently stained, just like they worked the morning shift level-stained.




The tour is chill until the end when we go to tip our guide and he’s pissed off that it isn’t enough money. At the beginning, we literally asked him how much he would want and he just kept saying anything is fine, just a donation. Honestly I should have known better. A damn rookie move not to agree on a price in advance. He’s now asking us for 150Mdh (15€, $20cad) which is more than I just paid for destroying a hand made good, so yeah, I don’t think I’ll be paying that for you to walk us through a room of dead goat skin. We end up paying him 50dhm and I’m conflicted because I have no idea what a standard price is for something like this, but more than 5€ seems extreme. Am I cheap?

We have some great street food for lunch, find a cool roof top patio for a drink, and basically just wander around for the rest of the day. We try to visit a very very old library, but it’s closed for restorations so that’s kind of a bummer. There is also a Jewish quarter of Fes which is something I find pretty interesting, but it’s a bit of a hike and I feel content with just the knowledge of its existence. I’m not really sure what there is to SEE or DO there. Maybe I’ll find out later that I’ve made a huge mistake by skipping it, I don’t know.

We have some great street food for lunch, find a cool roof top patio for a drink, and basically just wander around for the rest of the day. We try to visit a very very old library, but it’s closed for restorations so that’s kind of a bummer. There is also a Jewish quarter of Fes which is something I find pretty interesting, but it’s a bit of a hike and I feel content with just the knowledge of its existence. I’m not really sure what there is to SEE or DO there. Maybe I’ll find out later that I’ve made a huge mistake by skipping it, I don’t know.
Finally the time comes to catch the night bus. We have to go back to our pushy hostel owner one more time to collect our bags and I swear if I am offered a tour imma lose it. He doesn’t offer, though. Smart move.

Most of the other bud riders seem like fellow backpackers, which I suppose isn’t shocking, because I doubt too many locals have the need for a bus journey to the Sahara on a Tuesday night.

Before taking our luggage, the man loading the cabin below the bus asks for 5mdh (0.50€, $0.70cad) for “protection” of each bag. We pay this without complaint, and are then rewarded with a little white sticker which I think basically means bags without the sticker are more likely to get “lost”. OR all the bags are 100% safe the entire time and buddy is just making 5mdh x 40something passengers. Who knows.

A bus is a bus, so I can’t claim to be overly comfortable, especially when the driver keeps opening the back door for fresh air. Yes, the door, not the window.

Hitch Hiking to Fes

It’s an early morning, as Fes is a 5 hour journey and that’s not including the time we’ll spend on the side of the road trying to catch a ride. I’ve always loved hitch hiking (which I did frequently when I lived in Tasmania), but would never have considered doing this alone in Morocco; having Cesc with me makes it feel much safer. We meet outside Najoua and Amin’s hotel at 8am to say our goodbyes, and we go on our way. I am beyond thankful I met them. They taught me so much about Moroccan culture and we had so much fun together. I encourage them to come to Barcelona for a visit!

Moroccan people have been so welcoming and friendly since the moment my plane landed, so I can’t imagine we’ll have much trouble finding someone who will pick us up. We grab a quick breakfast for 10dhm (free) each, and start down the road.

We have a littttttle trouble getting picked up. People don’t even stop to ask us where we’re going; they just offer a friendly wave and drive straight on. We start to think that maybe we should head back to Chaouen to catch a bus…but just as we decide to go back, a man pulls over and offers to drive us 10km in the right direction. He believes we’ll have more luck finding a ride to Fes from the location where he can drop us. Perfect, let’s do it.

We’ve started greeting people with a wave and then, “English, Francais, Español?” and letting them decide which language they’d prefer to speak. It’s fun, because Cesc takes over when it’s Spanish, I do the talking when it’s French, and if it’s English we can both converse. The men who pick us up only speak a little bit of Spanish, but it hardly matters because they’re blaring Arabic beats for the whole trip. Lovin’ it.

Once in the smaller “town”, which I would argue is actually just a gas station, we get back to thumbing on the side of the road. Here, cars pass more frequently, but our rejection rate is just as high. We see one young western couple with an empty car drive right by us without even making eye contact. Not even acknowledged. At least locals are polite enough to offer an apologetic wave. Whatever. Rude.

This doesn’t seem to be in the cards for us. I apologize because admittedly, hitch hiking was my idea and it’s failing miserably. We start walking back to the gas station in the hopes of finding a taxi driver with whom we can haggle for a good price to Fes or somewhere nearby with a bus station. On a last attempt, I throw up my thumb for a passing car, and it actually pulls over. It’s a young Spanish couple and we ask how far they can take us…turns out they are also headed to Fes. A damn miracle! We hop in the back seat with enthusiasm.

Obviously they’re lovely, and though I’d love to practice my Spanish, the three of them all speak a little too quickly for me to understand and/or be able to contribute much to the conversation. We end up speaking a lot in English. They discover they all have friends in common, which just further confirms for me how small the world is. Or I guess in this case, how small Spain is. New tally of Spanish friends in Morocco: 3, Spain: 0

Halfway to Fes we get pulled over for speeding. Apparently we were going 72 in a 60 zone. In Canada that means nothing, but okay. The ticket is only 150dhm (14€, $20cad) which sucks, but is hilarious compared to the $100+ you’d pay back home.

I can feel the heat creeping up as the day goes on and we move further South. The heat thus far has been nothing like I expected for Morocco. Honestly I’ve even been a little cold the last 3 nights, and only packed one light sweater. I had it in my head that I’d be overheating from start to finish, but the weather has been in the low 20s since I arrived. The North is, as I should have realized, a similar climate to that of southern Spain. Now, however, I’m going to be dealing with 30+ in Fes, Marrakesh, and of course when I visit the desert.


We arrive to Fes safe and sound. The Spanish couple have a hostel booked so we tag along to see if there are any open rooms. All the dorms are taken and they only have one double room left, which is slightly more expensive but we bargain the price down from 300 to 200mdh (18€, $26cad) so about 9€ each. Not ideal, as the dorms were 7€, but not terrible. Sure, it’s a little strange to share a bed with a boy I don’t know that well, but Cesc is chill af and it’s nice to have one room where we can safely leave all our stuff.

We are greeted with mint tea, take a few minutes to relax, and then head out into the medina. I can’t get enough of these medinas! It becomes clear that the shop keepers are a little more pushy here than they have been in Tangier and Chaouen. And by a little I mean a lot. The medina is also significantly larger than the other two I’ve seen, and I laugh when I think about “getting lost” in the media of Tangier. That was small fries compared to this.

After eating so many restaurant meals (when I vowed I’d stick to street food), we make a point of eating snacks along our way as we explore. We try lots of cool new things, and I don’t know the name of any of them, but I’ll say spicy chickpeas, fish samosa-like snacks, something like a chicken croquette, and another snail soup (or snail snoop, as I keep accidentally calling it). There are tons of hand made crafts in Fes, from rugs and leather goods to tagines and ornate metal lamps. Some of the shop displays are just fantastic, like endless hallways of ceramics or walls and ceilings filled with shoes.


I buy a pair of super rad Moroccan leather slippers, and try my hand at bargaining. I get the price down from 100 to 80. Not my best work but it always take me a while to get into the headspace of haggling. 8€ for a pair of leather shoes is nothing to complain about anyway. Just when I thought there couldn’t possible have squeezed any more shoes along the walls, the shop keeper climbs a ladder in the back corner and slips up into the attic at lightening speed. I can’t imagine how many more hundreds, potentially thousands of shoes they have here. Every size, every style, every colour, and then more.

Shoes shoes shoes and more shoes

As the sun starts to set and our feet have grown tired, we make our way back to the hostel. We’re “lost”, but manage to sort ourselves out eventually. Mostly because we ask people.
It’s a lazy evening but we go out once more for a mint tea and light dinner. We go to a street food stall which turns out to have some upstairs seating on a rooftop patio over looking the streets. It also turns out they have beer. Bonus.

We share some grilled turkey and beef skewers that come with bread (of course) and lentil dip. Do I really have to tell you that everything is delicious?

Cascade Akchour 

We all meet up at 9am to visit a waterfall outside of Chaouen. I hadn’t heard or read anything about a waterfall before coming here, but I was fortunate to meet Najoua and Amin, who told me about its existence. I have to buy some running shoes because I only came with a pair of flats. I find a pair of knock off Nikes for 130mdh (12€, $17cad), sold to me by an old man on the street. We stop for a typical Moroccan breakfast, which is a fried egg doused in oil, with sides of cream cheese, home made fresh cheese, and a ton of bread to use for dipping. I am adjusting to the whole eating with my hands thing, I can’t lie. I’ve gotten better about always using my right, though.


We have no trouble finding a grand taxi, which drives us about an hour or so outside of Chefchaouen for 25dmh (2.50€, $3cad). I have been extremely confused about this whole situation. I thought the waterfall was a one hour walk from the city centre, but it’s actually a one hour drive, then another hour and a half of walking. It’s more of an excursion than I expected! Good thing I got my fancy new shoes.

Somewhere along the winding mountain road we run into a traffic jam. It has literally come to a stop for so long that people are now outside of their vehicles, partyin’. We end up getting out and walking the rest of the way, because it doesn’t look like this taxi is going anywhere any time soon. We meet tons of groups doing the same, but they’ve brought drums and dance moves. So well prepared!!
​​


At the end of the paved road we begin our hike along the trail. We may have picked a bad day to come, as it’s a Sunday and the trail is absolutely flooded with people. It seems like it’s all Moroccan tourists though! Which is awesome. I don’t hear anyone speaking English, French or Spanish.

Okay so it’s not always like this, but crowded is an understatement

 

We walk and walk and walk.

Then walk some more.

Keep walking.

It’s definitely been well over an hour. We keep asking people coming the opposite direction how far we are from the falls. They all tell us an hour. It doesn’t matter how close we get, we’ve still got another hour. I don’t see how this is possible! However, the hike is beautiful, and takes us up up up into the Riff Mountains. I can’t imagine how I would have fared in my black flats. Probably would have fallen down a cliff and died, honestly.

Squad

More walking.
So much walking.

We stop for a tea.

Then we keep walking.

When finally, we’ve made it!

This epic waterfall, even more beautiful than I could have expected. Getting up close is a bit of a challenge, as we have to do some low key rock climbing through a muddy pathway, but it’s well worth it. It’s even possible to walk down behind the falls which I’m always a fan of.


I am wearing running shoes, some loose fitting pants, and a standard t-shirt, and I slip a few times along the way. I cannot IMAGINE how hard it must be for the women around me, wearing long dresses and some people in slippers. Literally so impressed. Mind blown.

After spending some time to take in our surroundings and enjoy the incredible falls, we realize we should start to head back if we plan to catch a taxi. By this point in the day, we’re all absolutely starving, so after a bit of walking we sit down by the river and share a tagine. Morocco is amazing. I’ve always said that once you can start to like, take for granted how beautiful everything is, you know you’ve really seen a place. You can allow yourself to stop being so amazed all the time. I’ve been here 3 days, and I am nothing short of amazed 100% of the time, obviously, but somehow enjoying a fire cooked meal down by the shore of a river already feels like a normal thing to do.


The walk back feels much less long, maybe because we know what we can expect this time. The sun has also dropped behind the mountains so I’m not roasting in the sun like before.

Back in Chaouen we take an hour to go home, shower, and relax for a bit, before meeting up again for dinner. Amin has a better idea, and instead of going straight to dinner asks a man on the street where we can find a beer. Of course, in Muslim countries it’s impossible to find beer at regular restaurants because it goes against their religion. It’s not like Canada or Spain where alcohol is basically part of the religion. Honestly, I was under the impression alcohol was illegal here. Wrong. Naive me. I knew you could still get it of course, but I thought it was like underground sketchy clubs. Wrong. So so wrong. The man that Amin approaches leads us to a fancy hotel where we can order either Heineken or Flag Speciale, the beer of Morocco. Of course, I must order the latter! In some ways it’s still a bit of an underground vibe, with men in suits smoking big cigars indoors and drinking whiskey on the rocks. Najoua and I are the only women around so we’re getting a lot of strange looks, but after a long hike like today, a nice cold beer is all I want. The Flag Speciale is light and easy to drink; nicer than a Heineken in my opinion.

We leave the hotel to find a restaurant that offers a “menu” (app, main, and dessert) for 50dhm (5€, $7cad). I try a Moroccan soup as my app, and again have tagine for my main. Though instead of chicken and vegetables like earlier today, I try kefta, which is similar, but better, to meatballs in tomato sauce with an egg.

Excuse the strange lighting. I did say everything here was blue and I wasn’t kidding

 

By this point in the evening we are all exhausted and stuffed to the brim with food, so we go home and crash. Tomorrow, Cesc and I are heading to Fes, and decide to try and hitch hike our way there instead of paying for a bus or taxi.

Sorry Ma.

Najoua and Amin were only going to spend on night in Chaouen, which turned into two, and now they’ve decided to call in sick to work and stay a third. THAT’S how beautiful this city is.

Chefchaouen, The Blue City

I thought I was alone in my hostel, but I was wrong. I woke up to a cat curled up by my feet, and again, later, to him curled up by my neck. Not a huuuuuge fan of a strange hostel cat being near me and getting its cat hair everywhere…but it doesn’t look diseased or itchy or anything, so that’s a plus. I go online to book a hostel in Chefchaouen to find they’re all full or super expensive. Just grand. After a little panicking (I legit have to go there I can’t just skip it. It looks so beautiful!!) I give in and pay for a hotel. Some go up to 1100Mdh (102€, $145cad), but I find one for 200mdh (19€, $26cad) per night. I get the vibe it’s a little far out from the medina, but that’s okay, because it’s not 1100Mdh.

Now I just have to sort out how to get there. I’ve been told there are just two options, either a bus or a taxi. The taxis are apparently only slightly more expensive and much more comfortable. Of course, I don’t get the whole taxi to myself, I’m going to have to share it with like 7 people, but it still sounds superior to the bus.
Travel before the invention of the internet sounds much more romantic and rewarding, more adventurous, more real…but madre mia I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to get around without Google to answer all my questions.
I go out, further from the centre than I did yesterday, and find a bustling square with taxis, restaurants, shops, ATMs, and of course, street food stalls. Yassssss. I see multiple stalls selling this bread thing so I pick one and have a go at ordering. I am given the choice between cream cheese, Nutella, or peanut butter spreads and I go with cream cheese. I am charged 6mdh (0.60€, $0.80cad) for a huge piece, which is wrapped in brown paper and handed to me for takeaway. It’s kinda like folded naan bread stuffed with cream cheese. I’ve just realized I’m not very good at describing food, so I’ll stop, but trust me when I say it’s good. Next I check out of my quiet little hostel and get on my way.

I take a “petit taxi” (which are just normal sized taxis so I don’t know why they’re called “petit”) to the bus station. I can’t see the taxi stand so for a minute I consider forgetting it and trying to maneuver the madness of shouting bus drivers, vendors, and travellers. It’s hectic as hell, so I just ask someone where I can find a taxi to Chefchaouen, or ‘chaouen as all the cool locals, and now I, call it. He points me over to a slightly less hectic area where I can hear a man shouting “chaouenchaouenchaouenchaouen” very loud and very fast. I ask for the price, am told 80mdh (8€, $10cad), and get in to a 7 seater van. I suppose these are the “grand taxis”.

I meet a super nice couple from Meknes (another Moroccan city) who tell me they paid the same price for the trip which is comforting. 80 doesn’t seem expensive for a 2 hour drive, but I still don’t want to be paying tourist prices if I can help it. We wait, as the taxi won’t leave until every seat is filled; there is no time table, it just depends on demand.

A Spanish guy from Valencia joins our van and I practice a bit of Spanish on him. I can’t do much more than the standard “What is your name? Where are you from?”, and to be honest I don’t even want to be practice Spanish right now because I am mixing it with French when I speak to locals and end up just butchering every language I try to speak in the process. I can only handle one at a time. We all chat the whole ride which makes the time fly by quickly. I now have more Spanish friends in Morocco than I do in Spain. Tally: 1.

When we arrive in Chefchaouen I head up to my hostel. My new pals go in search of accommodation, and I’m feeling great about having booked something in advance. I’m not sure they’ll have any luck. We exchange numbers to meet up later.

The owners of my place made a note on their page about how easy it is to get to from the centre, so I just grab a petit taxi for 15mdh (1.40€, $2cad). The driver is friendly and takes me far up the mountain, which begins to feel way too far out of the city. He drives me to the end of a dirt road and tells me if I just walk up the hill and to the left I’ll find it. Mmmmmk. Not a fan, but sure.

Well, surprise, I don’t find it, and have to ask a group of men for directions. The father speaks a bit of French and sends his son, who is about my age but speaks no French (or English or Spanish) to help me find it. He’s really nice (though we can’t actually communicate) but I’m feeling extremely frustrated by how far away the taxi driver left me. Did he ever know where this hostel was in the first place? I’m in what feels like the middle of God damn no where. No roads, im just walking down a path following some kid I can’t ask any questions. I don’t feel scared per se, but I am aware that this could easily turn into a sketchy situation for me. I don’t have much of an escape route unless I roll down the mountain.

We walk for 10 minutes before we run into another man who speaks French and directs us back the other way. Now the three of us are walking together and they’re asking me lots of questions about my life but all I want to know is where my damn hostel is. We finally arrive and I offer them some dirham for their troubles. They both refuse which is very sweet considering neither of them asked for this little promenade in the first place.

The owner of the hostel comes down, and seems genuinely confused about how I got so lost. Well sir, maybe it’s because there is no road to your building, and only a small painted title on the door. No one knows this exists. He shows me to my room and apologizes because the bathroom light isn’t working. I am more concerned about the fact that I’m a 15 minute walk from the city, uphill all the way home.

I connect to the wifi and get in touch with my friends to see how they’ve fared in their search. Both the couple (Najoua and Amin) and the Spanish guy (Cesc, short for Francesc) have found accommodation for LESS than what I am paying here to live on the top of Mount Everest. Almost half the price I’m paying, actually, and they believe it’ll be easy for me to find a place too. Yeah, I think I’ll go, thanks. I haven’t even paid for this room yet so I’m still a free bird. My friends find a hotel down the street from theirs, send me a photo of a room, and I walk out the door. I have to walk for 5 minutes before I can even find a taxi. I don’t know who would ever choose to open a hostel at this location.

Arriving at my new place brings me peace. It’s in the medina which is literally all that matters to me. Even if the bed wash trash I’d sleep there, but it’s not, it’s a room that could sleep 3 people that I get all to myself, and it’s 120mdh (12€, $16cad) a night. I’m never leaving.

I drop my stuff in the room and we all go for lunch. I am high on the feeling of relief and success, finally at a good location, with great people, in this beautiful city.

We find a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we let Najoua and Amin order for us all. A giant plate of assorted fish is placed in the middle of the table with bread, rice, and sauces on the side. In Morocco we eat with our hands, which is always great fun but a small struggle for me because it’s rude to use your left hand, and I am left handed.

We’re not given plates or anything, just paper place mats, and I’m happy I snap both a before and after shot of the mess we make while eating. It’s such good fun! 50mdh (5€, $6.50cad) for each of us to eat this feast.



Next, we wander through the medina. Chaouen is famous for being a blue city. Literally everything is blue. I thought Tangier was blue but this is next level. It’s picture perfect; the kind where no picture can actually explain how beautiful everything is, but you must take 834726 photos to try and capture it anyway. Around every corner there’s a photo op. This also makes Chaouen infinitely more touristy than Tangier, which I never love, but can entirely understand. So. Damn. Pretty!





I see some female tourists running around in tank tops, crop tops, short skirts and shorts, as if they did absolutely 0 research before arriving here. I ask Najoua and Amin about it and they say it’s normal. Some people will be offended but it’s not a big deal. Happens all the time, especially in the bigger cities (though Chaouen is not a big city). I think I am more offended by it than they are. I just feel like it’s so disrespectful to have no regard for the culture and customs, but whatever. Do you.

As it starts to get dark I am ever thankful for moving out of that first hostel. It would definitely not be safe for me to walk up there on my own at night, which would mean I’d have to leave now. At 20:00. No thanks.

We pass a street food stall with a man selling snail soup. Yes. Snails. I find this extra hilarious because I just had a conversation with one of my students, who is 11, about eating foreign food. She was quite reserved in what she was willing to try, and I told her I’ll eat anything. She asked me what I would do if I was offered snails or something weird in Morocco, and I assured her I would happily try them. Well here I am! I order a small bowl for 5mdh (0.50€, $0.66cad). It’s legit delicious, and again, fun to eat. You pick the snails out of their shells with a toothpick, toss the empties into a big collective pile on the stall, and then drink the leftover soup from the small clay bowl. Of course, I send a photo to my student.


We all head back to the couple’s hotel where they have a great little kitchen and terrace. Najoua makes us mint tea, and lays out some Moroccan pastries that she picked up on our way home. We sit outside on their terrace over looking the city, under the stars, listening to people bustling about below us. The call to prayer begins and sounds so beautiful. It echoes throughout the whole city and I’m caught in a moment that couldn’t be more perfect.