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.


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?

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.

Take me there!


Morocco: Arrival Pt.2

I think I just got way too excited to be blogging again, and posted about my day when it was only 30% finished. Here’s what else I did in Tangier:

It’s still too early for check-in but I maneuver my way through the medina to find my hostel. A “medina” is the term for an old Arab or non-European quarter of a North African town, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I took that straight from Google.

The hostel is charming and beautiful but utterly silent, even though it’s now almost noon. A French woman comes to check me in and identifies me as Canadian, despite by British passport, based on my poor French accent. Awesome.

I feel much more at ease now that I can leave my important things in the hostel and explore without all of my cash, passport, and livelihood attached to me.

I bring a small black and white map, but allow myself to get lost in the medina, knowing that this would be hard even for someone with an inner compass.
I take random turns through small winding streets, following white walls and doors painted in bold shades of blue. Shops are beginning to open up and I am encouraged to enter what must be 100 places over the duration of my walk, but never do. As you can imagine, cat calling is also extremely common here, as it is in many other countries where women are not valued as equals. Hell, it still happens in Canada. I keep my bag close and eyes averted, trying my best to avoid any unwanted attention – trying to stay alert while I adjust to this new environment, running the words of warning people shared before my departure, again and again through my head.

Don’t get me wrong though, I still enjoy every moment; every new corner, every blue door, every time I realize I’m back where I started. The bright colours and prints displayed on rugs, scarves, tagines and leather goods, the silver jewelry and deep baskets of spices.

It’s beautiful, and I realize over some time that no one’s objective for the day is to harm me. Once I sit down and relax at another cafe for another mint tea, I feel quite foolish for spending my morning so paranoid. I don’t plan to walk around in a crop top with my purse unzipped in the middle of the night, but I can definitely chill. It’s also no where near as hot as I was expecting. As per usual I did very little research. I’m still in the most Northern part of Northern Africa, (I can literally see Spain across the sea) so it’s only 20 degrees, and I was expecting a hefty 30. That will come later though, as I go further South to Marrakesh.

It’s also windy as hell today, and Tangier doesn’t have the cleanest of streets, so as some men are cat calling me (uncomfortable) a large piece of cardboard comes flying with a gust of wind and smacks the back of my head (now even more uncomfortable). They all laugh. I keep walking like nothing happened. Just terrible.

I find my way back to the hostel and can finally settle into my room. It’s a 7 bed dorm but so far it’s just me. I take a little siesta and when I wake up I’m still alone. This is disappointing, because I was hoping to make some friends. I go out into the common area by reception…still just me. I can’t figure out why it’s such a ghost town!

Dinner time rolls around. I venture back outside, but this time with more of an aim. I google some places to eat in Tangier, realizing I hadn’t seen any street food on my morning and afternoon expeditions. Well, nothing major. One man was selling baguette sandwiches but that doesn’t seem super Moroccan to me…

I decide on a TripAdvisor approved restaurant and head in that direction, keeping my eyes open in case I find something more interesting. It’s entirely possible I’ll get lost, anyway.

Spoiler alert! I don’t get lost. Well, a little, but I sort myself out. No help required. The restaurant is absolutely adorable, moderately expensive for my backpacker budget, but still affordable. I order a vegetable tagine, which comes with bread, a hot blended pea dip (I make it sound awful but I swear it’s good), and some olives to start. It’s ridiculous, guys. Drop what you’re doing and go find some authentic Moroccan food somewhere. This is not a drill.
I get a free mint tea and little pasty dessert after my meal which is a fun bonus for a meal that’s 65 Mdh (conversion). Apparently free mint tea is a thing across the whole country, actually.

I vow to find cooler, cheaper, street food for future meals. It’s meant to be amazing and if it’s anything like this tagine I just devoured, I will be pleased.

Morocco: Arrival 

Opting for the early flights never seems so bad until you’re boarding an airport bus at 4am. My flight to Tangier, Morocco, doesn’t leave until 6:50, but my greatest fear in life is missing a flight so I try to get to the airport early. This is probably one of the only things in life I am ever early for.
Oh yah. Did I mention I’m going to Morocco?! I’m super super stoked. This trip will mark a couple “firsts” for me; first time in Africa, and my first time in a predominantly Muslim country. It will also be my 5th continent and the 25th country I’ve visited, just in time for my 25th birthday, which I will celebrate while I’m here! It’s all very exciting.

Living in Barcelona is anything but boring, but I’ve been craving a little adventure lately so when I found out the schools in Spain get an entire week off for Easter (or “Semana Santa”), I jumped on the opportunity to get away. I’m not exactly making bank as a teacher in Spain, so I should disclose that this wonderful trip would not have been possible without the wonderful support of my wonderful family. Pro tip: flights make the best birthday gifts. 

I’ve read (and then confirmed with the information desk) that the only way to get into the city is by taxi. I agree on a fixed price of 150Mdh (Moroccan Dirham), which is equivalent to about 15€…or $20 Canadian. I’m not sure which exchange to compare on my blog now. I’m thinking in euros, but the only person who reads this is my Mom and she uses Canadian dollars so….

Anyway. Back to the taxi. Actually, before I get to the taxi, I must state that the currency exchange in Barcelona tried to rob me damn near blind. 60 euros was only going to get me about 40 euros worth of dirham. Hell no. The woman assured me I’d never find a better rate, and I rolled my eyes. When I got to the Tanger airport they gave me 60 euros worth of dirham for my 60 euros. Imagine that. A fair exchange.

Okay so my taxi. The driver and I communicate in French which is difficult for me, mostly because I haven’t spoken it properly in years, and also because I’m trying to learn Spanish, so now I just confuse the two. He speaks mostly Arabic and claims his French is horrible but I can assure you it’s better than mine. We have a nice little chat on the way into the city, and he doesn’t try to rip me off when I arrive. He does take me to the wrong address, though, and now I’m pretty lost. I don’t want to look toooooo useless, but I also don’t want to pull out my phone in the street, so I ask someone for directions. Again, we converse in French and he points me in the right direction. Being me and having a poor sense of direction, I screw up somewhere along the line and go the wrong way. He chases me down to set me straight again, which, at first I find a little concerning. He’s just been low key following me down the road? I stay a little on guard but once we get close to my hostel he leaves me on my way and doesn’t even ask for money. I’ve read/heard you can expect to be asked for money for any sort of advice or help, and was preparing for how I’d deal with that in this moment. No need!

I’ve only been here for maybe an hour…but I already think people back home have exaggerated the danger of Morocco. The people here are lovely!

I now know I’m close to my hostel, but still not exactly where it is. I have 5 hours before I can check in, so I stop at a cafe for some wifi and to get my life together. I order a mint tea and croissant. It costs 1.20€. I love it here.

The sun is shining, there is a homeless man singing across the street, and a raggedy little cat stares me in the eyes as it takes a poop in the planter next to my table. Have I mentioned how much I love it here?