Stephanie Jack and her boyfriend had two weeks vacation and decided to split the time between Spain and Morocco, two very different cultures. It was a good decision.
After driving around southern Spain we took the ferry to Morocco, which was a three hour voyage and easy to arrange. Our itinerary in Morocco was Tangier, Chefchaouen, Fez and Casablanca. We didn’t rent a car in Morocco since we heard that drivers are ‘creative’ there, like stopping in roundabouts to let people in. Besides having different traffic rules in Morocco, their signs are in Arabic, so we decided to use local transportation (buses and a train from Fez to Casablanca) and that worked out well.
It was my birthday when we landed in Tangier and my boyfriend had booked a room in a riad—a traditional Moroccan home—ahead of time as a surprise for me. The owner opened this intricately carved door and hidden behind the walls of the old city was this absolutely beautiful home built on three levels. From the rooftop we had a view of the entire city. Our room was huge and looked out on the home’s courtyard. My birthday dinner was a tagine—a stew of meat with vegetables and spices.
I was very happily surprised by the food in Morocco. They like the tradition of eating a meal together and we had wonderful meals there. There are lots of tangerines, crepes, pastries. We were always given a very nice breakfast when we stayed in a riad.
It was difficult to find alcohol in the country, which was a bit of a shock after Spain where they almost serve wine to you for breakfast. In Morocco we could get a glass of wine at a westernized restaurant with a meal but we couldn’t just go in and have a glass of wine.
My favourite place in Morocco was Chefchaouen, which is just inland from Tangier. At one time it was a Jewish settlement. Instead of being white-washed, the medina here is painted blue. The men wear a long cloak with a hood. It’s a very laid-back village with strong artistic influences and a hippy vibe.
Chefchaouen is in the Rif Mountains and it was quite cold when we were there in February. We hiked up the mountain and could see the whole town from there.
I really liked Fez too. It’s called the medieval capital of Morocco. The medina is a narrow closed-in maze and it is huge and you can get lost in it fairly easily. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site. When you walk around the medina you appreciate how old it is. There are shops selling pottery, crafts, spices, leather goods. We bought some beautiful ceramics.
When you walk around these old cities, you can tell someone spent a lot of time building them because the carvings and mosaics are so ornate.
We went to Casablanca to see the biggest mosque in the world called Hassan II Mosque. It’s right on the ocean and its dimensions are stunning. We were not able to go inside because we did not have enough time to make arrangements for a tour.
On the outskirts of the city you see shantytowns and are aware of the differences between the have and have-nots in the country. It’s a little old fashioned too for horses are still used to plow the fields.
People in Morocco are very friendly. Even if they are trying to swindle you, they do it in the nicest way possible. There is always something they want to sell you. Wherever we went people would try to get us to come into their shop: “Come in for green tea. See my tapestries. See my ceramics.”
When we landed in Tangiers we took a taxi to the medina and these guys were waiting around and when they saw us get out of the taxi they offered to help us find our hotel. We didn’t know that the hotel was literally right around the corner and they took us the long way, just to get to know us and see if there was an opportunity to sell anything to us.
Actually we only had one negative experience and that was in Tangier. We were at a restaurant and had the nicest meal. We knew what the cost of the meal was ahead of time but when it was time to pay the server asked for much more.
My boyfriend: “No, I don’t think so.”
Server: “But you ate twice the amount of food.”
My boyfriend: “But we didn’t ask for twice the amount of food, you served us twice the amount of food. It is not our fault.”
Server: “No, no, no. You have to pay.”
Behind us, two Moroccans were fighting over their bill too. So my boyfriend asked a policeman, who was in the square near the restaurant watching the traffic go by, to intervene. The policeman heard both sides of the story (his French was so eloquent) and then asked us what we thought we should be paying and we said the price that had been agreed upon plus a tip. And the policeman said, that was the amount we were to pay. So the situation was diffused but it was upsetting all the same.
We saw camels once and it was in Tangier, on the beach. The guy who was watching them looked really bored because he was waiting for a willing tourist to come along.
I really liked Morocco. It was easier for us to communicate there because we are both fluent in French and many people speak that language. I liked the people and I loved the food.
This interview with Stephanie Jack has been condensed and edited.
Photo credits Stephanie Jack
© Riding the buses 2013