Stepping off the ferry into Morocco in North Africa, I was much more nervous than compared to my arrival in Spain a few days ago. And understandably so. Morocco is a much more different culture with being an Arabic country. The attitudes towards woman are markedly different in contrast to Europe.
I completed a lot of research and talked with many other travellers prior to my arrival. Especially with deciding whether to go to Morocco or not in regards to my safety as a lone female traveller. What I found is that Morocco is probably better not to travel alone as a newbie/first time traveller. A lot of travellers do end up joining organised tours which is a wise idea. Obviously it will cost a lot more money to travel with a tour as the downside, and your travel style is much more constricted with having to follow the tour plan. However with now almost a whole year of travelling under my belt, and a toughened exterior from the wide range of abusive, nasty, and manipulating patients from being a nurse for a few years, I decided I could handle it.
And just to clarify, 95% of my patients are lovely wonderful people to meet and look after. They are the ones that make me love my job and being a nurse. But about 5% certainly do test your resolution as a nurse to help sick people.
And the research paid off. Literally the moment you step out of the port, a crowd of Moroccan men are there all shouting and asking if you want a taxi or a hotel to stay in. As per my research I ignored them and said a firm no thank you to the more persistent ones. Accepting their offers results in a much higher taxi bill as Moroccans are often so desperately poor that they try their best to rip off tourists. Commonly charging twice or three or even more times the normal price. Did I mention it’s also a haggling/bargaining culture? So of course tourists are unsure what price they should be paying and the taxi drivers and shop keepers take full advantage.
With the hotel thing, the touts as they’re called, try to convince you that your prior reservation is in fact invalid as your hotel is full but it’s okay, their uncle or brother owns a different hotel that is much nicer and cheaper anyway. And they are happy to show you directly to it for just a small fee. IT’S A FIB.
Other scams I heard of is that a lot of Moroccans ‘befriend’ tourists over a matter of days to gain their trust. Only to demand a large amount of money a few days later. Kids in the streets offer to show you around the medina (the name of the Moroccan markets) or to your hotel for a small fee. But the fee they aggressively demand will be a rip off. For services that should cost maybe 10 dirhams (about €1 approx), they will ask for 50 dirhams or even more. It doesn’t sound like a lot of money but in Morocco, 50 dirhams (€5) is actually quite a bit of money. It represents I would estimate the equivalent of about $20-30 worth of New Zealand dollar value, although the actual currency exchange value is much more different to that.
The streets of Tangier were dirty, twisty and not well sign posted. Beggars are commonplace there and hold out their hands to you with a pleading look in their eyes. Starving cats pick at the rubbish littered in the corners and gutters. I arrived as dusk was setting in. I wouldn’t have wanted to arrive after dark as I realised later that night that there were no street lights in the area of the medina where my hostel was located.
Hopping out of my taxi (and after being charged three times the usual price. And that was with some serious haggling to even get it that low), my taxi driver yelled across to a young teen lounging against a wall to show me the way to my hostel despite my protestations. The teen went to go grab my backpack for me which I declined, ignored my refusal for his help and my statement that I wasn’t going to give him any money, and took off into the narrow streets of the medina beckoning me to follow him. There were actually strategic signs on the the street corners that pointed the way to my hostel so I in fact really did not need this kid’s help. But I wasn’t surprised when on arrival to my hostel, 50 dirhams was asked for. He wasn’t pleased when I pointed out that I in fact had said repeatedly during the walk that he wasn’t getting any money from me, and I ended up telling him to f*** off as I stepped through the door into my hostel.
Talking to the other people in my room, I was really glad I had been so rude to the kid after hearing their stories of how they’d also been forcibly guided to the hostel. Then on leaving the hostel after an hour or two, their ‘guides’ were still waiting outside for payment. At least my kid wasn’t waiting for me later when I emerged to grab some dinner.
I also need to point out something. So far this post has been quite negative about the Moroccan people. But in fact the majority of the people are really friendly and are not trying to rip-off tourists. It’s just a much more intrusive type of friendliness than what most people are used to as it’s such a normal thing in their culture to chat with strangers and invite them over for dinner. In fact if the Moroccan sitting next to you in the park or cafe didn’t attempt to talk to you, I would be very surprised. But usually I found if someone is asking you where you are from and if it’s your first day in [insert Moroccan city name here], and i.e. estimating how much money you are likely to have along with if you have an idea of the local prices yet, it’s a good idea to be initially suspicious.
Overall I did love my time in Morocco and felt like I got a really good dose of culture shock. So don’t let me put you off travelling there. Because you will fall into an unexpected love affair with Morocco.
For dinner that night I had the first of many tagines. A tagine is a slow cooked meal with steam inside a clay dish. It was delicious and cheap. The restaurant man surprised me with how many languages he was fluent in (five!) and I wandered back to my hostel happy and full.
A chicken tagine with couscous, potato and caramelised onion
The next day I dedicated to wandering around the city and medina in the warm sunshine. Getting lost in the streets many times is part of the fun. Watching the locals and learning about their customs and style of dressing. Feeling unexpectedly very attractive as being a foreign woman, and especially with being a blonde, every man you walk past gives a lot of intense eye contract. And the occasional one will ask if you want some sex. And how nice your ass is. But more on this in another post.
Some Moroccan spices
Clay tangine dishes for sale
Tangier beach. The ‘hump’ of white coloured city in the middle is the medina which is where my hostel was
Moroccan kids having some beach fun
A fisherman trying to catch his dinner. Notice the hungry cat watching hopefully
A starving cat rifling through the rubbish on top of a tree
Where I stayed: The Melting Pot Tangier
Price: €13 in a 8 bed dorm
Overall: My favourite out of all of the Melting Pot hostels. It was a genuine Arabic building with low Moroccan arches and narrow stairways. There was a large square open shaft in the middle of each floor that went from the bottom of the building to the top letting in lots of natural light. All beautifully painted in bright colours and patterns. The atmosphere was very friendly with the staff joining in for drinks and shisha in the evenings. It was definitely quite a noisy hostel at night however as the big open shaft didn’t block any of the noise from the parties up on the rooftop terrace.