Trip report! 10 days in Morocco
Replies: 19 - Last Post: Nov 18, 2012 6:46 PM Last Post By: prettykittykat
Nov 5, 2012 10:39 AM
Trip report! 10 days in MoroccoThank you to everyone who helped me last month with all of my questions! I spent 10 days in Morocco, and here is my honest report - a little bit about me: 41, female, American, travelled solo.
Days 1-2 - Marrakesh - stayed at Riad Argan. Great location, run by the nicest French couple. Absolutely beautiful hotel but if you are travelling as a couple beware as the bathroom doors are sort of "saloon-style" - not really a full door but two swinging panels. I would have been a little wierded out staying there with a boyfriend, but I'm an uptight person who likes total bathroom privacy. Very clean and they helped me buy a bus ticket in advance (due to the holiday and we were afraid I wouldn't get one) which was very nice of them. Big thumbs up for this Riad! Free wifi too.
In Morocco - It's important if you are staying at a riad to have your hotel meet you at a bus station (or wherever) and take you to the hotel personally. The streets of Marrakech and Fez were impossible to navigate at first (even with a map) and all of the riads had giant locked doors - these places don't have reception desks or anything - it's hard to just walk up to a hotel, get inside and try to stay there. Try to contact them a day in advance if you can.
Marrakesh itself - I was hassled and followed. This was expected. I tried to play it cool and ignore whatever I could. What I didn't expect was the man who was upset that I was ignoring him when he wanted me to come into his shop - he followed me, yelled at me for being a rude American (I wasn't rude, I said no merci and kept walking), and proceeded to tell me how horrible the American tourists are and how French and Scandinavian people would never act like we do. He appeared 3 times in the Medina to yell at me. One time he used some expatives, and said "F-you, american b**&%!". I was really shaken because this was my first day in Morocco. This toughened me up really fast but I enjoyed the rest of my time (only 1 1/2 days) in Marrakech. I shopped/bargained a little, hit the photography museum and loved dinners in the dja el fnaa both nights. My favorite stall was Hasan #32 and the lamb merguez sausages. I had some really good food in the dja el fnaa!
Day 3-4 - Todra Gorge, stayed at Auberge Le Festival. I took the bus from Marrakech to Tinerhir - I was the only foreigner on the bus. This was perfectly fine, though - but I worried a bit at the bus stops because all of our bags were together in a pile under the bus - and my backpack really stood out. I would stop at the bus stops just to keep an eye on my backpack while people sorted through the bags. The bus driver noticed this and he made fun of me for it. I didn't really care, though - better safe than sorry. I would not have wanted to take this bus at night by myself. The chances of something happening are low but my gut tells me to just take the buses during the day if you are a woman by yourself. As soon as I got off the bus I was bothered and followed by another guy who got extremely offended (again.. sigh of disgust...) when I told him no thank you and ignored him. Auberge Le Festival was perfect for me. Great staff (they let me into the kitchen and the two other guys who work there are very nice! We talked about cooking, music, our families, etc.) The meals were really very good (and I can attest that the kitchen is spotless). I hired a guide for a 4 hour hike, where we stopped and had tea with a nomadic berber man. I stayed in a castle room. It was nice to be out in the mountains. I was there during Eid Al Adha and I got to have lunch with some extended people from the hotel - they welcomed me into their home and we had some of the sheep. It was a really wonderful thing to be a part of and it was fun to get to know Moroccans on a more personal level.
Day 5-6 - Merzouga and the Desert. I hired a driver to take me to Merzouga because it was Eid Al Adha and no buses were running. It was one of those "convenience" things that was expensive but I just sucked it up because the hotels in Morocco are so cheap that it all evened out for me. Meals and hotels in Morocco are a total bargain compared to Europe. And I wasn't exactly hitting the bars at night so I was saving lots of money. Money I spent on drivers and guides to take me around. I stayed at Riad Nezha. It was nice but... I got a weird vibe there. There were no other tourists besides a group of italian motorcyclists. The Riad owner was out of town when I was there (I've heard that he is very nice and helpful) and the two guys who were watching the hotel liked to stare at me. I was having breakfast alone in the breakfast room and one of them came downstairs just to watch me eat in awkward silence. Then, as I was out on the patio waiting for the camel trip he came out again while I was reading, sat AT my table and watched me read. The hotel itself was great, clean and my overnight desert trip was just fine. Erg Chebbi is just gorgeous. It did not disappoint at all. Beautiful sand, it is everything they say. Go if you can!! I'm sure this Riad would have been fine during a busier time. I just had some awkward moments there and this may have just been a cultural thing that I wasn't understanding. Nobody crossed any lines so I didn't make an issue of all the staring, though it made me uncomfortable.
Days 7-10 - Dar Seffarine, Fez. Getting to Fez, I hired a driver. The only other way is an overnight bus. I am glad that I didn't take it because I was alone and I hate overnight buses. This hotel is gorgeous. It's an old restored Riad and the tilework is beautiful. The first night, there was something wrong with my room that they were still fixing so they upgraded me to the suite which was like a palace. The staff was helpful and there was free wifi. The Fez medina is amazing. However, the men in the medina - like Marrakech - like to follow you and ask you your whole life story and try to guide you everywhere, so I hired a guide for the morning and it was nice to walk around unbothered for a few hours while I got my bearings. I also visited Riad Laroussa for thieir hammam and massage. It was the end of the trip and I needed it. I really, really enjoyed it and I thought the price was fair at 660 dirhams for an hour and a half of top-notch spa services. I also took a cooking class at Cafe Clock. They took us around the market (where we picked out the live chicken that would later go in the Pastilla) and the class only had three people in it so we got a lot of individual instruction. Cafe Clock was like a safe haven for expats. You could duck in there whenever the medina was getting to be too much. Dar Seffarine had communal meals and it was nice if you like that sort of thing (I do). I had dinner there twice and it was nice to not have to go back out in the medina for dinner - the food was very good, too.
Day 10 - Casablanca - stayed at the Le Meridian Mansour because I got a good rate from hotels.com. It was just OK. nothing special. Nice atrium restaurant. I didn't spend much time in Casablanca because I had an early flight but I could see that there was some interesting architecture that that would have been worth a few hours.
Travelling as a solo woman in Morocco - it absolutely can be done and if you want to do it - do it!! I would recommend just upgrading a little more than you are used to. I feel totally fine slumming it around Europe but here I treated myself to nicer hotels, guides, a spa.. all to kind of balance out the intensity of the place. It is intense and you WILL attract attention. There is no way around this. My experience was completely different than the couples I talked to. I dressed conservatively (long cargo pants every day and I covered my arms/shoulders). I can't hide the fact that I'm a foreigner and you don't have to go as far as to dress "moroccan" - but just be prepared to have a lot of people (ok, MEN) come up to you. Some want to help, some will offer sex, some will be insulting, some will be nice.. Just steel yourself for this and you will be fine. It rarely goes beyond curiosity. Most of them just want to help you get where you are going and they don't realize how annoying they are being. If you are an experienced traveler, there is no reason you can't come here by yourself. It's not for everybody but it was OK for me. I just treated everyone I came across with respect and tried to ignore as much as the hassling as I could.
Morocco as a whole - there really aren't many GROUP guided tours here. I usually like to join 1-2 day excursions but they don't really exist here. There are longer week-long tours but I like to be more independent. I really considered hiring a guide for the whole time but in the end I am glad I just did it independently. It required much more research on my part (which I enjoy doing) and in the end I was very happy with the places I picked and the things that I did. It wasn't easy but I am so glad I did it. The only thing I wish I had more time to do was Chefchaouen. I know I really would have liked it. Or Essouria. But I saw a lot in 10 days. A trip of a lifetime. Every day I saw something wonderful. Go!
Edited by: Schirmy
Nov 5, 2012 11:05 AM
1Good information. Thanks.
I would be interested in hearing from a local why the merchants you describe above treat people the way they do. What do they think they have to gain by following tourists around and yelling profanity at them. I realize they represent the minority, but that has happened to me as well, even when I was very respectful to them. That type of behavior simply doesn't exist at all in most countries.
Nov 5, 2012 11:16 AM
2So nice report, so nice experience you got, I liked it to read it.
So much I recognized from your trip. Toilet completely without the door I experienced in Guelmim and I am as you and we were 2. So I took out the door from wardrobes and had the door to toilet. Or about to find to riad in Marrakech, we got permission from police there to drive over the square otherwise should we never find to the riad. In the desert I think I had more lucky than you. But good that you enjoyed it in any case.
Also I prefer and enjoy to do self research of the places. And I never succeded to come up to Chefchaoun neither.
So much common I found in your story :) Thanks!
Nov 5, 2012 6:17 PM
Nov 5, 2012 7:07 PM
4Thanks for the report. As another solo female traveller it reinforced what I found. I often 'chicken out' and hire a guide for a day or part day as the relatively small cost when compared to Europe is worth it to me - keeps those with an unpleasant agenda away and allows me to see the areas I have asked to see without any undue hassles. I'm also not a fan of grand taxis so a car and driver, despite the cost is my preferred option, or sometimes a CTM bus.
When all is said and done - if you want a quality experience anywhere it is often worth paying a little extra to do so.
Nov 6, 2012 1:43 AM
Glad to hear things went well... I've been wondering about you! I think I'm still glad I paid for a driver for the trip from Fez to Marrakech, but you may be a bit braver than I am. (OK, I don't particularly like buses in the states either lol)
I recommend to anyone in Fez to hire a guide at least for a half day because there is so much history there, I would have missed most of it. Their cost is set by the state, and your hotel just calls a company and books one for you. At one point, when I was unable to walk, I hired a grand taxi for the afternoon to drive me to all the sights outside the Medina... a whole air conditioned mercedes for the afternoon was only 200 dirhams... about 20 Euro. Well worth it to me...
Wish I'd known about Cafe Clock! But I found that I wasn't bothered either when I would stop at a cafe for a tea, or for food. Even at night.
Again, glad to hear that you had a great time.
Nov 6, 2012 4:12 AM
6Schirmy – great report, thanks. Thought you handled the incessant pestering very well….and were wise enough to not get too worried about insulting comments from local scrotes. Glad the guys at the Auberge Le Festival showed you what Moroccan hospitality is really like….those fella’s are some of the nicest and most engaging people I’ve met in Morocco and am happy to see they’re still making visitors as welcome as we felt last time we stayed (they ended up letting my boyfriend climb for free with them and even let him set and drill some of the routes…..very happy times).
Laketraveller – Moroccan “businessmen” use this harassment technique to try, in a last gasped attempt, to get a sale. It’s a tactic as old as the hills and is something I’ve seen in a few countries. It may seem a strange thing to do to get cash out of a tourist, but I’ve seen it be successful many, many times.
Usually it’s aimed at folk who look like they would find low level aggression and repeated pestering intimidating and, eventually give in and hand over some cash….just to get an easy life and get the guy to go away. Often guys with families or with a wife, loan females or folk who look like they are fresh-off-the-boat are the preferred targets….they can spot them from a 1000 paces and will push through a crowd of other people just to get to their mark. This is no insult to those tourists who do get pestered, everyone has to go to a place for the first time, and if you don’t know this is a common ploy, then how would you know how to prepare.
It’s a very successful and lucrative tactic….one which is particularly prosperous in Marrakesh and Tangier where many first-timers to Morocco go, and where tourists are often just passing through for a day or two and are there to shop and spend cash anyway. These tourists often aren’t used to such pressure and quickly get hand in pocket to make the nasty Moroccan man go away….hay presto, the guys just made a week or two’s wages for an hours worth of work!
The aggression used is nearly always just an act to intimidate cash out of pocket, and if these guys are confronted, challenged by a firm comment, a look in to the eyes and a mention of the tourist police they always seem to suddenly turn from hard men to mummies boys and go running with their tail between their legs. I’ve had a million of these guys try this crap and I’ve always got rid of them by using the methods described without any problems......remember, it’s just words, even if it’s swear words…..sticks and stones and all that.
Nov 6, 2012 5:05 AM
I'll certainly accept your explanation, but I hardly fit that profile (6'2", 220lbs, experienced traveller and willing to defend myself to the max). That type of profanity laced harrassment has only happened to me in Morocco and Luxor, Egypt and certainly never resulted in good things for the "merchant".
I guess there are certain business models I'll never understand.
Nov 6, 2012 6:02 AM
Nov 6, 2012 6:46 AM
9I find joking with such guys often works, rather than arguing. For a persistent would-be guide, I tell them sure, I would be willing to guide them around....or, I tell them they are not charging enough so I won't hire them. The shopkeepers usually are not much of a problem for me, but the worst one I have met was in Tanger. I just walked away after he got really nasty, and I didn't even buy one item on which we had agreed on a price on, after he kept bugging me about another item.
Nov 6, 2012 7:05 AM
10Ya Marocfan, that's what I mean. If they are thinking, as kate says, that they can intimidate a few dollars out of people who wouldn't buy from them, can't they figure out they are also losing sales to those who would buy if they didn't treat them so badly.
The thing is it hurts everybody. When I was faced with a profanity laced tirade from a horse carriage driver for walking and not using him to drive me two blocks I decided not to use any of them for the rest of my trip. They all lost.
Also, this has only happened to me a few times in those two places and I never argued with them, just stood my ground and refused to be intimidated.
Anyway, I can't apply logic to the illogical.
Nov 6, 2012 7:35 AM
11Laketraveller – you don’t sound like a target at all!!…..maybe you were TOO polite…maybe that was the trigger. These guys expect westerners to be polite and respectful which is why they employ the aggression tactic. They expect the average westerner not to react to such taunts with an equal level of aggression, but assume that the tourist is more likely to want to diffuse the situation either by talking (playing right in to their hands) or with with cash instead of a fight….which is what most fathers/husbands/women would prefer. Height, weight and strength don’t make any difference to these scrotes as they never intend to actually fight (heaven forbid! You can get a few years in jail for being a faux guide, let alone actually hitting a tourist!!), but they just give the impression that a fight is on the cards.
That’s why deviating from the expected reaction can really put them off their stride. Like Morocfan suggests, joking around and making weird comments like saying they don’t charge enough or offering to guide them really flips things around and puts you in the driving seat…..this is a great way of getting them running and looking for an easier target.
I like to reply to them in a totally made up and incomprehensible language. This gets a quizzical look and then a flurry of replies in 10 different languages….at this point I just shrug my shoulders, say I only speak Klingon (in English), laugh and walk off. I assume there are now a few scrotes that have researched what Klingon is, learnt it and will one day catch me out!
Nov 6, 2012 7:41 AM
12That's funny kate. I speak some (not a lot, but enough to be dangerous) German.
Not that I know what an "American" looks like, but they usually assume I'm American and when I respond in German it does a good job of throwing them off. Even when they do respond in German it usually isn't very good so I just shrug and walk off.
I haven't tried Klingon yet, but that's a great idea.
Nov 6, 2012 8:57 AM
13When I did find a shop owner that wasn't too aggressive (just SORT OF aggressive), I actually found the buying to be sort of fun. I'm a buyer/negotiator for my career so I am very comfortable with that. And some of the negotiations were ridiculous. For example, they would ask for the equivalent of $210, I'd ask for $12 and then he would settle on $15 in one round. For three little ceramic bowls. I always agreed on a price that seemed fair and I didn't haggle TOO hard. In Fez I found a woman's cooperative where prices were fixed (some pillow coverings and things) so I was happy to shop there. It was nice to see women running the shop and know that my money went to them.
This is what annoyed me:
The shop owners who, when I was just browsing, kept handing me items that I wasn't interested in and talking really fast and acting completely desperate. Then when I'd walk out of the shop, they'd lose their minds and yell for me to get back in the shop. Desperation just makes me think that something is wrong with the shop and they can't get enough customers and I didn't like to feel "forced". I wish they understood this. I realize this happens in a lot of places, but this was way worse than Egypt or Greece.
Being followed and having my arm grabbed. Do NOT touch me as I walk through the souk.
When I was simply walking around Fez, enjoying my walk - having teenagers and young guys and kids INSIST that they would show me the way - even though I was just enjoying my walk and maybe didn't have a destination in mind. Then they would all ask me my name, where I'm from, yada yada.. I know they were just being curious and I tried to be as patient as I could but it was so annoying after awhile. If I need help, I will ask you. You can ask me one question, maybe two but then leave me alone!!
If I did ask for directions, they would say "I will take you there, it is too difficult for you". All I wanted was for them to point left or right. I don't need an escort. If i want more help, I will ask you. Again, I TRIED to be patient but I had to shoo so many people away. It would always end with all parties feeling bad. I hated that. Ignoring them isn't an option. They would not be ignored.
I've been to 32 countries now and Morocco was the most aggressive and difficult in these ways. But like I said, I enjoyed my time there - it just took a few days to get used to. You have to have a tough exterior as a solo woman there. I'm polite but not overly so. I put up a wall when I'm not interested and a lot of people here didn't catch on to that.
Nov 6, 2012 10:39 PM
14What worked for me was the "old school marm" attitude, with a smile. I would shake my head and my finger, saying "lo, lo, lo" which means no no no, while NOT looking at the person and striding forward. And that worked all but once -- someone who, in Essaouira of all places, tried to sell me cocaine. I finally trotted out my much practiced ba'ad meni (sort of like baad men -y) which means go-away, and off he went. In MK and Fes (especially) you can also just say the word "police" or "tourist police"...
But you're right, we shouldn't have to.
When I lived in Paris in the 70s I used to be hastled this way all day, every day, every time I walked down the street, by Arab men trying to pick me up. I too never understood how they thought they could pick up a woman by being hostile, but it certainly was wearing. They would even block my path. Once two men tried to pull a friend and me down an alley. That was scary. I totally understand and deplore the political climate that led the men to be there, but it still didn't excuse their behavior. So I guess I was less surprised by this behaviorin Morocco than I might otherwise have been.
Oh yes, and once I did simply turn to the man and start speaking "Klingon" -- a nonsense language... he just stared, and I walked off lol.
In Ourzazate there was a bit of a scene with a man actually following a woman down the alley and yelling at her. I was so disgusted that I started yelling at him in French -- wasn't he ashamed and didn't he realize he was ruining sales for everyone else with his behavior? Not only did the woman "get away" but the shopkeepers also yelled at him. It was nice to see. No one in that souk bothered me at all.
Also I confess, that at times when I was nervous I would wrap a scarf around my head (waaay cooler than a hat in the sun, I discovered). I'm a blond, so it wasn't to fool anyone... all I know is that it seemed to work... people would look but not bother me. In fact, even a lightweight black shirt with a hood seemed to work.
And of course when I had a driver no one hassled me... even though he might not have been right there with me, I think that knowing that he was nearby changed my "tude"...
I also will say that I'm saving my old iphone so that the next time I go any such place, I can have GPS with me! (Will it help in Israel?)
So Schirmy, I'm interested to hear the details about public transport!
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