My first trip to Morocco left me rather shaken up. I was in my mid-twenties, still naive, and went with a female friend. We had no idea how much she’d be hassled, every time I left her alone, even for five minutes, and we were beset by various cons and aggression. I rather sadly promised myself I’d never return. Then some recently retired friends of mine, flush with a renewed sense of freedom (thanks, at least in part, to their shiny new motor home) just upped and drove off down there, spending a good three months simply pottering about… they returned with a completely different impression of the place than mine.
It’s made me want to try again. On my list:
“Fish and chiiiiips?! Fish and chiiiiiiiiiips!” Admittedly the souk stallholders reached this conclusion after we’d ignored several other potential nationalities bellowed in our direction, but something in our faces must’ve tweaked at this one because they stuck to it thereafter. I do not function well in high-pressure sales situations, and the Marrakesh souks, although absolutely mesmerising, are full of intimidatingly assertive (read “pushy”) men, adamant that you must buy random things, from them.
If this sounds like a nightmare, but you’d still like to experience Marrakech’s famous souks, try going for a wander between 2pm and 4pm, when everyone seems to be resting. This means sunhats and lots of water, unless you’re visiting in spring or autumn, when it doesn’t get so hot.
I didn’t visit the first time, having heard rumours of a dusty nightmare, but apparently Casablanca is growing into modern Morocco at its most stylish. I suspect it’s also where all the money is – my friends spoke of great poverty in the countryside – but it’s good to explore as many sides of a country as you can.
I had a particularly horrible experience in Essaouira, the fortified Atlantic town made famous in the ’70s by Jimi Hendrix’s castles in the sand, and now a kite-surf mecca. A man tried a known con on my friend; I recognised it, encouraged her to come away, and he turned on me with the most appalling verbal aggression I’ve ever experienced. And then did it again, when he saw me later. The police just shrugged, and it was hard not to let him ruin the trip.
It was a shame, because Essaouira was my favourite town in many other ways. The souk was more low-key than Marrakech, and less touristy; the beach was fantastic (better for walks than lolling around, because of the wind, but that’s how I like my beaches anyway), and the town itself is wistfully beautiful. The food – a blend of Italian, French and Moroccan – was also very interesting. I suspect I’ll still be on edge, this time round, but I’d really like to give it another go.
My retired friends had some of their most interesting experiences when they headed off along the coast, parking by the sea and chatting to locals who just popped up out of nowhere to give them eggs. As I mentioned, they encountered enormous poverty here, but also more kindness than elsewhere – some sort of heartfelt connection. Perhaps a romantic notion, but I’d like to find out for myself, and Morocco’s countryside, as I saw it from the bus, was intriguing – boundaries and waypoints marked with little piles of stones, signs of activity but nobody in sight. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the countryside, but this is the side of Morocco I’d like to explore more than anything, this time round.