When you think of Morocco, what comes to mind?
Let’s see what Instagram has to say. Search #Morocco on zee Insta, and you’re sure to be flooded with glamorous, glitzy photos of travel bloggers and tourists alike. Ya’ know; the classic #selfie on a camel in the desert, you and your mouthwatering tagine posing on a plush velour sofa, or a jaw-dropping scenic shot of you decked out in traditional Moroccan garb on top of the Atlas mountains.
I’m not sayin’ this isn’t Morocco. I’m just sayin’, I saw both sides. And there is much, much more to this developing African country than what meets the tourist eye. Instead of going on one of those oh-so-popular tour group trips through Morocco, I decided to fly solo and wing it with a friend. What did we discover?
Morocco is a crazy, crazy place. The itinerary went down like this: We started in Tetuan, a super-traditional Berber city off the tourist path. We then went to Chefchaouen, the blueeeetiful blue city, inundated by jolly tourists. Finally, we ended in Al Hociema, an unknown and eerily authentic Moroccan city surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea.
SH** got real. And deep, in a way I never would have expected. Read ’til the end.
The 10 truths I learned about the REAL Morocco.
1. Restaurants and bars essentially do not exist in the culture.
JOKE’S ON THE FOOD BLOGGER. Yea, yeaaaa get out your laughs now. Little did I know, not only are restaurants not a part of the culture…they essentially DO NOT EXIST. Well, unless of course your are in touristy cities like Chefchaouen or Marrakesh. I was super duper excited to be stuffing my face with decadent lamb tagine all week and rolling around in piles of veggie-packed couscous. The reality? Well, tourist spots had all of the above, but it was nearly impossible to find local restaurants. And local restaurants with women in them? Forget it.
The reality: If you want top notch, authentic Moroccan food, weasel your way into the home of a Moroccan. Or, head to Chefchaouen and go to Bab Ssour. It was my best meal in Morocco! So, that lamb tagine anyone?
2. City medinas are not full of brightly colored hippie bags and tie dye tapestries.
A “medina”is the old ‘hood of a city. It’s characterized by tiny winding streets, yelling street vendors, weird mixtures of smells from burnt leather to raw meat, and EVERY kind of chachkie imaginable. Need a hammer? Got it. Spices? Done. Old TV? Yup. Baby Berber supplies? Check. A live chicken? It’s a feast. A banana? Take 20! It’s a magically hectic, overwhelmingly vibrant, sensory stimulating place. And unlike the beautiful, well-maintained medina in Chefchaouen, it sells a lot more than hippie inscents, tapetries and artsy necklaces.
The reality: Moroccans don’t go to a Medina to get their daily supply of hippie gear.
3. The Prayer Call will send shrills down your spine, 5 times a day. Err’day.
The melodic prayer call pulsates throughout every nook and cranny of a city, and lemme’ tell ya’: It’s POWERFUL. What happens, you ask? A prayer muezzin or all-powerful ‘announcer’ goes to the top of a Mosque’s sky-high ‘minaret‘ and belts the prayer call through a loud speaker, each Mosque echoing one another in harmony.
The reality: Don’t expect to sleep through an entire night without waking up from the earth rattling sounds of the almighty muezzin. THERE’S NO ESCAPING.
4. Goodbye alcohol, it’s tea time!
Oh, you want a nice cold beer on the beach, you say? HA HA! It’s mint tea, and only mint tea for you my friend. Might I remind you, that Morocco is a Muslim country. This means, alcohol is forbidden. (Gaspppp!). Of course, if you go to a touristy city like Marrakesh, you can find bars that serve alcohol. But c’mon, guys! You’re in Morocco…live how the locals are livin’ and TEA it up!
The reality: If you don’t like mint tea and insist on drinking alcohol, well…don’t come to Morocco.
5. Grand Taxis are the local way to travel.
Four in the back, two in the front; sardine travel has never been more efficient! And when I say efficient, I mean efficient. I became a huge fan of Grand Taxis. They take you to pretty much anywhere you wanna go in Morocco, for a bargain price. Broke? Me too! Pile in with a car-full of strangers and pay the equivalent of 2€ per hour. Or, pay a bit more to rent an entire car, kick off yo’ shoes, and have your personal chauffeur transport you from city to city.
The reality: Moroccans don’t travel in air-conditioned Coach buses.
6. Bathing in a Hammam is the best way to get clean.
The cleanest I felt all week was after I got scrubbed down by a stranger in a bath house. No shame. A Hammam, or Arabic bath house, is the traditional way to bathe in Morocco. They are separated by male and female, and the minute you enter, prepare to leave all shyness out the door.
The reality: Being naked and scrubbed down by a stranger is extremely effective for your hygiene.
7. Hustlers are everywhere. Be smart.
The minute you step off that boat, you’ll be swarmed by Moroccans trying to “help”. They might offer you transportation services, money exchanges, travel advice, or simply directions. They are aggressive, persistent, in your face, and don’t take N-O for an answer (well, unless you’re me and get down n’ dirty with them, NYC style). They aren’t trying to harm you, they just simply want your shiny moola.
The reality: Of course, there are sincerely nice Moroccans too. Just have your guard up, don’t be quick to accept help from a stranger, and don’t be afraid to say NO!
8. Berbers are your best friends.
Those guys waltzin’ around the streets in Lord of the Rings styled robes? Yea, those are the Berbers. And they are THE DUDES. I kinda’ like to think of them as the “Yodas” of Morocco; peaceful, wise and tranquil, with some dope style. My P.I.C. Casey con Carne and I (yea, my travel Partner in Crime is also named Casey!) were sitting, gazing at a breathtaking view of Tetuan. A 70-something-year-old Berber appears out of nowhere, walks over to us, gives us two mats to sit on, and walks away.
The reality: Come for the beaches, stay for the Berbers.
9. Women are not “free”.
Here’s where things get really real. I made friends with a young Moroccan girl at my Riad. Within 10 minutes of meeting each other, she asks:
“Is it true that in the United States, women are really free?”
I froze. How in the world does one answer that? I didn’t know how to respond. I asked her in what way she meant. She proceeded to tell me that women are not free in Morocco. They are an “object” of their parents, until they find a husband. Once they find a man, they become his “object”. She told me how difficult it is for women to find work in Morocco, which is why they must be completely dependent. She told me how women don’t often leave the house, and when they do it’s strictly for a reason relating to the family. She told me that if a woman lives in an apartment alone, she is thought of as a tramp.
I have read countless articles and watched a list full of documentaries about female conditions around the world. I knew that it existed. However, talking with someone completely moved me in a different way. It became real. It made me realize how lucky I am to have been born into an equal society, to parents who not only support my independence, but push me to be the greatest individual I can be. And nothing in society is stopping me.
From that conversation on, I spent the remainder of the week looking at Morocco in a different light. I understood a deeper level of the society, and why “man” bars are “man bars.” I understood why I saw so few women on the streets, and why I rarely saw men and women together in public.
The reality: You realize how blessed you are to live the life you are given.
10. The land is powerfully spiritual.
I’m not into religious stuff. However, Moroccan land is powerful. It’s not something that can be described really. Only felt. And man, when that rainbow appeared over the Mediterranean Sea, with the Rif Mountains on one side and a hilltop Mosque perched high in the sky, surrounded by Berbers and wild sheep…you just know. You are in a powerful, powerful country.