A week after leaving Morocco, I’m still missing the sounds of the Mosques blaring five times a day. At first these chants, blasted through crackling speakers and amplified by the narrow streets, were loud and interrupting. Within days, your mind adapts and you’ll find yourself sleeping peacefully through them.
As winter approached and nearing the end of my European Schengen visa, I took my first steps onto the African continent. Beyond escaping the European winter, I was in search of the unknown — to witness another culture completely different from anything I know, experiencing a “Muslim Country” for the first time.
There were existing stereotypes, warned by people about the tourist traps, the street harassment, and scamming or theft in North Africa. With a travel partner, we set off to test these assumptions, and were pleasantly surprised by the safety and amazing hospitality of Morocco — while also experiencing some shocking disappointments.
We began began journey spending a few days in Marrakech, worked at a bougie French Yoga studio in noisy Casablanca, then a family-run Surf Camp near Taghazout, had a peaceful break in Essaouira, spent time in a desert oasis in Tamegroute, then ended our trip dodging dodgy young men in Fez.
It was an eye-opening and rewarding two months. I spent none of my savings, hitchhiking to our next destinations and living off the cash we earned from random projects. With a nice tan, new connections, and beginner-level surf skills, I left Morocco with a warm heart, satisfied soul, and belly full of those delicious Berber onion pancakes
The Red City
Our first step on the African continent was Marrakesh, the city of red walls, bustling nightlife, and abundant tourists. We arrived in the evening, fighting off airport taxi hagglers to reach the main road where we heard rides are half the price.
After a ride with a rude taxi where major language barriers were suffered, we arrived at the crowded streets of Marrakesh, just outside the medina. The tall narrow clay alleyways of Marrakesh are the worst enemy of navigation systems. The chaos of this city made it impossible to find the right address to anywhere. We later found out this was something many hagglers take advantage of, bombarding lost-looking tourists with friendly guidance then aggressively demanding money. The best thing is to always pretend you know where you’re going, and never stop walking, even if it might be the wrong way.
Fortunately, our Airbnb hosts very patiently waited for us at a nearby attraction, and walked us to their home. It was a quaint little “Riad,” a traditional Moroccan-style home with a courtyard, centering around a garden or fountain, no matter how small. The center courtyard had an open ceiling, allowing the heat to escape. These homes were wonderfully cool despite the extreme heat outside. It was owned by a French-Moroccan couple, who were very kind to give us more warnings and recommendations in the area, and later even suggestions about hitchhiking. It cost $15 a night, an average price for a private double room in Marrakesh.
Marrakesh is a strange place. In the evenings, the main square turned into a busking area, with crowds of people circling around amateur bellydancers, instrumentalists, or a middle-aged guy in a suit banging on his own chest and screaming. The city woke up at night, perhaps because it’s way too hot in the day to be active. Shops are open, cafes bustling with locals and tourists
Food was a little disappointing. For vegetarians, we quickly found that we could only eat vegetable tajine, couscous, and Moroccan salad (It was pretty much all we ate for the rest of our Moroccan journey). We found a nice cafe in one of the alleys with a friendly owner, where we ended up eating twice within the two days we were in Marrakesh. The Moroccan/tomato salad was 15dh/$1.5, tajine or couscous at 30dh/$3, it included a small eggplant dip appetizer and unlimited white bread.
Marrakesh was quirky, historic, and colorful, but two days was more than enough to get a good vibe of the place. We decided to move on to Casablanca.
We took a local bus (6dh/$0.60) from the inner city to the Grand Stadium of Marrakesh, which was right off the N9 highway toward Casablanca. From there, we held our fingers up for maybe 10 minutes, before a seafood delivery man picked us up and drove us pretty much the entire way.
Although we did not speak a common language, he welcomed us with smiles and even bought us water bottles. We communicated through Google translate, learning that he has a wife, lives in Rabat, and loves American pop music. We jammed to Selena Gomez, Dua Lipa, and Bruno Mars as we drove through the Moroccan desert. The language of music is truly universal!
We soon arrived to the city of Casablanca, a noisy city that does not quite live up to its romantic name…