Our Trip to Morocco from Ceuta to Ouarzazate
Weather and time in Marrakech
I went to Morocco with my friend Dave Bodaly in the summer of 1985. We left by ferry from Algeciras, Spain to Ceuta (a small territory in Northern Africa that belongs to Spain along the Mediterranean sea).
We stayed in Ceuta for one day and made our way by bus to Tangier with two other girls from Edmonton, Grace and Marcia. One of the most shocking sights once you get near Africa is the veiled woman that you see everywhere. Covered from head to toe with no skin showing anywhere except the eyes, you know that you have arrived in a different continent and a culture totally foreign to your western ways.
At the border, we ran into troubles right away. What else could we expect from Morocco? In my excitement to be in a new country, I started lifting my camera to take pictures, something you are not allowed to do at the border, it's an absolute no no in any country. I was a bit naive and unaware of this fact. The guards swarmed me and confiscated the camera. I started pulling it from them while the girls were also screaming to get it back. I tried to convince the guy that I had not taken any pictures, which was true. The guard tried to force the camera open to get the film out but I did not want to show him how to do it. He finally got frustrated and gave it back to me. Just like that. I gave thanks to God for this small miracle. Exposing my film to the light or giving the film way would have been terrible . I would have lost all the very precious pictures that I had taken in England, Spain and lovely Gibraltar.
Next, they turned Grace away. She lived in Canada but she had a Dutch passport. There were some political problems between both countries. She was not aware that she needed to have a visa to enter Morocco. As a result, they did not allow her in the country. So, we said goodbye to our friends.
The first place we went to was Tangier by bus, then we went to Tetouan and later we continued on to Chaouen, Fez, Rabat , Casablanca, Marrakech and finally we went to Ouarzazate in the Sahara desert.
In Tetouan or Chaouen , I started to be harassed , mainly, by teenagers who wanted to offer me their services for anything. One of them for example wanted seven dirhams, the equivalent of a full meal, for putting my backpack in the bus’s underneath luggage compartment. The problem was I never asked for his help and I refused to pay him. He came to the bus and started yelling and calling me all sort of names including Jew. After half an hour I realized that it would not be wise to lose my life for a few dollars and I paid him so I could get rid of him. People in the bus were quite disgusted by his actions.
In one of those towns I found a little room in a souk. It was colorful, cheap and typically Moroccan. One thing I found fascinating was the sellers of water who carried their precious liquid in some goat skin bags . Those men were everywhere but I never felt safe to drink from those bags. I did enjoy buying cactus fruits called prickly pears or the scientific name which is ficus indica. They were delicious, most of the time they were peeled but if you touched the ones that were not they had fine needles that got into your skin and were really hard to take out. I also enjoyed the couscous and goat, which was absolutely amazing. In 1985 you could buy a full meal for the equivalent of one Canadian dollar.
Later on, I met the guy from the bus who ripped me off and he offered his services again like nothing had happened. This was not a casual encounter. All through my time in Morocco people aggressively tried to get your money. Sometimes you had a crowd following you , pestering you to no end.
In Fez, we witnessed a funeral. It was kind of weird, they were carrying the person without a coffin. It remained me of the dead carried in Palestine.
We arrived in Marrakech and could see the tower of La Koutubia made of bricks of dried mud. We hurried up to find a hotel. I had found out that the longer you wander with your backpack or suitcase the longer they will harass you. We booked a hotel on the main market square in the famous Place of Djemáa el Fna. The first thing we did find in our beds were some cockroaches. We spent a good time sweeping the heinous creatures away from the bedding.
The next day, we went shopping in the Place of Djemáa el Fna but I was not really interested in buying anything. I just wanted to look around. The businessman were so persistent, so I made the mistake of going into the store. I accepted to try some sandals with no desire to buy them. He would not leave me alone, so to get the guy off my back, I offered him a ridiculously low price. That was a mistake; the guy pushed me barefoot into the boiling pavement. I was not impressed, I felt like punching the guy but I was to stunned to do anything. I could not believe what he has just done.
In some ways I was afraid to buy anything in the country. You were not sure if the jewelry was real or some cheap imitation. They had lovely carpets but some were just imitations and of course they wanted the full price for them.
One of my dreams was to get to the Sahara or at least have a little taste of this natural legend. I choose the semi-arid town of Ouazazarte, which stands in the outskirts of the great desert on the west side of the Sahara. In order to get there, we had to cross the great High Atlas Mountains the second highest mountain chain in Africa ; we used the P31 road. We went through the Tizi-N-Tichka pass the highest in the country. We went by very deep valleys with houses clinging on cliffs. There were also many crazy hairpin turns.
At some point, we passed forty kilometers away to the highest peak in North Africa, Jbel Toubkal (13, 676 feet). It is normally covered with snow but this was summer. Not far there is the ski resort of Oukaimeden, which was started in 1952.
It was an interesting trip.
Being a Moslem country, the bus driver often stopped to pray. When passengers returned to the bus they took different seats , in numerous occasions that often caused shouting matches. I really found those people very aggressive.
On our way me and Dave stopped by the road to buy fossils and minerals. I took the time to buy some rocks and fossils of worms and a head of a small prehistorical creature with the eyes sticking out. Everything was quite a bargain.
One thing I found amazing is people selling meat in open restaurants with the animals, such as goat, hanging in the heat of the day. When I saw the locals eating, I was not too afraid of getting sick, so I tried it and found it excellent especially when the meat was barbecued. .
In Ouarzazte most people seem to live in mud houses and far away we could see the kasbahs. Most of the town was inside of a clay fortress. We decided to stay out, I did not feel the need to go in.
There were no sand dunes the soil was mainly rocky. I did see some palm trees far in the horizon. The trees looked near but once we started walking we realized they were quite far away. The desert summer heat took a toll on me . I had no water. I hurried back to town and drank the fastest two or three bottles of pop ever.
We took the bus back across the Atlas Mountains and we took the train to take the ferry back to Europe.
On our way out you have to stop in Tangier. I knew I would not be back in Africa for awhile. I went to buy some gifts. There was a bunch of people by the counter. When I arrived in Spain many articles that I bought were not in the bag. I realized while he was pretending to put my things in the bag he was not. In some way I was happy to visit the country but I was also very happy to leave.
Dave had drank unsafe water, he had to be hospitalized and treated in Canada.
Sunset on the Place of Djemáa el Fna in Marrakech
The exotic Place of Djemáa el Fna
Open air goats restaurant
Leaving Tangier towards Spain in the Ferry