Hitting the Riads in Morocco
Morocco will give you a good taste of the Arab culture with it’s vibrant markets, oriental cities and landscapes. I spent eight relaxing days in the country after three weeks of strenuous hiking in Greenland, using Airbnb for the first time and ending up in a great Moroccan riad in Marrakesh through it. Joined by my friend Reem, we explored Marrakesh, Tanger, Chefchaouen and Rabat together.
My journey started in what is probably the best known tourist destination of Morocco. Being neither the capital nor the biggest city of the country, it still draws a lot of people in due to it’s proximity to the desert and the Atlas mountains. Squeezing my legs into the tiny RyanAir seats, I tried to enjoy what is probably the airlines’ longest route (nearly four hours). Meeting two German couples on the flight turned out to be a great coincidence, as they kindly accepted me to their group and offered me to stay in their Riad. Upon arrival, we were stuck for about one hour at the passport control, which only had five officials working at it for about 350 people coming in on two flights. Off to a good start!
We took a bus straight to Africa’s busiest square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, and made our way through all the snake charmers, monkey guys and women offering Henna tattoos for the girls in our group. All of them are set to get your money, but our first priority was to find the Riad and check in. Getting there eventually costed us some money as well, since we were not able to find the Riad Marrakech Rouge – a highly rated Riad/Hostel for budget travelers – and had to pay some boys to point us in the right direction. I did not have a reservation for that place but since we were out of season, I could manage to squeeze into their room for about 10€.
Heading back to the Jemaa el-Fnaa, we witnessed what seems to be the craziest transition of market places I have ever seen. The square turned into a huge open air food market, offering everything from amazing freshly pressed orange juice, traditional Moroccan dishes to extremely cheap (2MAD) harira soup, which was mostly consumed by locals (and myself). We separated after our mutual dinner and I spent the evening in the Riad, watching England drop out of the World Cup with German commentary as apparently the German channels ARD and ZDF can be shown for free compared to the local pay TV sport channel.
On the next morning, I met up with Reem in our Airbnb accommodation, Riad Bamileke. Spending 50€ for the room, it turned out to be a great choice staying in this remarkable Riad, which was a complete contrast to the Hostel styled Riad of the last night and would have been much more expensive without Airbnb. The two Italian guys working there were very friendly and also great cooks, providing the six of us with a superb three course Italian dinner and nice wine. Earlier on that 35°C hot day, we went for a walk from the Medina (the old part of the town) to the train station in the new city to purchase tickets for an overnight train to Tanger.
Marrakesh has been a great introduction to the country and the Moroccan culture and I especially enjoyed getting lost in the Medina and Souks, bundled areas to sell specific products, combined with the busy Jemaa el-Fnaa and relaxing Riats, which function as an Oasis of tranquility as well. Overall, I would not advice to spent more than two or three days here though, unless you also plan excursions into the Desert or Mountains, which we have not done.
Sleeping in over night trains can be a frustrating thing. This time however, it was great due to pretty comfy beds and the people sharing our little 4-person cabin. We arrived in Tanger around 9AM and walked from the train station to the beach with fabulous named clubs such as “Discotheque Snob” and then made our way up the hills to the next (remote) Airbnb place. Run by a few french people, we did not get the view that we were hoping for but it was still nice there with a swimming pool, hammock and a very cute baby kitten.
The down town beach is very dirty, so we had to made a call between driving east or west to find a better spot. We decided for west, checking out Cap Spartel first. Advertised as the point where the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean connect, it was just a nice view on the Light tower and a lunch served in a touristic place with bad service for us. Not wasting a lot of time, we took our beach gear and walked down the road to look for the beach. Getting there was a bit of a bummer, because the complete beach was occupied by young beach boys and there was no space to just even lay in the sun without getting too annoyed from all the fuzz around us.
We went back to the Airbnb place instead to swim in the pool and enjoyed a quiet evening. I took my camera to capture some shots looking down at the city by walking just a bit outside the House. On my way back, I was in the lucky position to get some great shots of a boy and his horse during the sunset. Our hosts had to get some shopping down afterwards and we used the opportunity to tag along and walked around the Medina in the night, followed by a mint tea in the famous Gran Cafe de Paris.
Packing up all of our stuff in the next morning, we had a quick stop at Cafe Hafa, which seems to be quiet an attraction as well with its step setting along a hillside at the beach. It was another very hot day and walking through the Medina with all of our luggage was not so pleasant. The Medina in Tanger is a complete contrast to the one in Marrakesh, less busy, hassle free and you can even buy small chicks in various colors there! Eventually we made it to the bus stop though and purchased local bus tickets to Tetouan for just a few Dirhams.
We had high expectations for our next destination, which is famed for the magical blue madina set on a hill. Getting there was a little bit problematic as we had to choose between getting another public bas in bad shape or a Grand taxi. For the latter, we would be squeezing in with 4 other passengers or paying a lot of money for a private one, so we decided to take the bus. I did not mind the trip at all, being used to way worse journeys from my trip to South America last year and we eventually made it to the Bus stop in Chefchaouen, waiting to be picked up my our next Airbnb host.
An hour had passed already and we still did not see Mustafa, they guy who was supposed to pick us up. The place is managed by a spanish lady and we had a lot of trouble getting in touch with her on the phone, but eventually a cap driver / friend of Mustafa picked us up since he was busy with other guests. Upon return on the top of the medina, we were “welcomed” by Mustafa, who immediately striked me as a very unsympathetic person within the first seconds. We left the taxi, got our stuff and I just assumed that we would not have to pay for the ride since Mustafa was unable to pick us up personally, but he seriously prompted us to pay. I could not believe it and denied to pay it and following a call with the spanish lady, he eventually paid and brought us to the place, leaving a very bad first impression.
After some consideration, we decided to stay and not find another place due to the great view from our balcony, looking down at the Medina. We paid in advance and would luckily not get in touch with Mustafa again, so this made the decision a bit easier – even though I would usually prefer to stay with the Airbnb hosts as I think it’s an important part of the site’s concept (similar to Couchsurfing). We spent the remaining day walking around in the medina and I have to admit that this was my personal highlight of the trip. I could not image a better place to get lost with all the small alleys and turns, combined with the blue paint which was introduced by the jews, providing a very own unique charm to the medina.
Having spent the first night in our Airbnb suite, we had to conclude that – except for the view from the balcony – it was the first bad experience as a lot of the online descriptions simply did not match the reality. After another cold shower in the morning, we made our way through the Medina to get to a church on the hills on the other side of the city. Accompanied by a lot of cats, we did not make it all the way to the top, but got fairly close with some really nice views from a different perspective. All of the sudden, rain started to pour down very heavily and we arrived totally soaked wet in a coffee place to enjoy another amazing mint tea while watching the Football match Italy vs Uruguay. A nice sunset after the rain (no rainbow sadly) completed the day and we only had one final destination left…
After two local bus rides, we decided to get tickets for the more comfortable CTM bus line and arrived in Rabat in the afternoon. We stayed in a hotel close to the Medina, which this time had a rather organised layout with mostly straight streets rather than the winding counterparts of the previous cities. Although nothing short of spectacular (and way less hassle free!) with all the markets and trading going on, we just lingered through it to get to the beach on the other side. Passing the gate of the Kasbah of the Udayas, the beach presented itself after a small hill. Again, it was full of earlier mentioned beach boys and I could not help but wonder that every second of them was in the possession of the exactly same underwear – great! There was also a graveyard on the other side of the street, which was pretty interesting to see so close to the beach.
For our last night, we were treating ourselves with a nice dinner in the Restaurant Tajine Wa Tanjia. I had a Kefta, meat served with egg in a Tajine, and was very pleased with it and the place itself, since we basically had a nice guy playing a local instrument (which name I do not know, but it was similar to a guitar) for us all the time. Reem left to return home in the morning and I used Couchsurfing for my last night. Receiving a ton of invites from a bit strange guys, trying to hook me up with their cousins, I eventually ended up in a place shared by three German girls. They rented a small riad directly in the Kasbah of the Udayas and had a nice view on the canal from their roof top. We set out to wander around the city for a bit, joined by some of their friends, and then made our way to a touristic place to watch the Germany vs USA World Cup match. Since it was about seven Germans and just one American before the game, we could get a German commentary set up before about 50 more Americans invaded the bar, resulting in quiet a good atmosphere even though they lost. I have to say that I like the way American’s are cheering in sports and they should really continue to give Football (or Soccer for them..) a bit more attention.
After the match, we walked back home through the Medina and ended up eating Snails thanks to the devotion of Alina, who really desperately wanted to eat some – they turned out to be quite tasty!! They generally had some good places to eat street food in the medina, which I really enjoyed as it is pretty cheap there too. Spending the last evening talking, there was only one thing left to do on the final day before I would fly back to London in the evening: Going to the beach! Taking the train from Rabat to Skhirat, we were just outside enough of the main town to finally enjoy a less busy beach with mixed genders and not completely filled with the beach boys! Spending around six hours there, it was the best ending for the trip I could imagine.As a result, I was in pain from multiple sunburns while I packed up my stuff to head to the airport.
I got lost a little bit on the way and eventually had to start running to catch that one single bus per day going to the Airport for just 20 MAD rather than paying about 180 MAD with a taxi. I made it just in time and had no idea where the bus would stop, but luckily for me the bus was on time as well and I could see him turning into a big roundabout. Waving my arms around, I got the drivers attention and he lead me to the bus stop where I was the only passenger getting in! Relived and slowly starting to cool down from about ten minutes of running with my big backpack, I could finally relax and make my way back to London in what was hopefully my last flight with RyanAir…
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