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On Location: Morocco

March 16, 2018
Morocco

An adventure in Morocco is akin to a journey across every continent. You can experience every climate, every landscape, and a variety of cultures within a few hours.

camel

Straight off the flight, you ricochet down dusty roads at great speed into the bustling medina—the deeply Arab part of town.

Suddenly you’re dragging your pack through a smoggy market, passing live poultry, venturing through a cloud of spices or incense, dodging a donkey carrying jerry cans on its back, and stopping only when you’ve succumbed to the flow of the hordes.

Preparation is key: We spent our first day in the old medina of Fes (Fez is the hat). It is absolutely essential to hire a Moroccan speaking guide to take you ’round if you plan to spend a day or two in the old cities. Not only are they labyrinthine, but their culture of bartering and heckling is intimidating.

With a good guide—booked through the hotel—we found our way around and avoided the tourist pitfalls of overspending for market goods or, worse, being led into unsafe areas of the city. An unexpected outcome was to meet some locals through our guide.

We were even welcomed into an ancient royal palace—not usually open to the public—for mint tea with a local nobleman who knew every word of “Hotel California” by the Eagles. There’s nothing quite like enjoying a cup of sugary mint tea on a roof terrace with the sun setting and the Islamic call to prayer providing the ethereal soundtrack to the evening.

When we departed early for Chefchaouen, the blue pearl of Morocco, the morning was unbelievably cold, considering we’d endured 95-degree heat the previous day. This is the very nature of a desert climate—nighttimes and mornings are so chilly.

When we reached the town, a group of travelers from Australia recommended a shop owner whose roof provided some of the best views of the town.
And what incredible views! Chefchaouen, with its luminous blue buildings and a Spanish heritage from centuries past, is one of those places where every corner of every street has something that takes your breath away—and its people are welcoming.

Chefchaouen has suffered due to illegal marijuana farming in the hills. Now, every road out of the city has a police checkpoint to check
large vehicles and random drivers—scary if you don’t realize why you’re being stopped.

We didn’t.

And although the Chefchaouen locals are conservative in appearance, the unlikely sport of cliff diving is popular among many—who are more than happy to jump/somersault/dive into a ravine with seemingly very little gauge of the water depths below.

Braving three hours of nighttime driving on our final day, there is nothing better than arriving back to the riad (the traditional Moroccan courtyard house) to take dinner on the roof overlooking the endless network of the rooftop city and then crash out in blissful sleep—in a traditional four-poster bed.

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