It’s now been a few days since I returned from Morocco, but I have some observations to share (à la Nick Gray). I spent a week in the country with my mother—Two days in Fès, about one and a half days in Marrakech, a day and a half doing on a “desert expedition,” and a day in Casablanca. It was a quick trip and included lots of transit, but I am happy with that, and my mom is as well—she is a Geographer and likes few things more than just observing landscape.
For reference, at the moment, $1 USD ~ 8 DH (Dirhams).
The country feels very european—that’s the French influence talking. Few things convey this better to me than seeing lots of roundabouts in the road system!
Yet, it is still a “developing” country. There are some problems that need addressing: namely, the absolute lack of a job market for college-educated people and the amounts of trash everywhere.
Large, old doors have two knockers. One for one family in the house, the other for a different family. They have slightly different sounds, and people learn to recognize them.
A riad is a “guest house” with a garden in the middle. A der is a “guest house” without a garden inside—just a fountain.
In general, a riad/der is an old-style house with an interior, open-air courtyard with surrounding rooms. They’re very consistent: marble floors, tile ornamentation (often with intricate zellij patterns), plaster walls, and wooden ceilings. This makes for good heat management in the hot months and cold, just by opening more or fewer windows/doors.
Fès is famous for its tanneries (smelly!) and its carpets. The carpets have two sides: one thick and wooly, for winter, the other tighter and more flat, for summer months.
"Petit Taxis." Everywhere. Very noticeable by their red color. Taxis are REALLY cheap. A 20-minute ride cost us 16DH—$2. I’d suggest wearing a seatbelt, but you will really stick out as a tourist if you do so.
Also, this is where all of the old Mercedes 1900 and 2400s in the world are. They’re now “Grand Taxis.”
Fès has a nice amount of tourist infrastructure: enough so to enjoy the sights and be comfortable, but not enough to feel hassled by the locals. Marrakech, not so much; upon leaving I felt quite “milked” by the local economy for every penny in my pocket. Hustlers everywhere!
Casablanca, on the other hand, is a modern, slightly gritty, working city. No hustlers. Some big construction projects—private and infrastructure in nature—are going on, so I look forward to see it develop in recent years. There’s an imitation Rick’s Café there!
I’d never been to any Islamic-dominant country, and the difference when church and state are intertwined was noticeable. Hard to say how, but noticeable. The current king—Mohammad VI—is quite well-liked and is doing well. You’ll see his portrait around a lot.
Don’t walk on the sidewalk. The sidewalk is for storefronts and donkeys! And tourists!
People are friendly, but, as I said (especially in Marrakech), eager to sell. Everybody knows French and Arabic (both my mother and I have a working knowledge of French that helped us get around), and many know English or basic english too.
You have to pay for bathrooms. Well, not really, but otherwise the woman standing at the door will give you a nasty glare. They only ask for 1 or 2 DH usually. I only had to use a squat toilet once and most toilets allowed you to flush the toilet paper (!).
"We invented the siesta" — Our tour guide, Ahmed, in Marrakech
While less conservative than I expected, a woman’s life in Morocco is intensely private. “Men’s” trades, like tanning, metalworking, tailoring, etc. are done in public spaces or work cubbies in the souks (markets). “Women’s” trades, like carpet-weaving and basket-making, are done in their homes. It’s very rare to see women eating in restaurants.
Lots of restoration going underway, all the time. Large parts of Fès and Marrakech are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and they take their ancient pride seriously.
The Medina of a city, or the “old city,” is made up of the kasbah (walled city), the mellah (typical jewish quarter), and the souks (markets).
Esp. in Marrakech, there are unregulated motorized scooters EVERYWHERE. Watch yourself as they come flying through the tight spaces.
Cats are everywhere and very tolerated. I took around 400 photos on the whole trip—45 of which were just of cats. Hanging around, taking care of pests. They even walk around nicer restaurants.
If you visit Marrakech, go to Jemaa el-Fna. Perhaps the most tourist-ey place possible, but it’s quite a spectacle. Let yourself get wrassled into a stall by the shouting men, and enjoy the cheap and good food.
That said, FOOD. Expect olives and bread with every meal. A “Tajine” is a typical conical dish, used to cook and serve any kinds of meat or couscous dishes. Food is good. Food is cheap. Eat lots.
More notable in Casablanca—quite a bit of ethnic variation.
Camels are really uncomfortable to ride (especially as someone with male parts). That said, they’re also quite fun to ride, sound like Chewbacca (or maybe that’s vice-versa), and feel like a roller coaster when they stand up or sit down!
Schooling is optional for kids. Lots running around at all hours of the day.
You’ll hear calls to prayer broadcaster via loudspeaker 5 times a day. Actually a very good wake-up call!
There’s a level of local artisanship in the country that simply isn’t found in the U.S.A.. In the souks there are tailors, blacksmiths, tanners, tinsmiths, farmers, dye-makers, and more, simply doing their “artisinal” work, because it’s their work. I don’t quite have the words for how different this is from the industrial, business-driven world here (versus the individuals’ work there).
That’s about that.