Our first real adventure in the continent of Africa and we coundn’t be more excited for it!
After a hectic 24 hours in Barcelona, we flew to Marrakesh on Ryanair, at 7.30am to make the most of our first there in the new country. At $45/seat, it was a steal! A quick 2 hour flight later (Morocco is 1 hour behind Spain), we were in Africa! Disembarking from the plane, directly onto the runway (!) we could walk right up to the terminal building.
The heat was almost tangible as it settled on us, giving us a taste of what the next few days would be like. The Riyad (hotel) had arranged for someone to pick up us- which is recommended, since with the number of people offering taxis right outside, you’re never sure where you will be taken and how much it’ll end up costing you once you get there!
We spent the day in Marrakesh, the experience was an assault to all senses- it was hot, loud, smelly, bright and colorful – and reminded us strongly of home! The people did not leave you alone for a moment- there was always someone to sell us something or direct us to the next tourist spot, or just to ask if we were from India and say Namaste! More about Marrakesh here.
The next morning, we were driven back to the airport where we picked up our car for the next 3 days. While extremely cheap (we paid no more than $200 for 3 days), the car came with no frills, at all. The doors and windows were manual and there was no air-conditioning or GPS. Google maps also doesn’t let you download Morocco road maps offline, so this was going to be an extremely interesting few days. Also as we discovered very soon, while in theory all the roads are named or numbered on the map, there are almost no numbers on the road itself! Most of them are labeled with the next big city, so thats something to watch for as well. Finally, while we were happily using T mobile all over Europe, it isn’t free in Morocco, so no turn-by-turn navigation. Undaunted, we decided to drive around the country for the next 3 days! On the bright side, the roads in Morocco are good and well maintained, so it wasn’t a bumpy ride.
First stop- Ozoud Falls. They are the most photographed falls in the country and make a nice day trip from Marrakesh. Getting out of the city proved to be quite a task, there was the manual car to get used to, rules of the roundabouts to learn and lots of motorcyclists to avoid. Our brave and fearless driver rose nobly to the challenge and we left the city and reached Ozoud with no unpleasant events.
The falls themselves are quite pretty and fairly touristy. We chose to look at them from the top only, instead of hiking to the bottom and taking Morocco’s version of the “Maid of the Mist” tour, since, as always, we were pressed for time. Lunch was delicious, in a small local restaurant. Read more about our food and drink in Morocco in our blog here.
Our next aim was to get to Fez, in one piece, and hopefully before nightfall. Our fairly smooth journey was interrupted just once, when we were pulled over by the local traffic police, for crossing a solid white line to overtake the slow car holding up our progress. While blogs from other tourists had warned us that the police tended to focus more on tourists, actually being pulled over was a completely different experience. We spoke no Arabic and only enough French to ask if they spoke English, so communication was minimum. They asked for our passports and the papers of the car (which we understood) and we sat with bated breath, awaiting our fate. This is one of the few times when the Indian passport has worked in our advantage- since on realizing that we were “Hindi” (the Arabic word for Indian), they disdainfully let us go, warning us not to do it again. I’m not sure how different things would’ve been, if we had had American or European passports, but I’m very glad we didn’t have to find out! Of course, we have no photos from our brief brush with the law, but I’m sure if we did, our faces would be quite a sight to behold!
Getting to Fez took us across the High Atlas mountains with spectacular views of verdant valleys and sandy brown mountains.
By nightfall we were close enough fortunately and had only a long stretch on the well lit A-road (motorway with toll) so reached Fez in good spirits, around 9pm. The airbnb we had for the night was supposed to be a palace that was being restored by the current owner and finding it was another interesting task! When we finally did, it was at the end of a single lane, extremely windy road that would’ve been impossible to navigate without our host. After all the effort, it was totally worth it- the place was indeed a palace and we had an entire wing (the red palace) to ourselves! That night and the next day were an adventure of their own- read about it here.
Chefchaouen, which is Berber for “look at the horns” since the mountain tops around the city look like goats’ horns, was the next destination and was a 4 hour drive away, so we left around 3pm from Fez, again to attempt to make it there before it got dark. The road leading out from Fez was a 1.5-lane state road, which meant when a vehicle approached us, the smaller of the two would have to drive onto the verge to let the other pass. This made for 1-2 unnerving hours of driving for our brave and fearless driver, but he manfully drove on. This time we cross the Riff mountains and saw vast stretches of darker mountains with taller darker trees- quite beautiful to behold.
We also had some interference from the local wildlife, but nothing much to worry about!
Our first sighting of Chefchaouen, disappointingly did not show an entirely blue city, but it was pretty nevertheless, nestled in the middle of towering mountains.
In the evening, exploring the old city gave us our fill of blue-ness of Chefchaouen.
Our final long drive was to Tangier airport, and was the least picturesque of the drives. A great breakfast of the local goat’s cheese and bread made up for it a little!
The roads, as we had seen so far, were quite good, with long stretches of highway that allowed us to reach our destination well on time. Tangier airport was a surprise- it was so windy that it was quite difficult to stand up straight, handling any luggage was another challenge altogether! Here, we returned the car, bid good bye to our faithful companion of the past 3 days and took a cab to the port to get on the ferry to Algeciras.
This is where the next brief adventure began, since halfway to the port, we realized that the one we were headed to, wasn’t the one we needed. The boat to Algeciras was to depart from Tangier Med and that was 50km away from Tangier city, which was where we were! Our cab driver, fortunately (and after promising a payment of 40 Eur) agreed to take us there- thus our road trip continued!
The drive from Tangier to Tangier Med was along the coast and gorgeous!
Relieved, and a little wrung out from all the adrenaline, we boarded the ferry to leave Africa and continue our explorations on the next continent!
Morocco- you were beautiful, unexplored, unexpected, raw, exciting, exhausting, overwhelming and we loved every single minute!