Africa. Morocco – the 3,200-kilometer-long ring.
We went to Morocco at the beginning of September. The whole route took us 16 days, plus two days of travel, the total – 18 days, almost 3200 kilometers, more than 2000 photos. First of all, point by point.
Visa. I did not need a visa.
Language. The official languages are Arabic (Moroccan dialect) and Berber. French (center-south) and Spanish (north) are spoken at home, in remembrance of the time when the country was divided between France and Spain. English is not as widespread, but there was always someone to help translate. We did our best to learn Moroccan words useful for travelers.
Tickets. You could buy tickets from Krasnoyarsk to Casablanca on Aeroflot (with a stopover in Moscow), but for the right to be considered a transit passenger Aeroflot added 10 000 rubles for each ticket. So we went to the Moroccan Royal Airways website and bought tickets from Moscow to Casablanca ourselves. In other respects (except price) – aircraft fleet, service, food on board – Moroccan airline loses significantly to Aeroflot. And our Russian stewardesses are much nicer than Moroccan ones.
Renting a car. It was our first time renting a car. Anyone who has been through this before remembers the mountains of new information, the dozens of websites, the hours of searching. We decided that we needed a car with an automatic gearbox and a displacement of not less than 1.6 (most of the route was in the mountains). The offer of this type of car is much smaller than that of the manual ones. We were not prepared for the Alfa Romeo offered by Hertz, so we settled for the Dollar Hyundai Accent. We picked up the car and returned it at the airport.
Hotels. We arrived at the Casablanca airport in the evening and left for Moscow early in the morning, so for the first and last night we booked the Hotel Relax. Of the pluses of this hotel: it is close to the airport, there are free minibuses to the hotel every 30 minutes from the port departure and very early breakfasts (from 5 am). Negative points: caravanserai, i.e. 24 hours there is someone leaving, checking in, walking around, making noise. But that is a consequence of the first point in the “Pros of the hotel” part. At home, in Krasnoyarsk, we booked two more hotels, for the next two nights, and then, as we went through the country, we either booked for the night in a hotel (once we drove into town, stopped, went to the website (we used booking.ru), booked, and within half an hour we had checked in) or looked for a hotel on the fly.
Roads and drivers: We did not drive in the middle of nowhere, but on the main tourist routes it was all asphalt. On the highways there are multiple lanes, improved road surface and a speed limit of 120 km/hour. There are toll sections on these roads, and they surround the cities. We don’t use them much: we prefer to drive slowly, enter cities, look around us. The asphalt on these ordinary roads is also of good quality, only they are two lanes wide, the speed limit is 100 km/hour, they go through towns and villages with the 60 km/hour limit, and the roadsides are unfriendly: uneven and high.
But there are few cars on the roads between cities, and those that are there drive calmly, without aggression, taking their time. In the cities, the traffic is denser, there are more cars, and if it weren’t for the donkeys and bicycles, the ride would be quite comfortable. There are many traffic circles; most are on a traffic circle, and those entering and exiting a traffic circle have priority, watch the signs.
There may even be traffic circles at crossroads outside the city.
Drivers are generally unhurried and patient, and thank you for passing not with hazard lights, but by alternately turning on the right and left turn signals and flashing lights to warn of police ambushes.
Parking lots: you will find guys (men, old men) in striped sleeveless jackets everywhere, near any tourist attraction. Or rather, they will find you, help you park and take care of your car. Not for free, of course. The highest price in the cities is in Fez and Essaouira, where we paid 180 rubles a day. Sometimes there is free parking near the hotels.
Police: There are a lot of police. A couple of times there were ambushes with radar guns in the thicket of cacti. But most of the time it’s a police car with speed limit signs posted a few meters ahead, first 60 km/h, then 20, then some kind of stop sign. At this point, we usually slow down and continue slowly. As a rule, when we saw tourists, the policeman waved us through, but on a few occasions we were stopped, asked where we were from and smiled: “Oh, Russia! But we didn’t break the rules either, we looked at the signs and respected the speed limit. And only once we were seriously stopped: while trying to take a picture of a double-decker cow carriage we “hooked” a police station in the frame. They stopped us, pointed to our uniforms and cameras, shook their heads sternly and we began to apologize, waving our hands toward the car with the cows. Then we smiled and parted ways. The photo, by the way, did not come out well.
Communications and navigation: We went to Casablanca airport and bought an 18 Gb SIM card from Maroc Telecom. We didn’t use it much, the Wi-Fi in the hotels was sufficient. For navigation we downloaded in the morning the Yandex map on the tablet (with GPS function) and drove all day with it. Admittedly, it let us down twice. Once it took us to the market on a market day. Watermelons on the right, oranges on the left and a truck unloading in front – you should have seen the look on the donkey’s face when he came out from behind the truck and crashed into the hood of our car!
And then the road was completely over. Thanks to a local, while we were wondering what to do, he got on his motorcycle and took us down the road through alleys so narrow that our mirrors were almost touching the walls of the houses.
Food and water: couscous (porridge with meat and vegetables), tagine (vegetables with fish, chicken or meat) – tasty, quite digestible for our Russian stomach. The fish is wonderful and very fresh. It was still floating today,” a waitress remarked.”.
The bread is very tasty. The locals do not eat with a fork but with their hands, using a slice of bread, so they serve some fresh and tasty flatbreads. We ate them with the appetizers before the hot food arrived. But the fruit in Central Asia is juicier and sweeter than in Morocco. We bought water both for drinking and domestic use: for brushing our teeth and fruit. The locals drink tap water, but we, newcomers, were advised against it. So, to avoid uncomfortable situations, we tried to turn it on less in the shower.
Beaches: There are many beaches in Morocco. Sandy beaches. On the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. But we did not see people bathing (except in some tourist cities). Kids run on the beach, boys play soccer, women dressed in national costumes sit under umbrellas, sometimes whole families set up for a picnic, but no one in the water.
Our route through Morocco looked like this (with the Atlantic Ocean on the left and the Mediterranean Sea above):
The road. The plane from Moscow to Casablanca takes 5.5 hours. The Royal Moroccan Airlines flight attendants did everything fast: they quickly served drinks, delivered and picked up food, and even made announcements in three languages, but quickly, so that one got to hear a few words. And then they settled in the last row and dozed the time until boarding. We arrived in Casablanca around 9 pm. First, we changed money at the airport. In Morocco you can only pay in the local currency, dirhams. It is forbidden to take dirhams out of the country. The exchange rate in September 2014 was about 4.5 rubles per dirham. Then we bought a SIM card for our tablet and by eleven o’clock at night we were in the hotel room. In Krasnoyarsk at that time it was 6 am the next morning….
New word: shukran – thank you.
Day 1. 186 km.
We had to pick up the car at 9 a.m., so we had a leisurely breakfast (the omelette with cheese was excellent), got back on the bus and almost in time to get into the office of
Dollars. The paperwork was quickly filled out, and then the manager was on the phone with someone long and very excited asking us about travel plans. It turned out that the Hyundai Accent booked had something wrong with the paperwork and we were offered a substitute: the Renault Fluence. By now, we were desperate to get on the road to Africa. So, for a fortnight, we took delivery of a brand new silver Renault diesel (mileage 4100 km). He drove it, took us to the gas station (the car had an empty tank) and then drove us around junctions and traffic circles for a while, finally pulling us over to the shoulder and saying “Welcome to Morocco!”. “Welcome to Morocco!” He got out of the vehicle to alert us to probable hazards such as the start of the toll road and police ambushes using radar weapons.. We then took our time heading south.
The first stop is El Jadida (100 km south of Casablanca). Tourists come to this city to see the Portuguese fortress built in the 16th century,
and a cistern where water has been stored since European times. The cistern itself is not particularly interesting, but the light effects, such as the sunbeam and the reflections of the columns, are.
Near the fortress walls there is a market. It is very colorful, noisy and dirty, with roasted lamb heads and colorful djellabas (Moroccan clothing for men and women) on the stalls.
A few kilometers before El Jadida, the road led to the coast and we spent the whole day skirting the ocean. It smelled of sea, seaweed and warm earth.
We chose Oualidia to spend the night. The guidebooks call it a “paradise resort” and a “world-famous Japanese oyster breeding center”.
We didn’t get to try either the former or the latter: we arrived in the afternoon, went down to the lagoon first, then ordered our first tajine in a small cafe, strolled down the main street and drank Moroccan tea in a completely non-touristy place. Drinking tea in a non-touristy place (in a non-touristy city) is not so easy – there are a lot of cafes, but only men sit there and talk and play backgammon. You walk by and you don’t know, maybe it’s a local men’s club and the presence of outsiders is not desirable? In one of the cities we saw visitors to such a cafe all together for evening prayer. And now for tea: in Morocco they drink mint tea. They carry a teapot with sprigs of mint and small cups. They serve the tea by holding the teapot high so that the drink is oxygenated and there is foam on the surface. The tea is sweet, very sweet. We found that the sugar made our lips stick to the glass.
A very important word: Tei bidont sukar – tea without sugar (or the complete phrase Mini fad liq a tiyni tei bidont sukar – Please bring tea without sugar).
Day 2. 192 km.
Again all day driving along the coast to the south. First stop was the lighthouse and cape Bedduza. A beautiful place, with high, rugged coastline and a dozen fishing boats rocking in the Atlantic waves.
The second stop is the town of Safi, specializing in pottery. This is where we were caught. A young man approached us while we were still in the parking lot and, as much as we assured him that we loved sightseeing alone and would not be buying anything, he walked us around, told us about the town, about his father who “went to Moscow” and still convinced us to go with him to see the pottery making process. It was interesting and we couldn’t help but buy a few pieces. I won’t even write how much more we paid than if we had bought them in the market.
After the workshops, our guide took us to the Portuguese fortress, walked us around the city and asked for his tip for the visit. Before saying goodbye, he asked about the itinerary and wrote down a couple of phone numbers: “This is my brother’s grand hotel. You will be welcomed as family from me…”. Well, sort of. I couldn’t check: the paper with the numbers was lost somewhere.
We spent the night in Essaouira, a city with a sandy beach, a medina (old town) with a fortress and a port. We pulled into one of the parking lots near the port, but there was not enough room for our car and we were about to move on, when the parking attendant gave us one car, then pulled the second one aside, asked us to leave the car, got behind the wheel and deftly squeezed into the unoccupied space, although he pushed the third car a bit more with our bumper. He charged us the day’s fare and promised to be here tomorrow to help us out. The hotel we had booked back home in Krasnoyarsk was located 100 meters from the parking lot, next to the gate to the old town. But first, to the beach – at last we had a swim in the ocean!