Every month, I really enjoy writing my guest blog for Epic Morocco and this month I was talking to the MD, Carla, about what I should blog about: Things to do in Lalla Takerkoust? Top mountain biking tips? How they make the colourful pottery of Safi?
“No,” she said. “All the news headlines internationally are so grim at the moment and life here is such a contrast, why not convey that? Tell us why you like Morocco so much and why people should visit.” Well, it is rare that I get such an easy and pleasurable subject. My problem with this one is that there are about a thousand reasons I like Morocco and a new one pops up every day. So, here are my top ten.
The Moroccans. I know you shouldn’t generalise about people but I’m going to go right ahead and do it. The vast majority of Moroccans I have encountered have been friendly, warm-hearted and welcoming. I have lost count of the number of times I have been invited by strangers for a cup of mint tea or even dinner with their family. Best of all, they have a great sense of humour and are always ready to have a laugh or share a joke.
The weather. Coming originally from Scotland and latterly from the Peak District, I am well used to a diet of rain, rain and more rain. What a joy it is to get up every morning to sun and a blue sky. It does get cold in winter and hot in summer but those blue skies last all year.
The Atlas Mountains: This magnificent mountain range traverses the country, forming a natural barrier to the Sahara desert. They are a paradise for hikers with tracks weaving through villages untouched by the modern age. You’ll pass goat herders tending their flocks, women hand tilling their small patches of land, and boys playing football on a pitch 3,200m above sea level. The views are stunning, with ridges and peaks stretching ahead of you and depending which season you come, you will be walking through a riot of apple blossom or buying fresh cherries for £2 a kilo.
The desert: Go south to the dunes of Erg Chebbi or Erg Chigaga and you enter a different world. Golden sand rolling endlessly and your chance to ride a camel to camp, and sleep under the stars. On a clear night you can see the Milky Way.
The running: Morocco has a fantastic collection of races to suit every ability from the Moonlight Run in the Agafay to the infamous Marathon Des Sables. Epic Morocco’s founder, Charlie Shepherd ran it in 2014 and you can read about his adventure here. It also has the friendliest running community in the world. The Berber boys are going to beat you, they run like the wind, but they will always be encouraging and supportive.
The shopping: Shopping in Morocco is a whole different experience and should be undertaken at your leisure and with plenty of time to enjoy a cup of mint tea and a chat with the shopkeepers. Get your bargaining head on and enjoy the process. Treat it at as a a cultural exchange rather than as a buying trip and you will get the most out of it.
The handicrafts: It is not just the shopping process that is enjoyable it is the lovely things that there are to buy. Hand-woven carpets, traditional silver jewellery, hand-made pottery, colourful leather slippers, shiny tassles… it is a cornucopia and the prices vary from bargain basement for a hand-painted pottery bowl at under a pound to some very lavish and expensive carpets.
The pace of life: It’s slow and there is a saying you should bear in mind: You have the watch, we have the time. Don’t try and do anything in a hurry, you will just get frustrated. Live in the moment and enjoy the experience.
The languages: Darija (Moroccan Arabic), Tashlaheet (one of the 3 Amazigh/Berber dialects) and French are the main languages spoken but you can also try Spanish, especially in the North, Italian, German and Japanese. The Moroccans are polyglots and will find a way to communicate but you will be guaranteed a warm response if you greet people with Salaam alaykum.
The Cities: Marrakech, the daughter of the desert with its snake charmers and story tellers; ancient Fez with its warren-like medina and 70 mosques, the call to prayer at sunset is a magical experience; Chefchaouen, the blue city nestled in the Rif Mountains; and Essaouira with its surfers, laid back vibe and crashing Atlantic waves.
I have been lucky enough to live in Morocco for four years and am discovering something new every day. The best piece of advice I can give? Book your ticket today!