July 08, 2009

Snake charmers, squat toilets and a daylight bank robbery...


After a three-hour bus ride and the most expensive ferry crossing in the world (€37 for just one hour on the water!) we were officially in Africa. Tangier was the first stop on our Moroccan journey. We hadn't heard spectacular things about the place, so we were staying for just one night and then jumping on a train to Fes first thing in the morning.

Our first mission was stock up on plenty of Moroccan dirhams. The first ATM we went to was out of service, so Craig popped his card in the next one along . Once he had punched in his pin and requested 530 dirhams, the machine took a painstakingly long time to process the transaction before a message reading 'Thank you for your transaction' appeared on the screen as his card was promptly spat out. All this is pretty standard procedure, as I'm sure you all know, but there is just one small element missing – the cash. No cash came out of the machine!

Being a Sunday, there was no-one around to help us, so we had no choice but to head off in search of accommodation. Already in bad moods, the last thing we needed was to be hounded by the touts at the entrance of the medina. Eventually, we found a crappy room for 110 dirhams ($AUD17), and set off to get some money. One of the touts who tried to find us accommodation offered to help us find an ATM, despite telling him several times that we were fine by ourselves and didn't want his help, he followed us around anyway, demanding 50 dirhams for his service when we eventually cashed up. Craig told him to 'f*** off!' and we headed straight for an internet cafe.

Logging on to our net banking, we were devastated to discover that the amount we had tried and failed to get from the first ATM had been deducted from Craig's account. Since it was the middle of the night in Australia there was nothing we could do about it right there and then. So we found a magnet, walked back to our hotel – which, by the way, had the grossest toilet and shared shower facilities ever. We decide that having a shower there would only make us dirtier, so that night we sufficed with baby wipes and plenty of deodorant!

Desperate to get away from Tangier and its money-thieving ATMs, we left our hotel early in the morning and jumped on the next train to Fes. The train was hot and stuffy, but it was fun to just sit back an watch the scenery glide by. A local guy talked to us the whole way about Australia (he has a friend in Melbourne) and doing tours of the medina in Fes. 'I just keep waiting for him to say, "Oh, my cousin's a tour guide..." I whispered to Craig. 'Nah, he's alright,' Craig reassured me. But sure enough, his nephew was apparently a 'very good tour guide' with 'excellent English' – those Moroccans never miss a bloody beat!

Once in Fes, Craig managed to haggle a room down from 150 to 110 dirhams a night – complete with a clean toilet and shower. We then hit the streets, making our way through the maze that is the medina (Islamic old town). As for dinner, we settled on eating in the dodgiest hole in the wall we could find. Kefta (a mince meat sausage thing) on bread rolls was the only item on the menu.

For the next couple of days our routine kinda went like this – wake up at around 9.30am, go out and buy a big hunk of half-pastry/half-pancake bread with chocolate spread smeared all over it for breakfast, hit the net cafe for a couple of hours, get lost in the windy streets of the medina, occasionally stopping to let a horse go by or to visit the tanneries (turns you off leather, it reeks!), go back to our room for a read and a kip, head back out at night to eat at a dodgy local haunt, followed by some more net time before bed.

Fes was pretty damn cool. It was totally out of this world, but after three nights, we were ready for a change of scenery.

Rabat was never in our original plans, but we decided to go there at the last minute since it was on the way to Casablanca. When we walked out of the train station we were surprised to discover wide, tree-lined boulevards and bakeries galore – a huge contrast from the smelly, dirty streets of Fes.

While Rabat was nice, there really wasn't a whole lot going on. We ate a lot of pastries and a lack of magnet options forced us to purchase the largest magnet of our collection, that's pretty much about it. I guess Rabat will forever be remembered as the place where we discovered Michael Jackson had died – we aren't totally out of the news loop!


Made famous by the old-school movie, we really had no idea what to expect of Casablanca. Like Rabat, it was a bit lacklustre – the medina had no character and neither did the streets.

One thing they don't put in the guidebooks is that the rudest man to ever walk the planet lives in Casablanca. It's true, and we had the pleasure of meeting him at our hotel – Hotel Foucauld.

Despite being promised hot water, there was none. At 12 noon I was told it would be fixed by 2pm. At 9pm that night, when there still wasn't any hot water, I went down to ask if it was going to be fixed that evening. 'You wait, you wait, you wait!' Mean Rude Guy full-on shouted at me while waving his hand in my face. As I was trying to explain that I simply wanted to know if it was going to be fixed that evening as I wanted to go to bed, he just turned around and started speaking to someone else.

Upset, I went and got Craig, thinking that maybe a male would get more of a response. All of a sudden Mean Rude Guy claimed not to speak any English, despite earlier evidence of the contrary.

Not wanting to give Mean Rude Guy any more of our hard-earned funds, we packed up the next morning and trotted off to find ourselves some nicer, cheaper accommodation with staff who responded to our questions with a suitable level of social etiquette.

MarrakechExotic, bazaar and overwhelming – Morocco really turned up the culture factor with Marrakech.

The heart of all things Marrakech revolves around the Djeema el Fna – the main square in the medina. By day, the sun beats down as snake charmers and monkey handlers try to drape their animals of choice over unaware tourists, scaring the crap out of some and forcing others to hand over some money for the privilege. By night, the square well and truly comes alive!

A plethora of food stalls are rolled out into the centre, as story tellers, drum players and henna artists fill every other remaining inch of the square. Each night, we would head out to watch the magnificent show unfold, stopping occasionally for a refreshing three-dirham orange juice, or to sit with the locals and chow down on some Moroccan culinary fare.

All we did in Marrakech was hit up the square at dusk, but we loved every single tantalising second of it. It was noisy, it was bustling and it was downright awesome, we couldn't get enough!