Articles,  Travel

Backpacking in the Maghreb: going to Morocco!

In ten days, I’ll be travelling to Morocco via Air France.

I’ve always wanted to travel, to be one of those people who somehow manages to pick up and leave, has the money and the leisure to go, doesn’t have a thousand pressing commitments back home keeping them tied down.  I’m not one of those people, but I’ve managed to make a space for myself somehow anyway.  I didn’t need to take any extraordinary measures; I just decided I was going, and everything worked out around it.

For two years I’ve been idly watching Travelzoo for flights to Morocco, and finally in June, I saw a deal I couldn’t resist. A $600 return flight to Casablanca?!  It was a four-day sale, so I borrowed money from my sister Sammi until the next payday, and bought a ticket.

Okay, it was a bit reckless.  I was under-employed at the time, and wasn’t sure how I was going to afford the trip.  Morocco is pretty inexpensive, but y’know, not as cheap as staying at home.  And then the warnings started to pour in: a woman, travelling alone in an African country, is inevitably going to be drugged, robbed, raped, and sold into the sex slave trade. Twice. “Is it safe?” became the constant question. “Is my neighbourhood safe?” I’d reply (not particularly).  I could go nowhere and still die an untimely death; the world is an uncertain place, even in the places you’re most certain about.

Other people’s fears aside, big-scare safety concerns aren’t really something that worries me.  I’m more worried about fatigue, dehydration, culture shock and homesickness.  And pick-pockets. Because this is a working trip (some of my income comes from work as a Social Media Consultant), I’m worried about finding reliable internet access, tho I’m assured that it’s a very wired country and I do have a backup, just in case.

The other question I’m often asked is “Why Morocco?”  I don’t really have an answer for that; I’ve wanted to travel to Morocco for years, since high school at least. I like Islamic art and architecture; I like North African music and food.  I like stories about Saladin and the Conquest of Spain, and as a kid I was enchanted by C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy, Omar Khayyam’sRubâ’iyât, The 1001 Nights.  These aren’t necessarily relevant to Morocco, but may help explain how a person of mostly-Irish descent from a rural Ontario village might get interested in travelling there.   I’m reading Edith Wharton’s In Morocco right now (thanks, Project Gutenberg!), and making adjustments for time and culture, it’s a terrific outsider’s description of the culture and the landscape.

One of the first things I did once my ticket was booked was to start a Tumblr account – Candace au Maroc – where I can post my research and ideas, as well as inspiring pictures and notes about good places to eat, stay, and visit. If I have time, between working and touring, I’ll update it as a travelog – I promise nothing, however! I can’t imagine I’ll want to spend any more time than necessary huddled over a glowing screen.

In preparation for my trip, I’ve read travel blogs and listened to French language podcasts (Morocco was a French protectorate until 1956), searched forums and posted questions. I’ve done a limited amount of shopping (mostly just my MEC bag and some plug adapters, etc.). It’s so easy to waste money buying things of dubious usefulness because they seem nifty; I’m trying to hold back on gadgets and single-use items.  I want to travel light, light, light.

I don’t have any particular itinerary – I know that I land in Casablanca, and want to spend my first day or two in Rabat.  Then I want to visit (in no particular order) Essaouira, Marrakech, Fes, Merzouga (and the Sahara), Ait Benhaddou, Meknes, Volubilis, Chefchaouen… well, lots of places.  If I don’t make it to all of them, that’s fine.  I’ll linger when I’m enjoying myself, move on when I’m not.

For anyone considering travelling to Morocco, I’ve included some links to useful resources I’ve encountered below; I’ll update when I get back, to let you know how I feel about them from the other side of my trip!

Learning French

I’ve been meaning to learn more French for years, so this seemed like a good opportunity.  I also know a handful of Arabic words that I hope will help me along.

Learn French with Michel Thomas – The man with the crazy hair and the even-crazier French accent, nevertheless after listening to his French lessons I feel like I know more than I did after years of Canadian elementary school French classes.  I occasionally (always) wanted to smack the American woman.

Coffee Break French – Mark and Anna are pretty good teachers, and though they’ve got pretty thick Scottish dialects in English, their French pronunciation seems pretty good.

Google Translate – For phrases that language lessons don’t cover, Google Translate not only can get you some decent workable French but can also give you pronunciation.  Not quite so useful with Arabic, but it will tell you the phonetic translation and show you the actual Arabic script.

Learn French by Podcast – This is really good for intermediate French speakers; I find I can pick out about a third of what they’re talking about the first time through, and it’s a great way to stretch your abilities and get used to hearing French spoken conversationally.

Travel in Morocco

There sure are lots of grouchy-guss travel bloggers out there who seem unsuited for anything other than four star European travel; I’m not really sure what most of them are doing in Africa, but they sure hate it!
The sites below seem to present a more balanced, useful view from people who are experienced travellers.

The Adventures of D – A very personal, honest account of the travels of  a solo woman.  Only a few posts from Morocco, but she’s very descriptive and interesting.

Taking a Sabbatical – Another solo female traveller. Great photos, and great great descriptions of the places she’s been.  I asked her for some Riad/hostel recommendations, and she was very forthcoming!

Lonely Planet – Some decent articles on Morocco, and some good recommendations.  Their guidebook is pretty good (and it was a loan from someone who’s already been there – thanks, Aliya!).

Rough Guides – I don’t find the website terribly useful, but the guidebook is great – well-written, clear, and helpful.  I’d recommend it over the LP guidebook.

Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum – As dullsville as it might seem to a casual reader, when you start asking questions you do get useful replies about half the time.  Ignore the umpteem posts asking ‘here’s my itinerary – is it feasible?’ (hint – it never is), and ask what you want to know.  I’ve had good answers about power converters, camel treks, when and where to bargain, how to get to Rabat from Mohammed V Airport, and had my mind eased about travelling solo. You’ve got to overlook the grouchy been-there, done-that types and occasional internety cattiness, but that’s any online forum.

If you’ve been to Morocco before and can make recommendations, or have any general travel advice, I’d love to hear it in the comments!

You can read more about my trip here: Solo in Morocco and My First Hammam, or try my recipe for Preserved Lemons!

One Comment

  • Meghan Morrison

    Hey Candace,

    I’m thoroughly jealous of your Morroccan adventure. My decision to backpack around Europe as a solo female traveller in 2003 was also an impulsive one. Though Europe and Africa are much different places, there was still a fear factor (especially for my father who wasn’t able to hear from me every day to make sure I was okay, haha) and there were some situations I had to get myself out of, but like you said, that can happen anywhere and has also happened to me here at home in Canada too.

    Travelling on my own was an unexpectedly therapeutic experience. I learned a lot about myself during that time and at the risk of sounding cheesy, my life has never been the same since… in good ways! That experience was one of the catalysts that opened my mind to what would become a flood songwriting (speaking of which, thank you for retweeting my news about the Songposium results). I hope your adventure has brought you similar inspiration in ways that are meaningful to you.


    Meghan Morrison