AFRICA / MOROCCO

Morocco is home to beautiful nature, exotic ancient cities and some and the world’s best food. If you haven’t been there yet maybe this little list of amazing things to do in Morocco will convince you to plan that trip!

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Medinas of Fez, Morocco

One of the first things I see as I walk down the main street of the old medina here in the Moroccan city of Fez is this feathery fellow.  Quite an introduction! Moments later, he’s getting his head chopped off….The other birds in the shop seem not to have noticed the death of their friend, or perhaps they just don’t understand. There’s no fuss from them even though their lives can surely be counted only in minutes.

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It feels rough and raw – but I guess that’s because I’m comparing the Fez medina to the cities where I grew up. Outside the walls of this old part of town, things are a bit more relatable. But when you’re inside them – in the crooked alleyways with just glimpses of sunlight, smoke billowing up from stoves, the glow of lamps reaching out from stalls – you lose perspective of time.

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Not just the amount of time you have been wandering through the enormous labyrinth – and it’s certainly easy to lose track of that. But also the medina’s position in the timeline of Morocco’s culture. It may be 2017 as I wander through the souks and residential areas but, in many ways, it could be any century from the past millennium.

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The Medina of Fez was founded in the 9th century at around the same time that Islam arrived in Morocco and the imperial rule that would create this country.  It grew in the 12th and 13th centuries to about the size that it is today.

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Fez was the capital of Morocco until 1912 and, although political power may have moved to Rabat, this still feels like the cultural and spiritual centre of the country. It has an energy that is inescapable that comes as much from the buildings as it does the people.

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I wonder how different the behaviour is here these days compared to hundreds of years ago. I suspect not too much. It’s one of the reasons I find it so hard to place the medina of Fez in a particular place in time. The donkeys that walk up the steps carrying goods to shops have probably always done that; the men sitting and smoking on wooden stools in front of their carpet shops would never have look out of place; the markets full of fruits and vegetables on the outer edge of the city wall has probably always been just as busy.

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The Moroccan Hybrid

In one small square, men sit on stools outside banging copper into place as they make pots in front of the crowds rushing past.

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I peek through a wooden door that I’m passing and see workers with large looms creating beautiful scarves and rugs.

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Loom weaver operating a horizontal wooden hand loom in a cloth shop in Fez, Morocco

Follow the right little alleyways and you’ll come across the infamous tanneries where the animal skins are treated in the open air and plain view.  The smell is horrible so when someone offers you a mint leaf to shove up your nose, take it!

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This is Chouara, an 11th-century tannery that still operates as it did a thousand years ago.  Tannery workers plunge the skins into the colored wells, leaving them there for a few more days to absorb each hue. The dyes all come from natural substances, such as indigo, henna, saffron, poppies, and pomegranates.

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This is where the process begins. The raw skins are being soaked in a mixture of cow urine, pigeon feces (yup, shit) quicklime, salt and water.  This loosens the hair from the hides and makes them softer.
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Cow, sheep, goat and camel hides are brought here to be preserved, dyed and turned into handbags, jackets and wallets.
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We were shown around by Mohammad, a guide arranged through the owner of our Riad.

On to Casablanca, Morocco

The number one attraction in Casablanca is the Hassan II Mosque.

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Completed in 1993, the 210 meters (689 feet) mosque rises above the Atlantic Ocean which you can also see through the glass floor inside the magnificent building. It welcomes 105,000 worshippers for prayers at once. The walls are made from hand-crafted marbles with the minaret at 60 stories in height.

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Shop ’til you drop at Marche Central

As Casablanca’s main market, you can find everything at Marche Central: rare spices, olives for days, colorful decor and gorgeous fabrics. This is the perfect place for you to show off mad bargaining skills and bring home loads of souvenir for loved ones.

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Morocco is the fifth largest producer and exporter of Olive oil worldwide.  It is also among the top three countries with the lowest cost to produce.

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Grab lunch at Rick’s Cafe

An ex-American diplomat in Morocco, Kathy Kriger, established Rick’s Cafe back in 2004 for travelers who yearn to relive the beloved Hollywood film: Casablanca. The restaurant/bar/cafe is inside a traditional Moroccan mansion with an interior mainly displaying photographs, and memorabilia from the film. Every decor placement inside the establishment is a tribute to the film.

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Although we know that Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman weren’t actually in Casablanca during filming (the movie was completely shot in Burbank, California,) there’s no harm in bringing out the tourist in all of us once in awhile and soak in the greatest love story ever told.

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Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech is one of the most evocative places in the world. Just the name is sexy!

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Probably one of my favorite shot from Marrakech.

I don’t like to be bored, and neither does Marrakech.  Of all the things to do in Marrakech, I recommend the infamous market place. The souqs of Marrakech are vibrant color and noise.  Crowds of people weave through the alleys of the medina and its hundreds of stalls displaying brightly colored wares. If this is your first visit to Morocco, you’ll no doubt want to experience the souqs at least once. They’re not for everyone though, the hustle is real and can make it stressful or annoying since you’ll receive plenty of attention from stallholders competing for your money. If you’ve never been to a souq before be prepared to negotiate with everyone selling something.

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The chicken reaper of Marrakech
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Its not as easy as I thought it would be. Much respect to these beautiful women.
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The women who embroider all day do not use templates.  Its all free hand.

Marrakesh is a modern mix of Moroccan and international culture with the most diversity of delicious international food and beautiful architecture in the medina.  The chaotic pace exposed a city and people always on the go. The famous Jemaa el-Fnaa square is truly the mess everyone describes: tens of thousands of people at night eating, shopping, getting henna tattoos, listening to bands and storytellers, and watching magicians (and snake charmers during the day). It’s one of the most hectic but fascinating people-watching places in the country. It still blows my mind how big and full it was!

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Bread on bread.  Even their bread has bread.

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Pastilla at the Argana Cafe, Marrakech

Ride a Camel

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Meet Victoria

Camel trekking may not be the most comfortable means of travelling for some, but it is undoubtedly a ‘must’ for every traveller as a way to experience the mode of transport of the Berber nomads of the Sahara.

Imlil, Morocco

The Ourika Valley is a short drive from Marrakech in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains.

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The making of Argan Oil

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High Atlas Mountains

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The Atlas Mountains are an easy one-hour drive from Marrakech, offering secluded tranquility and breathtaking natural surroundings.  A mile hike up the mountains and you’ll get to experience the beautiful waterfalls.

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Half way up the mountain you can stop and enjoy a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice.

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Well folks, I hope you’ve enjoyed this post on Morocco.  Thanks for following me on all my adventures.

 

All photos used for this blog post are mine and are not to be used without my permission.

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