Morocco: Making Local Connections

Morocco

Situated in the Northern part of Africa, the Kingdom of Morocco is a country best known for distinct architectural patterns vividly presented in the daily lives of its people. Having spent 3 weeks in Morocco, let me share some of our colorful discoveries and hidden gems distinctly Moroccan. 

The night me and my officemates were handed with plane tickets scheduled to fly to Morocco the following morning, our world went topsy turvy! 

No sleep. No Prep. No worries. Morocco, we are coming for you! 

#biglaanglakad

Onboard Emirates Airbus 380, world's largest passenger airliner

From Abu Dhabi, we drove in the wee hours to Dubai International Airport for our Dubai to Casablanca flight. Tired and sleepy, we managed to hastily pack and pull our things from our flats to cabins. It’s going to be a 9-hour flight and the surprised extra legroom our kabayan has provided during check in was such a welcome treat. 

palm island – Farewell Dubai

We arrived in Casablanca at around 2pm. The Immigration line was filled with groups of Chinese tourists – no Filipinos sighted. Casablanca is Morocco’s largest city. The city is made famous because of the old Hollywood movie entitled, well, “Casablanca”. 

Welcomed by our 6ft tall Moroccan driver Omar, our group traveled 4 hours to reach our main destination, the city of Tangier. The quaint city of Tangier is located in the northernmost part of Morocco. It is where the famous Muslim world traveler Ibn Battuta came from. 

Typical Houses in Tangier, Morocco

Tangier City Buildings

Morning scene: Fisher Folks in Tangier Beach

His quote is one that holds close to my heart, “Traveling—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” 

You see, we were requested to come to Morocco to support our boss’s event for a travel and cultural festival in honor the city’s very own medieval world traveler, Ibn Battuta. 


There, we met local and international volunteers who believed in the vision of the project and its potential. Students and young professionals became our dear friends and family. These are the new generation of Moroccans – kind, jolly, highly spirited, passionate and hardworking.

with fellow volunteers

some best moments with these great people

Mr. Faouzi aka "Albert Einstein" holding a tray of pastries

Mr. Faouzi may not speak English, but he always greets us with a smile served with a warm cup of expresso or tea. Merci Mr. Fauzi, your presence has preserved our sanity during craziest hours. 



Touring Tangier

Tangier holds one of Mediterranean’s largest port 

Our tour of Tangier (sometimes spelled Tanger) is limited to streets and Kasbah, their version of local market. We took an uphill drive and saw an overview of Tangier port. 

Did you know that through the port of Tangier, you may visit Spain which is less than an hour ride by ferry? If only we have processed our Schengen visas back in Abu Dhabi and have more spare time, we would love, LOVE to visit Spain! Philippines has been colonized by Spain for more than 300 years that we, Filipinos are highly influenced by Hispanic culture. So kabayan, if ever you plan on traveling to Tangier, Morocco, consider applying a Schengen visa to Spain!

view of Spain


Morocco and Spain in one shot!


I also found one interesting fact about Spain and Morocco. There is a place called Ceuta that is geographically sitting next to Tangier but is technically a territory of Spain. Take a look at this map…


So if you want to go to Spain but do not like boat rides, it’s still possible. And yes, you still need visa to cross the border. Morocco ferries are also connected with Gibraltar, Italy & France with crossings available to Tarifa, Algeciras, Motril & Barcelona (in Spain), Gibraltar (in Gibraltar), Genoa & Savona (in Italy) & Sete (in France).

Our guide-slash-driver Omar took us to a shop filled with interesting Moroccan items – mirrors, little trinkets, lamps, paintings and other great finds.

Leather Shopping!


Morocco is a country known for authentic leather goods. Good quality leather products ranging from jackets to handbags to shoes to belts are cheap. We hop from one shop to the next together with our co-employees Ali and Imran from Pakistan who we discovered to be so so good at haggling!!!! They uttered, just choose whatever you like and we’ll take care of the bargaining. Lo and behold, we were able to secure some really good, affordable souvenirs. Thanks guys!

Our group with Omar and the kind shop owner

I can’t tell you how many “Ni hao” greetings we received along the streets, a strong evidence of the Chinese’s presence in Morocco. I don’t think we look like Chinese, but because we are Asians, they might have assumed it the same thing, lol! Our Moroccan friends find our language, Tagalog, quite amusing and hard. They have no other way to really tell what we are talking about.

On the other hand, I like the fact that they speak French. Because we are in Morocco, we can freely say “Bonjour – Bonsoir – Merci,” We have as well overused the Google Translate App during the event. However, we were glad that almost everyone in the volunteer group can speak good English that it became much easier to collaborate and work together. But outside our headquarters, it’s a different story.

Unlike in the Philippines where even a poor street vendor can communicate basic English, in Morocco, you better be good with charades. Moroccans speak French, Arabic and Spanish. But don’t worry, if they don’t understand what you’re saying, they will reply back with a courteous smile. So what we do? Google the photo of the place or item we want to ask.

But wait, I remember. Many aggressive street beggars in Morocco can utter a few English words like, “money and I’m hungry.”

beggar following my friend


Beggars. Pushy, pesky and physically-capable-to-work kind of beggars. Man, they are many and scary. And we had a lot of experiences with them in the side streets who are mostly active during the night. The worst one was when I found out my gopro was stolen from my backpack!!!! That was painful. All the photos and videos taken during our first 2 weeks – GONE WITH THE WIND!

GoPro – Gone too soon

GOOD BYE GOPRO! BON VOYAGE!

Interesting videos lost: Welcoming flight crew of our Emirates A380 flight; our fun taxi rides, “Bonjour,” then instruct driver with help from Waze, a navigation app; Lost in the streets moment. We have asked a young lady who can’t speak English. "Hi, we want to go to this place," show building photo. I don't know how we understood her but turns out she’s going to the same place! Hello Khadija! If ever you stumble on this blog, Merci! For the kindness you have shown. You’re one of the good souls we met in Morocco.

us with Khadija

Maya and I have planned to create a Morocco travel video. But a good chunk of candid videos were lost. Videos of our Kasbah tour, walking along the streets of Tangier with fellow volunteers from office to restaurant for free lunch and dinner, our crazy car rides, etc.

No matter how difficult it is to move on from my stolen gopro, I don’t want this Morocco trip to get spoilt. So I tried to brush off all the negativities and put a positive game face on. We still have a festival to launch! Good thing I still have my ever reliable Canon and iPhone.


Chefchaouen Tour


One of Morocco's famous tourist attraction is the city of Chefchaouen, noted for its blue shade buildings. It's also just about 2 hour drive from Tangier. So right after the festival ended, our group decided to check out the blue city.

But first, we made a side trip to Hercules Cave



It was a very chilly morning when we left the hotel. Hercules Cave is Tangier's most popular tourist spot, believed to be the resting place of the Greek giant.

We went down near the shoreline where we saw men with long fisher rods. The waves were splashing crazy and the sky was gloomy, but it was a lovely morning nonetheless. We love it!

There we are standing in front of the vast ocean of the Atlantic.



mouth of the cave opening up to the Atlantic

From Hercules Cave, we headed to the winding mountain roads for Chefchaouen.

road to Chefchaouen


Navigating the city was fairly easy because of Waze. However, because we are pressed for time, we simply asked a nearby tourist information center and decided to just hire a cab. We were told we can get a good commanding view of the city from a mosque nestled on top of a hill.

picturesque view of the blue city

We were not able to reach the top as we're pressed for time but we were still able to get that "blue city shot." Of course, we're not contented to just see the city from afar, so took a short walk and went inside its alleys.

The search for Instagram worth powder-blue shot begins...

We explored every alleys, met teens wanting to converse in English so they can practice the language, started a chat with a boy selling stuff asking if we are from Manila, talked to locals, bargained with shop keepers and harassed by kids... A girl saw me taking a photo of wall painting that was apparently part of their house and she kept following us for payment. We hesitated to pay and threatened us to call police if we don't pay. Geez, little girls these days...

Beware of this wall painting

We left that site but not until I was able to get this beautiful shot.

powdered blue walls

Store filled with authentic leather bags

From the trip, we learned that this blue city is transitioning to becoming green. Go discover the city's sustainable eco-efforts.

A Minute in Casablanca



Before we returned back to Abu Dhabi, we made a decision to go visit Marrakech. We left Tangier past 7am and reached Tangier before 12nn. We made a quick stopover at Morocco's largest mosque, the Hassan II Mosque.

Hassan II Mosque




The Red City of Marrakech



From Casablanca, we traveled for another 4 hours to the red city of Marrakech.


The color that blankets the whole city

At the Sky Bar of Renaissance Hotel

view of Marrakech city from rooftop


Moroccan sweets

Jemaa el-Fnaa at night

Moroccan lamps

Where to Stay in Morocco? 
Riad Challa

Our hosts during our stay in Morocco booked us in two hotels when we were in Tangier - Kenzi Solazur and El Oumnia Puerto. When were in Marrakesh, we decided to book a riad near the city plaza - and found Riad Challa

Kenzi Solazur Hotel Facade
We were given a duplex room fit for 3 with 1 large double bed and a sofa bed. We love the location of Kenzi Solazur, a 4 star hotel that sits in front of Tangier beach, overlooking the strait of Gibraltar. One day, I woke up early, grabbed my camera and headed out to the beach to gaze at the city's morning scenes. At night, we just walk from the office and pass by Corniche.

Kenzi Solazur Interior: Pool, Duplex Room and Lobby

We needed to transfer a few days before the festival started. So our second hotel stay was in El Oumnia Puerto which is more intimate and has a more Moroccan feel than our previous accommodation. We love restaurant because of easy access to the pool area. We always have our free breakfast al fresco. Check out more photos of El Oumnia Puerto.

But if you want a taste of an authentic Moroccan experience, stay in a riad. Simply put, the term means a huge traditional Moroccan house with a courtyard inside that has been converted into a hotel. And after the festival ended, we researched on a cheap but good riad in Marrakesh. Riad Challa is a  good option.

Riad Challa is just a few meter walk from Djemaa El Fna. We just had some minor trouble trying to look for it because it was already late at night when we arrived. Imagine passing by rows of market stalls in narrow streets. After the go pro experience, passing by these dark alleys was kind of a piece of adventure. It's great for travelers that are interested in street markets though. Check out the hotel's striking interior.

Riad Challa interior

colorful Moroccan trinkets great for souvenirs


In between the vast deserted landscape of Africa, Morocco's beauty stands out. From the intricate building exteriors, distinct art styles, to its fresh breezy weather, it's a country with a melting pot of cultures and traditions brought to life by its fun loving and welcoming people. Young Moroccan bloods that we have shared wonderful memories with and connected by the spirit of volunteerism.

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