I’m almost a little reluctant to write this one. I left full of bluster that I could travel all over Morocco AND continue to keep the Snoqualmie Valley informed.
Time Zones? Pshaw, I can deal with that. Lack of Wi-Fi or 5G? I laugh in the face of such obstacles. Too much to see and too little time to do it? I scoff at thinking I would abandon my Valley peeps to see interesting things. Nine-hour rides in small cars across the desert with your luggage crammed behind you? No problem. Food poisoning? Um, ok, this is getting a tiny bit difficult.
So first, let me apologize for not being around for all the crazy weather. I feel bad about that. But second, let me tell you about my epic six-city trip in Morocco!
My last big trip was in 2017, a 20-day pet-sitting gig in Paris. Sure, I visited my friend in California and did little getaways with my husband, but I hadn’t done a full-on, several stops, needs to be carefully planned, trip in 7 years!
The first big stumbling block was the dog, the plants, and the mail. My friend Cindi took a load off my mind quickly, agreeing to watch my dog Bee, and my neighbor Donna and her husband would take care of the plants and mail.
Now, to find a flight. While I have friends who are travel agents, I was trying to do this as cheaply as possible (Ha!) So, how does one get to Morocco? Can you get a direct flight? In the end, I used two sources as my main mode of searching for flights: Rome to Rio and Google Flights.
At first, we were trying to go before the end of 2023 in November or December. Mark had some vacation time to use, and I noticed that the weather was cool, perfect for a couple of Pacific Northwesterners. Unfortunately, we wanted to fly Business Class on such a LONG flight, 18 + hours, and those flights at that time were upwards of 20,000 dollars. Not doable.
So, vacation time aside, we decided to push our trip out until January, the off-season for Morocco and found a Delta/Air France flight combo that was less than half of the flights I saw for the end of 2023. We would fly in and out of Casablanca from SeaTac with the marvelous help of Aaron with iRide Shuttle.
So now what? Where would we go in this African country that is roughly the size of California? My husband wanted to go to Tangier and see the Sahara, and I was interested in the ancient walled parts of the cities called Medinas with their narrow maze-like alleyways filled with shopping. And, I thought, I want to ride a camel, more on that later.
Guidebook in hand, YouTube constantly playing in the background, and after attending an online Rick Steves talk, I planned our route. We would fly into Casablanca, go to Marrakech, Merzouga, Fes, Chefchaouen, Tangier, and then back to Casablanca, and we had 15 days to do it.
Catastrophizing and Overthinking
Yup, that’s my method of travel planning. The first was set off by tourists being killed by Algeria for water scootering into Algerian maritime territory, a terrible earthquake, though far away, the Israel/Hamas war, and the possibility of a pesky volcano in Iceland wreaking havoc on our air travel. I got travel insurance and registered our trip with the State Department for the first time. It seemed wise, given all the things happening in the world at the time.
Now, I had to figure out how we’d get to all the places we planned to go, where we’d stay once there and what we’d see while we were there. This is where my overthinking goes berserk, and I drive everyone nuts speaking aloud the noise that’s going on in my head.
There was much conflicting information about how to travel in Morocco. “Do travel by bus.” “Don’t travel by bus. It’s unreliable and long.” “Do rent a car. It’s easy to drive in Morocco.” “Don’t rent a car. The signs aren’t in English, and the streets aren’t well-lit.” “Do take taxis.” “Don’t take the WRONG taxi.”
In the end, we took a train from Casablanca to Marrakech. Our desert camp sent a driver to pick us up at our hotel in Marrakech to drive NINE hours to the desert and another seven to Fes when we were done. Our hotel in Chefchaouen arranged to pick us up in Fes and drive us on to Tangier. Our final leg was from Tangier aboard a high-speed train along the coast back to Casablanca.
After much back and forth, I found a combination of Western-style hotels, Berber-style tents, and riads. The riad is one of two main types of traditional Moroccan houses, often with two or more stories around an interior symmetrical garden centered around a fountain. In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in using traditional Moroccan houses as part of the country’s tourism industry. In this context, the term riad has become common to denote traditional Moroccan houses in general, particularly those converted into tourist accommodation. I found all the points of interest in each city and mapped them all from our hotels, tweaking a few accommodations along the way.
My go-to hotel guide has always been Frommer’s. I’m not convinced such sites as Hotels.com, Trip Advisor, or Expedia are all on the level of having real reviews from real people. Frommer’s and Rick Steves are not travel agents who book flights; they are travel experts who have people who go to destinations and write real reviews.
Figuring out Fact from Fiction
My last challenge was trying to figure out if what I was reading on the internet was fact or fiction. Morocco is 99% Muslim; will I have to cover my head? What clothing is appropriate? Is it safe? Can I drink the water and eat the food? What happens during the call to prayer? How do I behave? Is theft a problem? Harassment? Can I bring prescription drugs into the country? What language do they speak? Will they speak English? What the heck is a squat toilet?
Side note: don’t bother trying to contact the Moroccan Embassy in the US for anything; they don’t respond.
Fortunately, in mid-November, Rick Steves had a Tuesday Travel webinar on Morocco where I ‘met’ Lucas Peters, the author of Moon Morocco: Local Insight, Strategic Itineraries, Desert Excursions Moon Middle East & Africa Travel Guide and former PNWesterner, who helped me answer some questions I had been struggling to find answers to. All I had to do now was get through the holidays, overpack (groan), try and learn a little rudimentary French and wait to leave shortly after the New Year began!