Know Before You Go: MoroccoWatch
I went to Morocco in the summer of my second year here at Exeter. The trip was advertised by the university and, joined by three friends, I spent three weeks travelling across this small country in the north of Africa. We travelled on a bright green bus with 21 complete strangers, two of whom were our extremely experienced and knowledgeable tour guides. We made our way from the famous markets of Marrakech, to the enchanting Waterfalls of Ouzoud and then down to the unforgiving Sahara desert itself. We ended our incredible journey in “Paradise” and the nearby beaches.
Within hours of sweating it out on the bright green bus, the strangers quickly turned into our travelling companions and, after three weeks of cooking together around camp fires and riding camels out into the desert at midnight, we became a tight knit group of explorers.
Previous to our trip we had all been made to provide proof of comprehensive travel insurance and whilst luckily for us it was incident free, it is always good to be aware of potential risks when travelling to a foreign country. In general Morocco has a low threat of terrorism and, although there was a terrorist attack in April 2011 where 17 people were killed, it is undoubtedly still a very popular tourist destination.
The haggling culture can be intimidating for lots of people and when we found ourselves in the medinas we were often greeted with shouts of“Lovely jubbly!”, “Fish ‘n’ chips!” and “Lady Gaga!”which although amusing, became quite annoying, especially when we were constantly harassed and followed.
Despite this I found the experience quite exciting and embraced this aspect of the culture, but it’s about finding your own line of when it becomes too uncomfortable and making sure you stay within those limits. Keep your money safely in a money belt under your clothes, or if you have a bag make sure you keep it in your sight at all times.Be polite but assertive when bartering for your purchase, and make sure the item you pay for is the exact item you are handed as sometimes merchants will swap it for an item of a lower quality.
We travelled a great distance across Morocco on our bus, making overnight stops in places like the Atlas Mountains and the “Monkey Forest” – where we slept with one eye open to protect our breakfast supplies from the Barbary apes. There were also the longer,and slightly less glamorous stops, where we often spent a few nights in our sleeping bags on the roofs of hotels and riads. Although the stats are high (in 2011 road accidents claimed the lives of 4,222 people, with 12,482 seriously injured and 89,529 sustaining minor injuries) we had no problems at all with road safety.
Morocco is an Islamic country and as such, you should make sure to act and dress according to local traditions and customs in order to avoid offending any locals. During our trip the temperature sometimes hit more than 50 degrees celsius so it was very tempting to wear as little clothing as possible, but when we were out in public places we tried to dress modestly and this is something to be remembered.
One of the key cultural differences we noticed was the lack of alcohol available. It is forbidden in Muslim law to consume alcohol, and although in Morocco you can find it in large hypermarkets and the really touristic areas,it was very scarcely available to order in restaurants, particularly in the smaller towns that we were visiting. Furthermore, we went during the holy month of Ramadan and so we had to keep in mind that eating and drinking in public places between sunrise and sunset was considered rather disrespectful.
That said, none of the cultural differences detract from the experience, it’s obvious I’d fully recommend the trip. What’s important to remember is that every country is different and these differences can change throughout the year. It’s always best to be prepared for what every our travels may throw at you.