It was during the second year of my Adventure Tourism degree when I decided to travel to Morocco; inspired by fellow students being offered the chance of a Jebel Toubkal summit as part of their course, others going for the amazing surf, local produce and simply because Easyjet could get you to Africa for less than the cost of a Playstation game. As an advocator of travel, even I am surprised at how long it took me to get here (eight years!), but last October the timing was right and the flight was booked.
This time, I’m travelling with my partner Mayumi which is a first for me – in the past my backpacking adventures have begun alone,; it doesn’t take me long to find a travel companion or two however.
Incidentally, Mayumi’s comments last night on summarising our trip include “I kind of expected dead cows in the road, gangsters, malaria and widespread disease and for dogs to bite me. I’m actually really surprised they have bottled coke.” However, other, positive comments include “Far more modernised, happy there’s good toilets in most places and highlights include scarves, pottery (especially Safi designs), craft work, pomegranate and fresh orange juice.” I share these highlights too. I also loved the weather.
Anyway, Morocco. Thank you for three weeks of adventure perfection. This is how we did it.
Skyscanner found us a one-way flight into Agadir from Manchester. 15:30 take off and about £30 each including two carry-on bags. 9th October tied in nicely with the end of the tourist season in the Lake District.
We had a car arranged via Ryanair, but upon arriving at the desk and after a twenty minute conversation in a few different languages, it appeared that since 5e booking was in Mayumi’s name, she would be the only person allowed to drive the car, despite not having the correct license, nor having never driven a manual car in her life. We eventually decided that this car rental company were not worth bothering with and walked away. So we took a cab.
In one of the more enjoyable taxi rides of my life, we had a little tour of Agadir (slightly dangerous roads, sand, shipping containers, beautiful Arabic buildings), learnt some Arabic (Salam, Anna Isme Matthew), a little bit of French and lots about the area. We also concluded that it was probably a good idea for Mayumi not to re-learn how to drive in such conditions. Our man was of Berber origin, the native people to the area and dating back thousands of years – the Arabic influence is much more recent and the French even more so. In fact, Morocco has never been ruled by a foreign power, instead co-operating with would-be invaders (Spanish and French) and operating a shared agreement.
The English influence prominent nowadays is simply through media and tourism, but its rapidly becoming the second language of most of the popular tourism area and is sufficiently well spoken within the country. Only a small percentage of the country speak the Berber language, but almost all Moroccan’s are multi-lingual, including local language (often a version of Arabic) and ‘proper’ Arabic and French, both which are taught in school.
Our cabbie brought us to Tamraght, a surf spot 20 minutes north of Agadir, and to a hostel named both Sunset Surfhouse and Morocco Surf Hostel – luckily, they have both sunsets and surf, but annoying when somebody asks for your hostel name and you’re not sure what to say. The hostel was pleasant with (just about) a sea view from the terrace.
I can’t really recommend Tamraght as a place though, as there’s nothing there. There’s a beach and I’m sure the waves are good, but only if you like surfing next to a giant building site. The whole coastline is 4km of unfinished resorts and they have clearly been unfinished for a decade or so. Pretty depressing. Tamraght did offer us a nice walk to a rock jutting out into the sea, however, and there was a pizza restaurant with a nice stray cat. After 24 hours in Tamraght, we decided there was probably a better place to spend our time.
Taghazout is the main village of the area, only a few miles north of Tamraght. First impressions were alright, but the town was too steep for cars, so our cabbie dropped us off at the top of a little lane and pointed west and downhill. At the bottom of the hill, where it opened up into a cute village square, we heard a shout and a local guy with big curly hair waved us back up the hill. This was Hassan, our new host and our favourite Moroccan.
Surf Waves Morocco was our home for the longest amount of time on the trip. We turned up to spend on night to see Taghazout, but were so impressed we spent five nights here. The hostel is a short walk up a steel hill, quiet enough but super easy to find. There’s a beautifully decorated communal lounge surrounded by a few bedrooms, a shower and toilet – not particularly private, but extremely comfortable. We had the place to ourselves bar Hassan popping in to check on us, and we really did feel at home there.
The roof terrace offered views of the sea and some of the village too and became one of my favourite places ever to chill. Hassan taught us how to make Tagnie, the ultimate Moroccan family dish – wanna know how to make it? Buy a Tagine pot, put it on the hob, pile everything together neatly, leave it for an hour, eat.
Apparently I have a talent for putting food in a pile because it. was. delicious.
Taghazout itself was delightful. If you ignore the litter, stray dogs and hustlers, it’s an incredibly pleasant place to spend a week – the sunsets truly are world class, setting over the Atlantic with perfectly clear skies. There’s plenty of good food too; we found a bakery which pleased Mayumi greatly – 18 pence for a chocolate croissant is our kind of breakfast.
There a number of traditional and modern places to eat on the waterfront and the medina itself has some nice options. Surfing was cheap here – £9 for a wetsuit and a surfboard for a day isn’t bad, and £25 for a three hour group surf lesson seemed steep at the time, but well worth it.
Other attractions include a trip to Paradise Valley, a local beauty spot an hour away, with pools and waterfalls galore. We didn’t visit as the motorcycle rental business decided to not operate anymore, despite all the bikes being parked outside gathering dust. Pretty annoying. There is apparently a scooter place in Tamraght available, but we decided it was fate and to instead hit the beach. Tours are available to Paradise Valley for about £35 each, but you don’t need a tour, just a way of getting there.
After an epic week in Taghazout, we decided to head north and visit historic Essouaria – no problem, surely. Get a bus, they said. Sure, but the buses leave from Agadir and may – or may not – stop in Taghazout on the way. Really, it depends on if the driver can be bother to stop as to whether you’ll actually get on the bus to your destination. The only way to guarantee a seat is to head back to Agadir, thirty minutes south and take the bus from the Gare Routier there. Even this proved difficult as the bus which took us to Agadir dropped us off in the centre of the town which meant a taxi to the actual bus station. These are things Morocco needs to fix (and yes, they have a tourist board who should manage such things) before it can truly be a tourist hot-spot; it does make things more exciting, however.
Two hours later, £20 or 44 dirhams lighter, we pass right back through Taghazout and curse this stupid system. Morocco would like to increase tourism revenue in the country significantly over the next few years and, to the most part, deserves to. But needs to address simple, obvious, FREE things like this before it starts spending money on luxury hotels and £50k Mercedes minivans. They have some lovely, very expensive European coaches driving around the country, but then no accurate website or email address or BUS STOPS WITH TIMETABLES to help maximise revenue. Infuriating.
The bus to Essouaria was a low point. We were sat right at the back of the coach and a combination twisty mountain roads and a moron driving it led to an unhappy, slightly queasy Japanese girl and a cramped English me. The scenery was lovely, however, with desert stretching for miles giving a real glimpse of Morocco. I don’t think Morocco has a housing market; people just find a place they like, get a mule to carry in some breeze-blocks, and build a house. That’s what it looks like from the bus, anyway. Small communities of breeze-block shacks selling gas bottles and sandwiches and cigarettes and more, surrounded by yet more breeze-block huts, a breeze-block government building, a very pretty well-disguised-but-probably-still-breeze-block mosque and a breeze-block outlet store with ready-to-go mules.
After four of the longest hours of the year, we arrive at Essouaria and first impressions were, to be honest, grim. I think we took the ‘wrong’ road into town as it was dirty, clearly not touristy and didn’t feel totally safe. Busy, though, and if you wanted unhygienic fruit, few places are better. We made our way to and through the Souk, following iPhone maps and instinct to our accommodation, Atlantic Hostel. This was when things took a turn, however, for the better…More to follow in our next blog…