A Travellerspoint blog

Morocco and France

From camels to french manicures...

So I spent last week travelling around Morocco and then heading to Paris for some quality time with my sister (Sara) and friend (Karen). Instead of going into too many details, I'll recount some of the highlights, but I would recommend googling some of the places mentioned (and cultural groups) as there's just so much interesting history.
On Saturday, January 29th I arrived in Paris. One thing that stood out to me was how unsafe I felt on the metro coming from Turkey, where I feel a constant security bubble around me no matter where I am. I haven't experienced or heard of many incidents involving robbings, burgleries or assaults here, and I like it that way. Seeing Sara and Karen was amazing. I felt like I was at home, and it was definitely deserved.
Sunday Sara and I left for Morocco. Our three-hour flight was delayed for, yes, three hours. When we finally arrived we learned that the man who was supposed to pick us up had already left with other tourists, as they had mistaken the name of the hostel (Riad Marrakech Rouge and Hotel Marrakech Rouge or something of the sort). I asked Sara for her debit card so I could grab us some cash for another taxi. I went to the machine, and unfortunately was informed that there was a problem and that the card was retained in the machine. Extremely worried and exhausted we tried to figure out our next steps and were informed that we'd have to return to the airport the next day. We said tamam because there was no other choice and left. We took a cab and paid with the little Euro we had left. The cab dropped us off in a parking lot and told us we'd be taking a rickshaw from there. So, at about 9 pm, we're led through dark alleys with men standing by watching us carefully to our hostel, which had no sign whatsoever. After settling down and meeting our lovely room mates, we headed to the main plaza, which was spectacular. Full of people, lights and wild animals it was bustling long past 10 pm. We sat down for a cheap meal of couscous, chicken, bread and spices (3 euro). We then headed home to a freezing hostel to sleep the night away, which we hardly succeeded at.

Side note: it felt amazing being able to travel to a country as "different" to anything I'd seen before and understand everything, because of French. It just emphasizes the lack of Turkish at this point, after almost 6 months here still, and how I could be having even more adventures if I knew how to say the word.

The next day we spent hours going back and forth to and from the airport to recover Sara's card, which we finally did. However, in the process we had called my mother for help, who had then blocked her Visa card instead! As it happens my Canadian debit card didn't work either, so the entire trip we had to rely on my Turkish debit card for funds, which was a challenge in itself as I didn't know how to check my balance. Anyway, some of the highlights of Marrakech itself were les jardins, La mosquée Koutoubia (which was built in the 12th century) and les souks (an incredibly large market). We had a lot of random encounters with very kind people there, and I think it helped infinitely that we both spoke French. For example, we ended up taking public transit (bus 19) to the airport from the city center as it was about 14 euro cheaper that way, and in the process we befriended the head organizer/manager of the buses. We also discovered a tomb near to the city center, where a woman was very eager to explain to us the history of the King of Morocco and his entire lineage. Of course, as we discovered, everything comes at a cost, and after her final words she smiled and thrust her hand forward. It came to pass frequently on this trip that I felt myself frustrated with people for their inability to just interact without demanding compensation.


Some of our other interesting encounters in Marrakech included:

  • A man asking me to buy a picture frame, me telling him no and walking away, him then walking up to Sara asking her the same (her response being equal), and then freaking out and screaming at her, "footking bitch"... He then proceeded to hit her hard with the massive wooden picture frame he was trying to persuade her to purchase
  • A woman asking me for money, me telling her no (as we genuinely didn't have), her walking away and up to Sara with the same demand, Sara replying equally, and the woman then molesting her... Seriously, this woman wouldn't stop rubbing Sara's arms and back up and down.
  • Sara and I sitting down for tea in a spice shop; while she chatted with the Arab employee, I chatted with the Berber employee. He ended up telling me all about the main ethnic groups of Morocco and some of the history of the Berber people, who had their own form of spirituality up until the point where they became Christians, Jews and then ultimately Muslims. At present, he told me they're all Muslim. Apparently there are 4 dialects of Berber languages in Morocco, and the writing is completely different to Arabic and French. He also informed us that in Arabic Zahara (Sara's name) meant flower, which was appropriate as she wouldn't take off a massive knit white headband with a flower that protruded proudly from the top. The guy Sara was chatting with ended up taking us to a market nearby and trying to get her to buy everything there, and then becoming flustered when she opted to purchase nothing.
  • Sitting on the roof of our hostel watching "Sex and the City 2" with a young Moroccan guy, who kept pointing out each scene that was filmed in Marrakech - including the airport!
  • Me opting for a cheaper French manicure than in Paris (where it was 50 euro), so finding a salon where they charged 17 euro and agreeing to the process. The lady forgot to cut my nails to the same length. We did, however, spend 2.5 hours there as we got a little too comfortable sipping mint tea on the rooftop terrace (resulting in burnt faces).
  • Sara bargaining with a man over a satchel for about half an hour, while I walked across the street to stand with the Moroccan men watching pedestrian passersby. The result was a discussion about Turkish football.
  • Being dirtier than I have been in years, since showers were not as warm as I'd like and hostels had no heat. We chose not to change our clothes for a few days, and due to the lack of soap anywhere I also didn't do any face washing. Lovely.
  • Seeing a traffic jam, which consisted of a donkey, rickshaw, horse, truck, motorcycles and a van, in a tiny alley!


Sara and I also headed down to Ourzazete, the Valley of Draa and Zagora (the desert-ish). The trip was gorgeous. It took about 7 hours in a packed van, but Sara and I had the front seat so that wasn't an issue. The first driver didn't speak such great French so ended up telling me entirely incorrect information about the two day trip, which led Sara and I into a brief panic about our lack of money. Fortunately the second driver was fluent and corrected the other man's erroneous claims. We drove through the Atlas mountains, seeing vendors dotted all over trying to sell rocks, or even dolls - whatever possible. We passed by many tiny towns too. We saw nomads, who apparently still exist. They rent vans, pack up their stuff, head to new destinations and then set up camps. They predominantly eat the meat of the land, and go to markets to barter when necessary (according to our driver). I've also never seen so many shepherds in my life. I truly wonder how these towns manage to survive. What I found particularly interesting was talking to our driver about the situation in Egypt and him telling us that this would never pass in Morocco due to the King. He said that although some people aren't pleased with the King's actions at all times, they don't have a choice; whereas the concept of having a president necessitates the choice to decide who he is - this is not the case when he stays in power for 30 years. In addition, he told us that they have free health care when they can't afford it in Morocco, and that the Queen is active in different social causes, which makes people respect them greatly.


To get to the place where we camped out in the desert, we had to ride camels for over an hour, which was an incredibly painful but rewarding experience. I kept thinking that complaining was worthless, as I would've endured ten times that amount of pain to be able to watch the sun set over the dunes - it was too overwhelmingly beautiful and quiet to waste time thinking negative thoughts. It really helps being in vast empty stretches of land in silence, I think. Our groups had split, with me going off with only 4 other people and for the most part we decided to just appreciate and not speak. One of the greatest things is when you stop thinking a million thoughts and just experience what's surrounding you. The sun was already setting when we took off, and by the time we got there it was pitch black - exaggerated by the lack of electricity at the site. There was no running water, and we had to use candles for light. Sara and I shared a tent with a frisky Italian couple, which worried us greatly; however, nothing came of it in the end. We ate a delicious dinner of tajine (Moroccan stew-like specialty), watched a show and then Sara and I decided to wander off amid the dunes with a couple of the Berber guides. They ended up telling us how little desire they had to ever leave this place. They hadn't even been to Marrakech - the big city didn't beckon. One of them had a penchant for jokes and wouldn't stop delivering punchline after punchline and promising me camels for guessing the answers to his riddles too. I actually did correctly guess the answer to one riddle, which happened to be the most gruesome (what does that say about me? I don't care to know). Some of his jokes also weren't very funny at all, but in fact quite morbid.
Here's how it goes:

  • How do you get a camel in the fridge?

1. Kill it. 2. Chop it up into pieces. 3. Stick it in the fridge.

The men were full of philosophical phrases, and enjoyed sharing them with us. They liked catchphrases too, and playing with words in general. Sara and I both took a liking to two in particular: "La chanse qui danse" and "Rire avant de mourir".
While sleeping in the freezing tent, there was a thunderstorm - spectacular. The next morning I woke up to Sara rolling around frantically and whispering to me that she immediately needed to head to the toilet and wanted accompaniment. We opened the tent door to see a wild dog keeping guard outside, we snuck past him and went to the toilet. We then tried to go back to sleep, but failed. Instead we listened to one of the Berber guides serenading the sand with a rendition of Champs Elysees. The most important lesson learned: if I want to go to Timbuktu from an important desert town, it'll only take me 52 days by camel. Doable.


When we headed back to France we suffered the pains of cheap lunches (less than 1 euro!), and lack of soap. Sara came down with a horrible case of food poisoning. Fortunately, we arrived at Karen's just in time for the worst of it, so she was able to sleep on Karen's bed and man her toilet like a dedicated soldier at post. In the meantime Karen was at school, and I had to run to an ATM to withdraw hundreds of euros which were now owed to me. Sara's card didn't work again, and I hadn't brought mine. In the process though I discovered some beautiful Parisian hideouts, and parks. There are also quaint little cafes at every corner almost. When I tried to get back into Karen's residence, the woman at the entrance decided that she didn't want to let me in, which involved a long process of me complaining and explaining and her finally calling Karen's room, mistaking Sara for Karen and letting me in. As it happens Sara had given me the wrong PIN number both times.

Highlights of Paris:

  • Seeing the Eiffel tower with a fresh Moroccan orange in hand
  • Contemplating running across the street to get to the Arc de Triomphe before realizing we could just go underground
  • Seeing Scottish men in quilts everywhere as there was an important match between Scotland and France (which France won!)
  • Feeling overwhelmed by vendors at Sacre Coeur, but shortly thereafter finding Moulin Rouge!
  • Exploring the Latin quarter and Notre Dame with Karen and Sara, after eating a delicious three course meal including French onion soup!
  • Surviving off of pastries, bread and chocolate... then heading to the supermarket to buy cereal for Karen and finding ovaltine and tofu (irresistible)
  • Going out dancing our last night there, and listening to "Barbara Streisand", which apparently is like the most popular song in Europe right now?
  • Finally, on our last morning there we headed out early to the Louvre and spoke with the right official who directed us to a second entrance that no one knew about and resulted in us skipping a line of over an hour, and getting in straight away. We also didn't have to pay any entrance fee, which was incredible. Seeing the Mona Lisa was fine, but one of the highlights was probably when Sara obnoxiously tried to comment on art to a random male tourist who she mistook for me. There was also an exhibition about Death in art in some way, which I found really interesting.


So, I suppose this was my trip in a not-so-short nutshell :) I mildly dreaded come back to Ankara, but in the past week since my return I've realized that here you make of it what you will. I signed up for some classes, and when there's no smog I'm reminded that I'm surrounded by mountains. Also, last week we went to an art exhibit, I'm going to another one tomorrow and a jazz concert this afternoon - there's culture everywhere, it's just a matter of seeking it out, whereas in Paris it screamed out at us from every brick...

Posted by madrugada 00:19 Archived in Morocco Tagged france morocco

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