Our Moroccan experience.In the beginning.

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This image best sums up at least part of the experiences that we had in Morocco. In this post, I look at the beginning of the trip as well as share some thoughts in what will be the first of several posts about the country, the cities and the desert. "Play is Sam"? Perhaps, but that myth was also debunked during a visit to Rick's Cafe in Casablanca. These are Gnawa who are originally from Sub-Saharan Africa, The Gnawa are ritual musicians who were brought to Morocco mostly as slaves in the 15th and 16th centuries from the Songhay region of West Africa and who heal those inflicted with possession through music that induces trance.

 

 

 

And off we go. After months of waiting, the day had finally arrived.

We seemed to be the only ones wearing masks, either in the terminal building or certainly on the plane. Did they help? We will find out in due course.

 

 

 

I have no pictures of the onboard crew on the outgoing leg, but I was ‘forced’ into taking this by a Canadian crew member on our return to South Africa.

Given the fact that our return flight was at 02h00, the crew was a lot of fun to interact with. Quite different from the Egypt Aircrew that I had to deal with last year.

This cabin attendant kept getting in the way of her colleagues while we were boarding and she commented to them that I had noticed. My retort was “You only had one job, and you are doing it exceedingly well”. It became an in joke for a while and as I did not see her when we left the plane, I thought that we would not cross paths again. How wrong I was as she ‘crashed’ a photo session that my wife and I were having with one of the tour members who was transiting through the airport and his Turkish Air flight via Istanbul and our from Dubai got in at almost the same time.

 

 

 

This was to be the first of several trips that the group would take to see us complete a round trip of about 2200 km.

There seems to be an issue with transfer drivers at airports (especially those who do not speak English) as we could not find our driver and as we did not have local SIM cards we could not contact him. Eventually, he was located albeit his signboard had a different name on it and it was off on a 45-minute drive to our hotel in Casablanca.

 

 

 

It looks similar to a bridge we have in Johannesburg as well as one that I crossed several times while in Cairo. I wonder if the designer gave the cities a discount for taking 3?

Casablanca is considered the economic and business centre of Morocco, although the national political capital is Rabat.

 

 

 

Before you all go “Play it again Sam” know that that is one of the most misquoted film lines of all time!

The correct line of dialogue that Bergman said was ‘Play it once, Sam. For old times’ sake’, though, when Sam pretended not to know what she was talking about, Miss Ilsa did go on to say: “Play it, Sam! Play “As Time Goes By”.

I was also to discover that NONE of the film Casablanca was filmed there. It was all filmed in Hollywood, except for the final airport scene that was shot at Van Nuys airport.

It seems that back in 1943 location shoots were unaffordable! The reality is Casablanca at that time and Casablanca’s portrayal in the film was merely a Hollywood construct and has very little to do with history or reality. It was easier to control the narrative if it was all shot on a set.

Principal photography began on May 25, 1942, ending on August 3; the film was shot entirely at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California, except for one sequence at Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles.

 

 

 

This was the reception area of the hotel we spent the night at in Casablanca before heading off on our Moroccan adventure.

Called the Moroccan House Hotel, and it was the only accommodation that we stayed in that had an elevator. A fact that we were unaware of at this point as this was our first night.

We stayed here on both our arrival and departure and we were most happy with what the hotel had to offer. Centrally situated it is within walking distance of the medina (5-10 minutes) and the Mosque Hassan II and Rick’s Cafe are relatively close by (25-40 minutes).

Our rooms were clean and fit for purpose. On our arrival, we only had a handheld shower but the room that we got for our final two nights had a BATH. Turned out that a bath is an exception rather than the norm in the type of establishments that we stayed in and that showers are what should be expected.

Excellent WiFi was the cherry on the top as connectivity is important to keep my Blog active.

Breakfast consisted of pastries, eggs, and various breads which was the standard breakfast that most of the hotels we stayed in served.

There were also biscuits, cakes and a variety of pancakes that could be eaten hot or cold.

This hotel added dates, cereals and a selection of juices to their breakfast menu.

 

 

 

Get on the bus. Or coach depending on which definition applies…

A bus is a large motor vehicle carrying passengers by road, typically one serving the public on a fixed route and for a fare.

A coach is a comfortably equipped single-decker bus used for longer journeys and that has been charted by a group of passengers for their sole use.

Linda, our tour host, did ask us to swap seats on each drive, especially the long days when we would be on board for more than 7 hours. Luckily drivers have a strict schedule that they have to adhere to and therefore have to have regular stops along the way.

It seemed that those stops were an excuse for members of the group to take off in different directions to either use the toilet, get snacks and coffee or wander off to take photographs. Trying to get everyone back on the bus was like herding cats…not always successful.

 

 

 

I thought that my tour would be over before it began. Those who follow my Blog regularly will know that I spent 6 weeks in the latter part of last year working with the Egyptian military. I had a couple of incidents there as the last time I was subjected to military discipline was back in 1971/72. But all the incidents were immediately resolved with laughter, handshakes and kisses on both cheeks. All of those that I interacted with expressed their sadness when I left.

It seems that I did not learn my lesson. While driving past a group of traffic officers I took a picture through the window of the bus and I was spotted by this officer who IMMEDIATELY whistled for the bus to stop and politely asked me to get off to ‘chat’ with him. I had visions of spending the trip looking at Morocco from the inside of a prison cell, but that was not to be. He was most friendly and explained to me, with a smile, that photographing anyone in a uniform was unacceptable.

At the end of our chat, we smiled, shook hands, and parted on the best of terms…but NOT before I asked for a selfie, which he gladly agreed to.

 

 

 

These bikes are everywhere and are used for carrying a variety of products and goods.

 

 

 

This seems to be the favoured method of transport throughout Morocco. Trying to take usable images through the window of the coach as they went flying by became a test of my skills using a bridge camera with a built-in lag.

 

 

 

More fruit than you can shake off a tree.

The strawberries were HUGE and the oranges the sweetest I have tasted in a long time. All are picked fresh and not processed and packaged.

 

 

 

Every arrival was greeted with the serving of tea with fresh mint. There is an entire ceremony built around the way the tea is poured and served.

Maghrebi mint tea, also known as Moroccan mint tea and Algerian mint tea, is a North African preparation of gunpowder green tea with spearmint leaves and sugar. It is traditional in the Greater Maghreb region.

The tea is known to provide relief from stomach ailments and heartburn. It can improve focus and intellectual performance and has the power to restore a youthful glow.

Although the drink can be sipped at any time of the day, it is the perfect to finish a meal but it is also drunk in special situations such as, for example, when welcoming guests into the house.

 

 

 

This was to be our room at the Hotel Madrid in Chefchaouen.

Moroccan interior design embraces rich colours, including deep terracottas, indigos, greens, golds, pinks, and purples. Sometimes these colours only appear as accents, showcased in crisper neutral rooms of sandy whites. However, other times Moroccan spaces are an explosion of contrasting colors and patterns.

 

 

 

The view out over the city was well worth the climb a couple of times a day for the two days that we stayed here.

Chefchaouen is a city in northwest Morocco. It is the chief town of the province of the same name and is noted for its buildings in shades of blue, for which it is nicknamed the “Blue City”. I have to say that the colours reminded me of a mix of Santorini and Mykonos 

Founded as a military base in 1471, shortly before the Spanish conquest of Granada, and its population grew with Muslim and Jewish refugees fleeing from Spain. Local culture has been influenced by the mixture of Andalusi and Ghomara people. The medina is well-preserved alongside a more modern townscape outside its walls. Artisanal crafts and tourism characterize the economy.

 

 

 

It was only after we accepted our room key that we were informed of the fact that the stairs were the only way to access our room on the 4th floor and I counted 72 steps from the reception to the room. However, we did not have to carry our luggage up and down.

 

 

 

Wall art attracted my attention. I still don’t know who painted it or if it has any religious or cultural significance. Now that I have looked at it for a couple of weeks, I think that I see a stylized camel, but I might be wrong.

 

 

 

Night time in the medina. It is not the stall holders that are persistent in following you, it is staff from the plethora of restaurants, taverns and bars that each insist that you try something off their specific menu.

A Greek friend insists that you cannot eat on an empty stomach, hence more than one meal is acceptable. But I had a scale lurking back at home for me and I wanted no shocks when I stepped on it after the trip.

 

 

 

My wife, Carolyn, doing what she loves best…shopping.

I believe that she almost single-handedly helped support the Moroccan economy while we were there. That being said, it gives her a great amount of pleasure, hence I tag along and try to be supportive. Every shopkeeper/ stall-owner shared the same wisdom with me…”Happy wife, happy life” and who am I to argue with that?

Abdul gave us a tour of his establishment in the medina which was more than 4 floors filled with the most wonderful fabrics and leather goods and we ended up on the roof with a view of the city in the late afternoon sunlight. When we parted, laden with clothing, he gave us both gifts as mementoes. I returned later that evening to buy a jellaba that had caught my attention when Carolyn was shopping.

 

 

 

I suppose that we would call this a tramezzini or a toasted sandwich, in Morocco it was called a Taco. Call it what you will, it was bloody delicious and very filling. The french fries that I ate at various restaurants were consistently good.

 

 

 

This was the company we utilized for our tour.

There were issues along the way, but nothing that could not be resolved on the spot. It did give value for money and if Morocco is a bucket list destination then the tour host, Linda, will give you that in spades.

As I have said many times before, if you go with no expectations then you cannot be disappointed. All my wife and I require is a comfortable bed, reasonable connectivity, hot water(most of the time) and a breakfast that sets us up for the day. On this trip, we almost had a full house of requirements. Those that were lacking, we accommodated and smiled. Making it all part of the overall experience and adventure.

 

 

 

Travel is the proud winner of this prestigious award from the digital British lifestyle magazine Luxlife. The award is in the category Best Travel & Experiences Blog 2024 – South Africa

 

 

 

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