morocco: what the guidebooks won’t tell you.

Few Singaporeans venture out to Morocco, apparently (I’ll support this claim later), so here’s whatever tips and random facts I can remember for the adventurous globe-trekker.

1. Chefchauoen may be lauded for its charming, old-world obscurity in many travel guides. Such literature rank it the cleanest, safest and friendliest city in Morocco. For the most part, I won’t differ. I fell in love with its picturesque blueness the moment I stepped foot there but don’t be deceived into assuming that it will sell the cheapest goods. Because it doesn’t. Many and I were ripped off for a smelly leather bag that we could have gotten for 120 dirhams (S$21.8) in Fez rather than 275 (S$50). 

2. The old men there are extremely cute and so harmless you actually believe them. Ok, not that they are dangerous. But the adorable old man who lured us to the leather shop where we got fleeced was a pink-cheeked, toothless old man who constantly looked high on hookah (we saw him twice) and repeatedly went “okie dokie!” complete with the thumbs up. He’s reeeally cute. I forgive him for the smelly leather bag.

3. They argue with girls thus. “I give you BIMBO PRICE!” (hahaha!) And goes on to state a price insignificantly lower than the starting price, with all the conviction of a reasonable businessman.

4. Airport authorities/ALL customs authorities have never heard of Singaporeans/Singapore. As far as they are concerned, we are illegal immigrants who need visas everywhere, even to gain entry to a country we have stayed for 2 weeks, 10 days earlier, as proven plainly by the entry and exit stamps in our passports. Some of them are nice about it and some of them are downright discourteous. 

5. Get used to calls of “KONICHEE-WAAHHH!!!” from store assistants 2 shops away as you saunter down the souks, feeling like rich Japanese tourists. “JAPAN? JAPAN? Come in, my friend. See, (Err, let me ask Kenneth/Zhihao their exact script again.)” EVERYONE does that, they start young. And they all use the exact same lines. If you’re interested in buying, please clarify that you are from China/Singapore so that they stop harassing you or quote exorbitant prices.

6. Travel guides seem to paint horrifying outcomes of tourists walking around in sleeveless tees or even so much as let their hair down. But I wore tank tops pretty much throughout my time in Morocco and nothing unpleasant happened. Moroccans are not nearly that conservative and judgmental of foreigners. And the guides have said that their customs are mostly retained for culture’s sake and not so much religious fervor. Educated Moroccans are worldly and accustomed to the habits of tourists. I don’t think their sensibilities are that easily offended. 

7. The touts are persistent but not nearly as scary as they seem. But do not get friendly. Reject politely and seriously.

8. Don’t believe everything you’re told and always act like you know your way around. Because they are master manipulators and exploit any weakness you show. That’s just the way they survive in their circumstances. Be vigilant but do not completely guard against their friendliness as well. Moroccans are instinctively warm and hospitable people when they’re not obsessively trying to sell you something. 

9. The famous big square in Marrakech is a hotbed for beggars and pickpockets. Watch for the kids. I nearly got pickpocketed unknowingly by a little boy who ran up to hug me. It was quite hilarious actually.

(This little kid randomly came up from my side and hugged me while I was standing by one of the stalls. I was alarmed because I knew the kids were sometimes exploited for petty crimes but was caught offguard and forgot how to react. I called out to Dick who had been standing nearby and he came to my other side and hugged me away from the kid, absurdly telling the kid “no! you cannot hug her because she’s my girlfriend” or something like that. For a moment, the kid stood rooted at the same spot some distance away then made a split second decision to run up and hug the both of us until his mother came and dragged him away angrily. Because of the mother’s indignant response, I started to think that maybe I had been overly suspicious; he could have been only mischievous. Until! Zhihao pointed out my 4/5 exposed purse that had been previously buried out of sight in my jeans pocket, which is, by the way, tight and any movement should have been easily felt.)

10. You can’t leave Morocco without a trip to the Sahara because how many people can actually say they’ve been to Sahara?! (Refer to my Sahara post.) 130 euros seems to be the best bargain around. We asked. 3D/2N, comfortable hotel, one night in the desert, 2h camel ride, breakfast/dinners provided and transport provided, naturally, tour around some valleys and whatever. But our guide was the sternest and most un-fun ever. So you may not want the services of Omar the desertprince (his email address) if you can get a comparable price elsewhere. (Or maybe it’s just cos we’re Chinos..) Oh ya, and he recommends the most exorbitant places for lunch. Correction, not recommend, he basically drops us there and leaves us with no choice. Bad food and ridiculous prices. 

11. Most Moroccan merchants prefer to be paid in Euros, by the way. It’s stronger, obviously, and more universal. But it’s better to pay by dirhams because you don’t wanna keep any. And, you don’t know what kind of ridiculous exchange rates they impose for the euro pricing.

12. Tangier scares me. According to Kenneth, nobody stays there for long. It’s just to transit for a bus ride to get the hell out. Some guidebooks say otherwise. Don’t believe them. I think there’s nothing much to see anyway. But it seems to offer one of the better exchange rates around. The official bank/money changer.

13. Touts sometimes walk beside you and chat you up, even if you ignore them. Then, when you reach your destination, they demand payment for bringing you there (though you made your way there yourself). Just tip them about 10 dirhams (about 1 euro), should be enough, rather than provoke trouble. 

14. When unsure about directions, ask the Moroccan ladies rather than the men who generally try to confuse you. The educated ladies speak English perfectly well and are always helpful. But avoid female touts in Marrakech who pester you for henna, they are as aggressive, if not more, than the men.

(MAY be continued..)

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