Category Archives: Morocco

Fes el Bali, Morocco – is it worth the hassle?

This is a very good question, and quite subjective depending upon your tolerance for hassle.

Fes is probably the most aggravating city in the whole of Morocco, it seems that some of its residents are hell bent on driving everyone insane with their non-stop entreaties to buy something or be your guide. Hashish mister, Cocaine, Women, Camels…the list goes on and on.

the gasman

The dichotomy is that it is also one of the most fascinating; from the ancient tanneries to the Madrasa Bou Inania. Whether that is enough to compensate for the obvious downsides I will leave the reader to judge.

Fes is split into several sprawling areas; the one that most visitors see is the old walled city of Fes el Bali and that is where we will start our journey.

Jumping back a little, my day had begun on the morning train from Marrakech as it wound its way through a wonderful varied landscape before finally pulling into the brand new station in Fes. I have to say that the new stations in Morocco are excellent, with free Wi-Fi and clean restrooms, definitely a step up from the old days!

tanneries

To get to Fes (el Bali from now on) it is easy to grab a taxi from the forecourt of the station, just don’t grab the first one who approaches you. I suggest walking away a little distance and then trying your luck. If there are two or three of you it’s the same price so split the fare. It won’t be expensive and the distance is too far, and may be unsafe, to walk.

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Easy Essaouira

When the Moroccan heat is almost too much to bear and the hassle of the souks becomes a short fuse to homicide it is time to take a break, a pause from the guide book driven madness and cocoon oneself in the familiar. Off to the beach then?

essaouira

Long established as a refuge for weary travellers Essaouira comes as a pleasant relief for the first timer and as a bolthole for the veteran. Its cool alleyways and bracing Atlantic winds offer calm and refreshment with a dose of magical Moorish culture effused with a European twist.

Barely two hours from Marrakech on the new road and a seventy Dirham bus ticket, travellers find themselves transported to a bustling fishing port with a Spanish/Portuguese heritage that lives on in the cannon studded ramparts and seafaring traditions of its citizens.

Mosque Doorway

Arriving by bus at the city gates one finds a teeming market and a phalanx of barrow boys eager to transport backpacks and luggage through the winding streets to your accommodation. For a price of course so bargaining is required although not to the level of other more intense local
es.

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Mayhem in Marrakech

Once again I have found myself a prisoner of the Djemma El Fna, a willing participant in the madness of a city at a crossroads of cultures.

For those of you who have not yet managed to get to Morocco it is possible, even probable, that the images conjured up in the mind of smoky souks and maze like medinas is held as a romantic notion with both trepidation and fascination in equal proportions. I do not want to disillusion the reader, it can be just so. Marrakech however is a major tourist destination and forewarned in such cases as this, is most definitely forearmed.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the place. It has a charm and accessibility that makes it an ideal focal point for travelling the Atlas Mountains and all points of the compass. This of course is its Achilles heel, being all things to all travellers comes at a price and, like everything in Morocco, that price will at some point have to be paid.

The airport has been modernised; the shabby waiting rooms with the air of a decrepit bus terminal are gone and a gleaming new building stands proudly in its stead. Transportation is now much improved, a 20 Dirham bus (#19) to the medina runs every half an hour and taxis will bargain down to a more reasonable price for the short journey into town if you are firm with them.
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Look at them now – How iconic hippie hangouts have changed

The sixties and seventies were arguably the golden age of travel for backpacking vagabonds, hippies and soul searchers. I can remember stories about the overland trail to Kathmandu that fascinated me with their richness and mystery. Istanbul was spoken of in hushed tones by the knowledgeable and the Magic Bus seemed truly ……well magic.

As a teenager I thumbed through an old travel agents guide, ABC I think it was called, that resembled the CIA fact book that we see online now. I had planned my round the world trip several times over and was already, in my imagination, sipping tea in some far flung destination watching the day unfold over my copy of Le Monde.

The Far East was truly the ends of the Earth; India, as a Brit, seemed more accessible but remained undeniably enticing. I was still too young to travel and soon the world would move to make some of these romantically ideal places off limits and change the game and the innocence we once had.
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