When an invitation to Morocco lands in your inbox, it’s hard not to get overly excited. Morocco is one of those destinations that’s just obscure enough not to be at the top of everyone’s bucket list, but mysterious enough to be a place that no one would say no to going exploring in. “Morocco” conjures up rich colours – browns, maroons, blood red and deep, dark blues. Your mind recalls a rub you bought from the fancy Spar that sells “authentic” foods – paprika, chilli, cinnamon and cardamom. Images of endless dunes and near-white sand stretching out into the distance abound.
Unfortunately, it’s all rather deceptive. Morocco is one of those countries where the reality of the country – especially on a political and social level – is so far removed from the dreamlike mystery that surrounds it, that it immediately divorces all mystique from the physical place you’re in. I’ve heard the same said about Egypt, and in fact, a fellow traveller commented that “Morocco is one of those places best left to travel books and not visited.”
It is, however, only the initial “shock” that gives one that impression. When reliant on the touristy hotel, and even the “tourist town” (in essence and in the meaning of the name) of Agadir, you’re experience of Morocco is likely to be as big a let down as going to the “magical” town of Clarence in the Eastern Free state. It’s commercial, unfriendly, and generally just tries to hard.
On our second last day, however, we ventured out into the countryside, with a country-guide, and saw Morocco under a different guise. Out here, if you don’t speak French or Arabic, you’re lost. That’s because they don’t cater for tourists. Ironically, however, it’s here that you’ll find that genuine Moroccan cooking, the famed hospitality and friendliness and the stunning landscapes. Moving closer to the centre of the country – away from the lush coastal area – we drove through valleys and hills of dry, red sand and rugged vegetation. We met road side stall owners and children in the small village, got advice from a French couple who came to explore Morocco and just never left, and upon that found ourselves (a few kilometres later) in the most surprising landscape – an oasis. After driving through a steep valley of Eucalyptus trees, a barely-there river flowed past the road and led us to a ravine of palm trees. As if from a Western movie, we found dates, pomegranites, bananas and … well, pumpkins … in the oasis; even if they were being sold by a local next to the road. We haggled for Tajines, met the “friendly country police” (in the words of our guide) and ate pomegranites like we’d been lost in the desert for weeks, and this was the first morsel we’d found.
Having found our photographic heaven, we returned to the city, begrudginly turning down an offer by our guide to join him in his own village for a truly authentic Moroccan lunch. That evening, organisers of the event had a display of local dances, food and so-called festivities on the cards, but those that had had a taste of the real Morocco could not help but go to bed unsatisfied. The next day saw us on a plane back to Cassablance, Cairo, Johannesburg – and while home was a welcome site, Morocco is [only now] firmly on my bucket list.
My advice? Ditch the fancy hotels, take two weeks, and go discover the true countryside of the country. For I suspect that this is the source of the mystique that has come to surround this destination, and there’s much more to be discovered.