“Welcome, my friend, a thousand welcomes!”
Morocco is the nearest exotic place to most of Europe and is the last foothold of Islam going East. In many ways it’s quite isolated with war-torn Algeria to the West, hostile relations with Mauritania to the South and very few Moroccans are given visas to Europe.
All of which explains the slightly hostile attitude that travelers may encounter in those who work in tourism. Coach loads of tourists arrive every day to absorb the ‘local culture’, snap their photos and be gone, leaving Morocco to continue to hustle for a living.
Morocco is only an hour by ferry (and fifteen minutes by hashish smuggler’s speedboat) and the Promised Land of Europe is visible on the horizon. The narrow Straits of Gibraltar transport you back a hundred years and into an entirely different culture.
Moroccans are almost all Muslims but things are not so strict here as in other parts of the Islamic world. Families are still very closely-woven and tradition burns strong but there’s a modern element that floats down from Europe that makes this one of the more interesting countries around. Moroccans are often looked down upon by other Arabs though and consider their brand of Arabic all but unintelligible.
Morocco has long been the favorite of European hashish smokers who still drift into the Rif mountains to the North where some of the best hash in the world is grown. It’s mostly a family business up there and if you go anywhere near you’ll be relentless hustled into buying a kilo or two.
There are also some cities approaching a modern feel in Morocco like Tangier and Casablanca though they’re still pretty male-dominated as in practically every Muslim country. Still, here you will find something resembling nightlife if that’s what you’re after.
Most travelers to Morocco, however, yearn to taste something old and they won’t be disappointed by cities like Fez, which are virtually medieval in appearance. Picture endless labyrinths of side streets, homing pigeons on rooftops, and beggars singing verses from the Koran in the alleys for yesterday’s bread. Marrakech is also beautiful but impossible – they’ve been fleecing tourists here for so long that you won’t get a second to breathe.
Then you have the Atlas mountains which are home to the Berbers, the original inhabitants of Morocco who still count for around 40% of the overall population. Here there’s beautiful hikes to be had in the mountain gorges where life goes on like it always has, tribal and slow. To the west coast things calm down a bit and many travelers in Morocco end up down at Essaoira where the pace is more relaxed. The Atlantic wind is pretty constant here and there’s reasonable surf to be had.
Lastly, down in the south east you hit the fringes of the stunning Sahara desert. You can go out to the edges of the dunes and negotiate with the local Berbers to ride camels out into the sands. These are amongst the most breathtaking sights on the planet and are especially magical in the full moon light.
And don’t forget that every January we hold a retreat in Morocco, in the Sahara Desert, where we gather to meditate, tell stories and sing under the stars for a week in the dunes.