Travelling in Morocco As A Woman

“Let’s not fly into Marrakesh. We have a bit of time on our hands. Let’s take a longer route? ” I asked my flatmate as we planned our trip to Morocco. We were two girls who had twenty days and after analysing the sun and culture quotient of potential destinations, we’d zeroed in on Morocco.

We decided to fly into Gibraltar from London and then take a ferry to Tangier, Morocco and make our way down to Marrakech by road. The plan was to wander around in Gibraltar for a day or two before moving on to Morocco but we ended up with a lot more time in Gibraltar than we wanted.


Welcome to Gibraltar. Say Hello to the Main Square.


Catching up with the Bay of Gibraltar Dolphins
 

PLANS ARE MEANT TO CRASH AND BURN:

Our ferry to Morocco was delayed because of a freak storm and we found ourselves stranded in Gibraltar. We wanted “adventure”, we got an adventure. Being perpetually broke students living in London we barely had enough money for affordable Morocco let alone Gibraltar where a night in the hostel alone would cost us £35 each. 

At this point, a local (or as my flatmate likes to say, Jesus) came to our rescue and put a roof over our heads for the next couple of days. That’s another story altogether and I’ll come back to it someday. For now, let’s skip to the day our ferry finally decided to arrive in Gibraltar and take us to Morocco.


Fresh off the boat, our first step on African soil

ANCHORED IN TANGIER

As soon as we stepped out of the port in Tangier we met a backpacking American lawyer on vacation (sounds a bit like an oxymoron) and this was going to affect our travels in a lot of ways. In places like Morocco more often than not, a man validates a woman’s existence. If you’re two girls walking down a street, you get catcalled and your body is free for any man to comment on. However, if you have a male acquaintance, all of a sudden lesser or no men will approach you. It happened to us on our first day in Tangier, when our new found buddy was around us, we felt a lot less ogled at. So as it turns out couples or men travelling in Morocco might have a completely different experience to a solo woman or two girls on the road.

“I feel like your bodyguard,” said Andy, and I was inclined to agree.

Tangier homes, our first introduction to Moroccan architecture


MOVING ON TO CHEFCHAHOUEN:


We walked through the markets of Tangier and drank our first of many cups of mint tea in the souks. Other than that, there was not much in Tangier to keep us there and we got on a bus and carried on to Chefchahouen, a blue town in the hills. This is not a metaphor for a sad town or their choice of music, Chefchahouen is literally blue in color and the reason the houses are washed blue is to keep mosquitoes at bay. It’s the sort of place you don’t mind getting lost in. I felt extremely safe in Chefchahouen even though I’ve heard you have to take a lot more caution when you’re hiking in the surrounding Rif mountains.

 
Chefchahouen and it’s many hues
Some more snapshots of Chefchahouen
 
 
 
 


We hadn’t booked our Riad (a traditional Moroccan house with an inner courtyard or garden) in advance so we walked around the town and took our pick. Our budget wasn’t big but even for what we could afford we got a lot. Take that Gibraltar! Most smaller riads in Morocco are family run and are done up with immense effort and pride. Our Riad had the most kitsch, colourful and twee furniture ever, it was almost a sort of Moroccan Pop Art. I just can’t remember the name of our Riad  at this moment and I’ve tried to look for it online but can’t seem to find it. If anyone recognizes it from the photos, let me know!

 


 
 
At night the manager put out mattresses on the roof for us and we sat up talking and gazing at the stars for a long time. After a point, we lost count of the number of shooting stars we saw. Here’s the thing about Moroccans: they love roof terraces. Every Riad owner no matter how tiny his property, if he has a roof space he will do it up beautifully with plants, cushions, curtains and colours of all sorts. In private homes, they are a space to dry clothes and sometimes ingredients. It’s where women of the house gather for a chat, sometimes talking across rooftops to their neighbours. 
 
Our days in Chefchahouen were spent wandering through blue lanes, exploring colourful souks, hiking the surrounding valleys, exploring the ruins and tucking into platefuls of couscous after couscous.
 




If you want to see more of the local hustle bustle then go to the little waterfall, Ras El Maa, just a short walk outside of Chefchahouen town. It’s where all the Chahouen folk hang out while doing their laundry and catch up on the day’s affairs. 

 
 
 

TIME FOR “FEZ”TIVITIES

We took local buses and trains the whole time  in Morocco and in general, were just hassled because we were tourists and not because we were women. Our next stop was Fez and we spent most of our time in the Old Medina. It was extremely busy- sort of a precursor to what we’d find in Marrakech. In Fez, we ended up meeting lots of other travellers and were surrounded by way too many people to feel unsafe or threatened at any given point. We did meet a German girl who was travelling solo and she said that she’d found Fez completely safe and again, touting was the only time she was hassled but she was prepared for that.



MARAKKECH, THE HARDEST PART OF OUR JOURNEY

The last leg of our trip was spent in Marrakech and it was a completely different story. Between my friend’s American self and my Indian self, we seemed to be every man’s type. We were stopped nearly every 5 minutes with men being quite sexually aggressive and going as far as saying things like “Nice Boobs” or “Nice Ass”. We weren’t quite sure how to handle it and generally just put on a stern face and continued walking while ignoring them. When we got back to our Riad that evening we both felt so exhausted and realised it was from constantly watching out for ourselves and each other. Our Riad provided us some solace and again the rooftop was where we spent a lot of our time talking to the owners and other travellers.

Somewhere along the way, as it happens with friends made on the road, we’d also lost Andy and I guess our existence was no longer validated. We were now just two unescorted women and the men seemed to think it was okay to say whatever they felt like. No filter required. Not that I think it justifies their actions but we had done all those things people suggest women travelling in conservative countries do. We dressed appropriately, wore scarves and my blonde buddy even covered her hair at all times. Also being a busy city we found people: men, women, and even children to be quite pushy and rude.I understand life for most people here is not easy but at the same time that is no reason or excuse to be threatening and hurtful. I like Morocco and would definitely go back again but I have mixed feelings about Marakkech.


 
 
 


 

“You’re so beautiful,” a young woman told my friend as she took her arm and started drawing elaborate henna tattoos on her hand. “It’s free, don’t worry,” she said smilingly as my friend tried to pull her hand back. “No”, insisted my friend not falling for this “free” service and yanked her hand away. Suddenly the smile turned into an angry frown and the woman began to demand money for the tattoo. As we walked away saying we’d call the tourist police on her, we heard her yell “Fuck you”

Another man asked us to come into his shop and when we said no, he blocked our way and insisted we step inside. We tried to avoid him by walking around him but he grabbed my wrist and with a sickening smile on his face said: “I don’t bite”. At this point, we yelled at him and asked him to leave my hand. Again we were promptly told to “Fuck Off”. 


A male friend went to Marrakech at another time and I asked him if he was met with such aggressive touting and no, he wasn’t. So even though at certain times it was not verbal sexual harassment and it was just touting, I think in Marakkech people hassled two female travellers a lot more.

Exploring the sights of Morocco while trying to ignore heckling and commenting


“There’s a great Sheesha place on the street over there, it’s run by my friend’s father and we’re all going there tonight. Would you like to come?” Ali asked us. We were regulars at his food stall in Djema el-Fna, the main square. Interacting with tourists every day, he’d learnt to speak five different languages and could do countless accents, from American to Indian to Scottish. Over a week in Marrakech, he’d become our friend.

However by this time our experience had been so tainted that we had to politely decline because we just didn’t trust the intentions of the men and women of the city anymore. That in itself for me is so sad because I love talking to people and getting to know the local way of life wherever I go. Having to second guess everyone’s motives was very draining.

Despite all of this, I’ll still say Marrakech is worth a visit. Why? Because like most places in the world, it does offer travellers something special and it would be sad to miss out on that just because you’re a woman. I really enjoyed indulging in all of the food on the main square, Djmaa El Fana. All the people wanting you to eat in their stall is part of the charm. The blinding market lights, the oily spiced aubergines served with the chili sauce and chunky loaves of bread served on newspaper sheets was all part of a sensory experience unique to Marrakech. 

Despite the verbal harassment, we faced it would be sad to miss out on the Marrakech experience altogether


The lights of Djmaa El Fana, the food and the people we met there are all special memories

CATCHING A BREAK IN MARRAKECH

If you need a respite from the heckling men and aggressive touts there are a couple of places you can escape to. Badii Palace, an old palace now nearly in ruins provides a historical sanctum from the chaos outside its walls. Hammams are also a great way to forget about the world outside for a few hours and luckily they’re dotted all over the city.




 
I really enjoyed wandering around  Dar Si Said which is the Museum of Moroccan Art and one of the oldest museums in Marrakesh. The intricate artwork on the ceiling, the painted tiles, and the ornate courtyards are all in very well preserved. The fact that the original purpose of this building was that of a palace and also because of the way it is laid out, Dar Si Said doesn’t feel like a museum at all. I really like that because it made it easy to lose an hour or two there without even realising.
 
 
 


In this meat loving country, I was travelling with a vegan and a victorious moment for us was finding a vegan teahouse called Earth Cafe which served up art in the form of food. Little discoveries like this along with the friendships and conversations we struck up along the way made our trip worth it and that’s why we stayed as long as we did. It just got tiring having our guard up all the time.

 
 
 

I’m from India and have lived there for most of my life. I know how to fight back against unwanted advances. When you’re travelling in another country, however, it’s not the same. You’re not quite sure how to retaliate. Do you make a scene, do you walk away, do you go to the police? In Marrakech, the harassment was verbal, not physical and we chose to ignore it and in the case of the shop owner, reported it to the tourist police.

Women travelling in Morocco, you’ll be fine in the smaller towns and while journeying around. More often than not just the usual touting. Marakkech clearly, might be a bit of hard work, it definitely was for us.

 
 
 




 

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