Sharon and Fred just completed another tourism and shopping trip to Morocco in June. We are just amazed by the fact that Morocco seems to get better and better in every way.
The first time Fred visited, back during the current king’s father’s reign, there was just one international airport at Casablanca. Although tourism was always great (remember Jimmi Hendrix), you had to work hard to travel in what was still a third-world country. How things have changed, for the better, in two or three decades.
Besides good quality highways and toll roads linking major and minor cities, there are now about a dozen international airports. With the rise of budget airlines like Ryan Air or Jet Airways in Europe with incredibly cheap fares, Europeans are flocking to Morocco.
We spoke with many tourists who had “popped down for a couple of days” from Northern England, for example, because airfares on those no-frills airlines were less than $ 100.00 a round trip. Amazing.
There is no prohibition against foreign ownership of businesses, so almost every B & B seemed to be owned by a European.
The country itself is still traditional in many ways and, of course, is Islamic. The Moroccans, however, don’t impose their religious views on visitors. This leads to some interesting scenes…scantily clad, heavily tattooed foreign tourists with bare midriffs and short shorts walking through crowded shopping alleys in the sook brushing shoulders with conservatively dressed Moroccan women, some in full face veils. No one making a fuss.
We were there during the fasting month of Ramadan and found it an educational, not unpleasant experience. Although most Moroccans fast, they don’t mind if foreigners eat during daylight hours. The cafes and restaurants are full of tourists as usual, although the Moroccan staff does not eat or drink. After serving foreigners all day, the restaurants close for an hour at the Iftar, the breaking of fast prayer, to allow the staff to eat, and then they open again for customers.
This time, we did one thing right, and two things wrong. The right thing was to NOT rent a car. The headaches of trying to find parking and drive through narrow twisting streets in the old walled cities had always been a problem. This time we hired a car and driver to travel between cities, and it was GREAT.
One wrong thing was to go for the month of June. It was just too hot, with temps from 104 to 108 degrees for our last week in Marrakesh. May and October are much better months for tourism.
The other wrong thing was to travel with a suitcase decorated with an “illegal map” of Morocco. Sharon’s favorite roller bag has a map of the world on it that includes Morocco and, further south, the words “Western Sahara.”
Western Sahara was a Spanish colony until 1975 when Morocco unilaterally annexed the area, causing a 15-year war between Morocco and an Algerian and Soviet-sponsored liberation group called the Polisario.
A UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991 is still in place, but the issue of who owns the resource-rich territory remains a contentious subject. It is one of the impediments to good relations between Morocco and Algeria. To the Moroccan authorities, Western Sahara does not exist, and any map that shows it is illegal.
Upon entering the country, an eagle-eyed customs agent spotted the illegal map on Sharon’s suitcase. It first caused laughter and then consternation among the customs agents. The problem was finally solved by putting a piece of masking tape over the offending name. Another example of Morocco welcoming foreigners!