Darek & Ilona Take the World: Morocco! Hannah Winsten October 13, 2015 Adventure Travel, Arts & Culture, Food & Drink, Interests, Photography, Trending Stories, Weddings and Romance Folks, our favorite traveling couple just got back from their latest trip. Have you been following their progress around the world? They just got back from Morocco! Morocco is seriously cool. From the dramatic Atlas Mountains to the hot Sahara desert—not to mention its colorful cities—this country is a must-see on any traveler’s bucket list. Let’s see how Darek and Ilona’s weeklong trip panned out! 1.) What inspired you and Darek to visit Morocco? Ilona: The colors and the architecture! I’ve loved Arabic architecture since I visited Alhambra Castle in Spain. Then, I saw a bunch of pictures from my friends who visited Morocco and I loved how colorful the country seemed to be. It’s been on our bucket list ever since! Darek: The people, the spicy food, and the Atlas Mountains. 2.) What were you most excited about before arriving? Ilona: I think Chefchaouen, the blue city. When I was doing research earlier about what to see in Morocco, I found Chefchaouen, and after seeing the Google Images results I knew I had to see this place. It looked amazing. Fes was the other place that I was curious about. I found an article that said Fes is similar to what Marrakech used to be like, years ago before the tourists came. So I wanted to see pure, real Morocco. Darek: The hiking! The highlight of this trip was the hike up to Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa at 13,671 feet. I was also looking forward to driving in Morocco. A lot of people told me not to rent a car, because drivers there are so crazy and they don’t obey any traffic laws. So, of course, after landing in Casablanca we rented a small European car with a manual shifter. So that was another fun thing that I was looking forward to! 3.) Can you give us a quick overview of your itinerary? Ilona: We landed in Casablanca on Saturday. From there, we drove straight to Marrakech with a stop in El Jadida, an old Portuguese port city. We stayed in Marrakech for 2 nights. On Sunday, we hired a taxi driver to show us the city, which was a great idea. He was a taxi driver and a guide in one, and it only cost $30 for him to show us around for half the day! Then, on Monday, we started hiking. We hiked to a Refugio—a hut—in the mountains, and then went on to reach the top of Toubkal on Tuesday, before heading back to Marrakech. We spent one more night in Marrakech, then drove to Fes on Wednesday, and kept moving to Chefchaouen on Thursday. We arrived at night, and the roads were so bad that what should have been a three hour trip actually took seven. Friday was my birthday! We spent the first part of the day in Chefchaouen and then drove to Casablanca. We partied in Casablanca until Sunday, when it was time to fly back home. Whew! (This sounds like an awesome trip, am I right?) 4.) What was it like to hike to the highest peak in North Africa? Ilona: Tough and challenging. Darek: It was like heaven. Lack of oxygen, canned food, waking up at 3:30 am, rain— Ilona: This is what you call heaven?! (I’m with you, Ilona!) Darek: We smiled all the way up. I think it’s heaven. It was tough and strenuous, but after two days of hiking, when you can finally sit down at the top with a power bar in your left hand and an energy drink in your right, knowing that there’s nothing above you for thousands of miles—it’s like heaven. Thank goodness for the mules who carried a lot of our things! Ilona: And the view is amazing. 5.) Of the cities you visited, which was your favorite? Ilona: I loved Chefchaouen. I know the name is so hard to pronounce—it sounds very French—for me it’s like “chauffeur.” Anyway, this city is like a dream. After the hassles of Marrakech and Fes, it was really relaxing. People are nice to you, they don’t bother you, and they aren’t constantly trying to sell you something as if you’re just a walking wallet. It was lovely. Plus, the location is great. The city is surrounded by the Rif Mountains. Amazing! Darek: I agree with Ilona. “Chauffeur” wins the competition. At the beginning I loved Marrakech. Even though it was busy and dirty, it was really Arabic, and I liked that. But after walking around in Chefchaouen I changed my mind. “Chauffeur” even beat Imlil for me, the place where we hiked up to Toubkal. 6.) What was your favorite experience in Morocco? Ilona: Staying at a Moroccan riad! Riads are traditional Moroccan houses or palaces with a central courtyard. We heard that they’re similar to a bed and breakfast and that you should stay there at least once. I totally agree! We had an amazing experience. We stayed in riads in Marrakech and Fes, and the owners welcomed us as if we were family. They greeted us with Berber whiskey (mint tea), let us choose our room—they even cooked breakfast and dinner for us whenever we were ready to eat. The staff was super friendly was always ready to help us at any time. Darek: Getting to interact with the people. We didn’t have any languages in common—even though they speak three other languages, Arabic, Berbera and French—but they really went the extra mile to communicate with us. 7.) What was the biggest challenge you experienced? Darek: The hike to the highest peak in North Africa was nothing compared to the drive to Chefchaouen. I used to be a professional driver. I won a few car races, but that didn’t even prepare me for the road we took from Fes to Chefchaouen. According to Google Maps, the drive should have taken about three hours. Instead, the 130 miles we drove took seven hours—not because of heavy traffic, but because of all the pot holes and missing pavement. I was lucky to switch my gear from 1 to 2 at some parts and to drive at 12 mph instead of 6mph. I was most afraid of losing my wheals or breaking suspension. There was nothing around—our cell phone didn’t have reception and the local people looked at us like they’d never seen tourists before. Ilona: Did you see the movie, American Sniper? The road and the towns we were passing were like a scene from that movie. Can you imagine it? Darek: But now it’s just like a great adventure. And the moment I had a beer in Chefchaouen, I forgot about all the difficulties and only remembered the great landscape that we saw on the way there. 8.) What advice would you give to other travelers planning to visit Morocco? Ilona: As I’m sure you noticed, I was really impressed by Chefchaouen, so definitely go there. Stay in a riad and experience the best hospitality ever. Also, keep an eye on your wallet! Whatever you want to buy at the market, divide the price at least by 3 when you haggle, and be prepared to have some extra change in your pocket. Sooner or later you’ll have to pay somebody for showing you the way or helping you out. But don’t get me wrong—it’s a great country—just watch out for the scams! Darek: Be prepared for the lack of infrastructure. I was expecting Morocco to be similar to a southern European country before we landed, but I was so wrong. Morocco is still really behind Europe in terms of infrastructure. The government really needs to invest more money in making the country more tourist-friendly. We saw monuments that were several centuries old which were closed and surrounded by piles of garbage. There are so many people in the streets trying to sell their services to earn some money to feed their families—with just a little effort and planning, those monuments could be transformed into tourist attractions and a source of income for the Moroccan people. Ilona: But maybe then it would lose its whole beauty. Because Morocco is as it is. It’s not Europe, it’s not the US, it’s not even really Africa—Morocco is Morocco with all its hassle and beauty and that’s what makes this country so wonderful and unique. The best way to find out? Go visit for yourself! Darek and Ilona’s Morocco trip sounds pretty amazing, am I right? They visited almost all of the major cities, hiked to the top of North Africa’s tallest peak, and had some serious adventures on the road. Have you ever visited Morocco? Is it on your bucket list? What would you do if you had the chance to visit? Let us know in the comments!