– visited April 2016 –
I consider my visit to Morocco as a passing-through. Better to spend more time in the harder to reach countries that will come later on my journey. I can always come back easily to Morocco. But if I am passing through, I try to do it in style. Travelled in a direct route from my point of entry, Tangier, it will be more than 1,300 kilometres before I leave Morocco and enter the Western Sahara. Counting in the Western Sahara, as that disputed territory is under Moroccan control, it will be 2,240 kilometres. Makes sense to break the journey a few times.
Tangier’s main attraction is its old town, just called Medina, the Arab word for “city”. Narrow streets and old houses, from time to time a stray cat is sitting around. Tangier once had a thriving Jewish community, many of them emigrated to Israel but the beautiful and renovated Moshe Nahon Synagogue, where religious celebrations are sometimes held, can be visited. The American Legation Building, given to the United States in 1821 by the sultan was the first American public property outside the United states. It housed the United States Legation and Consulate for 140 years.
The train to Rabat, Morocco’s capital, is fast and comfortable. Rabat is mostly a stop of necessity; I still need a visa for Mauritania and have to visit the embassy. The process is hassle-free but I need to return the next day to collect the visa. And of course, I had to make sure in the first place that I would arrive in Rabat on a workday. And not the last before the weekend.
If I am already in Rabat, I’ll have a look. The Chellah is a medieval fortified Muslim necropolis in beautiful surroundings. Storks have built their nests on the ruins. I visit the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, Morocco’s sultan from 1927 to 1953. Forced into exile by the French colonial authorities he returned in 1955. After successfully negotiating independence, he took the title of king in 1957 and is held in high regard by many Moroccans. The nearby beautiful Hassan II tower is under renovation and unfortunately fully hidden from view. Rabat also has a “Medina” with narrow streets and colourful houses and protected by an imposing wall.
Marrakesh is Morocco’s crown jewel and touristic centre. Jemaa el-Fnaa is the central square where traditionally dressed Berbers, snake charmers, monkey handlers, souvenir and snack sellers all vie for your attention. Freshly pressed orange juice is another attraction. Marrakesh has beautiful palaces like the Palais Badi (ruined), the Palais Bahia or the Dar Si-Said. The Saadian Tombs are a historic royal necropolis famed for its luxurious decoration and careful interior design. The Koutoubia Mosque is the largest mosque in Marrakesh and known for its beautifully proportioned minaret that was copied most notably at the Giralda of Seville.
Sidi Ifni is a place to break my journey on the long bus ride south. I arrive after midnight; the first hotel is dark and the door closed but the historic Hotel Bellevue is still alive. Sidi Ifni is far enough away from the tourist trail that I can afford one of the better places in town. It is beautifully located at the Atlantic Ocean, part of it is on a cliff, other parts down by the sea. The beach is rocky, I have plenty of time to sit there and read and the sunset is worth all my attention.
As night falls, I head to the bus station to board a night bus to Laâyoune. In the night, without any sign of it, I will leave Morocco and enter the Western Sahara. There will be no border control, there will not even be a sign as Morocco occupies the Western Sahara, in Moroccan eyes such a country just does not exist.