Is Morocco Even Safe?
“Hey, what do you think about going to Morocco for a couple days when we go to Spain?” I peered at the map and held the phone.
“Is that even possible? Is that safe?” Angie wanted to know.
“Yes and I think so yes.” I pushed send on a few photos of the iconic Blue City, Chefchaouen. “My friend Ray Strobel said he did it and it is only like a 2 hour ferry ride over.”
“Wow…that looks super cool.” Angie looked over the photos. ” Let’s do it.”
“Yeah, we kind of have to…it’s right there.”
Mountains and Monkeys at Gibraltar
We had visited the monkeys on the top of Rock of Gibraltar the day before and spent the night at the Almenara Hotel in Sotogrande Spain. Angie and I were a little nervous but excited about traveling across the Strait of Gibraltar into Africa.
We got an early start and made our way through the lush Sierra del Bujeo mountains to Tarifa where the ferry we were taking was docked. There were several ferry docks along the coast of Spain going into Tangier. After researching online at home, I had chosen the one that had the most direct and fast route and also the most departures throughout the day.
Two Tickets For the Tarifa Ferry to Tangier
At the Tarifa ticket window, the lady informed us that rental cars are not allowed on the ferry. We assured her the rental company gave us permission (which they did…we had asked). After a bit of back and forth arguing and my brain frantically trying to create a plan B, the woman sighed and reluctantly printed our tickets.
Castillo de Guzmán el Bueno
With our passage secured and a couple hours before departure, we walked over to the Castillo de Guzmán el Bueno to explore. After marveling at the rooftop view we went across the street to an outdoor café for tapas and a drink.
Trouble at the Ferry to Morocco
When it came time for the ferry, we lined up with the other cars and rolled through the ticket gate.
“Hey this is a rental.” The guy at the booth looked over our tickets.
My stomach lurched. What if they didn’t let us cross? Our hotels were already booked for the next couple nights.
“The rental company gave us permission.” I responded across Angie.
The man looked over the rental agreement and frowned.
“You would be responsible if something happened.” He announced seriously.
“I know…I have insurance.” Angie flashed her card.
The man took her card and discussed it with another worker near the booth.
He came back and handed Angie our papers and opened the gate.
Parking on the Tarifa Ferry
“Whew…I was nervous. I just hope they don’t give us a hard time coming back.” Angie shifted the car into gear and brought us onto the car hold of the boat. A man came and indicated that I needed to get out of the car. I did what I was told but lurked near the stairs while the man gave Angie instructions in Arabic. He gestured wildly as she did a 36 point turn to try to fit our car, the last car aboard into the tiny space.
With about an inch of clearance on three sides of the vehicle, Angie emerged triumphant. We went up the metal steps, filled out the customs papers and got our passports stamped.
On the Deck of the Tarifa Ferry
“Let’s head up top to the outdoor viewing deck.” Angie pointed to the steps.
We could see Morocco and mountains in the distance and Spain on the other side. I grinned and hopped around a little in my flip flops, wind whipping my hair wildly around my head.
“I can’t believe we are going to Africa!” I grabbed ahold of a metal pole for support.
“I know!” Angie did a mini happy dance.
The sea wind on the upper deck made standing or walking difficult. We sat for a minute in the crazily blowing air and then opted to sit on the main level indoors in the comfy chairs for the hour and forty minute ride across.
Into Africa – Tangier Morocco
Back in the car, we exited the ship on a new continent into fast moving traffic. A lot of people were walking through the streets. Many men were in traditional caftans or djellabas and the women wore hijabs.
The landscape was completely different from Spain. A large stone fort was visible down the dusty street and there were rows of palm trees. The water in the strait was a stunning turquoise.
Angie navigated onto a main road while I quickly tried to map to Chefchaouen where we were spending the night.
Lost in Tangier
“Which way? Which way?” Angie sounded tense as we approached a three way intersection and I had not yet gotten a signal on my phone. The road signs were in Arabic and traffic was flowing fast.
“I can’t get the GPS to work.” I looked from my phone to the road. “Stay to the left I think.”
“Here,” Angie tossed her phone onto my lap and took the left. “Try mine.”
I grabbed her phone and pulled up the maps app. There was a little blue dot to indicate our location but no option to put in an address for navigation.
“According to the dot and the location of Chefchaouen, it looks like we have to go back, turn around and take that middle lane.” I pinched my fingers on the phone to zoom in on the map.
Our little blue dot moved as Angie spun the car around into a parking spot along the road.
Morocco or Monaco…Where Are We?
“Here, give me that.” She commanded as she shifted to park. “I know I signed up for an International phone plan before we left.”
Angie quickly dialed a close family member in charge of their phone plan.
“Hey Johnny, it’s me. Could you check something for me? We just got into Africa and I have no wifi or mapping on the phone.”
I could hear the voice coming through the speakerphone.
“Wait…how did you end up in Africa? I thought you were going to Monaco.”
“We are in Morocco.”
“Ok, I’ll take care of it.” Was Johnny’s confident response. “Are you sure you’re in Morocco, Africa?”
We laughed and confirmed our location. He assured us he would handle it and meanwhile Angie doubled back and took the middle lane.
Road From Tangier to Chefchaouen
Once we were away from the bustle of Tangier, it became more evident we were moving in the right direction. Despite the lack of GPS, we were thankful for the little blue dot that signaled where we were on the map.
“I have to find a bathroom.” Angie squirmed a little.
Chefchaouen was about a two hour drive from Tangier. The roads were dry and dusty and we traveled in and out of mountain valleys. We passed an occasional road-side shop selling pottery, water, hats and colorful blankets.
How Do You Say Bathroom?
Finally a gas station came into view. Angie pulled off and the attendant approached and spoke to us in Arabic. We indicated a fill up and he began pumping the gas.
“Excuse me,” Angie called out the window, “Where is your restroom?”
The man looked confused. I tried again in Spanish, having read that many people in Morocco speak Spanish or French as well as Arabic.
He laughed and called over another attendant. I attempted again in Spanish for the 2nd man.
“Baño?” They both laughed and made bathing/showering motions.
“Toilet!” Angie blurted out as I was attempting to activate Google translate.
“Ooooh,” the men chorused as they both pointed towards a blue tiled building, still smirking at us.
A Surprise in the Morocco Bathroom
Angie ran in first and came out a few minutes later looking grim.
“What? Was it gross? Should I hold it?” I asked rapid-fire, sensing her discomfort with the scene.
“Well, it was…an experience.” She laughed, handing me a wad of tissues from her purse. “Remember the squat toilets you showed me online?”
I nodded, grabbed the tissue and went in, curiosity getting the best of me.
Although I had seen photos of the Turkish toilet, I was somehow not prepared for the hole in the floor I was faced with.
The Turkish Toilet Experience
The small room had a slightly raised porcelain square on the floor with a hole in the middle. The floor and the square were wet and I briefly wondered if I would be able to successfully aim. There was no sink, but a faucet sitting low on the wall and a bucket. I did my business while pondering the house and bucket, thankful for the tissues and hand sanitizer Angie had given me.
“Well ok, I’m glad we got to see the Turkish toilets, but I’m pretty sure seeing one is enough.” I shook my freshly sanitized hands.
“Agreed.” Angie put the gassed up car into gear.
Over the Mountains to Chefchaouen
Back on the road, we wound past gleaming blue lakes that looked like gems among the dry trees and hills. We began seeing flashes of blue among the Rif Mountains and I could feel my excitement building.
I could see the blue dot on the phone was getting closer to Chefchaouen and I zoomed in to follow the snaking road out of town and determine the exit we needed to get there.
The Blue City Chefchaouen Morocco
We wound into the Blue City, surprised somehow by the extent of the blue. Every structure, every wall, and every step was a brilliant chalky blue. The buildings had ornately designed keyhole doorways. Pops of colorful flowers were in window boxes and lined the blue steps.
My eyes scanned the street for anything that looked like a parking garage or lot.
The street narrowed and became cobbled, not paved. There were more and more people walking in front of us on the street, moving to the side and some giving us the face as we crept passed.
We began to ask the old familiar question, “Is this even a road? Should we be driving here?”
Parking Help in Chefchaouen
A bearded man in a blue caftan gave us a stop signal with his hand and came around to the driver side window.
“Are you looking for parking?” He bent to peer in at us.
Angie and I nodded and the man signaled for us to follow him.
We rolled up the windows and briefly discussed whether we should be following this stranger. We were not 100% but the road seemed to not be a road, and he seemed to know what he was doing.
“I read this is a level one country for safety.” I tried to reassure Angie and we followed the man around a corner to an even narrower street where he indicated we should park. “We just need to be cautious.”
Navigating the Chefchaouen Medina
After parking, we grabbed a few essentials and the man offered to show us to the Riad where we would be staying.
With my Star Wars pillow and my giant S-Hook for muscle knots in hand, we followed the bearded man who was moving quickly through the narrow maze of Chefchaouen. The steep cobblestone streets turned left and right and right and left. I wondered if we would ever find the car again as I huffed behind the man. He stopped in front of a bright blue door and pointed, nodding happily.
Angie and I stared at the sign which didn’t match the name of our hotel. I had a nervous feeling, hoping we weren’t being tricked. Angie told him the name again...Riad Cherifa…and he made a sound like, “Ahhhhh,” and turned on his heels…motioning for us to follow.
We did and he led us past blue stairwells and little blue shops with cats and people everywhere. I felt a little naked in my skirt and sweatshirt, looking at the locals who were mostly covered.
The man wounded another corner in the maze and up a steep hill, again pointing happily at the door with the sign, Riad Cherifa.
“Yes!” We both exclaimed. “This is it.”
Relieved, Angie gave the man a generous tip and he waved and disappeared into the crowd.
Riad Cherifa Morocco – We Made It!
We rang the bell outside the Riad. A Riad is a traditional Moroccan house in the medina, usually with a central pool or garden. This type of luxurious guesthouse is a more authentic Morocco experience than a regular hotel with intricate mosaic tiles and carved wood and I was thrilled to get a reservation.
Tour of a Moroccan Riad
After checking in, the man who ran Riad Cherifa led us to our room. The hotel itself seemed like a maze. Decorative tile mosaic was everywhere. He showed us an outdoor central garden area with a shining pool and rock wall.
“Our traditional Moroccan breakfast is served here in the morning.” The man pointed towards a large cushioned seating area.
We passed several other seating areas with mosaic tiles lining the steps and ceilings. Stained glass windows let in streams of colored light. Each room had a keyhole shaped doorway. Tropical plants and flowers were placed along walkways and there was the trickling sound of a fountain and light music.
Our Room at Riad Cherifa
Our room itself was incredible. I felt like we had stepped into an ancient palace bedroom. There was a crystal chandelier hanging from a decorative carved wood ceiling. Rich deep red and gold were throughout. The doors were brightly painted and keyhole shaped.
We happily navigated our way out through the blue maze of Chefchaouen and miraculously found the car to bring our luggage in and then set out for an evening of fun in the medina.
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