Last Christmas, I faced my fears and opted to solo-travel in Morocco for 15 days. So many people had advised me that I shouldn’t travel alone in Morocco as a woman. However, I felt I had to prove them wrong.
I flew from Madrid to Marrakesh and took public transportation to Essouaira, Casablanca, Rabat, and Tangier, and rode the ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to return to my current home in Malaga, Spain where I’m working as an English teacher.
“The world will take care of me,” I told myself out loud, feeling slightly hysterical but also excited and giddy. I tried to unearth a sense of calm and confidence, but I felt my stomach churning as I set out on my journey: to find my couchsurfing host Moe on the other side of Casablanca.
When I’m in particularly challenging situations, I try to imagine a protective bubble around myself. Nothing can touch me. I can’t be harmed.
Moe had sent me his address which was 8 kilometers away from where I had gotten off the bus. I had to navigate the bustling heart of Casablanca.
As the sun was descending in the pink and orange sky, I crossed a busy market, surrounded by thousands of people speaking mostly in Arabic and some in French. Practically every woman apart from myself was wearing a headscarf. I saw a decapitated camel head, spine dangling. People slurped up snails from roadside stands. Vendors sold everything from olives to underwear to cactus fruit to peanuts.
“Bonjour!” vendors would call out to me.
“Are you okay?” someone said in English as I walked by decisively.
Miraculously I made it to the tram stop without checking my phone (tucked safely into an inner pocket). I waited for ten minutes but soon noticed I was alone at the bench. Finally, I realized the tram was out of order.
Following my intuition, I crossed the street and randomly approached a white taxi van. I showed the driver the address where I needed to go, and everyone in the vicinity immediately began chatting in Arabic trying to help me. As the sun sank and darkness engulfed the city, I clambered in the taxi. I was laughing to myself, trusting the world, feeling the bubble. One woman gave me some dates and tried to talk to me in French.
In this potentially dangerous situation, traveling across the busiest city in Morocco alone at night, I found that most people were helpful and friendly. Trusting myself and cultivating a feeling of safety, instead of paranoia and fear, is a skill that I cultivated during this trip. The world is a place that protects and provides for us, and this way of thinking is reflected in my actions and what happens to me, as well. In my past 8 years of traveling – over 15 countries – I have never once been robbed. (Knock on wood!)
Before I left for this trip, my colleagues at the elementary school where I work in Malaga, Spain, were extremely worried. Almost everyone I talked to had a negative reaction when I told them I was going to Morocco alone.
“Vas sóla? Es muy peligroso, cuídate…” was the reaction of my principal.
I couldn’t help but want to prove them wrong.
Feeling a sense of nervous excitement, I left my apartment in Malaga at daybreak to walk to the train station just two days before Christmas. I carried in my 50-liter backpack a sleeping bag and a small bag of clothes (all of which covered my arms and legs, because I heard that in Muslim countries it’s unwise to show a lot of skin). On my front, I had another small backpack with a journal, book, some snacks, and a water bottle. My passport, wallet, and phone were zipped in the inner pockets of my jacket underneath my raincoat.
My one-way ticket from Madrid to Marrakesh had cost less than $100, including the train ride from Malaga to Madrid. My friend Jackie, a fellow American who I had met in Japan, currently lives and teaches in Marrakesh, and she had invited me to visit for the holidays.
She picked me up from the airport and drove on pot-holed dirt roads to her palace, which is half an hour drive from the center of Marrakesh. Jackie rents a small mansion with three other English teachers, and we spent Christmas singing carols, watching movies by her fireplace, and doing yoga on her roof.
After a few days, she took me to the medina. Every city in Morocco has a medina, or old market place, bustling with food stalls, colorful clothes, and strange fruit. I was curious but also sad to see snake charmers and slave monkeys wearing diapers. Finally, Jackie dropped me off at the bus station, and it was time to branch off on my own.
Couchsurfing in Morocco
“Don’t talk to strangers” is another rule I decide to ignore while traveling. Of course, there is common sense involved, and I’m often trusting my intuition when deciding who to trust.
For the past 6 years, I’ve been using a website called Couchsurfing to find free accommodation around the world. I also hosted travelers at my apartment in Japan.
In exchange for providing a free place to stay, hosts receive a spark of excitement in their lives and the chance to connect with travelers from around the world. On the public profiles, you can find pictures and reviews. I only host or stay with people who have multiple positive reviews. In Japan, my most memorable surfers were from Germany, France, and China, and I’ll never forget surfing at an animal refuge in Langkawi and with anarchists in Kuala Lumpur.
I arrived in Essaouira in the evening, and my host was waiting for me at the bus stop. Simo Amri is a friendly 27-year-old government employee with 25 positive reviews on the couchsurfing website. We went to a tiny hole in the wall restaurant and ate Harissa, a traditional vegetarian Morrocan soup with corn flatbread, which cost about 8 dirhams, or 80 cents, each. He gave me a key to his apartment and I had my own room. The next day two other surfers from the Czeck Republic came. We spent an evening playing music and singing.
The 6-hour bus ride from Essaouira to Casablanca with CMT, Central Morocco Travel, was convenient and comfortable. There I had my adventure to find Moe. As soon as we met, he immediately went to the hammam, or traditional baths. I was feeling bold, so I decided to go too, having no idea what I was getting myself into. Apparently, you are supposed to bring your own bucket, which you fill with hot water, and use a water scooper to bathe yourself. I didn’t have a bucket but one of the women loaned me one.
Moe is fascinating to talk to, and we discussed spirituality and politics, and he told me about his experience hosting couchsurfers in Morocco. He has hosted over 30 people over the past few years.
The next day Moe took me to the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, which is the tallest mosque in Africa at 210 meters. We enjoyed the sun with a long walk along the waterfront, had lunch, and he accompanied me to the bus station where I headed to Rabat.
My next host Ali is a self-made librarian and has a collection of over 1000 books in five languages. He had two friends from China and a Polish girl at his place, and we ate and talked and laughed together. A few days later, three Spanish friends from Zaragoza came to stay, and I spent an entire day speaking Spanish and exploring the city with them. I found Rabat a lot more accessible than Casablanca, and my favorite places were the Necropolis de Chellah and the Casba de los Udayas. I ended up staying there for 5 days and then traveled with Ali to Tangier where he knew a family we could stay with.
Homestay in Tangier
The new high-speed train got us from Rabat to Tangier in about an hour, a journey that used to take up to 5 hours, and we were picked up from the station by Mohammad, a friend of Ali’s. They also met on the internet because Ali has a project where he lends and sells books on the internet from his own personal library.
Mohammad and his wife Khaoula are both English teachers and immediately made me feel comfortable in their home. They have two young children, 9-year-old Sohaib and his younger sister Nusaiba. Both kids already know Arabic and are learning French and English.
During our two nights with them, Khaoula cooked us amazing meals and even made the effort to have some vegan options for me. For breakfast, we had a wide spread of bread with olive oil, Amlou (almond honey butter with argon oil), dates, and more.
On my last day, Mohammad took us to Park Rmilat and Hercules Caves in the morning, and we came home to an amazing lunch of bread, olives, potatoes, salad, and bissara, which is dried, pureed broad beans with olive oil. Finally, it was finally time to take the ferry from Tangier to Tarifa, which only takes 30 minutes and costs 40 euros. On the other side, I used BlaBlaCar, a ride-sharing application similar to Uber but for longer distances, to get back to Malaga.
What I learned
Traveling is challenging, beautiful, scary, and life-changing. If you haven’t traveled alone, I’d highly recommend it, regardless of your gender. Of course, it’s important to research before you go and take necessary precautions, but don’t let other people’s bad associations with a country stop you from going there.
So many people told me not to go to Morocco alone, but I’m really glad I did. I’ll admit that I was afraid before I went, but I truly believe that it’s important to do things that you’re afraid of. When facing scary moments, I can reach within myself and find a sense of calm and self-confidence, level my head and make a decision. I can use these skills on a daily basis in my normal life, too.
Morocco will forever hold a place in my heart as the first Arab country I visited alone, and this won’t be the last time I go there. I still want to go to Chefchauen, a mountain town where all the buildings are painted blue, and the Sahara desert. I’ll be back for sure.