If you’re just tuning in, I’m part way through some advice for the ladies when travelling alone in Morocco. You can find the first part here
It’s the nations second language (or maybe third after Arabic and Berber..not sure) and although many people speak English, many don’t. Learning some Arabic will endear you to the locals so it’s great if you can do that. However, Westerners usually have some rudimentary French skills which can be built upon faster than beginning to learn Arabic from scratch.
Stick with the Moroccan ladies
Take advantage of the fact that you’re a woman. Approach the local women and you’ll find parts of the Moroccan culture that men will never get to see. Moroccan ladies are often not as outgoing as the men but will help you in a crisis and will show you their very interesting way of life. Getting close to the sisterhood certainly challenged my preconceptions of the male-dominant society. Two ways I found to do this were:
1) Go to the women’s baths – the most natural bodies and female bonding I’ve ever seen. I went to some local baths in Marrakech with a lovely Portuguese woman I met the day before, certainly didn’t think I’d be getting naked with her when I met her!
2) Ask to learn how to cook. It’s harder at hotels but when staying at guesthouses the ladies will be happy to show you their kitchen. It’s hard to do with no French or Arabic but sign-language always works. They will laugh at your lame attempts to cook but will appreciate your effort and interest and it’s a great way to bond.
The only time I started to panic a bit was when I was in the new city of Fes, didn’t have a guidebook and had asked a taxi driver to drop me at a hotel, he dropped me at a cinema with the same name. I couldn’t see any other travellers and it was about 6pm. Feck. I just wandered around till I saw a bunch of young foreigners at a bus stop. They were Spanish but spoke English and I just explained that I didn’t have a place to stay and they welcomed me into their little group to find a guesthouse.
Not only a comfort but sometimes hooking up with another traveller opens doors. I had my heart set on hiking in the Rif Mountains near Chefchaouen – a great opportunity arose when I met a group of young, upper class, Moroccan guys who were on holiday from their home town of Casablanca. They were leaving on a day-hike the next day with a local guide and asked me to join them. Luckily, the day before I had met another solo Aussie who was keen to come along. Neither of us would have gone alone but because we had met each other we felt secure enough to go. We hung out with these kind, funny guys for the next couple of days and grew exponentially in our knowledge of old Moroccan culture and the intriguing modernisation and European influences of the new culture.
There are two bus transport systems in Morocco, one more expensive- the express service (CTM), and then there’s the local bus. I’ve taken both by myself and nothing untoward ever happened on either. I like the experience of the local buses, the random stops in little towns and possibilities of interactions with people, but the increased level of awareness required can be exhausting when you just want to take a nap. If you’re not confident there is no shame in taking the CTM, just book ahead as they fill up.
I have a particularly high anxiety threshold when travelling (and at home), it takes quite a lot to freak me out. This is not true for everyone though and you’ll learn along the way. On my first trip I was young and cavalier – I wanted to do everything on my own without a tour. So I caught a bus to Ouarzazate in order to make my own way to the desert and gorges but upon arrival just knew that it was going to be very difficult and I was in over my head. I waited a day until a small group tour came through from Marrakech, joined them, had a great time and was fine with that. Challenging yourself is admirable but there is no point travelling if you miss what’s right in front of you because you’re looking over your shoulder the whole time.
It’s a different culture and it’s hard. Sometimes in the effort to learn more and create those memorable travel moments it goes awry. The one time I misjudged it, it lead to nothing more than some awkwardness and hurt feelings. When I was in Fes I arrived with the group of Spanish friends I met on the street and they stayed one night but I had three there. The owner of the guesthouse was young, said he was widely travelled and was obviously used to having foreigners come through the house. Without going into details I was treating him like I would a (completely platonic) male friend in Sydney. He thought it was more. I had unintentionally led him on. The possibility of getting romantically involved with a Moroccan guy as I was passing though town was so far off my radar (as it is when I pass through any town for a couple of nights).I assumed that he knew the western culture of guy/girl friendships but I shouldn’t have assumed. It became awkward and although I explained and apologised he was a bit hurt, but that was the end of the story. It was just a misunderstanding, it happens.
Don’t be too intense. Moroccans are laid-back, lovely people and are friendly. I lost track of the number of times I got in a petit-taxi and was given a blank look as I attempted to give directions in my incomprehensible school-girl French. As soon as I slowed down, attempted something in Arabic and gave a big beaming smile they were all overly helpful.
I don’t want to get all Germaine Greer on you but you shouldn’t let your fears of being a solo female stop you from going to Morocco. I loved it so much I went back again (by myself). Go, observe, soak up the atmosphere, taste the tajines, breathe in the fragrant African air, interact with the lovely people and let their culture challenge your thinking.
Honestly, I’ve felt more marginalised in some suburbs of Sydney with blokes leaning out of their cars to wolf-whistle at me. The unwanted attention is not worth spending your mental energy on, particularly when you’re in Morocco where there are millions of other things far more worthy of thoughts.
These are just my personal musings. Does anyone have any other tips for the ladies in Morocco? Feel free to ask any specific questions about different regions/transport .I’m (clearly) happy to dispense advice.