On my recent “Colourful Coasts” cruise with Marella, I looked forward to visiting a number of the Canary Islands (La Palma, Lanzarote, Tenerife and Gran Canaria) and Madeira. Also on the itinerary, requiring a day at sea to arrive, was Agadir, located on Morocco’s southern Atlantic coast.
It had not escaped my attention that on a number of Marella Facebook groups, the topic of Agadir arose multiple times. Why? Well, in short, some cruisers felt that it was “dangerous”, “ugly”, “smelly”, “dirty”, “full of beggars” not to mention “derelict”. I admit to feeling somewhat bemused, especially as some of those same people come from towns and cities in England that could easily have those same labels attached. Not to mention that some of those cruisers had never visited Morocco. Others made the decision to not disembark the ship because they had heard horror stories of taxi drivers whisking customers high up in to the Atlas mountains never to return. If only. For any bigots reading, that was my attempt at humour. I absolutely wouldn’t want to run into you in the Atlas mountains…
The problem with some Brits is that when travelling abroad they want the British experience in terms of food, language, facilities, cleanliness (debatable given what I saw on board the Dream ship) and general familiarity (which, in my experience can breed contempt and subsequently superiority). We even call Brits who move abroad “Expats” (even if they are planning to remain) rather than “immigrants” – no doubt to save face and hide behind multiple layers of very real hypocrisy. The only thing they don’t want is the same kind of weather, unless it’s too hot.
I digress too much. Some want to walk the port, find WiFi and duty free, then get back on board. I am not judging them, much. But if what they see of the port does not appeal, they sometimes blanket a whole country with the same ignorant brush. Of course, St Ives is no different to Wolverhampton, is it? And those who courageously venture outside of the port may well make it to Agadir, stunned that people wear different clothes, speak different languages, don’t eat bacon sarnies and sometimes have holes in the ground to dispose of ‘you know what’. Look, if you’ve had a poor experience, try again. I mean, I can’t tell you how many poor experiences I’ve had living in England. It doesn’t make it ALL bad, though.
Agadir (a Berber noun meaning wall, enclosure, citadel) is anything but “derelict”. It’s known for its plush hotels, crescent shaped winding promenades that hug the sea front, pristine golf courses, nearby palaces, and a plethora of lovely restaurants and bars. Agadir is a modern, lively, colourful city with two nearby airports and its flourishing economy thanks to tourism and its citrus fruit and vegetable exports. It has remarkably mild winters and blistering summers. It is not Britain and it feels less familiar than many countries I have visited – this is a good thing for an inquisitive mind and someone looking to experience other cultures.
Like anywhere in the world, you need to be respectful of cultural differences, be sensible, and above all, be polite and respectful. Obviously some Brits find this tricky. In Morocco, you WILL be approached by people wanting money in return for a picture with a scorpion, a snake, a camel, even if you don’t want it. Smile, say no thanks and move on. No fuss necessary. I was pestered far less in Agadir than when I lived in Bradford or London. Just saying.
We certainly ventured out and about in Morocco and I must say it was one of my highlights whilst on this cruise. So let’s now focus on the wonders that this part of Morocco has to offer. Here are the highlights from my day ashore.
Wonder 1 – the Food
On every corner you’ll find some proud Moroccan busily preparing Tagine for the masses. We started our meal with home made breads with an array of dips such as argan oil and honey, followed by juicy char grilled chicken kebab, onions and green peppers. Next, two tagines arrived (one chicken, one vegetable), proudly delivered with steam rushing to escape through the narrowing chimney, designed like this, of course, to return all the condensation to the bottom of the dish to aid cooking. The smell was divine, but the excitement for the big reveal too much to bear. More breads arrived to help mop up the fragrant juices, savoury with meat, sweet with onion, slightly sharp and tangy with preserved lemons. A complete triumph to say the least, finished off with freshly picked oranges, all washed down with a red wine I can’t for the life of me remember (local, I believe) and hot sweet mint tea. You just HAVE to sample the local cuisine.
Wonder 2 – the Landscape
We travelled by 4X4 along the coast line to Sidi Ouassay in the Chtouka-Aït Baha Province of the Souss-Massa-Drâa region of Morocco before heading to the foot of the Atlas mountains, meandering close to the Massa river and eventually past the Youssef Bin Tachfine reservoir and up in to the hills for some special views. I was initially surprised by the ever changing landscape having, unrealistically, considered this part of Africa to be flatter and more desert like. With such light traffic on the roads, exploring by 4X4 was the perfect way to see the contrasting landscapes of Morocco.
Wonder 3 – Shopping & Souks
Gliding into Sidi Bibi (I love that name) we passed bustling souks galore before settling on a stunning shop showcasing a vast array of traditional Moroccan pottery. I am not one for shopping, but will say that the markets and shops we visited really did catch my attention for the detail of work and craftsmanship (is it un-PC to say that now?) as well as the poor but highly amusing sales pitches! Stand your ground, haggle politely, but always firmly. The words “smiling assassin” (my unfortunate nickname once upon a time) came to mind! It’s a lot of fun and very easy to forget that people are trying to earn a living selling these products, so perhaps don’t be too mean.
Wonder 4 – “Desert”
If you are not aware, there’s quite a lot of debate as to how much “desert” actually exists in Morocco – something to do with the classification of biomes, calculated by precipitation over a specified period in relation to evapotranspiration. Erm, I’ll just leave that there for a moment. Having said this, scientists do agree that it is a generally arid country and that there is a huge presence of sand! Hoorah! I for one find it spectacularly beautiful – the way in which the sand takes on different forms, shape shifting, drifting slowly, forming dunes, morphing from warm yellow – mustard – chocolate – brown shades and back again depending on science type things I do not understand. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but against a blue sky the arid landscape is gorgeous. Look out for the odd salesman trying to get you to part with your money for a picture with a scorpion or two, sometimes snakes. They looked harmless enough. No, really…!
Wonder 5 – The People
As well as seeing some wonderful sights, I must mention how wonderfully welcoming the people of Morocco were / are. Our guide was so proud of his country, and its customs – he was excited to share his experiences with us. In Tizit, the restaurant staff were delightful and clearly knew they delivered the goods. When they saw our faces light up on the big tagine reveal, the staff couldn’t help but smile, knowing we were as delighted with their hospitality and cooking as they were with our gleeful reactions. I also remember fondly a moment in the town of Belfaa when I wondered on to the porch of an unassuming restaurant, mesmerised by about 20 tagines sat on a bed of hot coals. The owner beckoned me over, presenting proudly what was slowly cooking in each clay dish, all smiles, all joy. He pressed his hands together, thanking me for taking an interest – such a simple yet heartwarming gesture and moment for me. Difficult to explain. And in that moment I remember some of the ill-measured and ignorant comments I had read on line. I wondered how he would feel knowing that swathes of Brits would look down their noses at him, his home and way of life. I like to think he wouldn’t give a rat’s ass, actually. And nor should he.
You get what you give
You have probably ascertained that I am a fan of this part of the world. If you are looking to experience the world and life to the full, if you are willing to give people a real chance, ask them questions, listen to what they have to say, expect the unexpected, understand that you are not better, just different, you will reap what you sow here in Morocco. Otherwise, yes, please do stay on the boat (please note that I have poetic licence here to say “boat” instead of “ship”).
If you’d like to see how I spent this cruise, please watch the video below. You’ll also find footage of our wonderful day in Morocco. With thanks for reading and thanks to a Summery blogger for inspiring this post. Jamie