Morocco was listed as our most adventurous trip for the year and it was indeed an adventure. We spent 30+ hours on the road, 8 hours in the air, 3 hours via rail and 2 hours on camels for 5 nights covering 3 major cities and 1 Sahara, PHEW!!!!! We came back beat and exhausted however, fulfilled, excited and pumped up for our next adventure.
Late last year, we put up our Nomad calendar and opened up spaces for 15 Nomads to explore Morocco during the Easter holiday. We weren’t gender specific, but we somehow ended up with 19 fantastic ladies! Not one guy signed up for this trip. Though they indicated their interests, but the ladies snatched all the spaces. Girl power!!!
With so many ladies, one will expect tons of bickering and drama but believe me, none of that happened. It wasn’t all smooth sailing but the issues that came up were non issues. There were no verbal altercations, no one got hurt and no one threatened to leave. Praise Jesus for that! It was all hugs, smiles and exchange of contact details when we touched down at the Murtala Muhammad airport. The “thank yous” and nice words were endless and those definitely made me smile. For me, a trip is largely successful when your clients express genuine gratitude for your efforts and quoting Tosin, this was definitely MONEY WELL SPENT!
I’ll be telling sob stories if I say this trip was all roses and peonies, we had some thorns and weeds too. It was largely successful (based on feedbacks) but we surely had some hitches. We got held up for over an hour at the airport, got scammed by our tour guide, spent about 2 uncomfortable hours riding camels in the desert, posed in the blistering cold for photos and so on!
Just like we did for Nomads in Rwanda, we will be sharing these hitches hoping others can learn from our experience. An overview of the entire trip will be up in subsequent posts, but first let’s all learn from the mistakes we made.
Yup! Our “problems” started right at the airport. You know how in Nigerian clubs, a group of girls going clubbing, without a guy, are more than likely “prostitutes”? Well we experienced the same at the Murtala Muhammad International Airport.
After checking in, we proceeded for boarding, all gleeful and excited for our Moroccan Adventure! We got stopped by an immigration officer who asked us a couple of usual questions which were answered correctly.
“We are going to Morocco for 5 nights to spend our Easter Holiday” – we answered.
He then asked for letters from our parents to travel. Letters from our parents? E ma gba mi (meaning what the heck is going on?). Some of us in the group were married with kids and the youngest Nomad was 25! He wasn’t going to let these “little girls” go through without letters from our parents! It sounded so hilarious and at the same time quite insulting.
It was such an odd occurrence that a group of 20 “small girls” were self sponsoring themselves on a vacation. Nigerian women cannot just work hard for their money and treat themselves to a trip. There has to be something more to this trip. Moreover, Morocco is a gateway to Spain so we had to be traveling for another reason.
They wanted to see the “leader” of the group and ask for a letter from the DSS. We told them we were a group of friends (not a religious or tour group) traveling on vacation and we did not need the letter. After going back and forth for almost an hour, we agreed to take down everyone’s name and passport numbers for our own “safety”. According to them, they were just doing their jobs and trying to protect us.
In Casablanca, the welcome was pretty different. We were barely asked questions, not even the name of the hotel we were staying or a hotel reservation. We just filled our landing cards, they stamped it and asked us to go in.
NOMAD TIP: to save your time and energy, when traveling as a group, it’s best you head to the boarding gate as individuals. Ensure everyone in the group has the necessary documents and is equipped with vital information for the trip such as the cities to be visited and their hotel reservation.
At the Casablanca airport, we saw a couple of currency exchange booths and we decided to change some money for things like lunch or airtime during the road trip to Essaouira.
The cashiers claimed their rate; 8.6 Dirhams to 1 Dollar, was the only rate across the country and tried to convince us to change all our money there. They also tried to give us a “free” card which we could use in stores all over the country.
The catch was, with the card they’ll give us a slightly better exchange rate; 8.7 Dirhams to 1 Dollar. The cashier purposely omitted the information that the card itself costs about 300 Dirhams. We realized when she gave us our money less the price of the card!
NOMAD TIP: Most restaurants accept dollars, euros and pounds and you will do perfectly okay before you get to a bank or a BDC in town. The airport rates aren’t great and you’ll get better rates in town. There’s almost no need to change money at the airport and if you have to (to take a cab for instance) change only $50 and nothing more!
We stayed in a riad in Essaouira and a villa in Marrakesh. Though the riad in Essaouira was very basic in terms of aesthetics, we had a better customer experience there than we did in Marrakesh. The villa in Marrakesh was in the palmeraie area and it was really grand!
However, their customer service was extremely poor. First they held my passport “hostage” for silly reasons, refused to serve some people breakfast and left some of them wandering around their massive premises at night looking for their villas. We had serious communication issues and there was a huge mix up. Everything got resolved eventually.
NOMAD TIP: In the hospitality sector, smaller establishments definitely do a much better job in customer care. For group trips such as these, always opt for smaller hotels/guest houses and Airbnbs as accommodation choices. A riad in the Medina was our first choice but when our party increased, we had to find a bigger accommodation.
As we approached Essaouira from Casablanca, I wished we had at least two days in Essaouira! Essaouira was such a vibe and a half, it reminded everyone so much of Santorini. White walls with blue accents, everything about this city was so chill and extremely pretty. Essaouira was cold, especially at night, and we had to wear layers and buy sweaters to keep warm.
Marrakesh on the other hand was….Marrakesh! Big city, fast paced, hustle and bustle and definitely warmer than Essaouira. Marrakesh was pretty stressful and we didn’t have the opportunity to explore it properly. We only toured some parts of the old Medina and the Jardin Majorelle.
NOMAD TIP: 5 days is way too short for a country like Morocco, especially if a night in the Sahara is a part of your itinerary. The Sahara trip takes at least 2 days from the itinerary and you are left with 3 days to explore. Yes we tagged the trip as an adventure but we still feel we should have extended the time to allow the Nomads soak in each city before moving to the next one.
I’m not even going to lie, I was pretty skeptical about putting this on the itinerary. “What if everyone cancels and decides to stay back and explore Marrakesh instead”? An average Nigerian is a safe traveler and I was worried no one will want to spend the night in the Sahara. Boy they proved me wrong! 14 out of 20 of the Nomads were ready to spend 10hours on the road (each way) for a one night experience in the Merzoga desert and it was WORTH IT!
We experienced, motion sickness, hunger sickness and sore inner thighs from the 2 hour camel ride. Thankfully we journeyed to and from the Sahara in one piece and no Nomad was harmed during this adventure.
NOMAD TIP: equip yourself with breakfast and snacks for the road trip. We set off at 6.00am in the morning and it took over 4 hours to get to the first open restaurant.
Motion sickness pills will definitely come in handy during a road trip from Marrakesh to the Merzoga desert. About four nomads had motion sickness during our road trip and one was pretty bad! Thankfully someone had the motion sickness pill on the bus.
Brace yourself up for the camel ride. They look really great in photos but they are extremely uncomfortable and your inner thighs will be sore. However, you will survive!
The desert is expected to be hot all the time right? Wrong! The desert gets very cold at night and in the mornings so don’t forget to take thick sweaters/jackets with you!
Finally ensure you take a large bottle of water with you. You’ll only be served mint tea during dinner and you also need water to brush your teeth in the morning.
The company we partnered with hired two guides, Hassan and Camal, for our city tours. Hassan for Essaouira and Camal for Marrakesh.
Hassan was a gem. He was really knowledgeable and extremely patient. We were over 2 hours behind schedule. He told us about the history of Essaouira and took us around the nooks and crannies of the Medina. He also recommended an amazing sea food restaurant by the beach where we had one of the best lunches in Morocco.
Camal on the other hand was “special” and we experienced our first major scam with him. According to him, everything in the market was fake and we needed his permission before we purchased from any store. He only took us places he was going to get a commission for bringing business. We sensed all of that and refused to buy anything but for one store! Their marketing skills were excellent and we ended up buying spices and herbs at ridiculously inflated prices.
NOMAD TIP: Your guided tour should just be a guided tour of the city and nothing more. When a guide tells you they know the best places to purchase items kindly refuse and navigate the market by yourself. It’s not that difficult. If you get confused ask a shop owner or a policeman for “the Big square” or simply use your google maps. Guides will more than likely take you to shops were they’ll get commissions for bringing in customers.
Additionally, negotiating skills is a top requirement in Morocco. If something is offered to you at 100 Dirhams best believe you can buy it at 20/30 Dirhams.
There you have it! Our highlights and lowlights of our first trip of the year. We’ll be concluding quoting some of the feedback we got from the Nomads and best believe we have noted each and every one of them for our next trip to Lebanon!
“I loved the selection of travelers on the trip, each personality, though different, was mature and real fun-loving and I loved the itinerary of activities, the city selection and logistics.
I would have loved a day set aside for ‘do-nothing’ though. Guess that wasn’t so feasible because of the time for the trip, which is fine. Not much of a market or long lecture person, but I did learn a thing or two so I guess it wasn’t so ugly afterall”
“The adventure started in Lagos…lol. I’m very adventurous so this trip was everything I hoped for. The food was bleh most of the time. Great people and great conversations. Yejide was a star all through. We also didn’t get to do a lot of things on the freestyle schedule and I was looking forward to that. Generally, I liked our accommodation even when we were at the Riad and our room was just basic lol.
I loved the desert experience and the train ride too.
I would definitely love to visit Morocco again, different cities this time.”
“Everything was good except the perpetual and nonchalant late comers and the Moroccans who tried to swindle us. Naija nomads did an excellent job of organizing this trip”.
Photos Credit: @nguher_zaki