Getting Directions in Morocco
Maps and guidebooks are helpful, but often not enough to find your way around Morocco.
In Fes, we would have never found our riad without the help of local children. This kindness became essential during our two weeks in Morocco. Everywhere we went, someone was willing to help us find what we were looking for. Some wanted money in return, while others seemed offended when we offered. Either way, traveling in Morocco forced me to get more comfortable with relying on others for directions.
On the very first day of our trip we were lost in the Jemaa el Fna in Marrakesh. We had just taken a red-eye from the U.S. to Casablanca, spent a half day in the city, taken a train to Marrakesh and then a taxi to the Jemaa. Even with a map, and even though our riad was nearby, the chaos of the market plus our exhaustion made it impossible.
That’s when a small shifty man emerged from the crowd to help. He asked where we were going and told us to follow him. Before we could agree, he headed sharply in a direction away from the Jemaa with the only copy of our directions in his hand.
He weaved through the market, squeezing through gaps in the crowd, and I struggled to keep up with his pace. Shortly after, he stopped. He had taken us halfway but would only take us the rest of the way for a price. It was exactly what we had read about hustlers in the Jemaa. We negotiated with him on a price but paid much more than we wanted. In the end, he had something we needed and we were too exhausted to argue. It didn’t help that we were also short on small bills since we had just arrived.
Tip: If you must pay for directions, try to negotiate a price ahead of time.
A few days later we were lost again. We had spent hours wandering the city and wound up in an area with high walls, hiding all the landmarks we had become familiar with. When it was getting dark and we didn’t see other tourist around, we asked a man for directions back to the Jemaa. He said he was heading that way and we should follow him.
He walked quickly and we followed him for a long time. At one point I feared there had been a miscommunication, or worse, because I didn’t think we were that far away. Eventually though, we reached the Jemaa and regained our bearings. We thanked the man and offered him money for his trouble but he declined. I wasn’t sure if we had offended him but he seemed uncomfortable with our gesture. I made this mistake once more with a teenage boy who helped us with directions in the Mellah. He too seemed offended when I offered him cash.
After that, I didn’t offer money to anyone who didn’t ask. I learned that usually, those who approach you are the ones offering a service for a fee. Most people, however, are willing to just help you out.
The kindest person we met was a young woman in Fes named Zineb. She was college-aged and wore sunglasses and a white T-shirt with a cat on it. We had just gotten off the train and were following signs for a McDonald’s. We asked Zineb if she knew how far it was to walk, and she offered to give us a ride.
Inside her SUV, she asked us about our travels. She told us a bit about herself too, how she was studying business but wanted to work in fashion, how she wished to someday study abroad and how she longed for the freedom to travel alone, something women in her culture could not do. Though I was traveling with my husband, I realized I had overlooked this privilege.
Before dropping us off she made a pit stop at a copy center. She was meeting friends from school to finish a project they were working on. She apologized, said she wouldn’t be long, and left us in the car to wait for her. I was surprised by her trust and generosity.
After 10 minutes or so she returned and drove us to McDonald’s, leaving us her Facebook information in case we needed anything during our stay in Fes. With that, we said our goodbyes.
Surprisingly, we saw her again the next day while shopping in Old Fes. We spoke briefly and I was glad to be reminded of her and her kindness. It was nice meeting people like her after reading so much about pickpockets and hustlers. Those people exist too, but they are just one part of the story.
Copyright © 2016 Fortuitous Travel. All rights reserved.