It’s May 4th 2019 and I’m waiting for my first night in Morocco. I made a reservation in a riad on the booking system Booking.com. Riad is a traditional Moroccan dwelling, decorated walls, colorful curtains, small wooden tables with hand-carved ornaments, decorated chandeliers and everything you would imagine under a palace from a fairy tale. If you are going to Morocco, you are looking for a riad and not a hotel or hostel. You would be missing out on a lot.
When booking, I noticed that the riad is located somewhere in a large gray box on the map. The problem in Morocco is that online maps don’t work very well here. You can try to search on Google Maps: Riad Dari, Tetouan. Although it looks like there is only one alley on the map, it’s actually a labyrinth of convoluted little streets. They all look exactly the same, and getting lost in them is easier than forgetting your grandmother’s birthday.
How to use Morocco maps
Even normal maps don’t work here. But don’t lose your head. Locals are happy to draw a map from their heads on paper and tell you exactly where to go to reach a city that is perhaps 200 km away. Following such a map is simple, just follow certain rules:
1 rule: as soon as you drive the first 100 m, throw away the map.
There are no other rules.
After making the riad reservation, I received a picture of a hand-drawn map and the procedure to get to the riad from the Medina gate via e-mail. As I later found out, Medina is generally used in Morocco to refer to the historic center of a city.
The medina is mostly surrounded by walls (see photo) and you can rarely get into it by motorbike. But I didn’t know that yet. I went around the medina on a motorbike for a while, to soon confirm that I had no choice but to go my own way. I found a secluded alley where there weren’t many people and parked the motorbike. I took the chain from the rear trunk of the motorcycle and placed it on the rear wheel.
I’m not taking anything with me, just a helmet. First I will find a riad in the medina and then I will come back here for all 3 suitcases.
According to the map, I manage to get lost quickly in the medina, there I find a sign pointing to my riad, but it only helps me to get lost more and more. There weren’t many passers-by, but I spotted what looked like an internet cafe, which was actually a school with a few computers. The teacher stopped the ongoing class and listened to me with basic English and understood my situation. He tasked one of the students to accompany me to the riad. I enter the bathroom, the boy runs back to class. The cleaner calls the manager of the riad, but he discovers that I am staying in their other riad. And so he sets off with me again into the maze of the labyrinth of the medina. I feel like someone is leading me further into the deep forest and at one point leaving me there alone.
In the second riad, the local manager discovers that the first manager made a mistake and that I am actually staying in the first riad. In retrospect, I would call it: “Classic Morocco”.
It’s about a thousand degrees outside, I’m wearing jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, a helmet and a leather jacket in my hand. I bake a little and I’m squeezable. And most importantly, I’m back in the first row. The manager apologizes to me, offers me hot mint tea and asks for my passport so he can sign me in the guest book. And I find out that I left my passport in the motorcycle. I also find that in addition to my passport, I also left my motorcycle keys there. And now I’m breaking out in an icy sweat and considering whether hot mint tea poured over my head sounds like a good idea.
I explain the situation to the manager and that I need to get back to my bike as soon as possible, if he can direct me somewhere out of the Medina. Fundamental mistake Ondřej!
I explain to the manager where I left the motorbike. He doesn’t hesitate and goes with me, he leads me confidently through the aisles, he knows exactly where we’re going. After 20 minutes of walking, when I could no longer sweat anything, neither hysteria nor heat, I stopped the manager and told him that we were going absolutely wrong. Indeed, as I later found out, the classic Moroccan will help you, whether it is in his abilities or not. It’s encoded in their culture. The fact that they can actually make your situation worse with their help is another matter. Inhale, exhale…
The idea of a stolen motorcycle, passport and being left alone with a credit card that doesn’t work and nothing but jeans and a black long sleeve t-shirt comes into my head… Inhale, exhale…
I decide to take the situation back into my own hands and say to the manager, “STOP! I’m going to lead us now.” Ten minutes later we find the place where the motorcycle is parked. The sprouts are tucked in the back trunk and just swing there unconsciously in the wind. The manager rolls his eyes like a Chuky doll and shrugs his shoulders to indicate that I’m more lucky than smart.
The manager insists that I ride the motorcycle together to the garage, where I will pay to watch the motorcycle. It is said that in Morocco it is not at all reasonable to leave a motorcycle parked on the street overnight.
I have a spare helmet, but the manager is too big for it, so he holds it in his hand and navigates me to the garages. This time he is doing better and everything is going smoothly. In a garage reminiscent of a place where stolen cars are driven, I prefer to lock my motorcycle with my own chain. The guard and the manager of the riad are watching me, scratching their heads in incomprehension.
Together with the manager in his carefully pressed white shirt and imported sunglasses, we re-enter the labyrinth of the medina. I already feel at home here. I have walked most of the alleys here about 3 times in the last hour. I get settled in the bathroom and my heart rate drops to a normal rate.
It’s very nice here, I’m slowly starting to enjoy again the pleasant feeling of peace and excitement of being in a new country.
I’m already in shorts and flip flops. I’m going to tour the city. I explore the medina, have a coffee and a sweet dessert. Even though it looks like a lump of sugar and I usually don’t need much sweet, it tastes great. I observe the surrounding life and soak up the local atmosphere. It is a trip to another time and not far from the oriental fairy tales of Alibaba.
Back in the riad, I enjoy the peace, the shower and the hot mint tea. There are not many people staying here, I occupy a room for 8 people all by myself. Ramadan will start in 3 days, so none of the tourists are going to Morocco.
I’m all the more relaxed to enjoy it here. The view from the terrace is breathtaking. There are mountains near the city and the coming clouds serve up a wonderful panorama.
As the sun sets, I retreat to my laptop to catch up on work. Even though I’ve carefully chosen a riad with a good Wi-Fi rating on Booking.com, I can’t connect to the internet very easily here. In Morocco, it is positively evaluated that you have wifi at all and not whether it works. But I don’t mind, it will definitely be resolved in the next accommodation.
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t get resolved.
I will get up tomorrow morning, have a breakfast of olives, pancakes, marmalade, tea and go on my way again. Moroccan nature and the historic city of Meknes await me.