What to expect and some advice
The High Atlas Mountains are an amazing place, both culturally and as a location for mountaineering. They offer us the chance to climb in an alpine environment, close to home but in an adventurous location, with amazing weather and without the danger of crevasses.
Through the day you might experience warm temperatures and sunshine suggestive of the proximity to the Sahara, sometimes +20C even at 3000m. Drinking mint tea and topping up the sun tan outside the Refuge in this case is a pleasure. It is not always sunny though, temperatures in the shade can be significantly lower and at night can reach -15C, also just like in Scotland it can be very windy and when it does snow there is often a significant amount.
Down off the mountains in Marrakech however it will be pleasantly warm during the day and cool in the evenings. It is worth considering packing with this in mind, especially for a nice meal out in the Jemaa el-Fnaa just around the corner from the hotel.
Alcohol, the Law, Social Etiquette and Religion
Morocco is mostly a dry country. Alcohol is available in some hotels (Riad Omar where we are staying) and at shops called bottle shops. It is fine to drink at hotels but would be considered quite rude to over consume. It would also be considered impolite to drink at the refuge, but don’t worry there will be plenty of Berber whisky (mint tea) for you throughout the trip.
We might not notice it very much in the mountains as it will be cool anyway, but in Marrakech it will be warm enough to wear shorts and t-shirts. With this in mind Morocco is very liberal as a Muslim country but is quite conservative compared to what we may be used to here in the UK. Men should wear shorts below the knee as should ladies. Women should also try and ensure all clothes are below the knee and shoulders are covered. Loose fitting clothing would be considered most appropriate. We may see other westerners doing otherwise however you’ll find the reception you receive will be much happier and warmer from the local people.
Couples are welcomed in Morocco as it is such a loving culture, however too much public affection is discouraged. Modesty is usually the best policy here.
Tea can be drank in either hand, however you should always eat with your right hand and sit cross legged to avoid showing the soles of your feet.
The local currency is Moroccan Dirham(dh), and is a closed currency, meaning you can’t get it from the post office here in the UK, you have to get it in country. There is only one exchange rate, and it varies little from place to place, with the exception in my experience being the airport on occasion. I normally change a small amount at the airport to pay for the taxi, and then get the rest from an ATM to avoid traveling with large amounts of cash.
Some things not to miss here. Only take English sterling. They will not exchange Scottish pounds anywhere in Marrakech, we have tried. Euro and US dollars are also fine, however often only crisp dollars are accepted.
There are ATM’s right next to the hotel which are safe to use, and an exchange just around the corner. This is a cash driven society so work out how much you’re going to need before we leave the city. The biggest denomination is 200dh, about 20 euros. It may prove impossible to break for purchases of less than 50dh so make sure when you’re traveling in country you have plenty if 20 dh and 50dh notes. Be aware the 20 euro note is very similar to the 200dh note and a 50 euro note to 100dh note, there’s some great stories of taxi drivers getting paid 50 euro for a taxi that should have cost 100dh.
Getting from the airport to the hotel
The first part of the adventure, and probably your first experience of haggling in country.
You need a “grand Taxi” usually a large Mercedes, you can find these just outside the terminal. They will take you right to the Riad Omar, you may have to walk 5 minutes depending on the time of day. As the Medina or Jemaa el Fna (Main square) is closed to traffic at certain times of day. It should cost around 150Dh or thereabouts. They will try and charge 300Dh, stand your ground, smile and don’t be scared to walk away.
There are a few languages spoken in Morocco, French, some English Moroccan Arabic and Berber. As with all foreign adventures giving the local dialect a go will get you miles in terms of favour amongst the locals. Here’s a few ones to get you started.
Hello – Salam
As-salāmu ʿalaykum - peace be upon you. To which you should reply,
waʿalaykumu as-salām- and upon you, peace
How are you - Keef dayer
I am good - koulshi labas
What’s your name? - Ashno smytek?
My name is Sydney - Smyti Sydney
Thank you - Shouk-ran
Bits and Bobs