Halal Girls’ Trip: Agadir

Before I went on this trip, I can’t say that Morocco was really on my radar of places to travel. I’d heard only negative things about it – that the men would relentlessly harass, catcall and grope me, and that if I even ventured near the marketplace I’d be pestered to within an inch of my life. I also read a load of scary blogs written by female travellers, saying they’d had rocks thrown at them for ignoring unwanted male attention. So, by the time it came to going, I was more than a little nervous.

But what I found when I got there really surprised me – the sexual harassment was minimal, the Moroccan people were astoundingly friendly and hospitable, and best of all the country is beautiful and rich in history. Shame on me for believing all those stereotypes about travelling in a non-Western country! Allow me to bring you along on our whistle-stop tour, right from the very beginning.

Leaving Stansted was not a lot of fun. We were flying Ryanair, which I knew was terrible, but it gets worse every time I fly on it. This time, they’d loaded most of the passengers onto the plane before realising that that plane was broken, so they had to load us onto another one.

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Ryanair? More like Ruin-air.

They’ve also got a fun new policy where you have to pay for the privilege of sitting next to the people you booked with, so my group sat separately. Worse still, toddlers are split from their parents, so these poor terrified kids are crying for their families during takeoff and there’s nothing their parents can do about it. It really is awful.

Crying kiddos aside, the flight was nice. Clear skies all the way, allowing me to watch as we crossed the Channel and into France. The sun set in a beautiful display of pink, orange and purple over Spain, and as we flew beyond the familiar coastline of Andalusia, I realised I would soon be stepping onto a continent I have never been to before – Africa. The sparseness of Moroccan territory really contrasts with the bright lights of its northern frenemy, Spain, but somehow that makes it all the more exciting.

But trust Moroccan passport control to extinguish the thrill. UK citizens don’t need a visa, but we do need to fill in landing cards where you tell them personal information, such as your occupation. I would usually tell people I’m a journalist, but I sensed that wouldn’t be the right thing to do, so instead I put ‘writer’ to sound more genteel. Moroccan officials were not fooled. They grilled me harder than I’ve ever been grilled before:

Moroccan passport guy: “Writer, what is this? Are you a journalist?”

Me: “No, not really…”

MPG: “BUT YOU ARE A JOURNALIST?”

Me [by now, slightly panicked]: “No, no! I work in magazines!”

MPG: “Show me the magazine!”

Me [sweating]: “I didn’t bring one with me! I didn’t think I’d have to!”

MPG: “Are you a journalist or not? What’s the magazine called? What does it cover?”

Me: “Ummm… All About History! We do British history!”

MPG: “Oh okay. Just write that down.”

Funny that they immediately stopped caring after I’d said the words “British history”.

Now, this altercation was almost flattering, for three reasons. Number one, it implies I’m a proper hard-hitting journalist. Number two, it suggests people actually read my work. And number three, assumes I know enough about the Moroccan government to criticise it. I didn’t even know it was a monarchy until we literally drove past the King’s palace.

Due to my interrogation, my gang were the last people to leave the airport that night. We were picked up by our guides, two Berber (indigenous Moroccan) blokes called Hassan and Mustapha, who would be our companions pretty much all four days we were there (shoutout to http://www.AdmireMorocco.com for sending us our new friends). They smiled and chatted with us, immediately putting us at ease after our stressful experience. The boys even took us to the shop because we really needed snacks at this point!

We got to our villa, but didn’t see it in its full glory until the next morning. We’d gone all out with it, as this will probably be our one and only girls’ trip together, and if you’re going to pretend to be rich then Morocco’s not an expensive place to do that.

IMG-20181017-WA0008It had this insane pool, but it was freezing cold.

The main thing that attracted us to this villa was this pool slide:

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A bit rough when it’s dry, but still a very good laugh.

First on the itinerary was to explore the town of Agadir itself. However, the villa was in the middle of nowhere, so to get to Agadir we had to drive 45 minutes through non-touristy towns first. What I saw was interesting – a mix of Arabic, Berber and French writing everywhere, a blend of old and new technology, and stray animals coming from all directions. A little on the hectic side, but nothing I couldn’t handle. Lots of kids and teens dressed in bright colours, all on their way to school.

Agadir itself doesn’t have a lot of historical merit, owing to the fact the old citadel was obliterated in an earthquake in 1960. This was a great tragedy, and killed up to 15,000 people. Even today, many people in Agadir lost someone in their family in the quake. All that remains of old Agadir is the walls of the Oufella, or fortress. Hassan told us that the hill was once inhabited by the Portuguese, but they failed to get a foothold in this part of Morocco because the locals pretty much owned them at every turn. Take that, colonialism.

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Rock the casbah.

You also get some unparalleled views of Agadir, since it’s on the only hill for miles around.

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Directly below it is the marina, where the rich people go. It’s right next to the fishing port, which releases a pungent smell. All. Day. Long.

Next on the list was the mandatory Argan Oil factory tour. It’s one of Morocco’s most important industries, and they don’t half give it the hard sell. They tell you all about how they extract it from the tree, turn it into argan oil, and describe all the amazing things it’s supposed to do. We know it’s good for hair, but apparently it can cure a number of ills.

But first, you’re treated to some bread and argan-related dips – which was really good, because all of us (especially Hassan) were starving at this point. Moroccan hospitality knows no bounds, and they made sure we had all eaten and had some traditional mint tea before giving us the grand tour. We sampled the olive oil, argan honey, and something they call “Moroccan Nutella” – this is sesame paste, which I think is mixed with the honey and something else, but either way it was delicious.

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The one on the right is the ‘Moroccan Nutella’ – it’s the one that’s all been gobbled up.

By this point, we were pretty good friends with Hassan and Mustapha, who essentially let us go in there to use the loo. They didn’t care that we didn’t buy anything, but the argan oil factory people seemed like they were a bit pissed off after they’d spent so much time explaining its benefits to us… and giving us a load of testers. Sorry guys, we’re the worst.

It was now time for my pals to pray (they’re all Muslim), so we drove to the mosque. The Mohammed V mosque is relatively new and simply designed, but pretty, as it features intricate carvings set against a white background.

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Looked nice, but I didn’t go inside, so I can’t tell you what it was like. Comment from Anaab: “it was nice, but a bit dark, with high ceilings”.

No trip to Agadir is complete without a visit to the souk. We went about 3pm, and the place was almost empty. Half the shops were shut, and the crowds I’d expected weren’t there. But actually, this was a good thing – it allowed us to wander around in peace, and get a better look at all the lovely things that were on offer. Sure, it stank of fish a little bit, but so does the rest of Agadir. People did try to engage us in conversation to sell us things, but we blanked them and they left us alone eventually. Nothing like the frantic, almost hostile chaos I’d been told to expect.

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All the food! All the colours!

We also met this very friendly kitty, who sniffed out our crazy cat lady group straight away and came to say hi. She swiftly jumped onto my friend’s back, and refused to move. Her owner could see we were fawning over her, and was talking to all of us about her. He obviously loved her very much, though I think she gets in his way sometimes…

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Turns out, she was pregnant with kittens, and was due to give birth in 2 months. If my heart wasn’t already a melted mess in the pit of my stomach, it certainly was now.

Next up, we had some errands to do, and roped Hassan and Mustapha into helping us. I think I won them over when they played Man’s Not Hot by Big Shaq in the car, and I gave an incredible rendition of it – who knew I was secretly a gangsta?

First stop was the supermarket. Sounds boring, I know, but I love looking around foreign shops. It gives you a sense of how the residents of a place actually eat and live, and means you can find some really interesting snacks, which of course are my top priority. We also convinced Hassan to buy a birthday cake on our behalf, as we were throwing Anaab a surprise birthday party and didn’t want to arouse her suspicion. Ever the gentleman, he was more than happy to oblige, and was far more sly about it than any of us could have been.

But perhaps most exciting for my friends was visiting McDonald’s. We all live in the UK where the Maccy D’s is not halal, so they usually only get to eat the filet-o-fish or the veggie burger (which anyone will tell you is shit). Imagine suddenly being able to eat everything on the menu – it’s quite exciting. I’m a veggie and try to avoid going to Maccy D’s because of their appalling record for animal cruelty, but it made my pals happy so I went in with them.

We’d managed to fill our schedule pretty much completely that day, so we went home for a quick change before heading out to an evening of traditional Berber entertainment. It was the only time I dressed up on this trip, so I feel the need to include a picture. #givemecompliments.

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Help me be the top Google result for ‘sexy Ottoman’, please?

The Berber night took place in a rather plush tent, and featured local music, a dancing lady who got us all to shake our booties (as it were), something that can only be described as Moroccan cossack dancing, good food, and a lot of noise. I’d include a video but sadly I’m too tight to pay for WordPress Premium, so I can’t.

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Please imagine a lot of clanging and panpipe noise. That should give you a pretty good idea.

Mainly though, I was all about the food. Thankfully, all Moroccan social occasions revolve around food, so it was a match made in heaven. They plied us with dates, milk, more bread and olives and argan nutella, before giving us some ‘salad’. I was filled with dread when someone mentioned that word, but when it arrived I found that it was actually a selection of bread and really nice veggie dips. Definitely my kind of salad.

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The food looked delicious. I don’t know because it was full of meat, but it looked great.

The dancing Berber lady was fantastic at audience engagement, and somehow managed to get everyone from our table up and dancing with her – including the really shy ones! She seemed pleased that we all joined in with gusto, and she gave us a lovely smile as she left.

The finale was a horse, acrobatics and belly dance extravaganza. Yep, there was a lot going on all at once, kind of like a Cirque du Soleil show. If you’re sensitive to bright lights and funky music, probably don’t come. Otherwise, you’ll have a fab time, and be thoroughly entertained.

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This guy has just finished about 10 cartwheels.

IMG-20181018-WA0016_2We’re undecided on Mustapha’s selfie skills, but anyway here’s the gang and Hassan.

Unfortunately, during the colourful hubbub of the show, I could feel a telltale scratching in my throat. Some dickhead had brought a cold onto the plane, and it had worked its way through the air vents and into my body. And since I always get every cold that’s ever gone round in the history of time, naturally I came down with it.

The next day, we did a day trip to Marrakech, which I’ll cover in my next blog. But it really killed me, so when we got home from that I was basically a dead woman walking. This sadly meant that I missed out on something I really wanted to do – Paradise Valley. This river gorge, a little way outside Agadir in the Atlas Mountains, is a beautiful swimming spot, surrounded by palm trees and filled with small waterfalls and pools. From where you park, it’s half an hour hike, which my friends tell me has some fairly hairy bits.

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It’s the perfect little oasis.

When they got there, my pals took a ton of great photos, using the Moroccan countryside and unique vista to full advantage. Nobody actually swam as they had more plans later on in the day, but apparently it looked like a pleasant enough spot. Some blokes were apparently tombstoning off the cliff into the water to impress their mates, but you’ll find people like that pretty much everywhere you go.

It certainly would have been better than where I was – comatose in the bedroom. The villa caretaker walked in on my sick ass just lying there, and I think he thinks I’m a witch now, because all I could do was feebly croak in French when he asked me what I was doing. I hope I didn’t frighten him too much, because he was nice – he and his wife made us a traditional Moroccan breakfast every morning, which we really weren’t expecting, but it made all the difference.

The next day, I was human enough to drag my ass out of bed and enjoy myself. Well, it was our last day in Morocco so we kind of had to get out of the villa, but still. Unfortunately, we had to wave goodbye to Hassan, as he’d caught my cold – but he came along specially to say bye to us anyway. He was like a part of the gang by the time we left – he really made our trip special, and showed us some really cool local places.

We went quadbiking to celebrate the end of our trip. I’d not done it before, but always wanted to try it. In Agadir, they take you out onto sandy land, which isn’t quite Saharan sand dunes but is sandy as hell all the same. Turns out, not only am I a ‘good driver’ (the quadbiking teacher’s words, not mine), I am also a speed demon. I evidently played too many video games as a kid, and now I think it’s cool to stand up while riding them. Health and safety be damned. The instructors were chill though, so they didn’t mind.

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#ganggang

Conversely, I also indicated using my arms when we were driving on the road, because I CARE ABOUT THE HIGHWAY CODE.

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After that little adrenaline rush, it was time for lunch, so we wandered along Agadir’s seafront promenade in search of a place. Finding a non-tourist trap is nearly impossible here, but after a bit of digging we found a lovely Saudi place. The menu was entirely in Arabic (which none of us understood), but the friendly lady explained everything to us in perfect English.

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I think it was called Citadel Restaurant, and it’s the only non-touristy place you’ll find along Agadir promenade. Just be careful of these spicy dips, one of them nearly burned my tongue off.

Better still, they served tagine, which is what myself and another friend hadn’t stopped going on about since we landed. It’s a Moroccan stew of vegetables, potatoes and meat (or none if you’re me), cooked in a special pot with a blend of spices.

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Vegetarian tagine. Finally, my stomach could leave Morocco happy.

We left Morocco content, but not before a final grilling by Moroccan passport control about the shady location of our middle-of-nowhere villa. It had been a whirlwind of a trip – four days of sightseeing, cultural experiences, food, and simply unadulterated fun.

Morocco is a nation filled with pleasant surprises, friendly people and a lot of potential for tourism. There’s a Greek concept called ‘filoxenia’, which means ‘love to guests (or foreigners)’, and I think Morocco must have something similar. Undoubtedly, it’s had a lot of bad press, especially for solo female travellers, but if you can travel as part of a group or with a partner hopefully you’ll find your time as stress-free as mine. It might be worth looking into one of those STA travel tour things as I’ve heard they’re quite good, and a brilliant way of making friends while you travel.

If you are looking to visit North Africa, Morocco is certainly one of the most politically stable countries you can visit, so probably one of the safest. Its natural beauty knows no bounds, and it’s unlike anywhere else in the world. I feel that there’s still so much more to see there, and I’d love to go back and explore Morocco’s more historic cities. My friend did a rail trip from Marrakech to Tangiers via Casablanca and Fez, and the rail infrastructure is at least as good as Southern Fail in the UK, so that might be a good way to get around. You may need to speak a bit of French or Arabic to get by, but it’s a good excuse to actually use your GCSEs for once.

Just don’t drink Moroccan tap water. I did and I came back with a stomach bug. It really wasn’t pretty.


3 thoughts on “Halal Girls’ Trip: Agadir

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