6 things you can only discover by visiting the South of Morocco
Since I landed in Morocco, one of the first things they told me was "if you want to see something different, you must visit the south". I was reluctant at the beginning since I didn't know anybody that had been in the South before that could give me some feedback about it. Of course, most of the people visiting Morocco stay in the north which remains more familiar or rather go to the desert to have the typical postcard picture to brag about among your friends.
However, I had been looking forward to go on a Road trip for a long time, a trip without any schedule or attachment, only focused exploring something different and discovering the wild beauty of the South.
Obviously, this trip had some difficulties as the biggest motorway in Morocco goes through all major cities, from Tanger to Agadir or Marrakech. Therefore, I was aware that going further into the South would mean getting through narrow roads along the coastline, not finding any oil station for more than 100 km but also escaping from the hordes of mass tourism more and more common no matter where you go.
To be honest, this trip was possible thanks to one of my best friends that decided to join me for this adventure (Thank you Nico and by the way he is the photographer) and another Japanese solo traveler, Taka that joined us on our second day making our trip much funnier. I would definitely recommend anyone willing to go by car to visit that region to have a copilot that will prevent you from going on the wrong way more than once and will guide to some places that are not even on Google Maps. Through this trip, we just had one motto “Let's just enjoy the ride, no Facebook, no social media or any single distraction that won't keep us focused on the trip". After coming back I just wanted to share some of the things I learned.
1) It's not Berber, it's Amazigh:
Whereas I had a first impression on Berbers, I didn't really understand what was the main difference between Berbers and Arabic people. Obviously it might be clear enough that Berbers were the original north African inhabitants before the Arabic settlement and that most of them were Christians or even Jewish before the invasion, something that certainly had an influence on their culture. Right after talking to some of them they reminded me about a common mistake, their real name is not Berber (the way Romans used to call them when they first arrived comparing them with "barbaric" people) but Amazigh which means " Free man" in the Tamazight language. Actually current amazigh people are not only living in Morocco but also in northern Algeria, Canary Islands and other African countries such as Tunisia or Libya, whereas Tuaregs are mainly nomadic people. Nowadays, even though Amazigh people have deeply mixed with Arabic and have assimilated part of their culture, including Islam, they still maintain their original language with a complete different alphabet that was restored in Morocco with the constitutional reform of 2011. Among the current Moroccan population, it's estimated that 40% have Amazigh origin and their culture is still alive especially in the Rif and South Region (Soussi). Most of them were forced to move to big cities such as Casablanca where they own small business due to the massive unemployment and lack of opportunities in their home town.
2) The true value Moroccan hospitality
If Moroccan culture is famous for something in the World other than couscous it's for for its hospitality. They really make you feel at home and sometimes you might be a bit incredulous if someone you don’t even know invites you to drink tea at home ( the famous "thé à la mente!). However that is how it works and accepting those invitations is important to feel involved in their culture. Nevertheless, you can also find people trying to take advantage from the fact you are a foreigner, and especially European which means "rich" in some ways as the wise blind man we met that was blind for everything except for money. However, while Visiting the remote town of Mirleft, that "never left" as locals say", we were invited by a group of Amazigh people to eat at their place. At some point, they started bringing a lot of food, drinks and even an incredible melon to share, we were expecting to be asked for something in return but that just never happened so we were extremely thankful. I tend to think that the isolation and the lack of contact with big urban culture have made them much more "naif" but at the same time far more generous.
3) You make a low-budget without booking anything in advance:
Sometimes people have been waiting for holidays for a long time excited about the incredible trip they are going to make, however the arrangements and the reservations to make sure you'll find a place to stay can be more stressful than the work itself. In our case, we really wanted to have a great time and of course relax from daily routine so we decided to travel without booking anything just improvising our trip without restrictions. To be honest, I was quite afraid at the beginning thinking everything would be booked and we’d end up sleeping in the car. ;) Thanks god that was not the case, our budget was not really high but the places were much cheaper than what we had expected. I have been living in Morocco for 8 months and never found a place to stay for 6 euros, like the place in Sidi Ifni with breakfast included. That was also the case in Tamraght or Mirleft, just between 6 and 15 euros a night. So definitely you don't need a big budget to travel to that area.
4) Mars is just closer than you think:
Last year we received the first pictures send by the robot "Curiosity" sending the first pics from Mars, however the exploration is just starting and human trips are not likely to happen at least on a short term. But don't despair, you don't need to wait such a long time. You just need to go nearby to the Anti-Atlas to discover one of the most unrealistic landscapes I have ever seen. The sensation of being in another planet is not only strengthened by the lack of vegetation, the red color present everywhere including the sand and the houses made on clay and palm trees but also the narrow roads going around the rocky mountains, the strange blistering breeze coming from the desert that really makes you feel you are far way from all type of civilization. Then in the middle of nowhere emerges the mysterious city of Tafraoute where all women are covered and all men were Djellabahs. Other parts of that land, including the Oasis of Ait Mansour reminded me of the typical image of the Great Canyon. To reinforce this image, some parts of Star Wars; Episode one (The planet Tatouin), were recorded not far away from there.
5) Spanish culture in still alife in Sidi Ifni:
People tend to consider Spanish language is only spoken in Spain and South America, however the Spanish presence was also Africa. Until 1975, Spain still had colonies both in Equatorial Guinea and a protectorate in Morocco. In the latter, We were not only present in northern Morocco but also in the South, in was used to be called the "Spanish Sahara", Sifi Ifni was one the last jewels of this late colonial empire that was abandoned on the 1969. Even though, Spain wasn't really fair on the treatment of our former "citizens", they still cherish the Spanish culture and the legacy is still visible nowadays. Just as matter of fact, when we asked for our hostel "La Suerte Loca", they just told in a perfect Spanish just head to "Plaza España" and turn right. Obviously Plaza España is no longer the name of the square but they still call it in that way. Even now, some of their citizens are still applying for the Spanish nationality thanks to "Ley Memoria Histórica" enacted in 2007 giving them that chance to those that were born before 1969.
6) No need to go to Bali to visit some of the best beaches in the World.
Maybe it's not fancy enough to post on Facebook, but instead of spending hundreds on Euros to make an exhausting 24 hours flight to take a Selfie on Bali, Indonesia, you can still meet your narcissist needs just two hours away by plane. Morocco offers some of the best beaches in Africa and with the added value that urbanization fever that have been destroying European coasts since the 1970s it's still on a early stage. Many beaches are still not prepared to receive mass tourism and lack the basic infrastructure to get there by car. However, that's also part of the charm, and being able to visit the incredible Legzira beach or some other creeks without anybody around is just unique. The freedom to park your car just in the border of the cliff is something you must do at least once.
To as the French-Mauritian writer Jean Marie le Clezio said: “They were the men and the women of the sand, of the wind, of the light, of the night. They appeared as in a dream, at the crest of a dune, as if they were born of the cloudless sky.” (Novel: The Desert) So If you want something different, you must go to the South