Day #69 – Bye bye Morocco, and five learnings for cruisers

It has been quite some time since the last update. And this for a reason.
Morocco has been surprisingly exotic, welcoming and adventures for us. We are so full of impressions and experiences, there is so much to tell. We now struggle to understand, why so many cruisers miss out this place on their way South.

Moroccan Fisher men Tangier Rabat

When we considered Morocco the first time as a sailing destination and we started our planning using the obvious websites (noonsite.com and the like), we remained quite ambiguous, doubtful and we were questioning if Morocco is a good destination for cruising boats.
For sure – Morocco is a great cruising destination. Depending – of course – on the expectation you have and the benchmark you use. Morocco applied in 1987 to become member of the European Community, after King Mohammed VI finished an apprenticeship in Jaques Delores office. It was the fastest denial of the EU ever since.
To be clear: Morocco does not compare to any European country we have visited so far. But this is true for the good and for the bad. If your expectation is to experience the same level of comfort like in Southern Spain, France or Britain, you better stay away and take the direct route to the Canaries and to the Carribean. But if your are keen for the adventure, the exotic and the different, Morocco offers you the opportunity of time travels through various medieval medinas, souks and authentic oases – where you have the feeling the last caravan has just left.
Now it is time to comment on some confusing ‚recommendations‘ we found in the internet.

1. “There is no way of avoiding “baksheesh” in Morocco.”

This is simply not true. Another recommendation on the internet goes: “Five Euros to the Harbour Police will do the job” (obtaining admission to anchor behind the breakwater).  Mate, we got the job done (see Mohammedia post) without paying anything! Alright, there is some explanation on this sensitive topic. Bribing isn’t just ‘a little trick’ when it comes to officials of the state authorities. Isn’t this disrespectful to the visiting country as well as to the duty of an official? Would you bribe at home? We literally crossed Moroccan borders ten times – in and out of Tangier, Rabat, Mohammedia, Essaouria and Agadir. I filled > 40 (!) forms for entering or leaving Morocco myself. We have been asked 10 times whether we have to declare a drone, weapons or ammunition. Our boat got searched four times, with very limited engagement on the officials side. The cost of all this was 0€. When they saw our family setup downstairs, they had been satisfied. We sail a 46’ Hanse with a really impressive and tall rigg, no question about our boat. Never we have experienced an unkind word or unprofessional behavior. The opposite: everybody is happy when they are able to exchange some words in English or Spanish or French. And there is always a relative back in good old Germany worthwhile to mention. When it is prayer time, you have to wait for half an hour or so. But what is the matter? And most important: Nobody asked us for a gift or money. It was not required. Other crews with bigger boats have been asked. Anyways, I would urge to refrain from recommending bribing on the Internet as the ‘little trick’: It remains illegal. Bribing is poison for a state because it drives a vicious cycle, where the losers at the end are the ‘no-haves’. Website administrators should check if they want to publish statements that explain bribing as ‘part of their culture’.

2. “There are a lot of fisher nets and traps on the Moroccan coast”.

Yes, there are a lot of fishers on the Moroccan coast. They go out on the Atlantic to make a living under very simple conditions. Imagine an open 6m-boat with a 15hp outboard engine and five fishermen, 10sm off the coast. And yes, they don’t have lights, their nets are not litten, and of course they neither have an AIS nor VHF. For the VHF would not be a lot of use because they speak Arabic and Berber only.

What they catch you can buy the next day on the fish markets. The fish markets in Sale or Essaouria, for example, appear medieval, in the complete absence of deep freezers or packaging. A broad variety of small quantities of all kind of species offered for a little change. This is pre-industrial fishing, definitely.
Sailing down the Moroccan coast we used Radar, because we experienced a lot of fog. As soon we could spot them we always gave them a wide berth – they are out for work, we just for pleasure. We never got in trouble with our 8,5 feet/2,6m draft. It happen several times that we passed a fisher buoy in a distance of a few meters. Sometimes it might happen that a fisher boat is running straight into your course or just behind you. The wave ‚hello1‘ and disappear. Don’t worry about the ‘Moroccan net tale’ – it is no worse then for example off the Spanish coast. The recommendation in one of the blogs to stay 100sm off the Moroccan coast is just hilarious.

3. „There are only a few marinas, and they are not to a Western standard.“

I guess it is a fair statement, that the Moroccan middle class has not yet discovered boating as pleasure activity. You can see all over the country an impressive amount of brand-new infrastructure, ranging from high ways, high-speed train links, ports, industrial complexes, new housing projects. We saw it in the North as well as in the South, not speaking about the Rabat/Casablanca area. Tanger, Rabat and Agadir have brand new marinas, just opened recently. Essaouria appears as a medieval fisher port, but the harbour is dragged to 3m (we had 5m under the keel during spring time). The services are not the same, when it comes to restaurants, laundry, ship chandler – but provided, that any business need to be sustained from the international cruiser community. Which still appears to be hesitant to visit Morocco in the large fleets similar to the Canaries, for example. My take from our visits: don’t worry about draft, water quality, diesel quality and the like. Prices (except Mohammedia) are a very good value deal. We paid around 20€ per night for a 46’ monohull.

One remark to Diesel:

As long as your boat is not equipped with a ‘car-like’ after exhaust treatment (like SCR), problems with the fuel quality are unlikely. Marine engines got their technical ‘genes’ from engines for vehicles (excavators, tractors and the like = no sophisticated exhaust gas treatment required). Moroccan diesel contains more sulphur compared to EU5/EU6 diesel in Europe. The higher sulphur levels causes malfunctions in recent EU5/EU6 diesel car engines. But not in typical VOLVO/YANMAR/Perkins diesel engines. There is even a positive side effect, since higher sulphur inhibits the ‘diesel fouling’. Just be aware to clean up your filters to remove suspended sediments.

4. „Western food is expensive.“

Morocco is a perfect place for restocking supplies. Western food, compared to the local price level and purchasing power, is imported, taxed and more expensive. The Moroccan food industry – if we want to call it that way – consists from very short delivery chains. Usually, Mom and Pop grow some fruits, crops, vegetables, keep some chicken or goats and sell their produce directly for a couple of Dirhams on the market in the city, the souk, inside the Medina or just directly on the street. This trade feels very authentic and like a hundred years ago. It lacks all the fertilizers, pestizides, freezed warehouses and other productivity and availability enhancer – they only can sell what they got, inshallah!
This medieval concept of nurturing got rediscovered in the Western World just recently: ‚Get your food from your local farmer‘. The food is labeled ‚bio‘ or ‚organic‘ or ‚slow‘ – and you get this back home paying a premium. Proper food cannot take advantage of all the productivity enhancers, that make our processed supermarket food so cheap. If you are up for the Moroccan fresh food, it is fresh, affordable and probably healthy.
If you are still in need for the processed food of a supermarket, because for instance it is packed and much more easily storable, you will find it in one of the few Western supermarket. They have imported and taxed food of all kinds – and yes: it is more expensive.
One word to the cleanliness: Well, Moroccan cleanliness has many faces, and sometimes it achieves scary dimensions of almost non-existence. This culminates definetly in the toilet culture: Plan your travel so you can stay away from public restrooms and always bring your own paper. Back to food: Moroccan cleanliness is obviously not live threatening – the average life expectancy is with 76 on par with EU countries like Slovakia or Hungary. Just stay away from the places where you feel uncomfortable, the number of alternative traders, hotels, restaurants seems to be endless, such are the possibilities to get excellent quality food and service for a bargain. With some effort, you will find always a trader, a hotel, a restaurant that pays decent attention to cleanliness and might in return ask for a little higher price. It is worth it.

5. „Don’t travel with pets to an Arabic country.“

It’s easy to enter Morocco with a pet. Check travelwithpets.com for the legal requirements – but before you do that: take a seat, please. It is an overwhelming amount of tests and documents required. We have never been asked for our dog’s documents during our ten boarder crossings. And this is consistent with the experience of other cruisers with pets.

Traveling around Morocco is more difficult but doable if you are sensitive about some specifics. Cats are all over the place and Moroccans feed cats in the streets. But with dogs they have a split relationships: some are REALLY afraid of dogs.

Especially elderly women wearing the traditional hidschab – just give them a respectful wide berth with your dog on the leech. Some others just hate dogs – give them a wide berth, too, because they might try to kick your dog. A minority have dogs at home – you can have endless conversations with them. The vast majority of Moroccans are curious, friendly and interested in dogs. Kids loved our dog and it always was a big ‘hello’ walking Vu in Morocco.
What makes traveling with pets difficult in Morocco: You can’t have pets in public transport or taxis. Rental cars are the best mean of transport with a pet. A few restaurants might not accept pets inside. Walking with a dog through a souk with all the dead animal parts on the streets is a sensational firework for the dog. Other constraints: dogs shouldn’t be in the vicinity of religious places.

Morocco will soon get more popular amongst cruisers

Our experience in Morocco was: all people we met have been very friendly and probably to their standards very open. Almost every place is worthwhile a visit, as long as you have the time for a break, long enough for a mint tea, a ramble through the souk and an observation of the people passing by.
If you got the patience and openness to talk to the stranger on the street, you will find a lot of things in common with the Moroccan people. Everybody cares about their family and friends, etc. There is always stuff to talk about. And you will always find somebody, that speaks your languages – even in the remotest places in Morocco.