I am just back from a trip around Morocco and some of the countries which used to be part of the Persian Empire at some stage in the past – Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Georgia, Armenia.
For information I used Lonely Planet: Morocco; Middle East; Georgia, Armenia, & Azerbaijan. These three books. I uploaded the electronic version to Google Play Books and saved the weight of real books. They served their purpose pretty well. I bought them when on special, which LP does quite often.
For each country I’ll be writing of one good and one bad experience. And then include some hints and a few photos of the country.
In every country almost everyone talks on their mobile phone while driving. And if you wear a seat belt you’re a big sissy. Taxi drivers will make a show of kind of putting their seat belt on while laughing as if to say, I’m not a sissy, but I can see that police checkpoint is up ahead and I have to put the belt on. Then they’ll undo the seat belt after passing the checkpoint.
First the meaning of a few words. Kasbah means castle. Medina means city. Souq means streets of market stalls.
OK, and here is the bad experience. Small boys will want to guide you somewhere. And then demand ridiculous sums for their service. Say $30. They’ll ask you where you’re going, then walk in front of you even if you know where you’re going, and then demand money as they’ll say they guided you. If you want to use them, negotiate beforehand. If you don’t, and don’t answer their questions they’ll walk in front of you anyway for a bit, but mostly they give up. On one occasion they didn’t give up, and they were extremely rude, swearing in English like you would wouldn’t believe. I can’t say I want to encourage such obnoxiousness. It leaves a bad taste. This is mainly a problem in Marrakesh.
The good experience: I had a good time with people. I couchsurfed just once as mostly I couldn’t schedule much in advance. But it was on the weekend, and my host was kind enough to share it with me and introduce me to friends and show me around Rabat, in addition to experiencing how someone lives. As luck would have it, his place was also easily walkable to the Iranian consulate, which was a bonus as I had to go there for a visa.
In the Medina of Marrakesh is the most amazing maze of alleys. Some go straight for a while, and others lead off them, and some come to a dead-end. Maps don’t help much as they’re not accurate enough, and GPS doesn’t work as they are too narrow with thick-walled buildings on either side. So it’s not easy-going to where to want in the Medina. If you remember what turns you took you can retrace your steps and try a different turn. Or just keep on trying to go in the direction you want, and go back from dead ends and try what you think is another way. Some areas are teeming with people, some have a few, and some are eerily deserted. You can ask shopkeepers or someone the direction to, for example, the main square. If you ask before every turn, you might get there. If you use roads on the outskirts, combined with some of the larger alleys that are accurately drawn on a map, combined with remembering from past experience and noting landmarks, you do get better at it.
Taxi drivers are often dishonest, but in the capital, Rabat, they use their meters, and thus present no problems to use.
If you are a pedestrian be very careful as the drivers are bad.
Thus where possible catch trains for travel as it’s safer and more comfortable. There are trains to many places you might like to visit. Otherwise you will have to catch buses.
I was told that they’re not allowed to sell alcohol in the Medina, so if you want it you’ll have to go to the new town.
Change any leftover money before you go through immigration to the airside of the airport. Airside there are no change facilities, and they don’t accept their local currency in the shops. Just Euros. The information desk people will unofficially change your money, but at a shockingly bad rate. The one shop I found where you could use the local currency was the shop selling Moroccan crafts.