Couchsurfing in Morocco is both possible and recommended. From mom-cooked meals with an innocent online hacker to drinking mint tea with 10 women in a small room, couchsurfing let me shake hands with Morocco in a very different way.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend couchsurfing in Morocco to single female travelers. The moments I spent as an “unclaimed” woman in Morocco, though brief, were not comfortable. I’ve traveled alone in places like Indonesia, Portugal and China, but Morocco is the only place I’ve ever been aggressively pursued by men. It’s not off limits, but as with all couchsurfing experiences, follow your instincts. But that’s not what this post is about. This is about couchsurfing in Morocco and all the wonderful, odd, memorable moments and people we experienced.
It all started from a couch request in China. My boyfriend Ondra couchsurfed with Georgia, a lovely Italian girl living in Gaungzou, who over a night of opera and snake wine extended an invite to her wedding in Casablanca. A Czech guy and an American girl traveling to Morocco, from Prague, to attend the wedding of an Italian and Arab couple they met on the internet, who actually live full-time in China.
We had to go to this wedding.
We flew into Casablanca and immediately took a train to Fez. We would return to Casablanca in a week’s time to perfect a Moroccan dance move, so shoulder heavy, Tom Robbins might have thought we recreated the jitter bug dance for an eccentric shoulder rehabilitation center.
Couchsurfing in Fez with Red
Fez exists as two distinct cities. Inside the medena, and out. We stayed out. Far out. Far enough out to begin questioning why we decided to couchsurf in Morocco. Online, our host was a sweet teenage girl named Nihad who seemed like she was worth taking a risk on even though she had no references. Our actual host was her slightly older male cousin who used her profile as a second shot at couchsurfing after tarnishing his profile with some questionable hosting techniques. Here’s what our couchsurfing experience looked like.
We arrived to Fez and found an internet cafe to check our profile and make contact with our host. She wrote back quickly and gave us a phone number and information that her cousin would meet us at McDonald’s in the city center. Red, a young boy small in stature with long dark eye lashes was there to greet us. Branded head to toe in Nike-this or Adidas-that, and looking sharp in his blazer, Red took us on a bit of a walk closer to the edge of the city. I sized him up and decide I could take him if needed. #travelerinstincts
After maybe an hour or so of walking, and rising confusion on the true location of where we were going, and with whom, he suggests we take a taxi the rest of the way. Ondra and I are hesitant as we wanted to avoid an awkward first encounter of paying for a taxi ride we don’t want. But home was on the edge of the city, out in a crumbling, but occupied high-rise neighborhood. We could either turn back now, or go with Red.
We passed through the dingy court yard, consumed by rubble and footballs, walked up the stair well and entered the apartment. No less than 18 eyes stares back at us. Thankfully, with a friendly female gaze. Grandma was there, aunties were there, mom, cousin … neighbor? Moroccan living rooms have a soft perimeter, covered corner-to-corner by couches and pillows. The floors were covered in dusty, not dirty, rugs and just about everything was falling apart. There was one bedroom. I never figured out who slept where. The women welcomed us in and served sweet Moroccan tea. The process is in the pouring. Start high and aim for the cup.
Nobody spoke English, including the young girl who was meant to be our host. But their Arab hospitality took the wheel and steered our interactions. We played with the children, drank tea, made a few awkward gestures, tested our limits of body language and glimpsed into the life of a Moroccan family. Then the moment came. So … where do we sleep and what will we do to consume the next several hours of the day?
Red explained that his friend had an apartment in the neighboring complex and he was “out of town on business” and we could stay at his place. A quick calculation of surface space to body count gave us no other option but to agree. We enter the friend’s apartment to find a space so riddled with screws, sharp objects, dirty dishes and saw dust, that you’d think the apocalypse had already come and gone.
We were hungry and Red had a plan. Most Muslims don’t drink alcohol, and so for Red, having foreigners in town meant the perfect opportunity to have somebody else buy him alcohol without the typical guilt from the shopkeeper. Few sell it, but the even the ones who do will judge locals for buying. Following the beer run, we hit up an amazing chicken rotisserie place and took a whole bird and some fries home with us.
Red was very overprotective and didn’t want us to leave the taxi or walk around anywhere, claiming that it’s a dangerous neighborhood. It couldn’t have been much more dangerous than the apartment we were about to sleep at, considering it was slowly, if not overtly, reveled that his friend was on “business” transporting drugs across the desert.
We proceeded to eat chicken, watch music videos, talk about our countries and accompanied Red as he got tipsy after a few sips of beer and confessed to his couchsurfing sins. He was using his little cousin to get foreigners to stay with him again after getting bad reviews. He didn’t see it as anything bad, and honestly, it seemed like he just wanted to have some friends.
Couchsurfing with Azedine in Marrakesh
Our next couchsurfing experience in Marrakesh proved to be even more interesting than the first. Azedine lived not far from the center of town in a mid-sized apartment with his mother. He met us with a refreshing smile and a head full of dreadlocks. We liked him immediately and were excited to pick up some food at the market and go home to have mom cook for us. Azedine was optimistic but a bit stuck. He talked about the desire to travel but the difficulty he confronts in securing a visa to anywhere beyond northern Africa. As a young male without a job, embassies view him as a big risk for illegal immigration.
Arab hospitality really is unique. They give in such a natural way. And even if they have little to share, they share. Azedine’s mother cooked us homemade tajine and Azedine took us on adventures. One day we took a bus out to a lake and hung out with this friends. They dug a hole in the side of the dirt bluff and created an outdoor oven for the tajine. We ate, we drank, we made merry.
After staying with Azedine and his mother we became curious as to how they sustained themselves financially, so we asked. We learned two things: 1) hosting couchsurfers was a good way to put food on the table, and 2) we were surfing with an online hacker. When we asked Azedine more, he casually explained in quite simple terms that he steals money from people buying things on the internet. He said he couldn’t afford to get an education, so his IT s kills couldn’t become officially certified. He also said he couldn’t get a job because he refused to cut his dreadlocks.
The Couchsurfing connection that started it all
We headed back to Casablanca to attend Georgia and Abdul’s wedding which can only really be described in photos and these few words: colors, lamb, shoulder-dance, almond milk. There were Abdul’s family and friends from Morocco (his amazing sisters, aunties, and mother who welcomed us in and helped us prepare for the wedding), Georgia’s family and friends from Italy (who were simply amazing and just as excited as we were to be there), and us, the couchsurfers.
Pre-wedding gathering at Abdul’s family house
The wedding that started at 10pm and lasted until our flight left at 7am. See if you can count how many dresses the bride wears!