The latest interviewee in the maroc-o-phile series, is UK-based blogger, Heather Cole, a.k.a. The Conversant Traveller. By day, Heather is an outdoor educational specialist, by night she’s a blogger and a part-time traveller. Heather writes the words for Conversant Traveller whilst her hubbie takes the pictures. Together they hope to inspire other independent travellers to see more of the world.
MoP: Hi, Heather. What makes you a maroc-o-phile?
Even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to shake Morocco from beneath my skin (and that’s not just the Saharan sand stuck behind my toenails!). I first visited back in 2010, not expecting anything but another enjoyable trip to assign to the memory bank, but to my surprise, when I returned home I couldn’t stop thinking about the overwhelming sensory experience I’d just had. It took less than a week for hubbie and I to decide we’d soon make our very first return visit to a country ever. And we haven’t looked back!
MoP: You’ve been to Morocco 5 times in the last 4 years and you’re planning another trip for 2015. What is it that keeps drawing you back to Morocco?
I could wax lyrical about the friendliest most genuine people we’ve ever encountered, the superb cuisine and the endless landscape photography opportunities. I could enthuse about there always being new and exciting places to discover and the joy of returning to what are quickly becoming ‘old haunts’. Yet the underlying reason is that we feel so relaxed and at home in Morocco. It is one place we can truly unwind.
MoP: What is your most memorable Moroccan experience?
Definitely our night in the Sahara at Erg Chigaga, when we were surrounded on all sides by the most spectacular thunderstorm we’ve ever witnessed. I love a good bit of weather! As the sand whipped up around us in a frenzy, our Berber hosts ran through camp tying down the tents and urging us inside. The camels just sat watching the scene nonchalantly.
MoP: What are you most excited about for your 2015 trip to Morocco?
That we’re coming to Essaouira for the first time, of course! I’ve wanted to visit for some time and am looking forward to my first glimpse of the Moroccan coast.
MoP: What else is new for the Conversant Traveller in 2015?
2014 was a busy travel year for us, learning to be rice farmers in Laos, hot air ballooning in Turkey and rhino tracking in Swaziland, so this year we’re starting off a bit closer to home. We’ll be discovering what Basel, Alsace and Paris have to offer the culturally curious visitor in February, as well as concentrating on Scotland, Wales and the Lake District, where we live. As for the rest of the year, you’ll have to wait and see!
MoP: What are your favourite places in Morocco….
…. to sleep?
I could spend 1001 nights here and there would still be magical places waiting to be discovered. However our firm favourite will always be Kasbah Ellouze, a charming guest house tucked away on the edge of an almond grove oasis in Tamdaght village, not far from Ouarzazate. The Kasbah is run by a friendly and welcoming French couple, and their delightful team of local staff never stop smiling! They feel like family and returning here is like going home!
…. to eat?
Without a doubt the best meals (for food and service) are found in riads rather than restaurants. I couldn’t choose a favourite because each and every riad meal we’ve eaten (a fair few!) has been exemplary. We do also love Kozybar in Marrakech, for a mezze platter, cold beer and a view of the Badi Palace storks on a hot afternoon.
…. to photograph?
One of our favourites is Chefchaouen, the famed blue city which has to be seen to be believed. I loved strolling the ancient cobbled alleyways, watching local women as they touched up their painted walls with pride; following djellaba-clad men with bundles of chickens tucked under their arms on the way to market; and walking up into the Rif Mountains to sit with locals and gaze upon the blue city from above.
MoP: What advice would you give to someone planning their first trip to Morocco?
Just dive in head first and enjoy the experience, whatever it throws at you! And don’t be scared off by warnings about being ripped off in the souks, or hassled by street entertainers. Remember, it’s all part of the adventure, and if you give it half a chance you’ll come to love it.
MoP: What are your hopes for Morocco and for your own travels over the next 5-10 years?
It frustrates me that Morocco suffers the ignorance of tourists who assume a North African location and a Muslim population mean the country is unsafe. In all my travels I’ve never felt MORE safe!!! One of the things I’m trying to do with my blog is raise awareness with travellers that Morocco is a fabulous place to visit and shouldn’t be missed.
As for us, coming from England we tend to be drawn to warm destinations, despite the fact I get grumpy when I’m hot. We always say we should try somewhere cold instead, so we’re considering a big trip somewhere with lots of ice and snow for next year…unless I change my mind and we end up back in Morocco – it’s been known to happen!
MoP: What is the one thing you never travel without?
My hubbie! He’s the best travelling companion ever, partly because he usually does what he is told, partly because he’s great at bantering with the locals, and partly because he’s a wizard with a camera. Most of the shots on my site are his, and I probably don’t give him the credit he deserves.
MoP: Any last thoughts from one maroc-o-phile to the maroc-o-phile readers?
Try not to be suspicious of every local trying to offer you help. Sure, the medina lads offering to show you the way to the square are going to demand money at the destination, but most are simply genuine, lovely people who want to make sure as a visitor to their country, you are safe and having a good time. We once tried to tip a guy in Fes who had given us a tour of the tanneries, but he refused the money, saying as they work as a co-operative they all share the profits from sales of the end products, so everyone is paid equally. There was no-one else there so he could so easily have taken our money, but he didn’t.