This past month, my new assistant Carin and I explored the Nador region of Morocco. This area on the North Africa coast is not well known, at least in tourism land. When most Westerners think of Morocco we think of Marrakesh, Fes or Casablanca, sometimes even Agadir. When RyanAir had a BLACK FRIDAY special in November, if you remember with my Eilat, Israel tickets, I was able to score a “deal!” €9.99/person! So of course, we figured, why not! Worse case scenario we didn’t make it for whatever reason. We are only out €9.99. I did a little bit of research on the area prior to us taking off but couldn’t really find much. I saw wonderful pictures on Pinterest of Blue Agate crystal gems and beaches. O.k. This girl likes jewelry and beaches like all the rest! So why not?
From our departure at Frankfurt-Hahn Airport to our return four days later we had non-stop adventures. Nador is in the process of becoming a tourism destination. However, we hit it in its infancy or one might think those awkward teenage years, where it is still figuring out who it is yet. Carin and I were possibly the only Americans for a 200 mile radius and kind of stuck out like a sore thumb. But we had fun with that too! I love traveling with her because she challenges my mind and helps me chill when I get a little out of it. My mind that is ~ I hope this blog helps you to know before you go, and if you want to, step out of your usual travel expectations, because Nador will deliver.”
Our lovely DIGS!
Originally, the trip was another romantic weekend for Jon and I however, work took him away. So lucky Carin, here we go. I had booked us a weekend in a Riad (this is another name for palace.) The Riad Dar Nador, was within walking distance from the beach and main promenade but it was still about 15 minutes. Upon arrival we were immediately greeted by Amal, a hospitality student who is also a culinary major and does EVERY job at the palace right now! She reminded me of Charlie Brown…
From the main lobby to our rooms all areas were decorated impeccably with Moroccan design. We were excited to see they also offered a restaurant and it was so nice to schedule tomorrow’s breakfast right away! The menu that was offered (Amal prepared) consisted of several tagines (Carin was quite familiar with these dishes since she had visited Agadir this past December.)
Dar Nador and Amal became our “home away from home” for the next four days. We loved coming in after a day of touring and catching up with her about our adventures. She was excited for us. She is perfect for this industry as her smile is authentic and welcoming.
Having fun at the Riad ~
Crossing borders and Melilla
On our first full day of touring we decided to head over to Spain. We did a little research and found a taxi for about €10 to take us to the border, where we would have to walk through the border with our information, fill out papers and have our passports stamped. The ancient Berber town of Melilla has been a shipping and trading port since 700 BC and just about everyone has occupied it, from the Romans to the Ottoman Empire to finally Spain in 1951. It is an autonomous city of Spain and is really coming into its own.
Crossing the border is not for the faint of heart. Once our very nice taxi driver let us out, we walked to the gate and immediately were approached by “helpers/hustlers” who were giving customs forms and a border police saying “yes, follow him.” So Carin and I allowed this person to guide us through filling out the paperwork, going to the right checkpoints to have our passports checked, then stamped and approved for passage through. Our “guide” did need to be tipped and it was well worth the 2 Dirham. After that we followed the crowd through a “fenced-in” queuing line to physically walk through the neutral zone to Spain. We soon noticed the line was slowing down to a halt, which confused us because we were being pushed from behind with people passing us, not wanting to be rude, we allowed them to pass. Unfortunately, it became a choke point where ladies had stopped and did not move forward or reverse, they just STOPPED? We could see the border police, but couldn’t see why we were stopped. So there we were people in front, people behind, pushing and shoving; we believe saying, “keep moving” or “let me through.”
After several minutes, this New York girl kinda lost it and with a few choice expletives in a loud commanding voice (I am pretty sure they didn’t expect me to say these things.) I was shocked that the line opened up like the Red Sea and we were all of a sudden allowed to pass freely, with looks of awe and bewilderment.
We approached the Spanish border patrol and had no problem. We showed our passports and were allowed to enter. So we are unsure why these people stopped, it was confusing. If you go through this process while visiting, my advice would be to just keep going, don’t stop and make sure you have your passport stamped and paperwork filled out properly.
I did not take pictures here as this would have been strictly frowned upon and possibly forbidden. Yea, don’t take pictures through a security zone.
Once we arrived in Spain after we had crossed the border and began walking to the beach we realized we were in a Spanish military community. Huh! But it was an almost 80 degree day and blue skies, so these girls had to “hoof it” to the beach.
We all need to clean up the beach! It’s not just here in Morocco but I think everywhere in the world right now. For more information on how you can get involved click HERE
Just like about every other beach in the world, these Spanish beaches were inundated with beach trash. I’m a nature girl, I can’t let that stuff slide. I commit to “picking up trash at the beach the first 20-30 minutes” of arriving. If your heart is moved like this… please consider doing your part this summer. It does make a difference.
Touring around Melilla
What to see in Nador
People of Morocco
Not just in Nador but Carin tells me in her visited parts of Morocco, the people are amazing. Completely bewildered as to why we are here and inquisitive, but we met several who were happy and welcoming as well. We met a wonderful waiter at the Mercure to and Mimon and Billy in the Souk, everyone was helpful and courteous. Going through customs at the airport in Nador was kinda like being royalty.
They never see Americans and they told us we could return anytime even for free. Haha Once we engaged in conversations with the English speakers, they all asked, “how we liked it, if we tried some Moroccan food, what we like about it, and a ton more.” They invited us back anytime.
Now, that’s not to say occasionally we weren’t greeted by random looks of confusion and a few beggars asking for money. (These were mostly young kids, trying to get a few Dirham) but this happens as in every city, tourist or not. We were not singled out, they did this to locals as well.
One of our favorite afternoon spots to “pop” into was at Café H&Z. This lovely little café in the heart of Nador offered an eclectic short menu of tacos, hamburgers, pizza, salads and fries. We made swift friends of Zouhir, who spoke perfect English. He was personable, fun and gave us “where to shop” tips. Winner, winner chicken dinner! Go upstairs if you prefer “non-smoking” and a beautiful view of a market square and mosque across the street. Oh, and from upstairs you can also see the beach!
We visited a few times and my favorite was the cappuccino with a little chocolate syrup, I think it was Hershey’s! I had a little freak-out moment. Carin’s was the Moroccan tea….green tea with mint and a strong sugar punch!
Things to KNOW before you GO!
What to wear/What not to wear
Mostly an Arabic – Muslim community – dress appropriately, we strongly suggest capris or pants (cover your knees/dresses that are longer/cover your shoulders (try not to have them exposed) just being respectful of their culture and tradition. If you just make an effort it makes us all better Ambassadors.
Comfy walking shoes, you will not want to take a taxi everywhere. Taking a taxi is inexpensive but it’s similar to Rome, Paris…make sure your living will is created.
In this area of Morocco, you will not find alcohol, wine or beer freely. Instead Moroccans drink Berber Mint Tea with lots of sugar (or simple syrup.) I will say with my pre-diabetes symptoms I did feel a little buzzed after these lovely drinks. Yum, but kidney failure. HA!
Photos ~ be careful!
Nobody seemed to want to have their business photos taken, be aware of this…I snuck a few but it definitely seemed like it was not welcomed. The only ones who seemed interested in having their pictures taken were teenage boys and I think they wanted a little money when taken. We didn’t bite or take that chance.
Know YOUR CURRENCY EXCHANGE
The Moroccan Dirham is approximately 10 to 1 right now. Carin got a few tagines for about €4/each and they were homemade big pieces of pottery that were beautiful. This was were we met Mimon and Billy, one of their friends spoke a little English and he assisted us in a huge way. We were about to give him €40 worth of Dirham and he said, “no, no, don’t wave that money around in the market.” We found out when they said 40 “Euro” they really meant Dirham. We suggest offering the smaller amount of Dirham as in 40 Dirham even though they say 40 “Euro.”
Speaking Arabic or French?
In this area of Morocco also, they definitely spoke more Arabic than French. I had just got back from Champagne, France, so my French was pretty good, but I found out I was still not understood. After the second day we realized knowing a little Arabic or using Google Translate worked wonders.
Know your DATA plan ~
Carin and I had to purchase daily data plans for our phones with TKS/Telekom because Morocco is not in the EU and because of this there is a €2.95/day 50MB plan that you must sign up for or you won’t have coverage. We found out even with just trying to use Wi-Fi if we didn’t have this plan it was a weak signal.
Wrap – up
O.k. So you may decide I absolutely want to see Morocco and if you are in Europe for the next three years, I would say “go!” You may want to tour the southern or central regions of Morocco who see many more tourists and have a built in infrastructure for tourists and expectations. If however, you would like adventures and meeting really nice people, tasting some great food, and seeing a town un-touched by tourism, come stay in Nador for a short stay. With wicked inexpensive flights for four days, its super affordable and pretty.
It’s always an adventure when you ©Travel with Wendy!