Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Morocco for More

A handful of years ago - a handful being defined as less than eight but more than six - Mr. Cat in Rabat and I crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and set our paws on the Maghreb for the first time. This trip - a month of backpacking around Morocco and Andalucía - was a lifetime dream (and by lifetime I mean 2 months) during which we could put our relationship to the test and perhaps buy a carpet. Want to get married? - travel with someone and see if you're still talking to them on the return flight home.

To save for our trip
we went into debt lived somewhat frugally for a few months. In spite of our feeble best efforts to squirrel away money (we failed) we felt that we would still be in a pretty good position financially because the purchasing power of our ill-gotten debt hard-earned dollars would be significant in Morocco. And by significant I mean leviathan. Perhaps we would even buy two carpets.

In this we would be wrong. (Except for the carpets).

Morocco is not a cheap country. And not that it should be - although it would be nice if it were - but there is an expectation that, as a 3rd world country developing nation, it is. Or ought to be. In truth, some things are cheap: rent is cheap (although rents are on the rise), local transportation (with the exception of domestic airfares) is still cheap, and anything made of leather is risibly inexpensive, but it pretty much ends there. Between holiday housing developments sprouting like poisoned mushrooms along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines and the Western predilection for building guest houses and renovating derelict ryads in Morocco's medinas, real estate is starting to go through the roof. All this, in conjunction with the hoards of cash-carrying tourists disembarking from cut-throat European airlines, is serving to not only test the local infrastructure but to ensure that prices will go up up up.

Soon, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, nobody will come to Morocco because it's too crowded. And too polluted. And too expensive.

But I digress.

Eating at restaurants - even fairly modest ones - can add up quickly. It's impossible to find a cup of coffee in Rabat for less than 8 dirhams (= $1). A bottle of water costs more than a bus ride. Quite understandably, liquor and packaged food are expensive - prices for which are on par or higher than in parts of Europe and North America. And here I was a tad astonished: fresh fruits, vegetables (unless they are in season) and meat are often rather dear. And a 'sale' at Label Vie means that a tube of Koutoubia luncheon meat (a.k.a. Why I am a Vegetarian) costs 2 dirhams and 7 centimes less this week, so stock up now!

Of course, I'm speaking from the perspective of someone who lives here rather than someone who is visiting. But even when Mr. CinR and I visited those handful of years ago with those fistfuls of foreign currency, we didn't exactly find Morocco to be a bargain destination - in order to experience Morocco-on-the-cheap we stayed in fleabag hotels (nondescript rooms with shared squatty toilets) with large cockroaches the size of small rodents, small rodents the size of large cockroaches, and ate a lot of street food.

So imagine my surprise when I read that I could enjoy Morocco for Less ... that Morocco is still a budget destination for the impecunious. I liked the 'less'. I was intrigued.

" ... Take an escorted tour of Marrakech, the Atlas Mountains, and Dades Gorge ...”

Ooooh, tell me more ...

Your trip will include a mountain bike ride in the hills, with mountain bike rental included; a guided nine-hour hike through the mountains of the Tamatert Valley; a stop at the Kasbah of Ait Benhaddou; and a stay in a tent among the limestone cliffs and unusual rock formations of the area around the Dades Gorge ... Be sure you are in shape to handle treks of about four hours per day, long bike rides, or flat-water kayaking in humid conditions.

Hope bottled water is included.

So, sounds nice – how much is it? Covered in the price of $990 US (gasp!) is 8 nights' accommodation (including a stay at Marrakech's Hotel Ali - Morocco's quintessential budget hotel/hostel), transportation & entry fees, bike rentals, payments to local guides & nomads (don't get me going on the nomads), 8 breakfasts, 3 dinners and 2 lunches. You're on your own for those other 5 dinners and 6 lunches but hey! - breakfast is included and isn't that the cheapest most important meal of the day?

You can opt for other excursions at additional cost, such as a cooking demonstration of staple dishes, such as tajine and couscous, for about $17 per person.


Call me a tightwad, frugal, Spartan, tight, niggardly, parsimonious, penny-pinching, stingy, scrimping, sparing, abstemious, penny-wise, prudent thrifty cheap - but I just don't think that qualifies as a "budget" trip. But Budget Travel does and they should know ...

Why It's a Deal: Consider that the $990 rate (including the $140 local payment) breaks down to about $124 per person per night and covers accommodations and local transportation. An English-speaking tour leader is available (I should hope so, you're paying for him - CinR) throughout the trip, especially handy for learning local information on the best markets on this itinerary.

So there you go. Morocco for Less indeed. Is Morocco cheap? I would have to say no - at least not from my humble perspective. Can you still find deals? Yes, but they're quickly disappearing. The Hotel Continental in Tangier (still one of my favourite hotels but only because I can't afford the El Minzah) has more than doubled their rates in the last handful of years - a handful being defined as less eight but more than six. Is it cheaper than London or Istanbul or Paris? Obviously but, I would argue, they are not developing nations. Have I turned into a cheap bastard? Undeniably.


Blogger knarf said...

"shared squatty toilets"?

Are they as bad as they sound?


3:56 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Only when you use them at the same time as someone else. Only kidding. Some squatties I've used have been undeniably cleaner than sit-downs. Plus, you can spread the newspaper out in front of you so that you can squat and read comfortably at the same time (that tidbit from Mr. CinR).

4:10 p.m.  
Blogger knarf said...

Yes, but then the newspaper is touching the floor - the very same floor that people are squatting upon to poo.

I don't think I like that.

I wouldn't do third world (sorry, "developing nations") very well, I'm afraid. I just like flush toilets too much...

4:51 p.m.  
Blogger Okie said...

I am wondering if part of the high-costs for you is that you are not a local and may not have found the bargain cafes and places to shop. I've had 50-cent coffees at a nice small cafe in Rabat by the coastal highway, a bit further south than where you live. I was told that coffee was 50 cents and the standard price at all cafes. There are Sunday souks (the trip can be a weekend family outing) in the country where locals buy fresh meats and produce straight from the farm at a much cheaper price and bring them home to cook for the rest of the month. Foreigners have a hard time bargaining too, and that adds greatly to the expenses. And even here in Oklahoma, I can save a lot of money by buying different foods and products from various stores, buying produce in season, and making homemade pizzas,and other foods instead of buying them in restaurants....it seems inconvenient but saves in the long run, and think it might be the same there.

4:55 p.m.  
Blogger taamarbuuta said...

Worse yet, their site says "The Real Deals." Travel around Morocco, even for my slightly older and slightly picky parents, still averaged around $125 a day - FOR TWO! As for myself - unless I'm stuck in a 4* paid for by the conference I'm attending and forgot to eat dinner so must order the nasty 75dh chawarma that isn't even really a chawarma but more like chicken and cabbage in a baguette - travel around Morocco is more like 125 DIRHAMS a day.

6:03 p.m.  
Blogger taamarbuuta said...

I wish I could edit my comments! To Okie - you know, even the "locals" can't live that cheaply anymore. I'm married to a Moroccan, and I highly doubt he could find a cup of coffee in Rabat proper for less than 10dh either. The coastal highway prices are a bit different, my friend.

I'm an excellent bargainer, too. Last time I was in Marrakesh, my mother-in-law bought some pants that I ended up going back for - and I paid 10dh less than she did! Of course, I tell this story repeatedly because it's such an anomaly, but what I'm getting at is that it doesn't really matter who you are - Morocco is becoming an expensive place to live.

6:06 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Okie: you're undeniably right that locals have it better than foreigners but the gap is lessening. As Taamarbuuta said - and I've heard this from many Moroccans (and the majority I know are not affluent) that prices are going up up up.

Knarf: put the paper on the floor in front of you. Not in the foot pad region.

6:34 p.m.  
Blogger squindia said...

wow! I hooked my mom and my aunt up back in 2005. Abdullah (English speaking!) drove them all over Morocco (Saraha, Dades Gorges, Marrakech, Atlas Mountains, Fez, Rabat), provided them with a 3 star hotel room each night, included breaky, and it costs them $50 a day each. I thought it was a deal. They were suspicious at first, since they also assumed Morocco would be 'cheap'. That tour sounds like a rip!


6:37 p.m.  
Blogger monsieur mike said...

A curious idea of a deal. Nice, though, that when calculating the nightly cost they forget to include the extra meal costs and taxis that aren't included in the $990.

In fact it works out to $159 per night or 1,320 MAD. This post just points out how cheap I am, spending maybe a tenth of that per night when I travel about.

I guess though you have to remember it's not cheap to pay someone to write nonsense for your website about how a poor deal is so great.

8:41 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

"I guess though you have to remember it's not cheap to pay someone to write nonsense for your website about how a poor deal is so great." ... I had to parse that one Monsieur!

9:21 p.m.  
Anonymous Amanda said...

You've been in Agdal too long! Coffee in the rest of the country is rarely over 3-4 dirhams. Morocco *is* cheap, but not if you follow the path of the tired, well-trodden European crowd (or American crowd) and not if you expect your experience to be micro-managed, tour-guided, and tajined to death.

10:27 p.m.  
Anonymous Liosliath said...

That tour is provided through Intrepid (one of the companies that brings the most English speaking tourists to Morocco, next to Exodus and Explore) - so they do bump up the prices quite a bit. I don't know what their markup is, but I suspect it's high, and they've recently cut costs by firing their Western guides and replacing them with "English-speaking" (I use the term loosely) Moroccan guides.

It's great for people that are a bit nervous about travelling around Morocco on their own (like I was hen I first came!), but not so good cost-wise OR culturally - you get herded around so fast, you hardly get a chance to meet anyone. That's why I rebelled, left the tour, and married the hotel owner...ha ha!

3:45 a.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

You know Liosliath, most people would rebel by sneaking into town without a guide. You've certainly raised the bar on that one.

9:01 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amanda: with all due respect, I don't know what your experience of Morocco is or where you lived or stayed but millions of Moroccans live in urban centers where prices are high & climbing. I have to agree with Ms. Cat that Morocco is no longer a cheap place to live. I have lived here for over 12 years and don't lead the life of a European/American ex-pat. I can also say that I haven't had a cup of coffee for 3-4 dirhams in the last 5 years.

9:42 a.m.  
Anonymous Amanda said...

Anonymous: You must live in a large city. Morocco is much more than its (tourist-infested) cities - I am talking about the REST of the country. I lived in the Southeast, on the edge of the Eastern High Atlas park. But I've travelled all over the country and I'm a coffee addict! Then again, not living like a tourist, and speaking Darija and Tamazight rather than French probably helped me get the normal price.

6:07 p.m.  
Anonymous Houda N said...

Anonymous - You're right. I haven't bought a cup of coffee for under five dirhams since the nineties.

Amanda - What do you mean by the REST of Morocco? Over half the population live in the cities. And are you presuming that we don't we speak Dareeja and Tamazeeght.

Let's all trot off now to "the Southeast, on the edge of the Eastern High Atlas park" and buy a 4 dirham coffee in one of these dried out shithole villages.

8:28 p.m.  
Anonymous Liosliath said...

Houda, my husband was born in one of those "dried-out, shithole villages," so I'll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head when referring to your compatriots in the countryside. If you're being snotty and thinking that they're all arrobi, then you should know that some of the most ass-backwards people I ever met lived in the city.

Amanda, where exactly is this "Eastern High Atlas park?" We live in the SouthEast too, and have never heard of it...

Cat - I never do anything halfway!

1:35 a.m.  
Anonymous Amanda said...

Liosliath - it is the Imilchil area. And thank you. I have fond memories of my dried-out shit hole. ;)
Houda / anon: My point stands. The rest of Morocco means exactly that, the other half. I am not disagreeing about the city. And while you might speak Darija, etc I think it is a safe bet that most ex-pats speak French and are thus treated.

I love Cat's blog and enjoy her writing but I don't think, and have never thought, that it gives a fair picture of the whole of Morocco. Sorry.

4:10 a.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

"... but I don't think, and have never thought, that it gives a fair picture of the whole of Morocco."

Hmmmm ... not that I feel that I have to defend myself or my comments (because I don't), but the name of this blog is Cat in Rabat, not Cat in Morocco. And certainly not Morocco: FAQ. It is not a travelogue. My blog has never striven to be a social or travel commentary about this country. My comments reflect my experiences specifically in Rabat and sometimes beyond. They are neither fair nor unfair representations of Morocco ... they are observations or retellings of truthful incidents from my life in this city.

9:04 a.m.  
Anonymous houda n said...

But from your blog, Liosliath, it appears that you ran away from the dried-out shithole village where you lived with your sweetie, my dearie. Are you heart-broken to have left it, Miskeena?

Now, I was not referring to my compatriots when talking about "dried-out, shithole villages," - I was referring to the physical environment. And I'll thank you to allow me to put my tongue wherever I want - it wasn't even touching anyone!

I was not being snotty - don't you be paranoid.

2:42 p.m.  
Anonymous Liosliath said...

Houda, first, I'm not your dearie. Second, I didn't _want_ to leave Morocco, but my father was diagnosed with colon cancer last year, so I felt that it was important to be close to him. I would rather live in that little village than the choking dirt and smog of most of the Casa neighborhoods. Ntia miskeena, mashi ana.

Cat doesn't need defending, but I will say that I haven't yet seen a "fair" blog about Morocco. Everyone has their own experiences there, and yes, their own biases come into play. My own blog is not excepted from this rule.

BTW, a cup of coffee in Tinerhir is 3 Dh.

5:58 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Again, why do I have to be fair or unfair? Why can't I just say what I've seen first hand? Isn't that why justice is portayed to be blind?

6:42 p.m.  
Anonymous houda n said...

I can't abide Casa either. Oh, I am so glad that we have something in common Liosliath - and I do feel that you are my dearie - don't take that away from me.

Surely you could beat them down to two and a half dirhams in Tinerhir, no? If you were there, that is.

6:48 p.m.  
Anonymous Liosliath said...

Cat - Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you should try to be completely fair and impartial. Your observations are valuable exactly as they've been stated, as far as I'm concerned - I only meant that "fair" was not a reasonable goal for our type of blog. If we were doing anthropological/sociological study, maybe it would be.

Houda - You're an excessively silly person. I don't drink coffee, I asked my husband how much it costs. Of course, that was the price he paid back in February, so I'm sure it's something astronomical now, like 4 Dh.

11:46 p.m.  
Anonymous Racquel said...

Hi cat! well, truth be told, (x)3rd world countries(x) oops, i mean developing nations like Morocco think that having "large cockroaches the size of small rodents, small rodents the size of large cockroaches" is part of the promised "exotic trip"... you can't really expect travel sites to divulge the sad little facts about a country... they'll go bankrupt if they choose to be totally honest about everything. anyway, how many carpets do you own now? =)

3:11 a.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Racquel - no regrets or complaints on the quality of hotels I've stayed in. You're right, it's part of the experience of travelling.

10:00 a.m.  
Anonymous Sean O'Neill said...

There's been a response posted at Budget Travel's website:

4:37 p.m.  
Anonymous houda n said...

Anyway, good for you to respond, Sean.

Just popping in on my new ibook - bought it on my holidays. Having a delicious time.

However, Sweet Sean, what we really want to know is: how much is it for a coffee on your organized trip?

7:06 p.m.  
Blogger taamarbuuta said...

I'm probably extremely late on this, but when we're talking about coffee, I assume we all mean plain black coffee, right? Maybe that's 3-4 dirhams, but ask for anything with milk (nus-nus, cafe creme, cappo) and the price bar is automatically raised.

I do speak darija, and have never spent less than 8dh on a coffee with milk of some sort. And in Meknes, it's usually more like 10-12.

And Cat's right about Rabat, specifically Agdal - the cafes there are mostly of the swank sort - my husband actually paid 25dh for a cappucino, unheard of even in Casa!

And Amanda - Meknes (the sixth or seventh largest city in the country) is anything but tourist-infested. Most tourists just drop by for the afternoon, and almost none visit Hamrya (the v.n.) - and that is where I drink my coffee.

3:14 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Thanks for your 2 cents Taar ... but at least you can get cappo in Meknes!

9:39 a.m.  
Anonymous Morocco Property said...

Hello Cat in Rabat!
How are you?
I have never thought that Morocco may be an expensive country. There are lots of tourists who are coming every year and enjoying this trip. So, and what about you? Nevertheless it was a little bit expensive for you to stay there, but in general i think that you pleased from this trip very much.

8:38 a.m.  

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