Not the first thing you think of when you think of an Islamic country like Morocco: drugs. But in the north of Morocco you can’t escape it. The Rif Mountains are the largest kif and hash producing region in the world. In addition, the north coast of Morocco is a springboard for refugees to Europe. This is not only interesting, but it also requires a manual if you are travelling through it as an ignorant tourist. Don’t be afraid, these tips will bring you back from the Rif in one piece!
The Rif region
It is not without reason that the Rif Mountains are one of the highlights of a Morocco trip. The mountains are green and rugged, rich in Berber culture and are conveniently located in relation to Spain. You’ll be there in no time. For this reason, for many people, the Rif is a first stop, with the ‘Blue Pearl’, Chefchaouen, as the ultimate highlight. After this you can easily travel to the south, direction Fez, or to the northeast, direction the Moroccan Mediterranean coast (especially for Moroccan tourists an attraction).
You can’t escape the kif
During a stay in this region, you won’t escape the kif industry, and certainly not as a Dutch tourist (“because they will love drugs”). The proactive Moroccan sales technique is also common in this region, only here the merchandise is mostly Kif. The kif plantations hide deeper in the Rif Mountains, but for many families it is the main source of income. The farmers work in fields, the grown-up sons trade in them, and even the underage children try to sell it to you. It’s illegal, but that doesn’t stop the fanatical sellers from offering it to you all the time. Fortunately, just like with ‘normal’ sellers, you can react friendly with La Shukran, and just walk away from it.
A restless north coast
It is not only the kif industry in this region that is asking for some vigilance. There is also a lot of social unrest at times due to the poor conditions in which the inhabitants often live, resulting in protests and arrests. As a tourist you don’t notice much of this, but it is wise not to end up in the middle of a protest. So always check if it is still quiet and safe. In addition, the north coast of Morocco, with the Strait of Gibraltar as a highlight, is a popular place for refugees to venture the crossing to Europe. If you travel along the coast, you will often see improvised tents, and there are many policemen and soldiers on the move.
Use common sense, and don’t be surprised
In practice, this region is very well accessible, and certainly worthwhile. If you use your peasant mind, and don’t get scared of the sellers or soldiers, then there is nothing wrong. How do we know? When we travelled along the coast for a week with our little yellow camper we were surprised every night by soldiers and policemen who checked our passports. At that time it was very frustrating and scary to be woken up in the middle of the night by a flashlight and a soldier with AK47, but in hindsight it made sense. If you sleep on a beach with a small old van, which is a starting point for refugees towards the Spanish coast, then you can’t expect anything else. So think carefully, and don’t let it drive you crazy!