The ugly side of having hayfever in Morocco
So there I was. Sitting on the toilet, and minding my own business. When suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I spied an orange flashing light. Thinking nothing of it I continued bidding my breakfast adieu, but soon the amber flashing became more frantic. And so did I.
I was about to be treated to a lungful of odour-masking fragrance from the battery operated air freshener. No doubt the latest subtle blend of fresh orange blossom and ethylene-based glycol ethers. I stifled a yelp. Whilst this would normally be just a minor irritation, on this occasion it caused blind panic.
I had hayfever!
We were in Morocco during a May heatwave, and inhalation of anything other than air was making me wheeze like a cigar-touting geriatric Darth Vader. It was not a pretty sight. Having not quite finished my business on the aforementioned throne, I had a pico-second to choose between dignity and breathing. Stay and suffer, or exit the cubicle and give my fellow restaurant diners a shock that would put them off their meals.
Not fancying displaying my bare white derriere to Marrakech’s elite, I quickly switched into James Bond mode. With nimble and practised fingers, I managed to defuse the bomb. Who knew an air freshener could be so dangerous. I apologise to all the puzzled proprietors of restaurants, cafes, hotels and train stations for the trail of discarded batteries I tend to leave in my wake. In their bathrooms. Now you know why the crazy English lady does it!
Hayfever whilst travelling really sucks
Every year I forget. And every year it’s a nasty surprise when I’m reminded. I suffer from hayfever, and I use the word ‘suffer’ since that’s exactly what I do. All summer, and sometimes from as early as March. Sob. Until my hayfever began just 8 years ago I had no sympathy for people with pollen allergies. To be honest I thought it was a fuss about nothing, and probably just an excuse to get out of mowing the lawn.
Yet I was so wrong (sorry mum, I get it now!). Hayfever is totally debilitating, can ruin your entire summer as well as your travels, and needs to be taken seriously. By those who suffer, and those who have to put up with the sufferer! Poor Hubbie.
Never one to do something half-arsed, I get the full works. Incessant sneezing, itchy throat and eyes, and my nose can be blocked up for weeks, forcing me to breathe through my mouth like a fish. This then results in throat infections and more recently, terrifying asthma-like episodes.
We were in Marrakech when I first realised I had it bad. After a scary night gasping for breath in a windowless riad and seriously considering hospital, I vowed never to return to Morocco during the summer. Of course I soon forgot that vow. Nothing keeps us away from Morocco for long, and lo and behold, we were back again during a 45 degree heatwave.
This time however, I was prepared.
Tips for surviving hayfever in Morocco
If you have severe hayfever and are considering visiting Morocco (and certainly the cities) then I’d suggest you leave it until the Autumn or Spring. Or even winter, one of our favourite seasons to travel in the country!
If you absolutely have to travel during summer then hopefully these few handy tips will go some way to making your stay a little more comfortable.
In the Riad
- Choose a more minimalist riad without a roof terrace full of plants.
- Find a riad with larger rooms to help with the airflow. Most are traditionally very small with no external windows.
- Air con is a must!
- Ask before you arrive if your riad or hotel uses burning oils, incense or candles. If they do, request that they aren’t used during your stay. These scents in such confined and stuffy spaces can really affect the respiratory system of hayfever sufferers. Apologies to all the baffled riad staff who keep discovering their oil burner candles blown out!
- Some riads allow smoking on the patio and roof terraces, and this smoke can linger if there is no breeze. Ask the owners beforehand about their smoking policy.
- Although I would always advise a city stay should involve a medina riad, you could instead consider sleeping outside of the old town in the Palmerie where there is more airflow and rooms will be less stuffy.
- Wash your own clothes and leave them to dry in the bathroom rather than asking for your laundry to be done. That way it won’t be hung outside to attract all the pollen!
In the City
- Don’t use the hammam if you are visiting in the height of summer. It will be very hot and steamy, which doesn’t help with the breathing situation. You’ll be feeling anything but relaxed and fresh when you emerge!
- Watch out for restaurants that use traditional orange blossom water for their welcoming hand cleansing rituals, and on cooling flannels given to guests on arrival. They always have me sneezing!
- Don’t take a calèche (horse drawn carriage in Djemaa el Fna) as even if you don’t have animal allergies, it’s one more trigger to avoid.
- Admire the night market from the roof balcony of one of the many restaurants lining the square. You avoid the smoke and get a much better view.
In the Souks
- A real sensory experience, a single visit to the souks can be a nightmare, with all the herbs, spices, perfumes and smoke from cooking stalls of the night market. Take a scarf (or even better, buy one from the souk!) to cover your nose when walking through these areas.
- Surprisingly it’s actually a bit cooler in the souks as they are covered, so pop in here for a bit of a respite from the baking sun outside.
In the Desert
- Go to the desert, either down at Erg Chigaga or Erg Chebbi! It’s a haven for sufferers of hayfever in Morocco. The sparse vegetation and cold nights mean you’ll be able to breathe. Always a bonus.
- Take a headscarf for when the Saharan winds make an appearance. The air becomes filled with sand particles for hours and you don’t want to be breathing them in!
- Watch out for dust, especially in the ‘rocky’ desert around the Ouarzazate area. Don’t make the mistake of going quad biking. All the dust you will inhale (despite the headscarf) will have you violently coughing for weeks. Save this adventure for when you have fully functioning lungs!
In the Mountains
- The air is much purer and fresher up here, so chances are this is where you’ll want to be for some respite from hayfever in Morocco. Yet just be aware that up on the passes of the High Atlas the altitude may effect your breathing a little, so take it nice and slow.
- If you’re in Marrakech and struggling to cope, head out to Imlil for the day. Have a walk and take lunch in the ‘eagles nest’ at Kasbah Toubkal which is above the trees. The fresh air here is like nectar.
At the Coast
- Another way to survive hayfever in Morocco is by going to the coast! With fresh Atlantic breezes, and more rock than flora, it’s a great place for a bit of respite. My hayfever all but disappeared when we travelled up the coast from Mirleft to Essaouira, and I started feeling human again.
- And if the sea breezes don’t clear out your system, just wander down to the dock and get a lungful of fish! That’ll make you forget about pollen.
What To Pack
I’ve given up trying to combat hayfever. Nothing works. I’ve tried brewing my own nettle tea and drinking plant-based tipples all year to get my body used to pollen. I’ve tried herbal and homeopathic remedies, sprays, potions and lotions, but they’re all a waste of time and money.
There are a few items however that will help you survive hayfever in Morocco…
- Tissues. Take plenty of pocket packs of tissues (you can also buy these in the markets). Some riads don’t have tissues in the rooms and there’s only so much toilet paper a nose can take. At most cafes and restaurants in Morocco you have to tip the toilet attendant who will hand you a tiny allocation of toilet paper. Nose or bum. It’s your choice.
- Inhaler. Consider getting an inhaler from your doctor, even if you don’t have asthma. I’ve had one purely for the hayfever, ever since our first summer trip to Morocco. Although I have used it several times to help with breathing at night, it’s also really comforting to know it’s there if I need it, and don’t have to worry about going to hospitals. I now never travel without it during hayfever season, and it’s truly changed my outlook on summer travel.
- Moisturiser. For when the nose gets sore (and for the sunburn when you forget to use the sun-cream)! Just make sure it isn’t scented.
- Sunglasses. To hide those blotchy eyes, protect them from the sun and the pollen. And to look cool! Ok, so I can’t quite pull that one off.
- A very understanding hubbie who despite being kept awake at night for all the wrong reasons during hayfever season still says he loves me! Although that could be the sleep deprivation talking.
I certainly don’t want to put you off travelling to Morocco in the summer if you have hayfever, and hope that by learning from my mistakes you’ll be able to make your time there more comfortable. You too can survive hayfever in Morocco! I may be dreaming of Antarctica right now (do pollen fossils count?), but I know without a shadow of a doubt, that we’ll be back to Morocco once again when she’s at her hottest.
Just as long as I’m not expected to look my hottest then we’ll be ok!