Well, there’s no better way to wrap up the new year than with a diary of the biggest trip of the year? Procrastination has brought me to this moment just a day before the turn of a new decade to post this travel diary. I apologize for the extreme delay, as I’m sure the Instagram stories didn’t do enough to hold the wanderlusts followers over until now.
This trip was significant to me as it served as a turning point in my year. All of 2019 has been about pushing myself through the last leg of a certain growth spurt I needed to go through before I leave this age bracket in 2020. The experiences in Morocco were so eye-opening and invigorating that it pushed me past the bump in the road. I’ll get into the personal stuff another time, so let’s first talk about the beautiful country I spent 12 short days in.
Morocco is one of the greatest treasures in northern Africa. The architecture and colors have inspired home owners and designers over time. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been in love with the lights of Morocco, the photos of its desert landscape, and the colors of the markets. It sat at the top of my travel bucket list for years. As a result, I jumped at the first opportunity I could to embark on a journey through the country with one of my best and oldest friends, Amanda.
We spent 12 days in this beautiful North African country: 10 with a tour group and 2 just us in a Marrakech riad. The entire trip wasn’t relaxing per se, seeing that TravelTalk (highly recommend our “Exotic Morocco” tour with Abdelhadi aka Abdul) provided us a jam-packed schedule so we could maximize our experience in Morocco. However, it was incredibly spiritual in its own way. Somewhere in the two weeks of sleep deprivation and jet lag, I found myself looking at my life a little differently. Although a subtle shift, the magic of this country resonated with me enough to return me to the city with a change of heart.
Being that this is a developing country of Muslim religion and culture, there are many things we had to be mindful about. From more conservative clothing to dangers of the markets, I’ll guide you through a checklist of things to do prior to your trip at the end of this post. But without further ado, come reminisce Morocco with me…
Marrakech, the origin of my interest in Morocco, was by far my favorite. It’s the city that inspired YSL’s designs and eventually became one of his home bases. Between the sounds of the bustling city and the colors of the souks, you can feel this low-key buzz of energy coursing through you as you walk around. Marrakech is the fourth largest city in the country. It’s where Arab urban culture meets the Berber culture of the desert and mountains as you can see in the slideshow below.
There are some key sites that every visitor should add to their itinerary. Djemaa el-Fna Square outside the souks is what I found to be the heart of days in Marrakech. During the day, the square is mainly empty with just some food stands or vendors. By evening, the entire area is covered with different food and drink vendors, performers, henna tattoo artists, snake charmers, and groups of friends (mainly men) gathering and laughing. If you venture past the square, you can enter the mayhem of the souks and haggle for an array of goods. Back in the day, sub-Saharan traders would exchange their wares with European merchants. Now this is where vendors sell beautiful iconic Moroccan lights, leather goods, rugs, pillow cases, silk items, wooden products, tea sets, and so forth.
Almost every Moroccan city has a medina to explore. In Marrakech, the large medina includes riads, numerous market squares, and a Jewish quarter. Here we also toured Bahia Palace, Dar Si Said Museum, and walked by the Saadian Tombs. You may recognize Bahia Palace from my Instagram post. This palace was built towards the end of the 19th century and named after the sultan’s favorite wife. It is divided into different areas for different purposes. There are 4 for each of his wives all of the same size (meaning they were all equal in status), a quarter for his 24 concubines (2 per room), a school, a dining room, his own quarters, and a mosque. There is also a beautiful courtyard and garden full of fruit trees which you’ll find in the slideshow below.
Jumping ahead to the last few days of our trip, Amanda and I spent an extra two days in Marrakech after we parted ways with our tour. We stayed at one of the most colorful and intricate riad called Palais Sebban. There’s a beautiful courtyard, numerous levels, cabanas on the roof, and a hammam and spa. At night, you can even hear the final call to prayer for the day ring from multiple mosques, including the well-known Koutoubia Mosque.
Each room and area of the riad was a different color scheme. Some suites were regal in red. Others were calm in shades of blue and turquoise. Our room was on the west side by a yellow courtyard with a fountain, and the entire ceiling was essentially a skylight with a chandelier. I highly recommend you tour all of them here; it’s truly a sight to see. I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves. For my own tour, visit my “Riad” highlights reel on Instagram.
In our last days of the trip, Amanda and I booked what was essentially a couples bath and massage at the riad’s hammam. Let’s just say don’t do this unless you’re with a really close friend or don’t care about being practically naked and watch someone bathe the other. Most riads also offer different spa packages that include hot stones, aromatherapy, isolated concentration on select problem areas, and mani-pedis.
My favorite finishing touch to the entire riad experience wasn’t just the atmosphere but the companions. When you’re in Morocco, you are greeted by the hundreds of beautiful cats roaming. A lot of them take shelter in medina (old town, and every city has one) where numerous shop owners feed them and pet them throughout the day. Two cats that roamed in our riad took a liking to Amanda and I, following us even into the bedroom. The next morning, they sat and waited with us for our cab to the airport (see “Riad” highlight reel). Their sweet temperament was enough for this dog lover to love these kitties.
Our last visit of the trip was to the YSL museum and Le Jardin Majorelle. This garden was saved and restored by YSL and his partner. He filled it with colors and plants of Morocco that inspired his designs. Here you can see exclusive vintage YSL pieces and dine at the café. You can also visit the Berber museum insight the garden. The garden was so relaxing despite the millions of tourists. The mix of the deep blue and green plants was soothing to the eye after a long two weeks of brown. Scroll through and witness the vivid imagery for yourself!
Now let’s rewind back to the beginning of the trip when we were with our tour group! After exploring Marrakech, we traveled to a the windiest (and probably “coldest”) city of Morocco named Essaouira. On the way, we made a few pit stops. First, we saw goats in a tree. Yes. Goats in argan trees. Yes, they really stand on the tree and eat the argan nuts for nutritional benefit…or maybe they just like that tourists come by and get photos of them… #secretlifeofgoats? We couldn’t stop the bus on the side of the highway, so the best photo I got you all was through the bus window.
Next, we stopped at a Women’s Cooperative to learn all about the making of argan oil. Argan is a ‘magical’ product that’s native to Morocco. It is used in delicious meals and extensively in cosmetics. These women harvest argan nuts and hand grind them to create what is essentially argan butter and argan oil. Argan butter has the texture and consistency of peanut butter and can be eaten if you dip bread into it. Argan oil is used in skincare and hair products. I purchased their products for my mom and aunt who sent back raving reviews about how nourishing the products are, proving their purity!
Like the rest of the things I’ll talk about in this post, refer to my Instagram highlight “Morocco” for all the action!
We arrived in the country’s beloved beach town of Essaouira in the late afternoon just in time to take a walk on the beach (personally do NOT advise you to go in that water; it’s freezing and a little brown) and jump in the hotel pool before heading to the charming Medina, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Not only is the Medina in Essaouira one of the safest and cleanest out of the medinas we visited, it is also the setting of Astapor for all the Game of Thrones fans! The beautiful outer wall and towers of the medina provided the most beautiful view of the ocean and sunset. You can look down below to see the streets of the market. The wind is very strong and gusty here, but angle yourself right and you’ll get beautiful photos! This was one of the only visits in Morocco where I could truly let my guard down and enjoy without being too wary of pickpockets or getting inappropriate comments.
After roaming through the central area and mellow streets of the Medina, we came to the edge of the old town. Outside of the outermost plaza, you can find the docks full of the fishermen’s blue canoes and fishing boats! I found it interesting (but unfortunately didn’t get to ask about this) that all the boats were the same standard model less a few unicorns in the harbor. Despite the dirtiness and terrible scent, it was calming to see the boats bob up and down slowly as they rest from a long day of hauling seafood back to town.
Here’s looking at you, Casablanca. If the name (and quote) sound familiar, you might know it from a classic movie of the same name (that I admittedly have yet to watch). This was actually not one of my favorite cities. I’m not sure if it’s because I didn’t explore much other than Hassan II Mosque and the main market, but it was just not as exciting to me as the other cities we visited. However, I still recommend visiting Casablanca because it plays an important role of Morocco’s cultural landscape.
Casablanca is the business city. It’s a mini New York City in Morocco where everyone is always in a rush and where large companies established their offices. By the sea is a strip of seaside pools and cafes as well as nightclubs. Inside the city, you’ll find a bustling market and tons of restaurants and apartments. The markets are definitely more urban and modern than those of other cities we visited throughout the trip, as expected of their business hub.
Other than driving by Rick’s Cafe (from the movie), the highlight of this city is Hassan II Mosque. This mosque is probably one of the most beautifully intricate architectural buildings I’ve seen. Yes you can argue that a whole list of cathedrals in Europe plus the entire Vatican City plus all the temples drowned in gold in Southeast Asia area more “intricate,” but the mosaic detail of this mosque impresses me more. It is both complex yet so elegantly simple.
We toured the mosque in the late afternoon between two of the five daily prayers. Hassan II Mosque took about 5 years to build and was completed in 1993. It’s the largest mosque in Africa and third largest mosque in the world. There is almost a gate of arches surrounded the plaza outside the mosque. As you approach the building, there are large fountains with handmade mosaic designs that are almost identical across all fountains.
Inside, the mosque looks very different than its exterior. Instead of the light pastel colors, there is a contrast of dark red, wood balconies, gold finishes, and light beige stone. The middle walkway has cut outs that fill with water, and light pours in from large doors on all sides of the mosque. But the most impressive thing of all is the ceiling actually opens up to let in natural light during the day!
Hundreds of people flood the mosque 5 times day to pray. At the mosque women pray separately upstairs while men pray on the first floor. The seat you see is called the minbar. It is a raised platform in the front area of a mosque prayer hall from where sermons are given. They are usually made of carved wood, stone, or brick and include a short staircase leading to the top platform covered by a small dome.
For the last leg of the tour, we ventured past a beautifully lit area down the stairs to the washrooms. In the basement of most mosques is the ablution area where men and women can wash themselves in preparation for prayer. There are separate areas for men and women to wash, but each area has fountains (some mosques also have stools around them) for many people to wash at once. This purifying process is called “wudu” which involves washing the hands, mouth, nostrils, arms, head and feet with water as you’ll see in the last photo above.
After the mosque, we toured the market of Casablanca. Unlike the other Moroccan cities, this Medina was more efficient, modern, and business oriented. Like I mentioned, I was not the biggest fan of this city, but mainly because it was simply a business hub, and I was looking for historic or culture heavy sights. Luckily, the next few stops along the way were just that.
Before we headed off to the blue city, we stopped by Rabat, the capital of Morocco. Although our pit stop was short, we did manage to see a few places starting with a Kasbah des Oudaias and ending at the the king’s palace, Dâr-al-Makhzen, and Chellah gate.
The Kasbah is a citadel or high fortress on the coastline of the capital. Like Chefchaouen (the blue city), much of the alleys and main streets in the Kasbah are painted blue. It is located at the mouth of the Bou Regreg river, across the town of Salé, and adjacent to Rabat’s medina. The Kasbah has a beautiful ornate horseshoe shaped gate with interlacing geometric patterns sandwiched between two tall columns. Inside, you can find a mosque, streets where people live, the Oudayas Museum, the beautiful Andalusian Garden, and an area outside the wall that overlooks a small beach along the shore of the Atlantic Ocean.
What draws visitors into the Kasbah is the serenity in the walls. The narrow cobblestone alleys bring you through a maze of homes painted different shades of blue, small market stands, cafes, and schools. Beautiful cats roam the neighborhood greeting visitors at every corner. You can hear the ocean in the background as you roam through the area. Doorways are adorned with beautiful Hand of Fatimas on doors, plants, and even artwork. The Andalusian Garden sits near the edge of the Kasbah. The florals and greenery are abundant, giving your eyes a soothing break from the brown of the countryside and colors of the market.
After the Kasbah, we went to the grounds of what is known as the “unfinished mosque” called Hassan Tower. The tower was commissioned in 1195 by the third Caliph Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur of the Almohad Caliphate, a Moroccan Berber Muslim governing movement. It was intended to be the largest minaret in the world along with what was intended to be the world’s largest mosque. After he passed in 1999, the mosque was never completed. Today, the eroded and half finished red sandstone columns sits outside the Mausoleum of Mohammad V in the capital of Morocco.
The Mausoleum of Mohammad V was small yet grand at the same time. There’s a guard stationed at each entrance, but they’re all friendly and stay out of visitors way. The interior was highly detail-oriented, like most Moroccan architecture, and rich in green and red which are significant Muslim colors (as seen in the Moroccan flag). Visitors enter on a balcony and look down to the beautiful stone memorial below to commemorate their past leader. Scroll through the slideshow below to see the interior.
Our second to last stop was the king’s palace. Unfortunately, our tour stopped at the front lawn of the palace. However, we still got to roam around the yard, take photos of the landscape, and say hello to some guards. We also learned a few facts about the palace. For example, the royal family resides in the palace with the Moroccan Royal Guard, and there are palaces in every major city for the family to travel and stay at. There is a private school for senior members of the royal family, a culinary school, and a library built to house the manuscript collection of Hassan II. To be honest, this was fun for about a few minutes. Seeing that you can’t actually tour the palace for privacy reasons, this is a stop on the tour that can be skipped or simply driven past.
Before heading off to Chefchaouen, we made one last stop at the gates of the Chellah. For time reasons, we couldn’t go down and actually tour it but it’s definitely a spot to see if you get the chance to. The Chellah is a medieval necropolis. Fun fact about this place is they host a international jazz festival every year. Never thought a jazz festival would take place in a cemetery, right?
After a long drive, we finally made it into the famous blue city! Chefchaouen is a little mountain village in the heart of northeastern Morocco nicknamed Morocco’s “blue pearl.” The bluest part is in the medina and the main attraction. The small town surrounding the medina is more residential and local, but still fun to walk around if you have the time.
This city was founded in 1471 in the Rif mountains (one of four mountain ranges in Morocco) by the Jews and Moors that fled Spain. There are different theories about why the city is painted so blue (and yes it IS that blue, if not bluer in person). People’s main explanation is that it keeps the mosquitoes away. Seeing that I’m usually a big snack for those pests, I would say that is an accurate statement…except I’m not sure I saw many mosquitoes in Morocco?
This city was unlike any other in Morocco. I loved every place I visited, but it’s not a secret that Moroccan cities are not the safest. The blue city however felt like one happy and warm little village in the mountains. Not that I recommend you frolic carefree and happily around any foreign city, but this would come in second behind Essaouira for safest in Morocco. You still need to be very aware of your surroundings and belongings, but I definitely was able to let my guard down as I roamed aimlessly through the blue alleys. There was the perfect amount of serenity coupled with pockets of energy around the town square or certain restaurants. It wasn’t so quiet that streets felt eerie but it was never so loud that it felt like you were in a city.
What I love the most about Chefchaouen was how homey it was. Everyone knew each other and would keep their front doors beautiful decorated and clean for tourists to take photos. Some would even poke out and say hello. Locals speak enough English to converse with you and genuinely want to meet new people and hear your story. If English is not your language of choice, they also speak Spanish and French along with Arabic.
There are many craftsmen and artists in this city. While many people sold kitschy knick-knacks, others sold art pieces, handwoven tapestries and textiles, and handmade household items like soaps, candles, lamps. It’s not the best place for shopping (Marrakech and Fes would be), but more of a city for you to relax, take photos of, and even wander solo. There’s even one elderly store owner who has been around the tourism industry for so long he speaks perfect English. At first, we were startled by his bold and friendly behavior as we were told to be on guard at all times. Turns out, he was nothing but the local happy grandpa who has met so many travelers in his day that he as perfected multiple languages and their sayings. Kids came by to give him high-fives and teenagers from American-Moroccan families visiting for summer break swung by to say hello. He painted beautiful pieces on different types of canvases and gave great deals to Amanda. If you’re ever in Chefchaouen and hear a happy voice yell “HELLO!! FLOWER POWER!!” it’s him.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can always venture past the small Ras el-Maa waterfall and hike up to the Spanish mosque on top of the cliff. No one has actually used the mosque seeing that the Spanish built it for the citizens, but our friends in our tour group said the view was absolutely breathtaking. We spent one afternoon here and the first half of the next day as well. If you’re visiting on your own without a tour group, I recommend taking a day and a half to thoroughly enjoy the entire city. There is so much to photograph and see that you will not be bored after a day. If you are, there are also a few hammams in town. I can’t speak to how great the spa service is so be sure to do some digging for reviews first.
During our last hour, we bid the blue pearl goodbye by getting twin henna tattoos with our names in Arabic. Having this dark henna honestly reminded both of us how much we wish we could have wrist/hand/finger tattoos… For now henna will have to do. *sigh*
The trip from the blue city to Fes for me goes in the top 5 worst experiences in my life, not because anything is wrong with the route but because our bus AC broke down within the first hour. We spent between nearly 5 hours in sweltering heat through the mountain range to get to the inland city of Fes. The temperature outside increased from about 98 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and the bus was a steady 5 degrees hotter at all times. Luckily for me, multiple sessions at hot yoga allowed me to master a sitting savasana as any slight movement would cause me to overheat into a heatstroke. After the long drive, we arrived at our hotel and spent the majority of the evening cooling our bodies down in the pool.
The next day, we grabbed our walking shoes and embarked on a cultural journey through the second biggest city of Morocco. Fes is one of the cultural capitals and imperial city. We roamed from the Royal Palace (Bab Bouloud Gate) through the medina until we reached the tannery. The beginning of our tour was full of intense sights and scents. Donkeys and horses carried piles of inventory through the thousands of streets in the Fes medina to their destination. Butchers were chopping away in the open and stands were teeming with colorful vegetables and fruit. This part of the market was not a friendly place for the weak stomachs or vegetarians, consider yourself warned.
On our way through, we passed by the Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss, a beautiful holy shrine that houses the founder of Fes. It was absolutely stunning, but you can only enter and tour the grounds if you are Muslim. Next, we wandered by the Quaraouiyine Mosque which is part of the University of al-Qarawiyyin (also written as Al-Karaouine), the oldest existing and continuously operating higher education institution in the world. The building is an intricate design of both Moroccan and Islamic architecture. It was founded by an Arab Muslim woman named Fatima al-Fihri (#bossbabe) in 859 and became one of the leading spiritual education centers in the historic Muslim world. The university concentrates on Islamic and legal studies with emphasis on Arabic grammar and linguistics, foreign languages, and Maliki law (part of Sunni Muslim). Classes are taught traditionally where students sit in a semi-circle around a sheikh.
There is so much to see in the Fes medina like the Najjarin Square, the spice market area, the Mellah (Jewish quarter), and more. As you venture around the medina, you’ll notice that it is impossible to tour the entire area. Unlike other cities, the Fes medina is a maze of over 1000 unnamed alleys many of which are not safe. For example, someone was stabbed the night before we were there. However, most tourists do not venture to the innermost areas and stay on the main roads where you’ll find beautiful textiles, lamps, and plenty of leather goods being sold. Be sure to be continuously aware of the streets you’re turning onto and keep your belongings close to your body as you shop.
The shopping here is incredible. There are hundreds of beautiful traditional clothes, silk scarves, pashminas, rugs, pillowcases, leather goods, leather clothing, jewelry, pottery, lamps, and art. We were lucky enough to stop by a pottery place and watch people piece together mosaic fountains and make and paint pottery pieces like plates, dishes, and tajines pots for us to purchase. Our tour group also stopped by a shop of silk and cashmere textiles where we learned how a loom works and had the opportunity to shop the store. I was even handpicked to “model” a few pieces for the tour (see below) as we all chose scarves for the Sahara Desert. Apparently I would be given to a husband if he has 500 million dirhams and 300 camels… I don’t know but I sound a little over-valued here!
Our last stop before dinner was the tannery. If you’ve ever seen photos of Fes on Instagram or travel sites, you’ll recognize the brown buildings surrounding a large area below of different color paints in large cylindrical vats. This is the Chouara Tannery, the largest in the city located in the oldest quarter deep inside the medina. The smell is intoxicating (and not in a good way) so you’ll know when you’re nearby as you walk through the streets. There is a running joke that no man working in a tannery will ever find a wife because of the pungent scent that lingers with them for life.
Tanning in Fes has been operating the same way since the 11th century. Huge stone vessels of dyes or leather softener are lined up for workers to dip the hides into with the white vessels being the stinkiest. Hides of cows, sheep, goats, and even camels are processed by soaking in a series of the whiter liquids (made from urine, feces, salt, water, and quicklime) for a few days to soften the tough skin. Then, they’re soaked in dying solutions created by natural colorants from flowers, henna, or other colorful sources before getting laid out to dry for days. Because tanning is a manual process since medieval times in Morocco, you’ll find that all leather goods exported out of tanneries are handmade with no modern machinery. Amanda and I each bought two cute pairs of slides that are some of the softest leather I’ve felt on my feet in a while.
We spent the remainder of the day dining in a hidden riad in the medina before resting poolside with a hookah, something we learned Moroccan women don’t have the luxury to do in public.
Before we arrived at the desert, we made a quick pit stop at Ifrane, a Swiss alpine inspired village. An upscale resort town, many Europeans found retreat here visiting gardens, natural parks, and the mountains for skiing. Since it was the middle of summer, the town was nearly abandoned and empty as most apartments and villas are vacation homes owned by foreigners or wealthy Moroccans.
After driving long hours through the High Atlas and Mid Atlas mountain range for 8 hours through numerous towns and the Ziz Valley teeming with palm groves, we reached our final (and my favorite) destination before heading back to our starting point, Marrakech. Merzouga is a very small town at the edge of the Sahara Desert near the Algerian border (note that they are not friends with Algeria, so beware if you wave to anyone on a far opposing sand dune). It is a common pit stop on people’s tour of Morocco as this is where you find the entrance to Erg Chebbi which is a huge expansive sea of large sand dunes. It’s also close to a seasonal salt lake (that is unfortunately dry in summer) and houses the largest natural underground body of water in Morocco. This entire area was once the bottom of the ocean which explains some of the formations and fossils you see on the desert ground between groups of sand dunes. It is home to many nomad families and migrating birds. This drive truly showed us how beautiful the land is in Morocco.
Upon arriving at our resort, we settled into our tents and spent ample time in the pool at our desert resort cooling down from the 110 degree dry heat, enough to even feel chilly when we emerged from the water. Once the sun started to set, we wrapped ourselves tightly with our headscarves and hopped onto trains of camels and into the sand dunes. My biggest advice is you have to hold on for dear life as camels rise and sit back down by buckling their legs in a way that will easily tip you overboard.
The entire ride was out of a dream. The camels were walked on the edge of the dunes (sharpest point to avoid sinking into the dune) about half a mile till we reached the bottom of the tallest dune nearby. There, we hopped off to hike that tall dune to watch the sunset. Unfortunately, it was incredibly hot that day and the sand had not cooled off completely yet. Our hike became a 15 minute sprint up some slightly loose sand, lots of heavy breathing, some serious dehydration, and a lot of fallen soldiers who gave up along the way. For the handful of us determined to reach the top, we may have collapsed for a good five minutes but the view was worth it. The cloudy sky cleared up just in time for us to watch the sun lower past the horizon as we sat watching it disappear with the light desert breeze loosening our headscarves.
Our ride back to the campsite was incredibly serene. The only sounds you could hear are the camels hooves hitting the sand and the creak of the “saddle” as the humps of the camel shifted underneath. The light quickly faded along with the breeze, and we were left with the light glow of emerging stars and the campsite ahead. The trek back was the first time in a year where I truly heard silence in my mind as I surrendered to the present for once. After we got back, the majority of the tour slept outside under the Milky Way. I stupidly stayed in the tent where a bat bounced around all night, but that’s a story for another time.
The next morning, many of us woke up to watch the sunrise. Unfortunately, I missed the most beautiful part and only caught the latter half (and then failed to capture it when I actually saw it the next morning). After breakfast, we ventured for what was probably the most exciting part of the entire trip: the 4×4 safari! We split up into different cars and headed out. My car was team North America (all the Americans and Canadians on the trip), and our driver was the silent rogue one of the driver squad (because there always is one…) who often sped ahead or drove off in a different direction and somehow getting us to the next location first.
The first part of the safari was hopping over the low dunes as we drive into the desert. We tailed behind Team Australia’s car whose driver was quite possibly insane as he sped over some of the larger dunes and did doughnuts between them. We couldn’t drive over any larger ones since it was the summer meaning the car would get stuck in the sand. However, just riding over the smaller ones became a bumpy rollercoaster ride of its own. Scroll through my Morocco highlights on Instagram for the footage. You will not be sorry!
Our first stop was at a nomadic family’s home. There are about 30,000 nomads roaming the mountains and desert of Morocco. A small portion of them are extremely wealthy families who herd their large mass of livestock through the mountain ranges and trade them. The majority of nomads are well below the poverty line and travel because they have to. Those who have families in large cities will find a way to send their children to school in hopes their children can help lift the family out of nomadic life. This family had a few tents set up for bedrooms, kitchen, and guest house (where we sat). They also created a home for their few livestock. We had a chance to peek into the tents which proved how resourceful and efficient they are with what little they have. As we made Moroccan tea in the guest house, our tour guide Abdul taught us all about the Moroccan education system, details of Berber nomads lifestyle, and the politics of Morocco and Western Sahara. It was so interesting to learn about the systems and processes of a different country and helped me appreciate western lifestyle and resources I have. It also opened my eyes to how happy one can be with less. Lastly, he taught us how to make traditional Moroccan tea which is probably my favorite tea in the world. Minty but a little sweet, it is incredible how delicious this hot tea tastes even in the middle of a desert.
Many sand dune bumps later, we drove past an abandoned military village, Berber villages, and drove up to a viewpoint to see the vast valley between the dunes and Algeria that was once the bottom of the ocean. It was eerie to see broken down buildings once populated by a whole village, reminding us that things are truly temporary. Then, we drove further over dunes to Khamlia, a Berber village home to Les Pigeons du Sable or “The Desert Pigeons.” The music group plays music of the Gnaoua tribe with their primary event being the Sadaka where they play for three days straight in July in hopes of bringing joy and curing the sick. The group travels each year to Gnaoua Music Festival each year in Essaouira. We luckily had the chance to be a part of their performance and dance with them.
On our way home, we drove past people burying others in sand. We were told many people come here in hopes that the sand will alleviate their muscle or joint pains. Personally, Abdul thought that was nonsense. Our car had a fun time avoiding the heads of people… I am not kidding. Once we got back, we ventured to the dunes again and had some fun sandboarding on an old battered snowboard. If you’re a surfer, skateboarder, or snowboarder, you will probably have no problem getting the stance. However, the sand only allows you to skate the surface in a straight line which caused many of us to launch ourselves into the sand as our board escaped us down the hill. The hike up alone helped me lose a few pounds. For some clips, check out my Morocco highlight on my Instagram!
After watching the sunset once more (as you see above), we dined one last time in the desert and jumped into the pool. That night, the sky was clear of clouds and light pollution allowing me to see every possible star in the world and the swirls of the Milky Way. I was not adequately prepared (equipment-wise) to photograph it myself but I swear it is literally identical to these professionally taken photo below. As tired as I was, I couldn’t fall asleep as I kept gazing above until a sandstorm hit us all at 3am. Gotta love it. The next day, we woke up early and watched the sun rise as we left the camp for one last night in the souks of Marrakech where you read about what Amanda and I were up to in our remaining two days sans tour group.
Tips for Traveling to Morocco
When traveling to Morocco, there are a few things to keep in mind. For starters, I don’t recommend women going solo without a tour group or male companion. There are people who have traveled solo and made it fine, but I truly believe that is attributed to a lot of luck and good timing. There were times that our tour split up in groups or pairs of all females to shop or see different parts of the city and not a single one of us (quiet or rowdy, covered up or in western summer clothing) did not get inappropriate comments or people bothering us to buy things.
While Morocco is one of the more flexible Muslim countries, people still heavily frown upon non-traditional Muslim attire for women. Be mindful us that not every culture in this world is as socially evolved in gender equality and perspectives. Males are usually fine as they have freedom to do whatever they please (for the most part) in Morocco. If you’re a female traveling, I recommend the following tips:
- Wear a wedding band. Most men don’t bother you if they see you are someone’s wife as that is disrespectful in the culture.
- Cover your chest and legs or at least past your knees. If you can, try to cover your shoulders as well.
- Many of us opted for T-shirts and maxi skirts. This helps decrease attention and catcalling while respecting their religion and cultural attire.
- Do not be THOSE tourists. I don’t think some people on our tour realized just how much bad attention they received for not respecting the country’s attire preferences. While it’s great that you’re cool with flowy shorts and a tank top, you are in a Muslim country. Be respectful when you’re in someone else’s home!
- Wear comfortable shoes and avoid slides since everything is done on foot and quickly.
- Whenever you can, put a headscarf on. This too decrease attention while respecting their cultural attire.
- Carry a bag or fanny pack in front of you, not next or behind you.
- Ignore everything. Literally pretend you can’t hear them or don’t understand them. Once you pass them you will be fine, but if you even give any vendor the slightest bit of attention they will actually go to lengths to get a sale, including following you all the way to your tour bus.
- Get a SIM card for your phone. It’s literally dirt cheap and will save you from guessing where to go.
- Exchange rates at the Marrakech airport were the best deal for me, even better than the ones I got in America. I recommend using your credit card/bringing cash with you to exchange once you land.
Morocco was magical. The sights have inspired me to create a modern Moroccan style home in my next apartment and future homes. I would recommend it to anyone with a lust for history and adventure of transporting to a completely different world from what you know in North America. This trip was filled with light from the sunrises/sunsets to the stars to the beautiful lanterns and lamps hanging in the markets. It taught me that you can find light even in darkness, something I was starting to lose sight of in my own life back in New York City.
I loved reminiscing this trip with you all and hope you enjoyed learning about Morocco through the diary. To all the friends we made, I hope your next travels were just as fun! Miss you all and wish you a happy new year! To our amazing tour guide, Morocco would not have been painted in such a beautiful and inspiring light if it weren’t for your stories. Thank you for taking career of us.
Stay tuned as there just might be a short video postcard coming soon of this trip (which will be edited in with a hyperlink here when it’s up). Thank you for coming along. See you on the next journey abroad!
Until then, bisou bisou…