I’ve been making an effort to be more present in my daily life, to not live behind a screen, but rather to truly live in the moment (as the saying goes). In this pursuit, instead of sharing a super detailed itinerary for my trip to Morocco, I’d like to share just the six moments that stuck out the most to me during this trip. After all, in ten or twenty years, when I look back on my time in Morocco, chances are I won’t remember the name of the hostel I stayed at, the train company I used, or what I had for dinner each night — rather, I will remember the bonding time with my travel buddies, the eye-opening conversations I had with strangers, and the times when I looked around me and thought: “How in the world is this my life?”
Morocco has been solidly at the top of my travel bucket list for about a year now. From the dynamic history to the colorful and vibrant cities to the rich culture, the Moroccan spirit was calling my name. I expected to find delicious cow-free food, five times more sunshine than my town in France, souvenirs on souvenirs on souvenirs, and a maze of streets that you don’t mind getting lost in. I did find all of these things, but when making this list, I realized that most of my favorite moments were those that I had not anticipated.
While I had heard a number of warnings from my parents, distant relatives, and blog posts about traveling in Morocco as a single young woman, perhaps the greatest risk I took regarding this trip was in my choice of traveling companions. I was very motivated to travel to Morocco before heading back to the States at the end of this semester, yet I wasn’t entirely comfortable taking this particular trip solo. Therefore, in October when I was talking with a girl in one of my student associations and she told me she was also hype to go to Morocco for spring break, our Moroccan plans were put in motion. I ended up going with this girl, let’s call her O, and her roommate, let’s call her K, whom I met for the first time for a brief planning session one week before takeoff. Anyone who has traveled extensively can attest that your traveling companions can really make or break a trip. Therefore, perhaps I hadn’t completely thought through my plan to travel to a very foreign destination with two near-strangers.
Yet, there were two characteristics in which we were all the same — we were all female, and we were all American. As much as I love inter-cultural exchanges, I have to admit that having these two simple traits in common created an instant camaraderie. A couple months ago, I wrote about what it’s like to be an American living and traveling abroad. All three of us understood these challenges and benefits well. We also had a way of conversing — through slang, anecdotes, etc. — that only an American in their young adult years would easily be able to follow along with. This may seem like a given, but it took me solely being around Americans for 170+ hours to realize how much my vocabulary and diction changes depending on my audience — even while speaking my native tongue.
Now that I’ve blathered on enough, let’s get to some of these favorite Moroccan moments.
6. The First Step into Our Riad in Fes
Even though I was traveling to Morocco in a group of three rather than alone, I still heard plenty of cautionary tales from my parents and casual Facebook friends, most of whom had never stepped foot into Morocco. As three American girls, we understood that we had to be aware of our surroundings at all times, that we might receive some unwanted attention, and that locals might try to take advantage of us not-quite-covert tourists. Therefore, when we stepped out of the airport in Fes just after dusk, we were pretty wary of the man who came up to us in his black jeans and bright red jacket asking if we needed a taxi. We did, indeed, need a taxi, but we had no clue how to tell a legitimate taxi driver apart from a scammer. After all, we’d all seen Taken and its many sequels. The problem was that our French phone plans made the use of any phone services in Morocco cost an exorbitant amount of money. Wary to pay the data charges for searching for a taxi service online, we eventually made our way over to a sign across the street from the airport that advertised taxis with their various prices. A man saw us standing there and came over, offering us a taxi ride. We told him our address and asked for a price estimate, and wanting to leave the airport decided to trust that this non-uniformed man was actually a taxi driver. He walked us to the back of the parking lot, where we were relieved to see that his car had the “taxi” sign on top of it.
In hindsight, we should have had our Riad send a taxi to pick us up; unfortunately, we had not had this foresight.
The ride into Old Town (where our riad was located) took about 20 minutes, and we quickly discovered that traffic laws in Morocco aren’t always closely followed. However, we eventually made it to what looked like a fairly hip-hopping part of town, and waited for one of the riad owners to meet us and walk us up to our accommodation. This walk was perhaps even sketchier than our search for a taxi driver, as we were guided through dimly-lit corridors, up fairly steep steps, and past a group of young boys playing a rousing game of street soccer.
All of this having been said, when we took our first steps into the riad and saw the tiling from floor to ceiling, the stained-glass doors, and the plush apholstered seating, all of our trepidation dissipated. We were led over to a bench, served our first cup of Moroccan mint tea, and were finally able to relax. In spite of many moments during the previous hour where we had thought “what have we gotten ourselves into?,” we were finally assured in our choice of coming to Morocco. We had warm cups of tea in our hands, our luggage piled on the floor in front of us, and a beautiful room around us that was a work of art itself.
5. Dining with Brits in the Zagora Desert
When planning our trip to Morocco, there was one place at the top of my must-see list — the desert. Perhaps it was my childhood crush on Aladdin or one too many viewings of Survivor, but I wanted sand between my toes, stars above my head, and a saddled-up camel beneath my butt. The trip certainly did not disappoint, but perhaps my favorite part of the 2-day journey was the conversations we were able to have with the fellow travelers in our tour group.
On our night in the desert, we were served a delicious dinner of tangine (our third helping in two days). But perhaps of more interest were our dining companions. O, K, and I were seated with three Brits – a father named Ivan, his son Doug, and Doug’s wife Marie. They were all lovely, and the six of us talked about everything from politics to food to travel to the enduring relationship between the UK and the US. Ivan told us that he and his wife (who stayed in Marrakech during these two days, as she wasn’t feeling well) were traveling around Northern Africa in their RV for a month and that frequently throughout the year they take trips on their motorbikes. At the end of the night and after hearing all of Ivan’s travel stories, I was definitely able to add a few things to my own bucket list.
4. Witnessing a Woman’s First Ride on an Escalator
I’m the youngest kid in my family of six, so I’ve never really gotten to witness the big “firsts” in another person’s life (first word, first step, etc.) or the wonder that comes with these firsts. So when I went to a mall in Rabat in order to pick up some bottled water and I witnessed a woman’s first escalator ride, it was kind of a magical moment. The Moroccan woman was probably in her mid-40s if I had to guess, and she had come along with two of her best girl friends. The trepidation on her face, the hesitancy in her step, the way she clutched onto the elbows of her friends on either side of her — it all built up into this truly triumphant moment of her stepping onto the moving platform and holding on for dear life. If you’ve ever seen the escalator scene in the movie Elf, this wasn’t too far off. The best moment was when she finally made it to the end of the escalator ride. When she stepped off at the bottom, still holding onto her friends’ arms, the relief and pure joy on her face was contagious. The three women couldn’t contain their laughter, their smiles unable to be suppressed as they collected themselves for a few seconds before continuing their walk through the mall. It was as if their camaraderie had gotten them through this monumental event, the triumph on their faces making them glow. I feel lucky that I got to witness such pure joy and amazement.
3. Watching the Sunset over the Atlantic
I grew up on the East coast of the US, in the state of Maryland, so on a number of occasions I’ve been able to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic. However, even though it’s the same ocean, I found that nothing quite beats an Atlantic sunset viewed while perched on the wall of the Old Medina in the capital city of one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever stepped foot in. When we were in Rabat, we stayed with a family friend of mine, Aicha. Therefore, Aicha, in her attempt to give us the very best impression of her hometown, timed it perfectly so that our view of the sunset would be unadulterated by cityscapes and unforgettable.
2. A Serendipitous Moment at the Jardin Majorelle
I’m not usually one to believe in fate, but sometimes events happen in life when the world seems a lot smaller and interconnected than you had previously realized. I had one of these moments of happenstance while standing in line to buy tickets for the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh. After waiting about five minutes, I looked behind me in line and standing a few people back was a group of five students who also attend my university and are in my same four-year program. However, as they were at a different campus in France, I hadn’t seen any of them in person since admitted students day two years prior. Mostly, I recognized them from their social media accounts. A couple of them also recognized me, and we were able to chat for a bit about our experiences and expectations for the two years to come. The chances of all of us coming to Morocco for spring break and ending up at the same tourist spot in Marrakesh at the same time on the same day still seem exceptionally small to me. I guess it was a reminder that sometimes the world works in mysterious ways that sometimes we can’t begin to comprehend.
1. Car Dancing in Rabat
Rabat was probably my favorite of our Moroccan destinations, and it had everything to do with the company. When I told my parents that I was heading to Morocco, they immediately suggested that I get in touch with their friend Omar. Apparently, Omar had a sister still living in his home town in Morocco, Rabat. The only difficulty was that Omar’s sister, Aicha, spoke little French and no English and that the three of us spoke okay French and no Arabic.
In the end, we mostly communicated with her through smiles, head nods, and broken sentences in French. Our best shared language, we found, ended up being music. Aicha is one of the best car dancers I’ve ever seen. Somehow, she was jamming out, attempting to film our dance session on her phone, and somehow navigating the crazy Moroccan traffic all at the same time. I’m not gonna lie, I may have feared for my life a couple times, but at least I would have gone out with a smile on my face, lyrics on my lips, and some boogie in my soul.
- Breakfast time
While I’m usually not the type of bird to get the worm, I had absolutely no trouble waking up early in Morocco, as I always had a spectacular breakfast to look forward to. I’m talking five types of bread, six types of spread (I never knew there were so many types of honey), an omelette, mint tea, fresh-squeezed orange juice, coffee, and more. As a girl who eats an apple for breakfast most mornings while walking to school, I was highly impressed.
- Terrace talks in Marrakech
Whenever I travel, I’m constantly looking for the highest vantage point from which to see as much of the city as possible. So when we arrived in Marrakesh and found out that our riad had a terrace open 24 hours, I couldn’t wait to sit out on those lounge chairs, soaking in the last few rays of sun and chatting away with my two new fast friends.
Day 1 = Fes
Day 2 = Fes
Day 3 = Rabat
Day 4 = Train to Marrakech
Day 5 = Zagora desert
Day 6 = Zagora desert
Day 7 = Marrakech
Day 8 = Return to Paris