When we landed in Morocco I didn’t see much, just the inner lining of the paper sack I buried my head in. Usually I make fun of people that actually use those on the plane. I don’t make fun of them anymore.
Stumbling off the plane to then working on my meditation in the customs line and eventually being swirled around in a taxi through the no lane streets was not exactly the best first impression of Morocco for me.
“I pull over here, you okay?” said the worried taxi driver, his orangutan mirror ornament waved wildly as he dodged donkeys and small children in the street. I raised my watery eyes from the paper bag, head throbbing. “Hell no, keep going,” I replied. I looked out the window to see tired eyes staring at me; she flashed the passport she tried to sell, a random face of a man and a passport from god knows where.
We continued to swerve, honking and dodging until finally we reached the Medina, old town Fez, Morocco. The air smelled like cooked smoke and heat, everyone was staring and now it was time to enter the Medina. Thank god Ben, a man with kind eyes and smile wrinkles that appeared in the corners of his eyes and mouth, was there. To see him was like seeing a god sent angel, for now we did not have to enter the labyrinth allies of old town Fez alone.
So in we went and was instantly greeted with the smell of the tannery that neighbored the entrance and let me say, that is a smell you will never forget. With the end drawing near for me as my stomach was swirling around with the new, foreign smells I couldn’t of been happier when I saw the entrance to our dar, Dar El Hana. Which brings me to the first ‘T,’ well… tea!
As soon as we entered the door we were greeted with the sun kissed face of Australian native, Angela who happened to have made a fresh batch of sweet earth nectar also know as Moroccan Tea. When its magic touched my lips and began to unleash its healing powers with its herbs and fresh mint, my stomach settled and I was cured. When in Morocco, drink the tea, drink as much as you can handle for it really is a sweet magic potion after a long, hot day under Moroccan skies.
Fez was an experience I will never forget, not as busy and in your face like Marrakech, which I will come to later, but it had this culturally eye opening, uncomfortable beauty that I can’t seem to put my finger on. While walking through the medina, not only are you being haggled and offered 1,300 camels for your hand in marriage, but the whole intensity of it, the men staring, the women covered and the meat, fruit and veggies being displayed all wrapped up into this big ball of in your face culture that you can’t help but fall in love with. Goats heads on carts, hand made rugs blowing in the wind, silver, cumin, leather, roosters, donkeys hauling gas tanks, children running circles around you, the Islamic mosque and the shoes that are left outside the door during prayer. I mean, you just can’t blink there is so much to see and absorb and sure, it can be uncomfortable but sometimes we are just too comfortable in our own lives anyway. It was good to get that reality check you will get once in Morocco and it was even better once you engaged with this people which comes to my second ‘T,’ trust.
You will get miserably lost in Morocco, unless you are a guide kind of traveler then you will not but for those independent non-trip advisor souls, you will get lost. It does get insanely dark in those allies, souks and tunnels in the medinas of Fez and Marrakech. Sometimes those streets swallow you so deeply that that handy little smart phone won’t even dare work. In a case such as this, you will need to ask for directions. Depending on the area, day or night and who you are with this could be a hair-raising situation or incredible adventure where you leave with good stories and 10 new friends. Pick your poison, but when it is time to finally ask directions you always forcibly have to trust that individual, who you have never met in your life and know nothing about, to guide you safely to your place of resting. At this time all I could think about was the movie Taken as the man beckoned us to follow him through winding, black tunnels of this unknown part of the medina. I can’t even put in words the feeling of suspense I felt, my heart was pounding as I wondered if I was in fact walking to where I needed to go or if I was walking directly into a trap. It was a surreal feeling but each and every time we were in fact, walking directly to the front door of every place that we needed to find. I cursed myself for having felt those feeling as that man went out of his way to get us where we needed to be but at the same time, the relief and reminder of how beautiful people are in these cases was an incredible feeling as well.
The feelings you feel in these countries, with cultures that are so incredibly different from your own, are feelings that a human needs to feel. The beating heart, the nervousness, the uncomfortable, the fear, the relief, the love and the appreciation. These countries will open and dust off these feelings and it’s amazing to see yourself grow and grow with others. Now, I’m not saying go get lost in old town Moroccan cities and go up to anyone expecting a warm welcome and helping hand, NO! Be aware, have your eyes opened but not a closed mentality. Common sense is a good thing to pack with you on trips such as these. I know we have a habit of leaving that at home.
After a couple days getting lost and finding ourselves as well as many other beautiful things in Fez off we went to the Sahara desert for a four day camel trek. The desert, the trek, our guide Youssef, my camel Bob, everything was something I had never experienced before and fell in love with instantly. The desert life is something not talked about often, it is incredible what these guides know and what members of the Berber tribe call home. On the first night we stayed in the middle of the desert, drinking tea and enjoying just the still of it all. I don’t get enough stillness and quiet in my life, it was wonderful being forced to relax. I had never been so relaxed in my life. Watching Youssef and the gang play the drums and swapping stories was a treasure I will carry with me. I was very much looking forward to more like that, which there was, a lot more.
Placing your trust in someone to take you through the Sahara desert and back was an experience as well, I’ve never felt so calm to just let go and let Youssef guide us through miles and miles of dunes. The livelihood is so different, I think it should be experienced at least once in a lifetime. You are completely swallowed by sand and quiet and as we sat that night a few miles away from the Algerian border listening to Tinariwen, I realized that here I was, the most relaxed I probably ever will be, in the Sahara desert with my aunt and a stranger who we had just met. We sat there quietly, letting the moon and the music put on their show and it was as if we had been together for years. No technology, no cars, no wifi, not a first world luxury in sight and yet in that moment I thought, this is what we are missing or have lost in our society. The quiet and the joy of just being in the presence of beauty and good people without distractions, we do not get enough of this now a days. I think every traveler has experienced this one or twice in his or her lifetime, the realization that these first world problems and desires mean nothing in the end, what matters is what makes this world unique in all its imperfections, its masterpieces and to go explore it, meet those who live in it and let it enrich you.
What I’m trying to say is, go get lost in the desert if you go to Morocco, then you will understand my rambling.
Once we returned from our four-day desert trek, we jumped off the camel’s back and straight into a taxi, which delivered us to the bus that would take us 12 hours to Marrakech.
All I can say about that is… well, thank god I had good company, my own toilet paper and a bottle water.
Once in Marrakech it was about the same as we expected once in Fez. The hussle and bussle of the city produced this amazing energy, like a Moroccan Vegas, there was a lot going on. From cobras swaying to the movement of the streets to women covered in henna offering the best price. The city smelled of dust and steamed food, with love for the country already inside me, I couldn’t help but love this hot mess of a clustered town. With three days in the town we had a lot of ground to cover but thankfully being in the medina opened up many opportunities to explore. The trust game came into play many times as we received more help from the locals than the tourism police. In once case the officer pointed us in the complete opposite to where we needed to go and beckoned us to visit the shop of his friend. If I ever see that officer again… why I otta…
The third ‘T’ I will mention is what we treated ourselves with after being lost for some time, steaming piles of Tagine, a North African specialty that was traditionally made by the Berber tribe. Tagine and essentially the entirety of the cuisine of Morocco is out of this world, I have never tasted such fresh ingredients, it almost didn’t seem right. Stuff yourself with Moroccan meals, you will not regret it.
What you need to know:
1. Stay in Dar El Hana, it is wonderful, well priced and the staff is incredibly helpful and in general lovely people.
2. The town is known for its mosque and tannery, you must visit both. Have your camera ready.
3. Café Clock is by far the best café to regroup, relax and take in the landscape of the city. It is also very famous for its cooking and calligraphy classes, coming soon there will be Arabic language and traditional dance classes.
4. Haggle like a professional. Morocco is known for its vast markets and numerous vendors offering goods and hand made treasure always at a “good price.” This isn’t exactly the case, do your math and know your conversions between euros and dirham or US dollars to dirham. Never act interested and think about what you would ACTUALLY pay for the item back home. Make it fun, like a game, either way he gets your money to put food on the table and you walk away with a sack of camel skin shoes.
5. To get to the desert you will need to take a taxi (try not to pay more than 10 dirham) and go to the Supratours bus station outside of the medina, there you can buy a night bus ticket that will take you to Merzouga if wanting to do camel trek or Angela at Dar El Hana can call a private car that will drive to Merzouga as well, this I recommend.
1. Omar at Cameltrekking.com is the company we used to accomplish our adventure in the desert. Omar was very quick when responding to questions or concerns and provided an excellent tour guide, Youssef.
2. Do it, you will not be sorry.
3. There are several different kinds of treks and tours, the website expresses clearly what each is and how much.
4. Omar provided us with transportation after the trek so that we did not have to scramble to get to the station after, he also let us keep our extra baggage in their Riad called Saturday Night. For this the trip was spent with total relaxation.
1. Same as Fez except larger, this city is all about making money and offering the “best prices.” Haggle your buns off and be strong about it.
2. Respect the culture, I noticed if tourist women were not covered, meaning hair and shoulders, there was a lot of unwanted attention then there would be if you were. Men as well, is a different culture, they are going to offer your girlfriend or wife camels, jewelry etc.. for her hand in marriage, with or without you present. Best way to not get upset or involved is to just keep walking.
3. Explore the souks in the medina, some of the best shopping and overall best the culture can offer hides in those souks.
4. Want a photo of the snakes and monkeys? Be ready to argue your way out of paying the owner for the photo YOU took with YOUR camera. Do not let them take a photo with your phone or camera either, that is just asking for more trouble.
5. Dive into that cuisine and enjoy the famous Moroccan hospitality. These people have big hearts and want to leave a great impression in the end, money or not, the exotic difference of their culture is their pride and joy; they want you to come back.
6. Riad Agdim was a wonderful place to stay and was located right in the middle of the medina. Finding it will take patience and you may have to ask a local, but it is well worth it.
7. The Moroccan people love when foreigners learn a few words in their language, engage with these people, some of the best advice and stories I’ve heard was just from talking to them. Here are some essentials…
Bismillah: “In the name of God,” one would usually say this when receiving something.
Choukrane: Thank you
Questions? Message me.