In the earlier hours of this morning, groggily stumbling around in search of a battery charger, I found an old memory card in a side pocket of a forgotten camera bag – still (still) slightly crusty with the sands of the Sahara, mind you. First up was a bloody big sigh of relief – Alex has been on my case about these photos from our couple of weeks in Morocco since we landed back in Sydney two Julys ago (and I’ve literally been stalling all this time because I couldn’t for the life of me remember where I’d hidden the card away).
That aside, travelling Morocco was one of the most eye-opening few weeks of my life, that I’m dying to relive – so much so that I would almost move to London just so I’m only an hour-and-a-half flight away.
I have shared a few snippets of awe-inspiring Morocco in the past year or two – selfishly, they were the prettiest moments (Todra Gorge, Taghazout, Casablanca and Chefchaouen) – but not about the experience as a whole. Alex and I had come off two or so weeks working our way from Paris down through France to Corsica, then across to Granada where we ate a lot of market produce and free tapas and got lost looking for gypsy caves. Having been failed by our Spanish phrasebook (and Granada’s tendency to stay asleep until noon), we’d walked the 7km from our little apartment in Albayzín to the train station with all of our stuff at 4AM, stared at the countryside speeding past for five hours, missed our ferry from Algeciras to Tangier by two
seconds, and, having speculated that we probably couldn’t take alcohol into a Muslim country halfway through Ramadan, spent the two hours before the next ferry looking for somebody who’d accept a bottle of red wine that our apartment hosts in Granada had given us. (We hadn’t had the heart to tell them that neither of us drink). By the time we made it to Tangier, we’d eaten a lot of M&Ms, and I’d changed into some happy pants, having felt exceptionally naked in my sundress and espadrilles (yes I wore dresses without pants back then), and the “bandits were ready to come down from the hills” – a direct quote from a man with a family of twelve on the ferry. Turns out it was a joke. There are no bandits.
The following morning, we met our legend of a guide, Youssef, who we’d found on TripAdvisor, and thank god for that. From there, we saw as much of Morocco as we could feasibly fit in before the rush back home for second semester. Youssef knew all the secret spots and best options for food to eat or activities we wanted to do. Throughout our long drives, he enlightened us on Muslim customs and culture, and what things like covering the head and fasting meant on a fundamental spiritual level, and from a genuine place – not a Western observer’s perspective as we are so used to.
We ended up doing Ramadan with Youssef, with the exception of some water and secret snacks that we took turns at consuming as silently as possible in the back of the car when our stomach-growling got too audible – we couldn’t bring ourselves to eat in the car when he hadn’t eaten anything since a ridiculous hour of the morning. The meal after the sunset prayer call in each city was the best thing we’d ever tasted every day – though admittedly, we never managed to wake ourselves up before sunrise to eat the necessary quantity of bananas to last the day, so cheated with
breakfasts of msemen and jam (which was stupidly delicious for about a week, after which all I wanted was some greens, and all Alex wanted was a chicken burger).
It’s difficult to explain how much impact this kind of culture shock has when you pay attention. Any complaints I heard about travelling in Morocco as a woman disintegrated as soon as I saw the context. Morocco definitely needs to be travelled in the right way – with the right research, the right guide, a good amount of awareness and respect, an open mind, and some kind of hunger to learn something about how other people see the world through a very different lens. Sure, you can travel across the planet and stay in the confines of a resort of incredible luxury with themed decor – each to their own. But, we had some of the greatest experiences just walking around, trying new things (sometimes at the expense of our stomach flora, but whatever), and asking questions.
Youssef taught us to do all of that. Hope to see you soon old mate.
- Cooling off in the corner of our Riad bedroom in Marrakech after a long day sweating it out, getting lost in the Medina
- Silently breathtaking streets of Asilah in North Morocco – we took a day trip here from Tangier
- Dreamy local hangout on the coastline highway between Tangier and Asilah
- A fountain and cacti at Yves Saint Laurent’s breathtaking Jardin Majorelle home
- Camel-trekking through the Sahara with the Desert Men who were the happiest people with the strongest ankles on the planet
- After no sleep whatsoever (the dunes spent the night shifting across our campsite), but it was ok because my mate here had all of the chill
- Layers of street art in Asilah – I’m dying to go back for their Art Festival which is supposed to be fantastic
- Headscarf only came off when nobody else was around, and the photo-op was too good to be true
- Dinner grill at the fish markets in Essaouira (the city windier than Chicago)
- Handmade rugs drying in an empty back alley in Asilah
- A mural at the entrance of blue mountain town, Chefchaouen
- Watching kids playing football at sunset in Taghazout after a surf day