During my stay in Malaga I had the opportunity to travel to many different countries, and lucky for me, Morocco was one of them. It was a week long trip that became one of the most colorful, diverse, and eye opening experiences I’ve ever had. I was enlightened by the cultural encounters with the locals and the differences between western culture and a third world country. I discovered the ins and outs of haggling with Moroccan vendors, my love for tea, and how to ride on camel back just to name a few.
Waking up very early in the morning we departed from Malaga to travel by bus to Algeciras, where we would take the ferry to cross the Straight of Gibraltar. The ferry trip was beautiful as we crossed the Mediterranean sea during the early morning hours and the golden sun reflected off the water. We arrived at the port of Tanger Med to board another bus that would take us to our first stay in Fes. This took a about a whole day of travel!
That night we arrived at the Menzeh Zalagha Hotel. Fes was interesting – there were no traffic lights and you had to cross the roads at your own risk. There were also no public trash cans and few women walked the streets. If they did they were covered head to toe and hiding most of their face, so I felt a little out of place. As we approached the liquor store I saw the men begin to stare at me with wide eyes. This time- they were not ogling or cat calling – thank you conservative Islamic religion.
I soon realized that the men were glaring at me because it is uncommon for women to buy alcohol. Although a predominantly Muslim country, Morocco is not dry. Alcohol is available in restaurants, liquor stores, bars, supermarkets, clubs, hotels and discos. And although some Moroccans enjoy a drink, it is frowned upon in public places – and extra frowned upon for women to be buying and drinking booze.
The next morning we had the chance to explore the country’s cultural capital – and this is where I got my first taste of “culture shock.”
As we walked the streets of Fes I noticed all the other camera clicking, hat-wearing tourists like me, documenting monuments like one would in Paris or Rome. But as I walked through the Medina of Fes with open eyes I began to notice the how the locals live, how they make an income, and how they dress. Instead of capturing the beauty of the monuments, I found my lens pointed towards the beaten alleyways and the crowded markets. Each narrow passageway unveiled more colorful mosaics and intricate passageways. Light filtered through buildings, sometimes revealing people in prayer and other times people entranced in their craft. I was taken back by the standard of living, the culture, and the scene. The markets consisted largely of dry caked mud paths littered with food and broken toys, rugs & linens being used as roofs and walls, children begging, and a ton of vendors yelling and barging their way to their next meal.
It was very eye opening seeing that people lived with so little. Western Culture has us spending money everyday like it’s our job, but here in Morocco many people are able to afford just a days worth of food.
While I gave some money to the children who asked, I did spend a good chunk the cash I brought buying gifts I would bring home for the holidays. I bought everything from handwoven blankets, Moroccan seasonings, fresh mint teas, herbal remedies, and fine silver jewelry.
We visited the Leather Tanneries of Fez which are composed of numerous stone vessels filled with a vast range of dyes and various liquids spread out like a tray of watercolors. Dozens of men, many standing waist deep in dyes, work under the hot sun tending to the hides that remain soaked in the vessels. We had to stick fresh mint up our nose to get rid of the stench!
THE ZIZ OASIS
The next day we woke up, scarfed down breakfast and headed to Erfoud, taking our first pit stop where I learned that most bathrooms, outside of the hotels we stayed in, were just holes in the ground. *gasp*
Our lunch break was taken at the Ziz Oasis – a great date-palm oases that occupies the last desert stretches of the Ziz Valley. I never knew this place existed up until that moment. Most of our travels thus far made the Moroccan terrain seem like wasteland- but that wasn’t the case. The Ziz valley was a lush landscape with their brilliant green palms and golden prehistoric valley walls towering above me. The dusty ancient kashbah’s & ksar dotting the palm groves made me feel like I was in Indiana Jones!
THE SAHARA DESERT
Once we reached the edge of the desert we packed up the 4×4 Jeep Wranglers and headed to Merzouga in the desert of the Big Dune where we would camp the next few nights. We raced through the desert dunes in the dark of night ( it was INTENSE – straight out of a scene from fast and furious). When we arrived SAFELY that night our hosts greeted us with food and water, helped us set up camp, and invited us out to the fire for some stories & live African music.
I wish I had pictures of the sky that night. There were no lights, no pollution, and I could see the moon and stars so clearly. We were able to see so many constellations like the Big Dipper, the Milky Way, and Orion’s Belt just to name a few. I barley slept knowing that my trip was short, so I stayed wide-eyed trying to capture the breathtaking views of the Sahara.
In the morning my friends and I woke up early to catch the sunrise.
IT. WAS. PHENOMENAL.
A view so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes but I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
That morning we were told we would be riding camels through the desert!
THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR.
A year prior I never would have imagined that I would be riding camels in Africa! A lot of that excitement actually went out the door when I experienced how awkward it is riding one – trust me, it’s nothing like riding a horse. You’re pretty much holding on for dear life every time the camel takes a step, his body leans to the side and dips suddenly. I recommend bringing butt pads if you have them!
After having lunch in a typical town we headed back to camp to enjoy the rest of the day exploring the dunes and hanging out with the locals. I was impressed by the number of languages that the children spoke besides Berber & Arabic – English, Spanish, French, and even some Japanese that they’ve picked up just from speaking with tourists. One boy taught me how to write my name in the sand and a few others drew me pictures with their new stationary my director brought them
When we were playing in the dunes I couldn’t help but muse over how on Earth they found their way from their village to the campground. It was desert everywhere! It was heartbreaking to see such poverty especially in the desert. Little kids popped out of no where begging for our water bottles to recycle so they could bring the spare change home to their families. Some of them were as little as 4 years old! When my director broke out the luggage filled with crayons, pens, and paper they went wild! It was sad that everyday materials brought so much joy to these little children.
We spent the rest of the day playing soccer with the kids, climbing and rolling down dunes, doing yoga, and listening to the locals play guitar. I’ve included more of my pictures from my trip at the bottom of this post !
In summary, this was one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences of my life. After spending money on lots of little trinkets and gifts, I found to the most valuable thing I took with me were the lessons I learned here. The Morocco trip truly changed my perspective on life and western culture. I still to this day try to stay mindful of what’s important in the grand scheme of things and to be grateful for what I have.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more travels!