Why Morocco? I have been asked that so many times. I wanted to make it to Africa this year and Morocco fit the time I had available and the budget that I had set. Plus, it is just super cool and rich in culture.
Did you know that Morocco is a Muslim country? It is the most liberal Muslim country in the world. Being able to visit a Muslim country with all the negativity in the world right now was a beautiful experience that I am so grateful for.
Morocco is a place for the senses. A place where the sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes and the things that you touch will forever stick in your mind.
I’m going to share with you some of my Moroccan adventure - what I saw, what I heard, what I smelled (you just wait for this one!), what I tasted and what I touched. So, here we go!
I want to first talk about the architecture. The architecture throughout Morocco is so stunning. There are elaborate archways, gates and doors at every turn. Mosaics fountains are everywhere. Many building themselves are art. Even in the dirt-filled streets of the medina in Fes there is beauty hiding. My local tour guide calls this hidden beauty “black architecture.” There are palaces and mosques that are elaborate and can easily be spotted, and then there is the so-called “black architecture”. On the outside, there is just a door, an ordinary door in the middle of the maze of narrow alleyways that is the medina. But on the inside… a palace. It is mind-blowing. People there are so humble that they do not feel the need to flaunt what they have.
This is what a typical alleyway in Fes looks like. You would never know what is waiting just behind a door or around the corner....
Can you believe that this home below was behind a door in an alleyway just like the one above? Crazy.
Color, Art and Tradition
Color and art surrounds you in this beautiful country. I can’t talk about Morocco without talking about the mosaics that I have already mentioned. They are EVERYWHERE. In a crowded market, in a bathroom way up in the mountains, on the floor you’re walking on, etc. Everywhere.
I had the chance to visit Art Naji Ceramic Factory in Fes where I got to see all the hard work that goes into those beautiful pots and mosaics we recognize as moroccan art. Throughout the medina there are also many family shops selling bowls, plates and tagines.
Another art form that comes out of Morocco, Fes in particular, is leather-work. In the medina you can find the famous Chouara Tannery, the largest and oldest of the three ancient tanneries in Fes. This is where the smell part of this little adventure comes into play. After climbing a few sets of stairs to reach a terrace atop the leather souq, we were given mint leaves upon stepping outside. The mint leaves were for smelling while viewing the incredible dye pits.
The hides are soaked in cow urine, amongst other things. That is one major reason for the smell. After a few days, tanners prepare the hides for dying. Then the hides are soaked in another mixture containing pigeon poo. Another reason for the smell. This process helps the hides absorb the dye. To read more about this fascinating process and about how the tanners themselves knead the hides with their bare feet, click here.
Oh and there's carpets too of course.
Marrakech is known as the red city, but a trip to Le Jardin Majorelle (or Majorelle Garden) will have you seeing blue.
La Jardin Majorelle was once home to the french painter Jacques Majorelle. Jacques created the beautiful garden by continuing to add new plants to it from each continent. In 1962, Majorelle passed away, and in 1980, the famous designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner bought the garden. After his death in 2008, his ashes were scattered throughout the rose garden. Click here to read more about the history of this beautiful, colorful place.
Alice in Wonderland.... No, no.... Ellie in Le Jardin Majorelle
I’ll start by saying that anytime you travel to any country other than your own, you should check the CDC website to see what vaccines are recommended for the country that you are visiting. For Morocco, the typhoid vaccine was recommended. Luckily, I already had this in my system from an oral vaccine I took in 2014 before my trip to India. It is important to remember that just because you took precautions, doesn’t mean you can just go eating any and everything. In Morocco I was with a tour group. So, generally, every place that they took us to as far as a restaurant or a hotel, I could eat the food. We were advised to not drink the water, but that was a given.
Throughout the medina you will see towers of spices and dates - along with other things beautifully stacked into the shape of a pyramid. Taste at your own risk. It is advised against trying or buying those types of things in the heart of the medina because you don’t know how long it has been sitting out. You don’t know where it came from or what has touched or landed on it before you showed up. I obviously couldn’t leave without buying some spices to take home with me. So, I got them at a recommended Berber (an ethnic group native to North Africa) pharmacy - Aux 100,000 Epices. I also picked up some argon oil there. If you’re interested in getting some yourself, they have a good selection of spices and other products on their website here.
The fruit was incredible. The color, the juice, the flavor…amazing. A piece of advice to the adventurous traveling eater - if you want to try fruit from a stand on the side of the road or in the medina - be cautious. The best and safest fruit you can get is uncut. Then just cut it yourself. For dessert they often had fruit sprinkled with cinnamon. It was so simple, but so good. It made me wonder why I had never done that before.
Olives. Every single meal there were always olives brought out first. If you know me, you know I’m an olive addict. What made these olives especially addicting was the fact that they were REAL olives. Grown right there. The black olives were much different than any kind I had ever had before. They were kind of bitter, but in a earthy, unprocessed way. I was into it.
Something else you will see come out with the olives…bread. Lots of bread. Something I learned on my visit was that Morocco as a country does not need to import any foods. The produce everything right there. However, even though they are a big producer of wheat - they do import it. Why? They consume so much of it that what they grow is not enough. Fun fact: not everyone can afford to have an oven in their homes, so there are bakeries (little windows in the wall) in the medina where people will drop off their dough to be baked.
Amongst the fruit, olive and bread there was couscous, veggies (lots of squash, beets and potatoes), dates (lots of dates), and meats (including chicken, lamb, and beef). I did eat pizza a time or three at the hotels… :D
You can’t forget the mint tea! Any time you arrive at a hotel, are invited into someone’s home, or are viewing beautiful Moroccan carpets - mint tea is offered. The tea is very sweet, but refreshing.
People & Nature
When you think of Morocco you probably thing of desert, right? Well it’s true that there is desert, but did you know that there are also mountains, gorges and palm trees?
We traveled up and along the high Atlas Mountains, passing kasbah after kasbah and oasis after oasis, going down into a gorge, and then back up again. The views were breathtaking.
Kasbahs in Morocco are typically referred to as castles with walls made of dirt and stone. They look like mud castles. the kasbahs are mostly empty because they are no longer safe to live in because the walls can easily cave in. There were, however, some that I saw that had been restored. I got a chance to see the famous Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou. Game of Thrones filmed there.
Of course the desert is an image that pops into your head when thinking about Morocco. So, I had to go. After booking my trip, this was the excursion that I had most anticipated. In order to get to the desert, we had to take jeeps off-road. On the way, we stopped and met some nomads.
What is a nomad? A nomad is a person who lives in different locations, moving from one place to another. This family of nomads consisted of two adult women, one man, and two young girls living in one tent. They had goats and chickens that they got milk and food from. The younger girl absolutely loved getting her photo taken! She was so sweet. Her name was Ikarah. We did not speak the same language, but at one point she hand motioned me over to her. She wanted to show me the baby chicks their chicken had had. She was so lovely. I didn’t want to say goodbye. She snuggled in so close when we were taking a photo.
Below: The exact moment she wanted to show me her chickens (she's adorable, right?).
Off to the desert we went. I cannot even begin to explain how unreal the Sahara Desert is. Yes, the sand is as soft as it looks. Yes, the sky is that blue. Yes, it is quiet and peaceful. We were told that the conditions of the weather that day in the desert were rare. We had no wind, no clouds, and the temperature was perfect.
I wanted to ride a camel because, well, I was in Africa in the Sahara Desert…so, obviously. I think it cost around 200 dirhams. So, around $20. The only word you can use to describe the view in the Sahara during a sunset is stunning. Add riding a camel in the mix and the word becomes surreal.
We asked the man that was guiding the camels if they get sandstorms. He said no. The next day, I witnessed a sandstorm. Our local tour guide that has lived in Morocco his whole life (he was maybe around 50 years old) said he had never seen one before. Another rare experience. I feel so lucky to have been able to see one, to be in one.
Below: When the storm started to clear. Wild camels ran in the middle of the street.
Morocco was more than I expected. Morocco is one of those places that you go to and can’t help but have some culture shock (I used a squatter for the first time in my life - sorry TMI). Morocco is a place that opens your eyes, your heart, and your mind. Morocco is a place that will humble you. I am so thankful for what I have. Always remember that no matter how bad you think you have it…there is someone else out there that has it worse. Be grateful, be humble.