If you’ve seen my facebook page, you probably picked up on the fact that Morocco has stolen my heart. My sister says that I’m being travel-easy, I’ll give my heart to the first country that catches my eye. I think it’s a bit more than that, although I will admit that doing a guided group tour is a bit like going to a peep show. You get to see a teeny bit, and it leaves you wanting much more.
This G Adventures tour I did took us to some amazing places – ancient Roman ruins in Volubilis, the world’s largest medieval medina (still running) in Fes, the desert in Merzouga, the Atlas mountains, Todra Gorge, and of course Marrakech. Marrakech is a whole other blog post!
This post is about the beauty of Morocco and all the places I want to go back to see. Traveling by bus was great because it gave us some spectacular views, and we were able to stop and take pictures. Funny but true phenomenon though: the view just after we stopped was always slightly more spectacular than the view at the rest stop. I still can’t believe all the different weather systems we drove through. We went from cold in Casablanca, to the Switzerland of Morocco in the mid-Atlas mountains, to the desert and a camel ride, into shorts and t-shirt weather in Todra Gorge (although the wind cut that heat right down), then back to snow in the High Atlas mountains and then into Marrakech and the beautiful heat there. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced such variability in 8 days. The only thing I didn’t see was rain..which I’ve seen quite enough of, being a Vancouver girl, and will see much more of I’m sure once I settle in Ireland (what am I thinking?)
The Roman ruins at Volubilis are amazing for anyone interested in this kind of history, because not only can you see them, but you can wander around in them. You can touch the stones, the pillars, the writings. You can walk in this history and it is pretty amazing. Going through with a guide is definitely the way to go, but give yourself some time just to wander and wonder through this history. Of course if you do get a guide, maybe make sure it’s not the same Voulibilis guide I had, who might have had a lot of information but also really liked to put his arms around me, rub my back, and was a little too excited about the ancient roman penis sign (“this way to the whore house”, essentially). Funny if slightly awkward, although more awkward for the guy on our tour who was forced to straddle the sign and our guide, in order to make the penis joke.
We headed on to Fes and those of us who were up to it spent the night at an incredibly tourist-y show, where we saw a magician, a couple of different traditional musical bands. They pulled people up from the crowd to learn belly dancing (a few of our group were pulled up including yours truly – I’m not getting a job as a belly dancer anytime soon, I think). Then they showed us a marriage ceremony, where the Aussie from our group was the groom and I was one of his three brides. They pulled us from the crowd, took us upstairs to get dressed in traditional costumes without telling us what was actually going on. Then on stage put each one of us three women on a huge plate and hoisted us in the air, rotating us for all to see and then setting us back down again. It was actually impressive that
3 little old ladies were able to hold us on their shoulders. But then I looked at what had happened – we were literally served up to our “groom” on a platter…and I really don’t know how I feel about that. Probably as conflicted as I do now being married to a 21 year old Aussie from Canberra. I really would have thought that would have happened when I was actually 21 and living in Canberra, not 12 years later in Morocco of all places. Plus, why was I #3?! And in a red dress instead of white…what were they trying to say?
All that was forgotten the next day when we arrived at the medina in Fes. An ancient medina, with only two paths in and out of the medina, the rest a tangled maze of stores, stalls, workshops, a mosque, leather tanning and dyeing, people, motorbikes, wild cats, donkeys and basically just chaos. Over half the roads are dead ends (more than half, I just can’t remember the actual percentage). Unfortunately we went on a Friday which is the muslim day of rest, so instead of total chaos we experienced a relatively calm medina (I think we made up for it later in Marrakech, though). It was still pretty spectacular. And fun bargaining for leather goods, scarves (I may have bought a few), shoes and so much more.
Exhausted from a hard day’s shopping, I think we all slept pretty well that night, before heading through the mid Atlas mountains into Merzouga, for….wait for it….the camel ride!
I was so excited about the camel ride. It’s one of those things like walking along the Great Wall of China, that I never thought I would do, and just sort of happened in my life. The fact that this tour included a camel ride and overnight camp in the desert was one of the main reasons I picked it, I’m not ashamed to say. What a cool, cool experience. Except also hot because you know, desert and all. (Sorry, that joke had to be made, for my Dad and my Grandma. If I didn’t, they would)
I had been warned that riding a camel would smell (yup! Like riding an incredibly smelly cow), that it would be uncomfortable (sure) and that I would get whiplash as it got up and knelt down…that one was actually okay. A little awkward, but not bad. Our camel guides were really good at telling us how to lean and what to do to not fall off the camel. One of them may have been a little crazy, made too many camel-love jokes, spoke only in catch phrases, and enjoyed flicking camel poo at me a little too much, but on the whole they were pretty awesome. They didn’t abandon us in the desert, which was kind of nice of them. They played drums for us and told jokes and cooked us some yummy if unidentifiable food (I think the meat we ate might have been the camel retirement plan).
Riding through the desert was spectacular. Pictures don’t do justice to the never-ending sea of sand dunes, the colors of the sky at dusk and dawn, the feeling of just how expansive the world is, and how easily you could be lost in a place like this. Four of us decided to sleep out under the stars instead of in our tents, so we huddled up under 50 pounds of blankets. I barely slept because of the cold and the weight – at one point I though my ribs might be crushed, but it was too cold outside the blankets to do anything about it. It was worth it, though, to see those stars, and to breath that fresh air. Being in the middle of nowhere, with no pollution (light, noise or chemical) is a pretty wondrous thing. I don’t get to do it enough.
I was awash in that oceanic feeling of awe and gratitude just for being alive, just for being able to witness the beauty of this world. It was a wonderful time out from an otherwise hectic trip, and I am grateful that I was able to carry that calm and awe with me, at least for a few hours.
We continued on through the mountains, to Todra Gorge where we learned how to cook tagine, Ait Ben Haddou, and into Marrakech. I could try to describe the Gorge, the views from the bus, the beauty of Morocco, but words wouldn’t do it justice. Pictures don’t do Morocco justice. Just go there, see it yourself. Morocco should be on everyone’s bucket list.