Our recent trip to the Kingdom of Morocco in Sept/Oct 2017 revealed there's a lot more to this north African county than one might think - amazing geographic diversity; incredibly friendly people; intruiging, rich culture; and delicious local food & drinks. What an experience to have explored all this in a single ten-day trip!
On our unique, non touristy trip, we explored everything from bustling, historic imperial cities to relaxing coastal beach towns to towering mountains to expansive valleys with out-of-place green oases and lush palmeries, and long stretches of flat desert punctuated with immense dunes of sand stretching to the Algerian border... welcome to Morocco!
Scenes of where we traveled
Visits to the imperial cities of Fes, Marrakesh, Rabat and Meknes show off the rich history of this northern African country and take you back as you imagine city life within the walls of old medinas. It’s fascinating to walk the bustling streets & markets full of the daily business of its residents and explore the colorful, chaotic souks where vendors and shoppers jostle back and forth in the narrow corridors on foot, bicycles, scooters, mules, and wheel barrow carts.
Our visit to the coastal city of Essaouria was a welcome change after the hustle, bustle of the major cities. It’s medina was chock full of shops and people, but it was on a smaller scale and moved at a noticeably more relaxed pace with a laid-back, artsy environment. We could have totally used another day in this seaside town.
Making our way to the other side of the Rif and Atlas Mountains was a very memorable experience in stark contrast to where we’ve been. Here, where many Berbers live, life slows down and radiates more of that simple country-living as you roam through the many small towns, remote villages and historic kasbahs. Even the windy, up and down breathtaking drive across the High Atlas Mountains with its rugged peaks and deep canyons was a highlight. Hiking in the spectacular Atlas Mountains served as a feast for the senses with its mesmerizing natural beauty at each turn. And on this side of the mountain range, we found ourselves in the Valley of the Roses. Hospitality rules here in this small, slow-paced scenic town that is the one of the biggest suppliers of rose oil to the perfume industry – 3,000-4,000 tons of roses are harvested each year.
Not surprising, the most unique experience was our visit to the Sahara desert. Riding camels through the sand dunes and spending the night at our desert camp was surreal and a memory that will always be etched in our minds. The immense and seemingly never-ending dunes of golden sand & stars galore remind you of the of the immeasurable size of mother nature and how small we actually are on the planet. It’s a meditative type of place that will quiet your mind and make you think about the world beyond yourself.
Friendly People & Curious Culture
English is pretty non-existent in the general population so don’t expect to strike up a conversation with most locals unless you know Arabic or French or Berber, which are the official languages. However, we experienced a friendly welcome from everyone we came across. Speaking in the not-often-heard language of English, usually elicited curiosity and the question, “where are you from?” A smile was always the result from answering the United States. Many residents anxious to practice their English were eager to try out the words they know. Greeting local folks with “Salom” and ending an interaction with “Shokrun” or thank you went a long way. All visitors should find themselves using these words a lot.
We learned a lot about little cultural differences. One stand out is the concept of time – American versus Moroccan. Americans are all about time… what time is it, how long will it take to get somewhere, how long will we be there, what time will we be done - specifically. Moroccans concept of time seems quite the opposite - they are not time-focused by any stretch of the imagination and aren’t concerned about the accuracy of estimating time. If you’re told 2 hours and it turns out to be 5 hours… well, that’s kind of the same. And for them why does being so concerned about time matter anyway. We’d often hear things like, “You have a watch, we have time.” And, “no plan is a good plan.”
Eats & Drinks – the Moroccan Staples not to Miss
When it comes to meals, its call about bread, bread and more bread. All kinds of Moroccan bread in all shapes and forms. For breakfast, it’s not unusual to just have different variations of bread including the breakfast staples Msemen and Baghrir, both referred to as Moroccan pancakes. The first is a thicker, denser fried bread in a square shape. The latter looks like a pancake (round & flat) with lots of airy holes. You’ll also get regular French type of crepes and actual French bread. You’ll most certainly find Khobz on the table, which is the ubiquitous, traditional white bread in round form. All of these delicious bread products are served with a plethora of sides such as honey, butter, soft cheese, and different local jams.
What’s for lunch and dinner? Without a doubt, tajine, tajine & more tajine. Most definitely served with bread! You can get tajine with just about any meat, but typically it’s chicken, beef and lamb. If you ask for vegetable tajine, you’ll likely get a blank stare and end up with vegetable tagine – with chicken. Runners up in terms of common meals include kefta (small seasoned beef meatballs) and pastilla, an interesting savory and sweet pastry with a chicken filling, wrapped in layers of thin & crispy dough, and topped with almonds, cinnamon and sugar.
As for beverages, there is the wildly popular mint tea, which locals drink at every meal, between meals, and any chance they get. We were all on board with this tradition – even the non tea drinkers. Mint tea is poured from a teapot with the handle too hot to touch and from as a high a point as possible from the tea cup that was always a small glass also too hot to touch. There seemed to be pride in getting the stream of tea as high & long as possible without missing the tea cup. Entertaining and also good for cooling off the tea a bit before it hits your cup and mouth.
Fresh squeezed orange juice is also a very common drink of Moroccans. Many of us were addicted to this extremely yummy beverage – its literally like drinking an actual orange. Seems like a minor thing to mention, but make no mistake, its worth mentioning because it was that good! So delicious!
Morocco, while still in the beginning stages of tourism (particularly for Americans) is soon to grow significantly as it’s a specific goal of the Ministry of Tourism. Small group travel to Morocco is an experience that stays with you – overflowing with incredible diverse landscapes; warm, friendly people; fascinating, mutil-faceted culture; and bread, tajine, mint tea and amazing orange juice!