Entering Morocco started out sour. My baggage was lost upon arrival and when I finally retrieved it days later everything, including the two souvenir bottles of Slivovitz (fruit brandy) from Czech Republic, were crushed amongst all my clothing. Needless to say I got some strange looks the first couple of days while I walked around town in my clothes, still wreaking of hard liquor, in a country where alcohol is forbidden. Once the baggage terror was solved, I was able to enjoy the beautiful sights and smells of Morocco for the following two weeks.
I started off my journey in Rabat and was introduced to a place I had only read about in books. I quickly came to discover that women have a certain place in society, quite easily seen from behind a man's place in society. At the time, my blond hair was the cause of many stares as well, so I made sure not to attract anymore attention to myself by covering my hair with a shawl most times. The heavily Muslim-populated country is very conservative and despite my feminist mentality and the extremely humid weather, I wanted to be respectful to the people and the country I was a visitor of. Therefore I also kept my shoulders and legs covered at almost all times. I quickly learned that no one spoke English either. This wasn't a problem as my fluency in French came in handy for everyday use and more importantly, for bargaining in the Medina. I loved touring the windy alleyways full of little shops selling knock-off bags and eating in all the tiny restaurants. I had my first taste of a tagine, which is a traditional slow-cooked stew mixed with tender meats, vegetables and couscous served in a clay pot. I found the amazing view of the ocean once I drifted beyond the Medina walls, only to realize it was blocked by a huge cemetery. The long trek around the cemetery was well worth it once I got to dip my feet into the crystal-clear water.
In Casablanca I did a tour of the beautiful Hassan II Mosque, the third largest mosque in the world. Its minaret is also the worlds tallest at 210 meters. The structure that looks out onto the Atlantic can hold up to 105, 000 worshipers at any given time. It was obviously enormous, but even more overwhelming was the intricate tile-mosaics within. The mosque took seven years to build with the help of 2, 500 construction workers and 10, 000 artists. It comes equipped with his and her bathing spas and heated marble floors to ensure comfort when the the masses come to pray during Ramadan. Casablanca was also my first experience at a Moroccan bath house. Not quite sure what I was getting myself into at the time, I enjoyed the hot bath and steam room only to be surprised by a not-so-relaxing massage, which finished off with me being literally hosed down. That was my first and last time experiencing a Moroccan massage.
I followed onto the secret oasis that is Essaouira. Once a fortress in the 1500s, it now resides as a small fishing town occupied by artists and craftsmen. It was the perfect place to hide away for a few days, drink the delicious Moroccan mint tea and walk around taking in the blue and white coloured Medina. It's no wonder musicians such as Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix used this town to come vacation and draw inspiration to write their tunes. Specifically, Hendrix wrote the song "Castles Made Of Sand" in this exact spot.
I went on to surf and body board the coast of Morocco in a small town named Sidi Kaouki. It was the absolute perfect day. My friends and I had the beach pretty much to ourselves only to share it with camels and stray puppies that we played with all day. One puppy didn't want to leave our side and even curled up onto our blanket to snooze for a quick nap. There was plenty of fresh seafood to feast on in between catching the waves. The day was completed by none other than a breathtaking sunset.
Marrakesh is a former imperial city in Morocco that I didn't want to miss seeing, mostly due to the gigantic traditional market (Morocco's largest). There was everything at the market from musicians, fortune-tellers, jugglers and even wild animals. I couldn't resist getting my hands traditionally painted with henna, however it didn't compare to a woman I encountered that had just got her hands, arms, legs and feet all painted for her recent wedding. The night market was one of my favourites as well, serving every kind of traditional tagine in assorted clay pots. I even tried the escargot, and by escarcot I mean snails thrown into a giant pot of boiling spiced water and served in bowls for 15 cents. Regardless, they were still very delicious.
There couldn't be anything more fitting than a trek into the Sahara desert by camel back to top off my trip to Morocco. This was by far one of the most unique and exciting experiences I've ever had. The overall trip lasted four days and stopped at various towns before reaching the desert. I was able to see where the movies "Gladiator" and "Alexander" were filmed. I was also a guest in a real Berber house where I watched a woman sew traditional Moroccan rugs made of string from camel hair. Once I reached the Sahara, the camels were awaiting my tour group. The camel ride wasn't the most comfortable, but it was definitely worth it once I arrived at sand dunes as far as the eye could see. After I set up camp, I tried to climb one of the huge dunes to catch the sunset. I found the best way to make my way down the dune again was cartwheeling. I stayed overnight with my fellow campers, ate tagines and then left the following morning to see the sunrise over the golden sand.
Stay tuned for more stories and pictures of my travels coming soon!