"I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses." ― Bill Bryson
Tim and I are in the basement of the Casablanca International airport, having taken the train in from the city centre to meet my sister, Grace, arriving from Ottawa. We are standing in line to go through security to get to the arrivals area, which seems to be taking forever.
I look up, and see Grace descending the escalator, beaming a beautiful smile and radiating with energy. My heart leaps. I am filled with joy, and rush forward for a big embrace.
Our two week adventure as a travelling trio begins!
Over the following two weeks, Tim, Grace and I experienced Morocco - it’s people, food, landscapes, and culture. More to come on those experiences, but here is the bird’s eye view and short summary of our two-week adventure through Morocco:
We left Casablanca on the 10:30am bus and headed for the coast. We knew we would have time to explore Morocco’s largest city at the end of our trip, and wanted to acclimatize ourselves with Morocco in the laid-back, ocean-side town of Essaouira.
Here is an excerpt from Grace's journal on some of her observations from the bus ride:
The 8 hour bus ride was a perfect way to start the trip together as we got to see a lot of the country's landscape. There were sheep everywhere, and a mix of sand, rolling hills, farm fields, and the ocean. As we drove the narrow roads it was fun to see people ride beside us on donkey-pulled carts. The bus made a couple stops and we ventured out twice, getting a little farther from the bus each time (baby steps are best to acclimatize ;) It was crazy the number of men just hanging about (on a working day), on the sides of the road, and especially around the bus stops.
Essaouira was a great introduction to Morocco.
Medinas (the old walled part of town) are known to have narrow and maze like streets that are unsigned, disorientating, and sometimes impossible to navigate through. Essaouira's medina was small compared to other cities, and, although I never quite mastered the layout, Tim was able to navigate us through the maze, always getting us home safely to our riad. At one point, Grace and I were out exploring the port, and when we tried to return to our home in the medina it took us a few attempts, but Grace got us there by recognizing a chicken foot on the ground!
We enjoyed wandering and negotiating in the medina, eating our first of many tagines, peaceful afternoons in our riad, making new friends, watching the fishermen in the port, walking the beach, and exploring old ruins.
We took a bus, a petit taxi, and a grand taxi to get to the little town of Imlil, nestled in the Atlas Mountains. In Imlil we finalized our plans the next day's departure to hike Mount Toubkal. A lot of negotiating for one day!
From Imlil we hiked 5 hours to the mountain refuge at the base of Mount Toubkal, where we spent the night. The next morning we rose before dawn to summit North Africa’s highest peak (4,167m), before descending the 2,500m to Imlil.
After the previous day’s 20 some kilometres we enjoyed a day soaking up the sun from the comfort our Riad’s wood-lined sun room, and exploring the small berber village across the river.
There are no roads in the Berber village, just small footpaths between (and sometimes through!) the houses. And we weren't the only ones using the paths - we had to share them with kids (baby goats) and chickens! Grace and I did a reconnaissance in the afternoon and found a restaurant amidst the maze and arranged dinner with Hassan for that evening. The view from his terrace was exceptional, and we watched the sun set over the mountains as we enjoyed our mint tea and tagine dinner. It was a perfect way to enjoy our last evening in the Atlas Mountains.
I had been reflecting the previous day on how the unfamiliarity of this new-to-me country was starting to feel more familiar...but then we arrived in Marrakech.
After more than a week of ocean and mountains, this large city had us feeling unbalanced. We had woken up the past few mornings to birds chirping and sheep baaaahing right outside our window, punctuated occasionally by the trotting sounds of a donkey with its cart. In Marrakech, the medina streets were no more than a few feet wide at times, and motorcycles constantly whizzed past us, with what felt like only a centimetre to spare, and spewing out toxic fumes. It was certainly a juxtaposition to the Atlas Mountains.
M’Hamid is a town on the edge of the Sahara desert where the road ends and the desert starts. The 10-hr bus ride from Marrakech was long, but we had beautiful views as the bus wound its way through the mountains. A large portion of the road was under repair, which made for tricky driving - we were grateful that someone else was at the wheel!
We drove a couple hours from our camp outside M’Hamid to the dunes of Erg Chigaga, where we spent the night at a desert camp (which we had to ourselves!). Highlights included a sunset camel ride, a campfire under the full moon, and waking up to see the sunrise.
Morocco is a large country - travelling from M’Hamid to Casablanca was a fourteen hour endeavour! After a long day we were happy to be picked up at the bus station by our host and enjoy a home cooked meal with the family.
Casablanca is the commercial centre of Morocco, as well as its largest city. We had a great day visiting the Hassan Mosque, and walking through city's two medinas. Our highlight of the day though was eating delicious homemade meals with our hosts - they were by far the best meals we ate in Morocco.
Our hosts also provided us with a glimpse into Moroccan life that was different from what we had seen previously on our trip. With some exceptions, most of our interactions with Moroccans had been with people working in retail or tourism. We had also witnessed a lot of poverty as we traversed the country. In contrast, both parents of our host family were engineers working in senior positions in the financial sector. Life was made more manageable with a live-in assistant who played the role of chef, cleaner, and nanny for the family. We enjoyed our time sharing meals together, and the opportunity to talk with them.
We said our goodbyes to Morocco, and to Grace, and hello to our next adventure!
"To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries." ― Aldous Huxley
Despite my initial uncertainty and apprehension about Morocco I am so happy that we were able visit and experience some of its cultural and natural treasures.
For me, an important part of travelling is experiencing and sharing it with other people, and I couldn't be happier to have gone on this adventure with my sister, Grace. She brought a renewed excitement and spirit of curiosity that helped push us to do and try things that we wouldn't have without her. Thank you Grace!
Although Morocco was a little rough around the edges at times, the people we met continuously exceeded our expectations with their friendliness. I left feeling grateful to have had the opportunity to visit Morocco, and, most importantly, to travel together!