When I decided to go on a guided tour of Morocco I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d done little to no research on the African country and was practically going in blind. The only thing that really mattered to me was that I was going to a new place and I was experiencing it firsthand. I got to Morocco late Thursday evening with my traveling buddy and roommate for the semester. We were on a private tour since all the other people that had intended to go backed out at the last minute and we had already bought our plane tickets. I don’t think that we could have lucked out anymore than we did with having a private tour. My first impressions of the city of Marrakech, Morocco are still vivid in my mind: loud, bright lights, filled with people, and bustling with life. Our guide took us through the huge marketplace filled with vendors trying to sell you anything and everything: from freshly squeezed orange juice to intricately designed daggers. That first night I knew I was already in love with the city.
Part of the Saadian dynasty tombs made for the royal family and its loyal servants; Intricate detailing at the Bahia Palace
The next day we went to many different places in an effort to see all of the most interesting points of Marrakech with what little time we had. First we made our way to the Koutoubia mosque, which we were not allowed to go into since we did not practice the Islamic faith. The architecture of the mosque was beautiful and very intricate, like all of the Moroccan architecture that I saw while there. Next we went to the Saadian tombs, where members of the Saadian dynasty were laid to rest. After that we walked to Medersa Ben Youssef, an Islamic school for learning. We then made our way through the winding backstreets to the Mellah, or Jewish quarter. We also made our way to the Bahia Palace, where a king had created the palace in his wife’s name. After walking around all day we finally ended up back at the market, where we tried the freshly squeezed orange juice, which was way better than I had imagined.
The following day, Saturday, we made our way to the next place that we would be staying at, the village of Amizmiz. But first we made a pit stop to ride camels. It was a very surreal feeling, seeing as I don’t even think I have ever seen a camel in person before, let alone ridden one. After we were done with the ride it was about a 50-minute drive down a very bumpy road to Amizmiz. We were staying at a homestay in order to become more surrounded by the Moroccan culture. When we got there we immediately met one of only four mountain guides in Morocco, named Latifa. It seemed like everyone in the entire village knew her: when she took us to our homestay she would stop and say hello to everyone that passed on the way. We had a huge meal at the homestay that our homestay mother cooked for us in her tajine; a traditional Moroccan baking dish. We used bread to soak up the juices from the chicken, herbs, vegetables, and french fries that had been cooked all together in the tajine. After getting settled into our homestay and had finished eating, my friend and I were led up one of the mountain trails to a place where we learned how to make couscous, a famous Moroccan food. When we got there, there were a large group of Moroccan women that greeted us. We sat in their house as one of the women taught us how to make the couscous. We got to eat some of the couscous that they had made after the demonstration (with some help on my part). I honestly did not think that a type of pasta could taste so delicious, it was truly the best couscous I had ever had!
The inside of the Medersa Ben Youssef; The mountains view atop the mountain
Going back down the mountain, we were ready to go to the local hammam, a Moroccan bathhouse, in order to get a feel for the local culture. I can tell you that I have never been so clean in my life! We used some type of exfoliating cloths to scrub all of the dead skin off, leaving us with new, smooth skin underneath. I would definitely recommend trying anything that the local culture does normally in order to understand the culture of where you are better. This was one of those experiences I will never forget. After going to the hammam and eating a delicious traditional Moroccan meal, we had henna tattoos drawn on us by our homestay sister. If you don’t know what henna is, it is basically a temporary tattoo made of natural ingredients that stain your skin. Intricate designs are drawn anywhere on the body, including but not limited to the hands and feet.
On the last day, Sunday, we walked through the mountains to an even more remote mountain village. It was amazing to see how different life was for them than it was for me. They did not have all the commodities that America has to offer. The people of the mountain village had one main, sturdy door to enter the home and then no other doors in the entire house. There were no screens or glass covers on the windows, and bathrooms were holes instead of western toilets. The one thing that they did have was a satellite dish. Even all the way in a self-sustaining mountain village there had to be some way to connect to the outside world. Everyone had cell phones and satellite dishes to converse and listen to the latest news. Being able to peer inside another person’s world that lives so differently is truly eye opening. I did not think I would see this and experience this firsthand when I landed at the airport on Thursday evening, but I am so glad that I decided to go on this adventure because it was once in a lifetime. The experience of going to Morocco was one that I will never forget.