Putting this spell of extra-introversion into good use and finally catching up on some blog posts. I don´t know if it was the week of constantly being surrounded by and meeting people (albeit really amazing people) and having no down time, but I´ve been just laying in the tiny bed in my tiny room all day watching Netflix and/or scrolling on my phone for the past 3 days with no motivation of leaving.
Side note: Would highly recommend Black Mirror and 13 Reasons Why.
This past week during Semana Santa, or basically our spring break during Easter week, I not only left Spain for the first time this semester, but entered into another continent. Africa. Sounds different, is different, but was one hell of an experience. We hit up 9 cities + the Sahara Desert in 7 days.
Here starts a little recap before I forget everything:
Day 1: Tangier – Asilah – Rabat – Casablanca
The first day in Morocco was a little bit underwhelming, as there wasn´t much to see in Tangier or Asilah, as they were mainly pit stops. We did buy some very overpriced orange juice in Asilah, but it was alright since the guy making it was beautiful.
I´m not exactly sure what happened in Rabat. We had a tour of the Hassan Tower and Tomb, which is apparently some sort of resting spot for someone important.
Maybe our tour didn’t encompass Rabat well enough, but personally, I wouldn’t recommend it if you are visiting Morocco for the first time. As our trip continued, there were some cities that really captured the essential Moroccan experience, namely Marrakesh and Chefchaouen.
In Casablanca resides the Hassan II Mosque, the largest mosque in Morocco and the 13th largest in the world.
It´s interesting to note that all of the designs in the mosque are based on geometric patterns. This is, a fun fact that I learned from my all-knowing friend Chande, because in the Muslim religion, only God was believed to have to right to create the human form. This is contrasting all the biblical scenes and stained glass that you usually see in the Catholic cathedrals of Spain.
We tagged along another group on a tour, because we really had no idea what was going on. The tour led us to their bathing house and also the washing place (separated by gender), where Muslims would do their traditional washes before entering into the mosque.
One thing I´ve learned about Moroccans is that they´re excellent salesmen. We were brought to this one spice shop where they demonstrated and sampled everything that they were selling. At the end, they went through the products, ranging from detox herbal teas to Moroccan oil and charcoal eyeliners.
Day 2: Casablanca – Marrakesh
Marrakesh is one of the destinations more sought after by tourists, and there may be a reason why. It was packed, loud, hagglers everywhere, and yet, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Just make sure to never go out in a group of just women.
The market was insane. Insane in a cool way but also the traditional crazy, getting offered to be exchanged in camels, sort of way.
We walked for a while before we settled on #55. The meals were super cheap, albeit you only had the usual couscous and tajine as choices… but good food is still good food, am I right? The meal started off with a good chunk of their traditional bread with a tomato dipping sauce.
One thing I loved about the streets were the abundance of juice stands. A couple loops around the market with a 40 cent fresh squeezed orange juice is a pretty good time, if you look past all the cat-calling.
On a side note, the tour said it was recommended to wear long sleeves and pants, but I’m going to just put it out there that it should probably be mandatory, especially in more conservative cities such a Marrakesh. Scarves and flowy pants will take you a long way. And, it’s just nice to take into consideration the customs of the religion practiced in the country you are visiting as a general rule of thumb.
This photo is probably by far one of my favorites from the entire trip. It encompasses in entirety the essence of Morocco. Cool old Moroccan guy selling garbanzos in a busy market kinda vibe. On the plus side, the garbanzos tasted amazing as well.
One thing to note is that the shops usually mark a sell point about 3x the amount you should pay, so definitely keep that in mind and haggle! Try it out, get it feel for the prices, and then buy. It’s useful that all of the shops sell about 3 things.
P.S. You shouldn’t need to pay more than 10 euros for a scarf.
Lanterns. I don´t really have anything to say about this except for the fact we were just a huge group wandering the streets taking a ton of pictures of random, cool looking things. Classic tourism, if you´ve ever witnessed it.
Day 3: Marrakesh – Ait Ben Haddou – Dadés
Our next stop was an ancient city. But, before that, we stopped for lunch at a cute little picturesque restaurant. It was the kind of place you´d imagine if someone said ¨Moroccan restaurant¨. Tapestry, cushions. Couscous and Moroccan tea. I´ve probably had couscous every single day now, but, I´m not complaining (at this point maybe not, but I probably was a little later down).
Ait Ben Haddou
And now we venture into an ancient city to have been the grounds for filming many Hollywood movies, including Game of Thrones!
Hey guys, don’t mind me, just being an expert photographer on my point-and-shoot.
Day 4: Dadés – Todra Gorges – Sahara Desert
We had dinner and stayed the night at a hotel just on the gorge. Isn’t this gorge so gorg? Ha… no one laughing but me? No worries, that’s pretty usual.
Now, brace yourselves, because I’m going to dive into my *absolute* favorite part of the *entire* trip. The night in the Sahara Desert. If you want to visit Morocco, I definitely, definitely recommend staying the night in the Berber tents! Now, let’s get started.
The afternoon began with a camel ride into the sandy dunes. We got super lucky that it was such a beautiful day.. no sand blowing in our faces, blue skies… and no sand blowing in our faces. As I’ve never ridden a horse, the ride with a little bit chafe-y, but still fun!
Oh, you know, just me casually eating dark chocolate with a jar of peanut butter (which is pretty hard to come by in Europe, surprisingly!). The walk up that sand dune was actually pretty taxing though, lol.
Look at my friends being majestic, and look at me for capturing it. We had the choice to snowboard or sit-board down the dune, but the thought of climbing back up it decreased my ache for adrenaline by, well, a lot. Some guy on our tour actually dislocated a shoulder or broke an arm or something trying to do some tricks down… well, being in Morocco, he was sent to a witch doctor. No, really. They sent him to a witch doctor. No worries, though, because he came back in one piece for dinner.
Here was the view of our glamping situation from up on the dune. It was every bit as amazing as it looks. We made our way down as the sun was setting and was welcomed by some snacks and a traditional Berber band (think drums and vocalizing). They got the crowd to do some dancing as we waited for our meal.
The night began after dinner with a little dance party. After everyone dispersed, a group of us climbed to a nearby dune, drank some wine, laid in the sand, and listened to Lana del Rey. This was when I had realized what peaking felt like. Apparently, a “true Carmen” was released that night…
Which probably needs more elaboration but I’m not going into it.
Also, I cannot emphasize enough how soft the sand was, as it blended into the contours of your body. I was nearly going to sleep out in the desert that night, under the moon, but they dragged me back to the tents.
In hindsight, I was probably better off.
Day 5: Sahara Desert – Fez
The itinerary of the trip called for a 6:30 AM wake up call to see the sunrise over the dunes. Sounds amazing in theory, but in reality, it was a bit underwhelming. There were 2 things wrong with this situation:
- 6:30 AM
- You couldn´t really see the sunrise as a dune was blocking it.
I did manage to catch this sweet shot, even though it was mostly due to editing. But, details.
Nevertheless, we went back to sleep and woke up to the sound of people packing up and leaving. Apparently we all missed the breakfast call. Woops. We still managed to get some food, I mean, because we don´t want to miss our bread!
We rode the camels back to the hotel where we arrived the day before. While we were waiting for some people, Bus 1 (undoubtedly the best bus) threw a mini morning dance party and Congo line.
And then began the trek. Bus, bus, and more bus. It was about an 9 hour drive from the desert to Fez, which wasn´t too unbearable since I fell asleep for most of it.
In the monotony of bus, bus, and more bus, a little monkey did happen as well. I was quite proud of the photos I took… almost National Geographic?
We arrived into Fez late in the evening, and had dinner in the hotel. I was surprised at how modernized and Western the city was, compared to the others we have visited in Morocco!
Day 6: Fez – Chefchaouen
Today was a day dedicated to Fez, as we all passed out after dinner and didn´t get to see much of it. We had a guided tour through a ¨Poterie¨, basically a place where they make super cool ceramics that put quite a dent into my bank account.
Seriously, just look at that intricacy. I would of probably bought everything if I didn´t know I was probably going to crack everything before I got back to the States.
Here, a skilled craftsmen (I really have no idea what they are called) is painting the vases with natural dyes.
Next stop, we headed into the Medina of Fez. It was another guided tour, and we all know how those go. I tend to always linger in the back and not get a single thing, but that seems more like a personal problem.
So, basically, the whole tour was me lingering behind, learning Chinese from a guy that I met on the trip, and taking pictures of things other people in front of us were taking as well. Here´s a plaque in Arabic of seeming importance. I don´t think I´ve mentioned this before, but I am definitely appreciating the intricate architecture and design of, practically everything in Morocco.
It may look like I´m just gracefully posing with a mint leaf, but really, it smelled so bad up there on the roof of the tannery they handed us all stems of mint to block out the smell.
Organic and inventive. I like it.
On the plus side, we were able to see much of the old part of town, characterized by a large amount of satellite dishes.
We also visited a cloth and leather shop, where they showed us all of the natural dyes they used. Although the smell was horrible and I wouldn´t buy any leather, this was a pretty cool sight.
Day 7: Chefchaouen – Tangier – Madrid
Ah, alas, the blue city. There´s nothing more magical than strolling through a city painted your favorite color on a beautiful, sunny day.
The colors were vibrant, the people were friendly, and I couldn’t have asked for a better last day.
At the edge of the city, you could scale up part of a mountain for about 5 minutes to see an amazing view of the blue city. Although some rocks were pretty rough and I was definitely not equipped with the right shoes, the view was worth it, as you can see.
On the way down, there were a few boys selling flower crowns for 5 Durham, and I mean, who could resist?!
One thing I noticed immediately about Chefchaouen was that it was 99% tourists, other than the shopkeepers. This was nice in a way, as it was refreshing to just go about your day without feeling like you should have taken a self-defense class. The people were probably very used to this being a tourist city, as they were really friendly and didn’t try to scam you. The prices were set and fair, and although my Asian genes made me a decent haggler, it was just nice to take a break.
The rest of the day was free time to eat, shop, and just enjoy the city. Wanna guess what I got for lunch?
Yep, you got it. Couscous.
As I’m typing this, the nostalgia is getting real. Overall, this trip was an amazing experience. Although I was exhausted from the countless hours of driving and the territory that comes with large tour groups, Morocco was definitely one of the most different experiences I’ve had in all my travels around Europe.
There you have it. A snapshot of one of the most eventful weeks in my life. I hope you enjoyed it!
Until next time,