Morocco was my first solo trip. It wasn’t a place I had ever thought to visit but when I planned to attend a Spartan Race in Spain with a friend I thought it would be cool to hop over to Morocco and hit up 2 continents in one trip. I originally wanted to take a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar but at the time I was convinced there was a conspiracy against this option. It seemed like a daunting task for my first solo adventure.
I had epic plans for Morocco. I was staying near the bustling City Square of Marrakech. I was going to do some Atlas Mountain hiking and partying! I was about six months into living in Kuwait (dry country) so I was ready to partake in all the Moroccan food, wine and North African Kush that Anthony Bourdain and some friends had sold me on.
Morocco tested, flipped, and busted all my expectations or romanticized ideas of international travel. Here are a few of the valuable lessons it taught me that have served me well across 25 countries and counting.
Less is more.
I over packed ridiculously for this trip. My suitcase was obnoxious and heavy. It’s not easy to blend in an Arab country when you’re a tall white blonde woman. Add an oversized Delsey bag on wheels while you dodge piles of donkey shit from the bus to the post office to greet your airbnb host and the jig is up! Everyone knows you’re lost AF. Thank god for my host, Amine for lugging it for me through the labrynth of City Square to our Riad. I quickly learned how to pack for a 2 week holiday with a carry on and backpack after this. I also learned that I would no longer be collecting souvenirs beyond the size of a fridge magnet for family, friends, or myself.
Researching Marrakech leads you to believe it’s a vibrant city filled with beautiful markets, spas, gardens and palaces. Upon arrival it appeared run-down, filled with garbage, and unattractive. Navigating the souk streets made it incredibly tough to distinguish landmarks. Street names were void.
Find Café De France – head to the chicken grill – pass the barber shop – head towards the big rusted blue door – stay left – take the middle tunnel – avoid the beggars – stay left – dodge the children beggars – walk under the hanging laundry baskets – take more lefts and tunnels – Ah-Ha! Second door on the left – you’re home!
Upon entering I was pleasantly surprised. Bright tiles, flowers, plants, and a winding staircase leading to my very purple room greeted me. I went one more floor up to the bathroom – a toilet with a shower head hanging over it. One more floor up was an adorable kitchen filled with spices, fresh herbs, and eggs. Up one more floor and you’re on the rooftop with an outdoor shower and amazing city view. Loved it!
The most impressive Riads, shops, and spas were within the narrow unattractive streets of the Medina. Peaceful ambiance, gorgeous tiles, and beautiful décor inside. Beauty is all around when you’re curious and open-minded. Cheesy as it sounds it helped me let go of expectations, which are essential travel (life) skills.
Insecurity is loud.
There was a massive difference between walking the streets with my airbnb host and walking them alone. I was always covered from neck to ankles but I was not prepared for the type of attention I received walking alone. Men shouted at me in French, Arabic, and English. They called me Shakira, commented on my body and hair, pulled me over to their stalls or shops, and stared for days. The tighter my body language and tougher my facial expressions, the more aggressive they were. After Day 1 I sat myself down at a rooftop café overlooking Jemaa el Fna Square. I went for the Moroccan whiskey (mint tea) and reassessed how I was going to handle the upcoming week on my own. Little did I know that during this reflection time Tom Cruise was causing the commotion I witnessed below (still haven’t seen Mission Impossible).
Ready to brave the streets again I stood tall, shoulders back, and wiped away my forehead “F*ck off” stamp. When I was approached and cat called I kept on as if I knew exactly where I was headed and gave a firm but warm “La Shukran” – No thank you (baby’s first Arabic words). The first guy was excited I knew some Arabic and let me pass by hassle free. When I was pulled over to a shop or café I confidently told them I already ate, shopped, etc. and they left me alone. Some still cat called and commented on my body from afar but I ignored, stayed alert, and made sure I was home before dark. I knew this wasn’t going to be a party trip of any kind. I would not want to walk the streets day or night without being 100% in control of my thought process.
I spent my evenings on the rooftop with Amine, my host, sharing life stories. Most days I ventured out alone but if I wanted to shop Amine came with and helped get my bearings straight. He took me to his friend’s shops where prices were better and I was free from harassment. We planned a day trip to the Atlas Mountains and along the way stopped at a friends’ house so I could learn to make Argan oil. I hiked, ate Tagine by the river, splashed around in some waterfalls, and experienced my first hole in the ground toilet (only to find out a normal one was less than 5 feet away).
As a female your insecurities and paranoia reach next level when you’re traveling solo. Marrakech forced me to trust in my confidence and trust that there’s more good than bad out there. I knew tourism was the main source of income for Marrakech and scamming scenarios would be high. Once I let go of the “everyone is out to get me” mindset and put full trust in my decision making abilities I found the people to be incredibly friendly and helpful without further expectation.
From the moment I arrived in Morocco all the sheep shocked me. They were being walked through the city square, kids played with them down my street, and men carried them on the back of scooters. I saw them peeking through the bouncing trunk door of cars on the highway and in the mountains they roamed free. I just thought this was Morocco. On my final day in Morocco I ventured out to see Jardin Majorelle and sight see the city. The streets were empty and quiet on my way to the bus station – kind of eerie. I reached City Square and briefly saw a group of men carrying a lamb on a stretcher before they disappeared around the corner. On the way to the gardens I was confronted with the reality of the sheep business I had seen all week in Morocco. Piles of sheepskin were in the middle of streets. Sheep parts roasted on metal bed frames. When I returned home from the gardens Amine explained that today was part of a major holiday – Eid Al Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice. This holiday observes the story of Abraham’s sacrifice. Amine explained when a lamb is sacrificed; one third is given to the poor and needy. Another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbors. The remaining third is shared among the family. Amine surprised me by brining home a small piece of lamb from his extended family gathering. We grilled on the rooftop and played iron chef with the spices and herbs in his kitchen for some tasty side dishes.
Sharing this experience and some deep inspiring conversation with Amine reaffirmed the level of respect that I want to travel with. As a visitor I will show respect to local traditions, beliefs, and customs even if they are different than mine. I see these situations as an opportunity to learn more about a culture, a person, and myself.
I spent a lot of time this week thinking about sacrifices I’ve made to succeed in work, heath, and relationships these last few years. What is truly sacred in your life and what are you willing to sacrifice?
Detailed list of what I saw and did in Morocco coming soon!
This year I had another bit of the feast shared with me so I created a spectacular meal to share with my roommate. I’ll have the recipes up soon!