“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” – Dalai Lama
Coming from a family that is spread across the world, travelling has always featured largely growing up. Every holiday saw us on a plane to see family in one part of the world or another. I can now look back and see how lucky I was as a child to have had the opportunity to travel so extensively. Even as a young adult, the travel bug is very much alive and a trait that runs through the family.
For the last few years, a group of women from my family – of all ages and generations, annually plan and embark on an adventure. We travelled through Greece in 2013 and Turkey in 2014, these trips not only provide us the opportunity to discover new places but more importantly, they allow us to spend quality time and have adventures with our loved ones. This year, we travelled to the ever beautiful, enchanting and serene…Morocco!
Our itinerary covered the length and breadth of Morocco, and so we hired a private bus for this road trip of a lifetime! We started our journey from Morocco’s largest city, Casablanca - just like any other big city, Casablanca is modern and lively, and home to the majestic Hassan II Mosque. Located facing the Atlantic Ocean, it is the largest mosque in Morocco and Africa. Due to our strict time schedule we missed out on exploring Casablanca further and set off for the northern Moroccan city of Chefchaouen.
Chefchaouen was a highlight of the trip, this heavily Spanish influenced town is perched beneath the raw peaks of the Rif Mountains. The town is an artsy, blue-washed mountain village that feels like a world of its own. The locals are warm and welcoming, with a number of Bollywood songs memorized to boot (which we were treated to every time we passed by a boy aged 13 and older). The town is bustling with tourists and market places sent straight from the heavens.
During our stay, we stayed in a riad - which are traditional Moroccan houses with an interior garden or courtyard, which are used as hotels or bed and breakfasts. The hospitality of the staff was nothing short of amazing. We arrived late into the night, and the riad staff arranged for snacks, mint tea and piping hot delicious tagines, for us to devour. The locals speak a variety of languages – Arabic, French and Spanish is known to all, but English isn’t as widely spoken as you’d expect. Regardless, if you ever find yourself in Morocco, don’t leave without visiting Chefchaouen – it is worth the trip!
After a mere two days in Chefchaouen, our bags were packed and ready for our next stop, Fes. Considered the cultural capital of Maroc, the highlight of our stay in the city was the Fes el-Bali medina. Stepping into the old medina feels like stepping back in time, it’s a maze with over 200 narrow alleyways and lanes and covered bazaars. It’s evident that the architecture has hardly changed for centuries and this adds to its old world, traditional charm. You can witness local Berber women hand-crack the argan nuts in fair-trade cooperatives, local boys selling trinkets, craft workshops, mosques and an endless stream of people. The most fascinating experience was visiting the tanneries. These tanneries are composed of numerous stone baths filled with a vast array of dyes and various liquids spread out like a tray of watercolours. These tanneries process the hides of cows, sheep, goats and camels, turning them into high quality leather products such as bags, coats, shoes, and slippers. It is truly a sight to behold.
Another notable stop is the stunning 14th century Al-Attarine Madrasa. The madrasa provides a break from the hustle and bustle of the medina and you can spend hours marveling at the beautiful Andalusian architecture and Arabic calligraphy and marble work, it is a must visit for all Islamic art enthusiasts!
As we drove through the length and breadth of Morocco, through deserts, mountains and fields – I can safely say, I’ve yet to visit a country blessed with such an abundance of natural beauty. An overwhelming sense of wonder and amazement quickly became my constant companion, a sensation which peaked during our stay at the Sahara Desert and our drive through the magnificent Atlas Mountains.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed the old world charm of Fes and quirks of Chefchaouen, nothing compared to our experience in the Sahara Desert. Sleeping outside in the cool open desert, under the stars and enjoying the local Berber tribe cuisine and music. Moreover, witnessing the Sahara sunrise on camelback on the highest dunes! Very few experiences can compare to our time spent in the desert - though our time was short, it left a lasting impression for life.
As our trip drew to a close, we had one last stop left – Marrakech! Marrakech is a delightful city with all the trappings for a new age cosmos. Most notably, no trip to Marrakech is complete without visiting Jemaa El Fna. By day, it’s a big open space, with snake charmers, medicine men, tooth-pullers and an extensive souq to explore. However, it isn’t until late afternoon that the square fills up with storytellers, acrobats, musicians, palm readers, henna artists and entertainers. By nightfall, the square becomes a huge open-air dining area, packed with stalls lit by gas lanterns, and the air is filled with wonderful aromas spiraling up into the night sky. It is truly a sight to behold. Oh and of course, an amazing shopping experience!
I’ve mentioned enough about market places, souqs and bazaars – for you to assume I returned with 5 suitcases, but rest assured I returned with only 1! Morocco is a delight and it has something for everyone – be it shopping, adventure or relaxation. It gave me 5 extra kgs in body weight, a suitcase full of beautiful organic Argan Oil and memories of a lifetime!