Of all the many questions I’ve received about my recent trip, that’s the most common.
A very close second, of course, is “what was your favorite part?”
And while I still don’t have a direct answer for that one yet, maybe you will by the time I conclude the recap of my two week tour through the northwest African country.
You may even develop your own answer for the first question.
- I found this 15 day, ‘Best of Morocco’ tour with Intrepid via TourRadar online.
- Travel insurance was required and purchased through World Nomads.
- US citizens are not required to obtain a visa or any specific vaccinations to visit.
- As far as safety, the US Bureau of Consular Affairs rates Morocco a 1 on a scale of 1 to 5, meaning “exercise normal precautions.” About the same rate you’d give stepping outside your house every day.
- April is noted as one of the best months to travel to Morocco, especially for the weather
- Yes, Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country, but the people are able to exercise freedom of religion; visitors are not required to adhere to strict dress codes, etc. (but it doesn’t hurt to be respectful of them)
- I flew KLM, Delta, and Transavia airlines all on the same itinerary through Priceline.
- The entire trip cost me less than $3000, including extra spending.
- I did not order Moroccan dirhams before I left but it’s easy to get it at any bank or ATM once you’re there, and cash is highly recommended as not many places accept plastic.
- The national language really depends on which part of the country you visit, but it’s pretty even between French, Arabic, and Berber.
Day 1 – Casablanca
If I’ve learned anything from my travel experiences thus far, it’s that every culture has something for me to relate to. I never visit a place with the sole intention of finding something I connect with, but I always find it anyway, or it finds me.
On my flight into Casablanca, a local man and his wife sat next to me. When introductions were made, they were surprised at my name and asked if my origins were Arabic.
I laughed and shook my head, no.
I spent most of my life searching for my name on key chains and other gift shop souvenirs to no avail. My name never existed on sites like Babynames.com until recent years, and most of the results seemed like guesses.
All it took was five seconds with a Moroccan couple to discover Anissa is a popular Arabic girl’s name that means, in the words of Moh, a friend or companion who is there even when no one else will be.
True or not, I was more than willing to accept that definition.
You know that scripture that says we could encounter an angel through a mere stranger and not even realize it?
Well, let’s just say April 18 was the day I discovered what it really meant.
Not only did Moh and his wife give me their food (which translates as the immediate way to
capture my heart), they insisted I stick by them through customs since he is well-known and given VIP treatment. Then they proceeded to drive me all the way through rush-hour traffic to my hotel even though it was in the very opposite direction of their home.
I know, it sounds crazy, and it was. But I can’t begin to convey the level of peace I felt.
Regardless of language barriers or cultural backgrounds or the fact that we were absolute strangers, kindness brought her voice to the meeting that day and it was louder than all of the others.
Trust is a risk. But I know by now with my ultimate trust in Jesus, I’ll always be provided for.
Later that evening, I met my group of 16 and our guide, Mohamed. To avoid causing confusion amidst streets full of men with the same name, he told us to call him Moha for the trip.
He explained a lot about our itinerary and what to expect. While I did thoroughly listen at the time in spite of my jet lag, really just one phrase still stuck with me.
We would surely encounter things that were different from what we were accustomed to in our own countries, he said. But if we could, we should try to forget all of it–all of what we know or how we think things should be–in order to truly appreciate Morocco for what it is.
I found this advice to resonate with and take on a new meaning for me each day on the journey.
I hope my photos and personal stories help you do the same.
Day 2 – Casablanca, Rabat, & Meknes
A few of us woke up early to negotiate a round-trip group taxi ride to the Hassan II Mosque.
Lesson one: unless there is a sign, prices are rarely set for anything. Haggling is expected. I had to get over my discomfort with it pretty quickly since somehow I became the one to settle this first deal of the adventure.
Hischam, our driver, was absolutely cordial, sharing insights along our route and pointing out the cafe from the classic film Casablanca (which I’ve actually never watched).
When he dropped us off, he showed us the direction toward the entrance. Then, with a shrug and the simple explanation of “because…Africa” he helped hault traffic so we could cross the street.
Thus, a hashtag was born.
Hassan II Mosque
I actually didn’t realize how close the city was to the ocean, but I just knew that fog (visible in the first photo) seemed far too familiar.
Turns out part of the building literally hangs over the Atlantic sea.
The mosque’s tower is the tallest in the world, measuring at just under 700 feet. This mosque is the only one open to the public in Morocco, and I suspect the reason is to generate revenue from tourism in order to afford the upkeep of such a large place. The capacity for visitors is 105,000, with 25,000 fitting in the mosque hall and the rest taking up the outside grounds.
By the way, it was the French who set the law that only Muslims could enter mosques in Morocco–it’s something to do with politics and war history that I’ve already forgotten. But I thought you should know.
We made it into the doors right at the 9 AM opening along with a bunch of other tourists and were promptly requested to remove our shoes.
As you can see from my pictures, I spent a great deal of time looking up. The ceilings play tricks on your eyes, I’m telling you; kind of like staring at a sky full of stars, there’s always more to see.
I also tend to drift away from the masses to get some more unique shots.
I had just discreetly asked Carmen from Germany to take some silhouettes of me against the beautiful, clear doors on the west wall when one of the attendants approached us with an austere countenance.
“No jumping!” he warned. To which, of course, I replied with nothing but a confused stare.
“This is a church, you know? The Chinese, they come and they dance and do jumpy photos. This is not acceptable.”
Breathing out a controlled giggle of relief, I promised we would do no offense of the sort. Satisfied, he politely nodded and walked away.
We only had 45 minutes to tour the mosque before we had to meet Hischam again to take us back to our hotel. Honestly, it wasn’t enough time. This is coming from someone who generally does everything at breakneck speed.
We rounded up our group and slowly made our way back outside, and to my pleasant surprise the fog had lifted, leaving the tower fully exposed with the soft sunlight bringing out that vivid turquoise at the top.
I kept looking back over my shoulder, taking as many decent photos as I could while in retreat.
Since the station was conveniently located across from our hotel, we rode a public train to the town of Rabat, the current capital of Morocco.
There we stored our bags at a local restaurant where we ate lunch and were serenaded by a protest regarding hourly wages happening on the main street.
I tried the traditional kefta tagine and downed every last drop. But according to Moha, who hardly touched his, it wasn’t very good that day.
I became a better tagine snob as the trip progressed.
Once we settled our bills and were given city maps, we were free to roam for a few hours. The majority of us set out toward the medina, an old quarter of the city surrounded by thick walls wherein the local market, otherwise known as souks, operate.
We somehow found our way through that maze of many colors and ended up in a garden area just before the Kasbah of the Udayas.
By then our group had dwindled significantly as we continued on up higher. So me and my new German friends, sisters Carmen and Tanja, meandered down the varying blue walls of the kasbah, easily pretending we were in Chefchaouen.
Side note, that was the only other city this tour did not visit that I would have liked to see. But all other tours I researched that went there did not have the variety and cultural adventure like Intrepid offered with this one, so in the end that was my deciding factor.
We did have to avoid and firmly deny “help” from a few men wishing to show us a way through the kasbah. Moha had given us the heads up about this–while they truly are harmless, they are looking to make some cash for guiding tourists around.
On our way back toward our designated meeting spot, we desperately searched for a good cup of coffee. I don’t know why, but ordering coffee is different, and complicated, in every country.
In Morocco, apparently coffee with cream means warm milk with a hint of coffee flavor. So we ordered the espresso instead, hoping we’d get it right.
Now, I love a good, strong coffee. But I really don’t have any desire to drink lighter fluid. That may as well be what we ordered.
The little pit stop wasn’t a complete waste, though.
Seared into my memory is a young woman and man at a nearby table, bobbing their heads to a rhythm from a smart phone, pens in hand, with a notebook of lyrics in front of them. They caught me watching, but when I smiled and made a gesture for writing with my hand and raised my eyebrows in question, they nodded and smiled in return.
I write, too, I hoped my face said.
For some reason, it was an important moment for me–a first of many small but special connections to be made.
Meknes, overnight in Hotel Oasis Tafilalet
We walked about 10 minutes from the station to our hotel just as the hues of dusk were painting the sky.
After we all settled in, those who wanted to get a late bite to eat at what Moha called a snack place were invited to tag along with him.
My designated roommate, Wendy from Melbourne, often chose to be independent most evenings and call it an early night.
Unless it was an included meal, the group was never expected to dine together at all times. But the majority of us usually did, mostly because it was easier to trust Moha’s honest suggestions.
However, Restaurant Hirae was not what I would call a snack place. And I mean that in the best way. I paid less than $10 (about 100 dh) for a large grilled chicken breast, sauteed vegetables, a green salad, and some sort of delicious lentil side.
I could not have been more surprised, and content.
Speaking of food, it was advised that we abstain from raw vegetables and fruits for the first few days to allow our systems to adjust.
The water in Morocco is actually pretty good, but for westerners used to different bacteria, it is safer to steer clear of foods that may have been washed by it.
Thankfully, I never had any issues. I love my fresh foods too much to have to go without them for very long.
End of Day Journal thoughts
Even though some of the areas are unkempt or dirty, the charm outshines it all. Third World Country it may be, but lively and resilient are its people.
The colorfully cluttered shops in the medina, the many unique, run-down doors, the locals who will smile if you smile and gladly point you in the right direction if asked, and those you try to avoid because they are seeking you out in order to point you in the right direction for the sake of earning a tip…
I’m smitten by it all and it’s only the 2nd day.
To be continued…