Morocco, Part One
I've sat down to write this many times and each time I feel like there are no words to do it justice. Morocco was more than a trip, it left a lasting imprint on my soul and has awoken a piece of me I never knew existed. I went to this exotic country with no expectations. I had never been there, had never even been to Africa and when our plane touched down in Marrakech both my husband and I looked at one another with tears in our eyes and exclaimed, "We're in Africa!" And so our journey began.
We had reserved rooms in various Riads, (essentially bed & breakfasts created in stunning villas with central courtyards) across the country in advance so we had a rough timeline of what cities we would be in on which days and which planes, trains and automobiles would deliver us there. We knew no one. We spoke neither Arabic or French. We had what we could carry on our backs (once it was found in Amsterdam; long story), each other and a insatiable wanderlust. Turns out, that was exactly what we needed.
The rooftop shower at our Riad in Marrakech
Marrakech is a treasure for the senses; with it's dusty pink walls, bustling cobblestone streets and shops pouring out over the city. We had chosen to stay within the medina or ancient walled city, looking to experience the history of the city without the rush of traffic and modern shopping complexes. What a fascinating experience it was, wandering each day through twisting, turning side streets, each leading to a new discovery: an open air farmer's market with the most delectable produce you've ever smelled or seen, series of souks with vendors selling everything from leather bags to turtles in bamboo cages, restaurants that look out over the ancient city and Mosques with calls to prayer ringing out in unison.
We spent our days intentionally getting lost. What would happen if we turned here? Ate there? It was magic. Each day the city shared a bit more of herself with us and each day we fell more deeply in love. Vintage treasures were collected from deep within the souks as well as villages high in the Atlas mountains. New friends were made and each afternoon we'd find ourselves sitting in a square listening in awe to the cacophony of languages floating in and out of conversations.
A Moroccan woman harvests argan nuts for argan oil in Marrakech
Spices on display in the souks of Marrakech
From Marrakech we traveled by train to Rabat, the capital city of Morocco located just north of Casablanca on the Atlantic ocean. We had envisioned a beautiful beach community and were more than a bit surprised to find ourselves in a major city abutting the sea. The juxtaposition of the ancient medina walls and the water below was an incredible sight.
The highlight of our time in Rabat was the afternoon Chris spent surfing a little break just outside of the Kasbah. The waves were small, the beach littered but the experience of sitting in the lineup, gazing upon the ancient city walls and listening to the echo of prayer was life changing for him. He came up the beach with tears in his eyes and a palpable gratitude for the unbelievable experience.
We debated taking a bus on to Chefchaouen but instead had a driver take us through the countryside to the Blue Pearl. What a treat that was, the drive was an incredible way to see the land as we spent hours driving first through farmland, sprinkled with intermittent small villages and then upwards into the mountains.
If you've ever been on Pinterest, you've seen photos of Chefchaouen or Chaouen as the locals refer to it. It's a small village, nested in the hillside and each building is washed in a various hue of sky blue. I would go so far as to say it's one of the world's greatest visual delights. It was crowded, with bus loads of tourists surging into the small city walls each day but if you wander a bit you can find yourself on side streets surrounded by villagers and kittens. Yes, kittens; they're everywhere in Morocco.
Bags of dye in the souks of Chaouen
We spent our days in Chaouen on the search for vintage treasures and found ourselves exhausted at the end of each day. Climbing those steep streets all day long is no joke and the old ladies have it down, passing us with loads of laundry atop their heads.
It was in Chaouen that I discovered the real treasure of Morocco. I thought it would be the stunning vintage rugs, perhaps the intricately woven wedding blankets but as magical as those are, it was the people that were the greatest treasure. In each city we were greeted with open arms, kind hearts and taken in as family. It didn't matter that we couldn't speak any of the many languages they spoke, someone was always willing to patiently act as translator. We made friends with panhandlers, even discussing American politics with them. In Fez I found myself overwhelmed by the heat and sat down amongst a group of copper smiths working away in the sweltering heat crafting sparkling dishes. The men immediately rose and offered me their small pillows to sit upon. Every day was a series of kind gestures, warm smiles and open hearts.
Men in Morocco embrace one another as beloved friends. When they greet each other in the streets they cup the other's faces with pure joy in their eyes and then embrace in warm hugs. Fathers cuddle their children openly and aren't afraid to express themselves emotionally. It was truly beautiful to witness and something I think we, as Westerners could really learn from. People watch out for the elderly and young boys are often seen stopping to aid an elderly person who is no relation to them. There is a beautiful, unspoken respect for human connection. All of this was the great gift of Morocco. When I gaze upon the treasures we returned with, these memories are evoked and I immediately want to return.