I always dreamt of travelling to Europe, but I never in my life thought that I would find myself in Morocco shopping in the Medina, sleeping under the stars in the Sahara Desert, or going for a camel ride. But boy am I glad that I took the opportunity to go on this trip of a lifetime thanks to my study abroad program.
The first city we got to explore in Morocco was Fez, with our first stop being the royal palace! Fez is the second largest city in Morocco and it is a blend of traditional Muslim culture along with the modernized vibes of city-life. To put it all into perspective you find the Medina (big outdoor market) which dates back to medieval times, a McDonald’s, and a shopping mall all in the same city! During our visit to the royal palace I fell in love with Moroccan architecture with its vibrant colors, intricate patterns, and elaborate arches.
From there we moved on to my favorite and perhaps the most stressful part of the whole trip- the Medina. The Medina is an ancient city within Fez made up of well preserved buildings that include mosques, palaces, fountains and residential homes. It is also one of the biggest outdoor markets in the world. Through our walk through the Medina we managed not to lose an entire group of 100 plus students in the labyrinth of tangled streets and mastered the art of bargaining with the shop owners. The streets of the Medina were like nothing I’ve ever experienced- thousands of cats hung around the shops, donkeys carried materials as well as trash through the narrow streets, people went in and out of the mosques to pray, and people bought fresh food from the markets.
Our first stop was at a rug shop where we were all sat down as the workers unraveled the dozens of rugs for us to see. For our first experience with bargaining, being in a rug shop was pretty intimidating as you had to try to get the workers to lower the price significantly. Next we were taken to a fabric store, where we could see the worker making the fabric right in front of us. They taught us how to tie scarfs into turbans and taught us about the different types of “Djellaba’s” – the typical robes wore in Morocco. From there we visited a leather tannery, were upon our entrance we were given mint leaves. Confused as to why this was, we would soon find out that they use pigeon poop to die the leather. Let’s just say the smell was very “memorable”, to say the least. In the shop they had purses in every color and style imaginable as well as other leather goods. But, I think my favorite part was that if you looked out the window you could see the workers dying the leather right before your eyes. Our final stop was to a ceramic shop, were they had the most beautiful and colorful pieces of ceramic I have ever seen. Though I was tempted to bring some pottery home, unfortunately I don’t trust myself with such delicate objects on the plane ride home.
That night we saw a folklore show that involved a magician, belly dancing, music, and lots of laughs. We were given some delicious Moroccan tea to enjoy throughout the show as well as some lemon coconut cookies. The show started out with belly dancing- I swear I’ve never laughed so hard in my life when they would pull up people from our group to the stage to go dance with them. Then there was a band of drum players who would perform elaborate tricks while playing them. Finally, the show ended with a reenactment of a Moroccan wedding.
Our next adventure after Fez was the Sahara Desert! We arrived to our campsite in the desert in a Caravan of Jeeps, and not going to lie I felt like I was in an action movie for a little while. The camp was set up by tents that connected everyone, it was like we had our own little tent village and surrounding us was nothing but sand dunes. The next morning we were up bright and early for our long awaited camel ride! After having our breakfast we stepped outside the tents and there we see about 200 camels surrounding our campsite awaiting us and all the other students. I have never in my life ridden a horse, so I never imagined that I would be riding a camel through sand dunes in the Sahara Desert first! It all felt so surreal, and although I was terrified of the camel spitting on me or me falling off I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Our final destination on the camels was a giant sand dune where we strenuously ran up. Despite being so winded from running up, the view from the sand dune was incredible!
After our camel ride we spent the rest of the afternoon playing games with Berber kids (Berber= indigenous people of Morocco). We attempted to teach them how to play ninja but sadly failed and resulted in them just slapping our hands and then running. We then played duck-duck-goose which surprisingly they understood, but we put a Moroccan twist on it and instead called it “camel-camel-sand”. We had a great time playing with them and teaching them English words and them teaching us their dialect. Our last night in the desert we decided to take our mattresses and blankets out of the tents and sleep outside in the sand dunes. It was a cold and windy night and we got sand in places we shouldn’t have and to this day despite washing my clothes multiple times I’m still trying to get the Saharan sand out of them! But at least I can say I slept under the stars in the Sahara Desert and experienced an African sunrise.
Overall, this trip changed my preconceived notions about Morocco. Advised by others that Morocco is an unsafe country especially for women, I came to Morocco with a cautious mindset. However, instead what I found was that I never once felt unsafe and met some of the nicest Moroccan people. I have nothing but positive things to say about the Moroccan culture as well as Muslim culture in Morocco. The memories of the chaotic streets in the Medina, getting to know the Berber’s, and watching an African sunrise will forever be imprinted in my heart.