Visiting Morocco was on my wishlist for a long while. On the camel’s back, as we travelled through the desert at sunset, I realized that another wish of mine came true. As I was running down the sand dunes my inner child felt spoiled and I was immeasurably happy. Or, as we made our way back into civilization on foot, across the sand dunes, under the moonlight, I felt free and fulfilled in the only place in the world I expected to be in the last day of 2017.
For almost two weeks we travelled through Morocco, totalling a bit over 2200 kilometres, from the capital and large cities to some of the most remote and rundown hamlets, bordered by the desert where nomad tribes live. Many of my questions about this place were answered, but, the more I knew about this charming place, imagination and curiosity just brought up more and more questions.
Based on these moments and experiences, these are the reasons why I am forever in love with Morocco:
8Seeing the desert from a camel’s back
Make no mistake, this is the main reason we packed our bags and travelled to Morocco. Although it would have been ideal to spend more time in the desert and experience sleeping overnight in a tent in the middle of the desert (and you can do that at the Merzouga Desert Camp, free parking for your camel is included), surrounded by sand dunes and try to understand and live how the nomads lived here hundreds of years ago, these few hours we spent in Merzouga at sunset satisfied our curiosity.
What else can you do in the desert? (except riding camels)
- Apart from a mandatory, never-ending photo shoot, we spent our time climbing the sand dunes and then running back down full speed, surrounded by contagious laughter and happy spirits.
- Sand surfing or sliding down the dunes on a carpet, duly steered by a nomad.
- Meet the locals. Nomads or young Moroccans. As we made our way down from one of the sand dunes, some young Moroccans approached us. They were fascinated that we spoke French although we were coming from a country that is not France. They knew a thing or two about Romania and went as far as to say that our countries are very much alike, except that ours does not have the warm winters that they do, desert or camels. Simple. The number of Dacias on the road was definitely a common feature.
- Sing and dance around a campfire, with the locals and other tourists. These were the moments that were very dear to me and gave me an extraordinary sense of well-being and belonging.
- Stargazing. If not here, then where? Especially since there were no other light sources except the moon.
7Getting lost in the medinas
The medinas are the old towns of the modern cities and they include the residential area, the bazaar and the food market. I loved visiting the medinas in Fès, Marrakech and Rabat. I felt like in a maze with hundreds of interweaving narrow streets and passages; I was starting to like the “balak, balak!” warning- usually that means that a mule or maybe even a person, loaded with various supplies or leathers, is trying to make way through the crowded streets.
The Rabat medina is quite tame and quiet. It’s famous especially from the vivid blue buildings (but not quite as vivid as the one from Chefchaouen), signifying peace, love, the sky and the heaven and encourages you to live a more spiritual life.
The one in Fès however, maintains that traditional old style. Let yourself be mesmerized – by stories, sounds, flavours and smells – on the narrow streets, kind of organized by handicrafts, until you get to the famous leather tannery from Fès.
The Marrakech medina is the one I really let myself carried away by the spirit of adventure and wandered for hours on narrow streets and passages, among stalls brim with goods, with noisy merchants loudly welcoming potential buyers left and right. It’s the medina where I really let myself be charmed by the Moroccans’ personality, by their selling skills; where I’ve been called sly while receiving the most charming smiles; where I sometimes felt overwhelmed by their inquisitive glances and I forgot that I can fiercely negotiate if I put my mind to it. Nothing came out well for me – I let myself tricked by the innocent grandpa look of an older merchant from whom I wanted to buy some cute little bottles I would fill with the sand I took from the Sahara; I even let myself be mesmerized by the dark hair and charming personality of a merchant about the same age I am, as I walked directly into his trap and agreed to a price higher than I would normally accept, so he can buy at least a coffee. Silly tourists, I know. On the other hand, apparently shopping is a lot easier if you don’t negotiate at all.
Yup, you’ll feel like you’re in an Arabic country immediately as you leave the airport, as you step into the capital, in the Medina or any of the remote chalets bordering the desert or up in the Atlas mountains. Could it be the specific arches on the buildings? The domes? The mosaics? The palaces? Materials such as adobe, clay, straw, bricks, cobblestones? Same as the people, the Moroccan architecture has a certain je ne sais quoi, where it draws you in, it pulls a spell on you, messes with your head and leaves you wanting more. From the selected colours to the amazing combinations of marble, in an apparently basic yet complex design, everything seems to be in a perfect symbiosis and symmetry, with a spiritual meaning beyond what the eye can see.
Their traditional foods might not be especially aesthetically pleasing, but they are very tasty. Regardless if you’re going to have a tagine (of the many varieties, one more appealing than another), couscous or brochettes (your everyday skewers), you’ll have a taste – literally – of the Moroccan simplicity and charm. Although I have to say it, at the end of two amazing weeks, I was kind of full of that much tagine and couscous. However, our favourite remains the Tagine Kefta with eggs. Bonus: also have their desert, homemade lemon yoghurt. You’ll want a second portion, guaranteed.
4Volubilis at sunset
This partially dug up ancient Roman city, relatively close to Meknes, was the bubble of history I appreciated the most. Maybe because it brought some semblance of home. The city is an architectural wonder that should not be missed, especially since it’s outdoors and not very busy with tourists. You can touch a piece of history, with no safety bands or fences to keep you away. You can walk freely through dwellings which used to be Roman villas. What I appreciated the most was walking through the impressive Roman Arch only to witness an absolutely breathtaking sunset, which made the entire area feel magical.
I’ll try to never forget (or not soon, at least) the beauty of the Moroccan landscape. The way you seamlessly transition from the plains to the mountains, from hilly terrain to actual desert. The image of run-down gas stations in the middle of nowhere behind which the High Atlas stands tall, topped with snow. How in one moment you feel like you’re taking part in a real-life One Thousand and One Nights and the next one like you’re captive in a frantic urban jungle in an Arab country. Or how the barren desert and the lunar landscape starts to feel boring and then you see a bush and you say to yourself that life can always find a way. Or how you let yourself be mesmerized for hours at the way the ocean meets Casablanca, with huge foamy waves which break spectacularly as they batter the sea wall.
2The laws and the king’s role in the Moroccan’s society
There’s a saying, if you wish to know how civilized a culture is, look at how they treat its women. I’ve been working with Moroccans since 2013. I knew that Islam allows them to have up to 4 wifes, but if the first wife decides she wants to be the one and only, the man must not get another wife. Our guide was telling us that this is done in their country by making it mandatory that the existing wives give their approval for a new wife. I really liked when, during our trip to Morocco, I learnt about Mohammed VI’s role in modernizing the country. More than the numerous laws regarding the women’s role in society – laws which give them the right to drive a car, have access to education and become emancipated – the king has completely forbidden the burka since 2017. It is not allowed to wear it, sell it, buy it or even fix it at a tailor.
Like any relatively poor society which did not have widespread access to education, the people would have been at risk of being manipulated through religion if their king did not decree that all mosques are closed during the day except for prayer time. The imam gets the approved topics he is allowed to preach from the state and he’s not allowed to preach anything else, under the penalty of being fired.
Therefore, that’s an explanation why Morocco has been safe from terrorist attacks and through their king’s authority, they managed to distance themselves even more from extremist Islam.
It’s definitely one of the Arab countries where you can feel safe.
Moreover, although respected and revered by everyone, their king is very down to earth and in touch with the social issues of his countrymen. He likes to be surrounded by them as often as possible. As I had the chance to see this for myself, on the road from Casablanca to Rabat, their king is also unpretentious and humble: he was driving a black Dacia Duster, accompanied by a minimal convoy.
I found out for myself years ago, since I started working with them, that they are unpredictable and impulsive; that you must have patience with them; that they are excellent merchants and LOVE to negotiate; that it’s hard to earn their trust, to build bridges with them, but once you’ve done it, nothing breaks that trust. My relationship with them transitioned from it’s complicated to this might actually work. It took me many years to get to the state I currently am in, to understand them, to appreciate and cherish them when things go right, and to tolerate and understand them when things go wrong. People say that they are poor and have a lot of defects. Okay, maybe it’s true. But if you want to get to the state where I am in with them, you need to be willing to look for their good parts. To forget about yourself and your ego, leave your shell and your comfort zone.
How many people know about the Moroccans that they are very kind-hearted? And that’s mostly because of their religious influence. The five pillars of Islam, I was to find out in Morocco, are the declaration of faith, prayer, charity, fasting and the Mecca pilgrimage.
Only once I found this out, I better understood what makes the Moroccans be the way they are: to understand that wealth is a blessing and must be passed along. Only now did I understand why, in the past, once I established a working relationship with them they were so eager to help me whenever a problem popped up. They were willing to involve their family and friends in something that brought them well-being. To grind down a boulder to pebbles. Why now, in Morocco, there are numerous NGOs which help people, mostly children and women, from the desert chalets or the Atlas mountains, with food and ingredients for a warm meal a day; which offer special free classes for children, in schools, so they don’t drop out. Why the king is the way he is, in the relationship with this people.
Then it made sense why, in the Medina, when a young man passed out, men of all ages jumped in to help him up and take him through the Medina labyrinth to the main street where the ambulance was waiting. Or why our guide, an amazing man, 52 years old, took the decision to adopt the child of a neighbour to give her a better life, although you could not say he was extremely well off.
There’s a saying in Romanian that can be roughly translated like “The man makes the place”, meaning that the people, through their actions, determine whether a place is good or bad. In Morocco, although I am sure there are exceptions, I liked what I found. I found a place with another type of love for the one next to you. Not that kind of verbally expressed love, but through actions, looks, gestures. I found clean cities (well, except Casablanca), highway infrastructure that we can only dream of (that’s maybe one of the reasons why a Moroccan taxi driver said What do you mean Romanian? Dacia is a Moroccan car!, n.b.: Dacia produced more cars in 2017 in Morocco than Romania). If we add this to their charm, Morocco is a country more European and progressive than many of the Arabic countries, with better and better laws regarding the woman’s role in society. I therefore definitely recommend that you visit this country, you won’t regret it.