- My first solo (or, should I say soul) trip to Morocco has opened my mind to life and its endless possibilities.
Moving on! Got tired of sitting on the sidelines. A short pause that turned into an eternity of silence — awkward, unkind, and unbearable. And the dilemma … To do or not to. As the world was dealing with COVID-induced dilemmas — to drive to work or connect remotely, to mingle or quarantine, to mask up or renounce, I was dealing with my own — To travel or not to. Yes, however shallow or irresponsible that may seem, travel deprivation is real. For people with wanderlust, who feel the need to move or roam around the planet constantly, having to stay put can be insufferable.
So, after justifying my actions of selfishness as mere solutions to my mental health problems (quite not that serious but was definitely prowling around like a hungry T-Rex), I embarked on my journey to the distant and mystical land of Morocco. This enchanting North African nation certainly has a lot to offer and has exceeded my expectations in every category — history, culture, architecture, and natural wonders. To my surprise, the Kingdom of Morocco is diverse in more than one aspect. I found its people friendly and hospitable, its history fascinating, and its cuisine flavorful.
Although indigenous Berbers were the first to inhabit, the region has experienced several invasions from Arabs, Spanish, and French, who now call it home. This geographically diverse nation boasts varying ranges of Atlas mountains separating the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coasts from the hot and arid Sahara. Cultures vary from the Metropolitan cities of Casablanca and Marrakech to desert towns that spring up next to oases. One may feel safer taking a stroll in the newer parts of the cities with European influence but meandering through the narrow streets of a walled medina (old Islamic city) with souks, mosques, and snake-charmers is definitely an experience. There is a deep contrast between the simple mud walls of the Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou and the ceramic-tiled opulence of the palace of Dar El Bacha, both equally breathtaking.
When I landed in Casablanca, I did not know who my travel companions were going to be for the next ten days, and the unknown made me nervous and excited at the same time. I was pleasantly surprised by the friendly group of ten from different parts of the U.S. After a quick round of introductions, we began warming up to each other. Our guide who traveled and stayed with us the entire trip was kind, efficient and informative.
The coastal city of Casablanca, immortalized in the namesake popular movie, is the largest city and economic hub of Morocco. My first experience seeing the inside of a mosque, I was thrilled to see the 210-meter tall minaret of the Hassan II Mosque disappearing into the morning mist. The opulence of the mosque is evident from the colorful mosaics and marble, and its enormous size (and expense). The Kasbah (fort) of the Oudayas in Rabat, which is Morocco’s current capital with its spectacular views of the Atlantic ocean, is breathtaking. This is where we got our first glimpse into what life in a medina is like.
Tangier, a port city on the Strait of Gibraltar is where the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet, and Spain is just 40 minutes away by ferry. However, I was more excited about the most photographed city of Chefchaouen, often referred to as the blue city. Needless to say, I took a thousand pictures.
Fez is one bad-ass city with no pretensions, but this is where you can feel the real Morocco. Regarded as the intellectual and religious capital of the country, Fez boasts the oldest university in the world, some of the best tanneries in the region, and several schools of Koranic studies. Although a little shocked initially by the catcalls, I fell in love with the chaos of Fez’s medina which happens to be the largest in the world, where getting lost is easy. Unfiltered, unrefined, authentic tourist experience.
Erfoud sits on the edge of the great Sahara desert. Several movies like “Mummy” and “Prince of Persia” were filmed in this oasis town. But the most exciting part of my trip starts here — a quick ride in ATVs brought us to the dunes of Merzouga where our camels were waiting for us. The timing could not be better, as we were on the dunes just in time to admire the sunset. I played like a little girl in the sand — slide, roll, repeat. Quite a liberating feeling. The stay in the tent was comfortable, and we even had a sandstorm that turned into a thunderstorm with wind and rain for the full experience.
Driving to Ouarzazate through the Gorges of Todgha and Dades valley was the most beautiful part of the entire trip, passing through lush oases with date palms and desert towns with mud houses. Kasbah of Ait Benhaddou is a World Heritage site and looks majestic with its high walls and earthen structures.
Party city Marrakech is the most happening place in Morocco. Its medina is the oldest in the country and probably the liveliest, with its vibrant souks selling everything you can think of — from meats and spices to jewelry and leather goods. At Djemaa el-Fna square, if you are not careful, you may end up with henna on your hands that you didn’t ask for, or even worse, a hissing cobra on your shoulders, but a fun place to visit nonetheless. Bahia Palace with its ceramic extravagance, the Minaret of Koutoubia, botanical gardens of Jardin Majorelle are some other attractions in Morocco that are worth visiting.
My first solo (or, should I say soul) trip to Morocco has opened my mind to life and its endless possibilities. It has given me my much-needed break from the daily grind and helped me hit that reset button. I feel lighter, am sleeping better, and am certainly happier. Like me, if you are convinced that travel is what you need, COVID or not, go ahead and explore the world. Morocco is a great place to start.
To put it mildly, my trip to Morocco was freaking awesome.
Padma Nadella is an IT professional who lives in Eagan, Minnesota with her husband and 15-year-old son. She manages a Facebook group for Minnesotans to collaborate on events and activities related to health and fitness. The group now has over two thousand members. Jack of all trades, she enjoys playing Volley Ball, traveling the World, and entertaining mostly, but dabbles in everything else.