By: Michelle Campbell
Crossing the European borders into Africa was not included in my original travel plans during my stay in Florence. I knew a few friends who went there over Spring Break when they were studying abroad in Florence a year back, but the thought of going there never truly appealed to me. Looking back now, it would have been one of my biggest regrets if I had never boarded that plane to Marrakech.
A group of us from FSU decided to go to Morocco for a few days the week of our Spring Break. We booked everything on our own which proved to be a harder task than expected. With a group of ten people, things can get pretty heated when it comes to traveling, money, and time.
The hostel we ended up staying at was tucked away in the Old Town of Marrakech. It used to be the residency of the owner and his family but when they moved out, he stayed and reinvented it into a hostel. The night we arrived at Waka Waka, we were welcomed with a big couscous dinner and the best tea I’ve ever had in my life. The hostel offered a lot of excursions throughout Morocco so we ended up booking a camel ride and overnight stay in the desert for the following day.
I was woken up at dawn to the hostel owner’s voice as he was reciting his morning prayers. It all felt very surreal as I was laying in my bed listening to the Islamic hymns. It was an event I could have only experienced in that time and place. I closed my eyes and listened to the man’s voice as it helped me slide back into the brink of consciousness until it was time to get up.
The following four hours were spent in a big van that luckily held all ten of us. We drove through the many landscapes of the Moroccan countryside, making stops along the way to eat and take pictures. The trip was absolutely breathtaking.
What started out as greenery with rolling hills, slowly turned into red rock canyons. At times it was hard to pin point where we were or how long it would take to reach the nearest restroom or eating facility because our guide did not speak English very well. However, we never felt unsafe while driving through the small towns or open areas.
When we finally reached our destination, we were greeted by a herd of camels along with a crew who would accompany us to the tents in the desert. They helped us make turbans to put on our heads while we picked out our own camel to ride. The sun had disappeared by the time we reached the campsite. To our surprise, the tents were well equipped with cots and rugs. There was even a tent for bathroom use that had plumbing. We camped in the desert that night with style, that’s for sure.
The men made us a huge three-course dinner of delicious Moroccan food that was followed by singing around a campfire. The sky that night was spectacular. An endless sea of stars stretched from horizon to horizon. I could barely make out the Milky Way as I sat by the fire watching the smoke rose up to meet the heavens.
Everyone had a smile on their face as the Moroccan men sang us songs in their native tongue. The only thing to top that night was the sunrise the following morning.
The men at the campsite woke us up just as the night sky was beginning to melt away. We dragged ourselves out of bed and walked up one of the sand dunes facing east. As the surrounding landscape became flooded with light, the sky was a magnificent plethora of colors; light hues of red, orange, and gold enclosed the rising sun. Because our group traveled the surrounded area in the dark the night before, we were seeing the desolate desert for the first time. Sand duns rose all around us, looking as though we were in the middle of a restless sea that had been stained red. I am truly blessed to have experienced something as extraordinary as seeing the sunrise in Africa.
The following two days were full of shopping and site seeing. The great thing about Morocco is that everything is “cheap” compared to Europe and America. The exchange rate between the American dollar and the dirham is 1:3.6. Therefore you’d save a lot more money by going to Morocco verses anywhere in the EU. I was able to get all my souvenirs and a few extra things at a low price. The merchants were very aggressive but could be easily broken once the bartering began.
The market itself was a site no one could truly prepare me for. It wasn’t far from the scene in Sex in the City 2 when Carry finds herself buying dozens of shoes in an African market. However, the movie didn’t include the monkeys, snakes, and huge crowds of people I encountered in Marrakesh. It was a lot to take in at once but after an hour or so wondering around, I didn’t want to leave. It was exciting to see the local woman sitting around making beautiful henna designs on the hands of tourists, or witnessing a monkey climb on top of a stranger’s shoulders. I could have sat somewhere and people watched all day long but I choose to shop till I ran out of money instead.
The market also had great food such as freshly squeezed orange juice, grilled vegetables with assorted meats, and Pastella, the best chicken dish ever concocted. I wish we had walked around the city more to see the sites but everything was so spread out and it was very easy to get lost within the grid of alleyways.
Overall, the trip to Morocco was successful. However, after doing a lot of group tours throughout Europe, I wish I’d done something similar for Morocco. Having that constant assistance, especially in a developing country, would have been helpful. Morocco is beautiful and safe but it always helps to have someone there to point you in the right direction as far as activities and the best places to see so you get the most out of your trip.
Michelle stayed at hostel Waka Waka. Other recommended accommodation is at Equity Point. If you are looking to join a group tour, Bus2alps operates several organized trips a year which include accommodation, historic tours, the camel ride, and more.
Michelle Campbell is a student at Florida State University, and a Spring 2012 alumni of the Florida State in Florence program. Michelle will be reliving her individual travels and group travels with Bus2alps during her four months studying abroad. You can read more at her blog, http://funinfirenze2012.blogspot.com/.