Why To Visit Morocco: Soul, Sand & Spices
We recently sent UTP member Ioana out to Morocco to experience the magic of the Marrakech and the Sahara Desert. From Game of Thrones worthy kasbahs, mouthwatering tagines, haggling in spice souks, time travel and teetering on the edge of the unknown with all but a camel for company, here’s what she thought of the Sahara Desert Experience and why she didn’t want to come home.
From sand to snow
If you’ve ever studied a world map, you know it is practically impossible to miss the brownish-gold area layering all over North Africa. Even there, the great, wild desert covering miles and miles – well, inches on the map – stands like an impenetrable natural barrier never to be crossed.
And there I was, prepared to face it – on a scale 1:1 – and unveil its mysteries. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no great explorer, but that’s exactly how I felt, surrounded by the dunes, those tiny mountains of sand. Just me and the vastness… and a camel, tiptoeing towards the unknown.
Now, if you think Morocco is all about stark scenery and dusty plains, this little country will prove you wrong in a heartbeat as bouncy and alive as the one of Marrakech… but we’ll get to that later.
Driving on the winding roads of the Atlas Mountains up 3,000 meters through woods of Argan trees and juniper is an experience in itself. The snowy top of the High Atlas towers in the distance, in defiance of the southern desert with its blistering hot climate.
Be prepared to be surprised by the lush scenery offered by the Dades Valley until it loses itself in the rocky and impressive Todra Gorge. Under its protection, the Berbers built their ancient kashbah villages and as I was travelling through the valley sprinkled with those little fortress-like dwellings I really was going back in time.
The biggest kashbah of them all is perched on a rocky top. There, Ait Benhaddou stands tall, overlooking the valley with its maze-like streets and houses that kept me busy exploring for a while. Its imposing view hasn’t only attracted history lovers, but movie directors as well (Game of Thrones, anyone?). There’s only one downside – couldn’t find the dragons!
An explosion of tastes
But if you really, truly want to experience Morocco, forget all you know about food. If love really does go through the stomach, then it’s impossible not to fall in love with this country after the first bite.
How does a lamb stew with mangos boiled slowly in a conical-shaped tajine sound? Or a steamy couscous with raisins and soft vegetables? And don’t get me started on desserts. One thing is for sure: Moroccans don’t have a word for a picky eater – and this is coming from one.
Naturally, after having my taste buds pampered all week long, I faced the greatest dilemma of the trip – what would I eat back home?! The plan was easy: go to the souks, get some spices (even if I don’t cook) and bring Morocco home. In reality…
Where magic happens
Of course, the souks are well known for their lively atmosphere and I well aware of that, but I never truly understood the experience until I embarked on the journey myself. Colorful, noisy and dazzling, the souks trapped me with their magic and kept me mesmerized for hours. And it’s hard not to let yourself become one with the surroundings.
As dusk settles in, the vibrant noise grows louder and louder. The Djemaa el-Fna Square nearby pumps with joy all through the night. Choose to sip your refreshing mint tea at one of the cafe terraces surrounding the square and observe the madness or spring straight into action. Snake charmers, street actors, henna artists, musicians, they’re all playing their part in this immense real-life performance.
Whatever your expectations, Morocco will surprise and welcome you.
Just sit back, relax (preferably with some mint tea) and enjoy.
Young, fun and kind, Ioana is always one step ahead of the game with her head and heart exactly where they need to be at exactly the right time. Unless of course there’s a good novel around in which case please don’t bother her!