By Pam Johnson
Editor’s Note: Pam Johnson and her husband Woody are in the midst of a yearlong trip abroad, visiting 12 countries in 12 months. Pam will file monthly stories along the way.
Camels and football and couscous, oh my!
Tajine and head scarfs and markets galore.
Deserts and donkeys and 5 daily prayers.
Mint tea and mountains…
I’m not sure how to condense Morocco into 900 words or less.
I could write a book. What a country! What an adventure!
If it isn’t already on your bucket list, please add it.
To begin with, the landscape is diverse and magnificent. In Casablanca, the Atlantic waves are rough and mesmerizing. The rocky Atlas Mountains offer waterfalls, gorges, and pockets of palm tree oases. Fields of crops dot the countryside. However, the dunes of the Sahara Desert are what captured my heart. If I were ever to return, I would spend more time camping out on the dunes, taking daily hikes and camel rides. Their vastness is astounding, and at sunrise and sunset, the reddish color of the sand casts a perfect, ethereal glow. And the stars! It’s worth the trip just to see those stars.
The two-day bus trip from Casablanca to Merzouga (the gateway to the Sahara) took us across the country through scenic farmland, ancient villages, and on switchback roads over the mountains. From Merzouga, we rode camels over the dunes to a camp consisting of nomadic “luxury” tents. What a special evening! Our guides served us tajine (a national dish) and Moroccan tea. They built a bonfire and played traditional music and taught us how to play their instruments. They led us in dances around the fire. Then we lay out on the sand under the blackest of skies filled with millions of stars to watch for shooting stars. I would never ever trade this experience for anything.
Our home base for the month was Casablanca, but our travels took us to the vibrant cities of El Jedida, Fez, Tangier, and Marrakesh; as well as many picturesque towns including Ouarzazate, home to the Atlas Movie Studios; Kalaat M’Gouna, known as the City of Roses; and Chefchaouen, also called The Blue City.
As with other places we’ve visited, I was drawn to the study of contrasts within each country. There are many geographic contrasts in Morocco, like going from the sand dunes of the Sahara to the Monkey Forest in the mountains near Féz. In the north are green farmlands and the Mediterranean Sea and to the west, the Atlantic Ocean. We didn’t get to visit the southern part of Morocco, but I heard about the lovely beaches and expansive deserts.
There are also many contrasts within the larger cities. In the same block, you’ll find upscale stores selling top-of-the-line clothes or name-brand toys as well as street market stands hawking fruit and vegetables. Along one street may be stately homes behind iron gates while neighboring lots are used as garbage dumps. Many of the locals are dressed in office clothes like you’d see in any American city, but many others wear the traditional jillabas (Moroccan cloaks) or kaftans, and most women wear head scarfs.
Everywhere we went, the people were friendly and inviting. Many of them speak French (a surprise to me) and, of course, everyone speaks Arabic. The medinas and markets sold everything from jewelry to produce, clothes, and even plastic Disney characters. The shop owners loved to barter and usually got the best of me. But that’s okay; I happily paid for the experience. (And I love my $15 Moroccan slippers that I found later at another shop for $3. LOL!)
Woody and I weren’t alone in our travels through Morocco. In Casablanca, we participated in another Workaway (like we did in Estonia). We taught conversational English at the British Language Academy along with other English-speaking volunteers. Our co-Workawayers were from across the world: France, Argentina, Canada, New Zealand, Greece, and more. We traveled with this group to the Ouzoud Falls in the Atlas Mountains, to the Sahara Desert, and to Chefchaoen in the north. It was wonderful to have this “family” in Morocco. They helped make our stay in Casablanca one of our most special adventures yet.
A very memorable and unplanned aspect of our stay in Morocco was the timing of the World Cup. We witnessed, along with exuberant fans, Morocco’s advance to the semi-finals, a first for any Arabic nation. The atmosphere across the country was electrifying. We attended “watch parties” at the cafés. After a win, we would party in the streets; we’d be hugged by locals and people would want our photos with them. They were so excited that foreigners were celebrating with them. And even after the final loss to Croatia, people cheered for their beloved team. We absolutely loved being a part of this history-in-the-making event.
Then, of course, I must mention the food! The national dishes of couscous and tajine are made with a combination of vegetables, meat, and spices. (Yes, they are also made vegetarian.) Our favorite bread was msemen, a flaky, pan-fried bread served with cheese or honey. We also enjoyed harira (a red soup) and my favorite dish, rfissa, made with lentils, onions, saffron, and shredded bread. I left Morocco with my clothes a little snugger than when I arrived.
I have loved every country we’ve visited over the past 7 months, and I refuse to choose a favorite. However, my enthusiasm over Morocco may say otherwise!
If you’d like to hear more about our travel adventures and see more photos, please visit my blog and follow me on Instagram and TikTok: @amimionthemove. And if you’re interested in the Workaway program, visit workaway.info.