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Morocco: 50th Birthday Trip

Updated: 3 days ago

In 2023, I turned 50, and I was looking to take an epic trip for an epic birthday. I planned an amazing safari trip to Zimbabwe and Zambia. Well, my Zimbabwean friend who is a travel agent actually planned it, but I could not find a travel companion, so I booked an EXPLORE! food tour of Morocco for my first adventure to the continent of Africa.


Casablanca, Morocco

My trip to Morocco began in Casablanca, a metropolitan city on the coast of the Atlantic. The trip with Explore! covered a lot of the country, which is one of the benefits of taking group tours. (More on the pros and cons of group tours coming soon.) We visited the capital city of Rabat, Meknes, Fes, Atlas Mountains, Moulay Idriss, and Marrakesh with stops in smaller towns along the way. It was June of 2023, and the weather was warm and sunny. It was only hot in the desert and that heat stayed through the night. The time in the mountains offered a milder temperature and cooler evening.


From Casablanca to Midelt

I wandered around Casablanca on arrival, mostly trying not to go to sleep again after my nap. The group met up at our hotel in the evening, and the next day, we set out to the capital city, Rabat. It combines ancient and modern with the Palace and government buildings.

Rabat, Morocco
Rabat, Morocco









From there, we traveled to a vineyard and olive grove in Meknes. Personally, I am more of a fan of olive oil than wine, and the host brought us a bottle of strong, dark olive oil along with freshly baked bread still hot from the oven to enjoy with our wine tasting. Since our tour guide was more of a practicing Muslim, he and the guide did not sit with us during our tasting, sitting under a tree at a table set with nuts and olives. My tour group was composed of all women. They were all ten-plus years older than me. We ended up conversing about men, and I think the wine was lightening their mood. It was probably our group's best moment of the trip.


Moulay Idriss, Morocco

Fes and Moulay Idriss were our next stops. I am not sure that many tourists see the holy city of Moulay Idriss. It is an ancient city on steep hills where donkeys are needed for transportation. It was eerily quiet on this beautiful day, and I did not see many people, but I felt like we were being seen.


On to the Medina of Fes, which has a completely different vibe. A medina is an ancient walled city, and Fes is a maze! Our guides moved us quickly through past all the shopkeepers trying to get us to buy their wares. I could not have gotten myself back without them at the pace we had gone. I am guessing it was because we were on a timetable to get to our reservation at a restaurant deep inside the city. Unassuming from the entry, we walked down the stairs to a beautiful setting of tall ceiling, tiled in blue halfway up and gold shears hanging. This was one of my favorite meals.


Berber tent in Morocco

We visited a Berber man in his tent home after stopping at a roadside barbeque where we all consumed copious amounts of lamb. The Berber man's wife and children did not stay around to visit with us. He shared about his life and served us tea. He sang to us, getting our tour guide to accompany him on a drum. This was one of the tourist versus traveler moments that came to light for me on this trip. After we left, there was a lot of talk from the others in the group about how sad they felt for him and his family. I am sure it was motivated by compassion,

but it is an assumption I try not to make when I travel. His family has lived a transient lifestyle for generations. Would he like a life with more ease and permanence? I don't know. Maybe he loves the way they live. Maybe he has no choice or feels like he has no choice. Part of being a traveler is seeing how other people live in the world without deciding whether it is good or bad in comparison to your own.

Desert and Mountains

After a meal of "Moroccan Pizza" in Mergouza, we headed out to the Western Sahara desert. We spent the night in the desert and each had a tent with a double bed and bathroom inside. We took a camel ride in the dunes. I do not know how people find their way around there without landmarks! The desert is a wide expanse of-- well, sand. We were in two jeeps and one went the wrong way, so I guess it takes time to get the hang of it. I love the desert at night and in the early morning when it is not so hot. As much as all my friends know that I am a talker, one of the things I love about the desert is the absolute quiet. The dunes and sand in the moonlight and early morning light are beautiful, and the quiet makes me feel present and peaceful.


One thing I was not expecting in Morocco was the beautiful green mountain region of the Atlas Mountains. Driving through the mountains and the Todra Gorge, we saw the lush, fertile fields. We spent the night in Hotel Awayou, which had gorgeous views and a kind staff despite its one-star rating on Google Maps! I guess it depends on who decides what you deserve stars for. On our drive, we saw many old kasbahs, once vibrant fortress cities, now holding many stories and being used in films including the new "Gladiator" movie.

Ending in Marrakesh

Sadly, three months after we were in Marrakesh, they experienced a terrible earthquake. At the time of our visit, this famous city was buzzing. We wandered the markets during the day and into the night. There were stalls selling a rainbow of olive varieties, the scent of foods being fried, music playing, people moving quickly around, and creepy snakes being charmed! It was an incredible experience for the senses.

Overall

Morocco is a diverse and beautiful country. I am so glad that I got to experience so much of it--it is as big as the State of California. If I had not gone on the tour, I would have seen much less. The mountains and the desert were favorites. To me, the vibe is Middle Eastern, which makes sense being a Muslim country in Northern Africa. I mostly plan and guide my trips myself, but this was one trip where I wanted to go under the expertise of a guide. The country was way less traditional than I had expected, but I wanted to be sure I was respectful of the culture, and I felt like the guide would keep us within appropriate boundaries. Want details about the food of a food tour! Check out this post.

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