Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to join AFAR and Nikon for a photography expedition thru Morocco, we spent 9 magical, mystical and overloaded days thru the many faces and personalities of Morocco.
Morocco is many things, its sensory overload, its crazy, in some parts it feels like you stepped into another century, it can be an overwhelming place and yet peaceful and mundane other times.
I was on a connecting flight from Dubai to Morocco and as we were approaching Casablanca from the air, I could see how green and beautiful northern Morocco was. I was expecting desert all over and over the course of the next couple of days, I would find out how wrong I was and how beautiful and contrasting Morocco really is.
We arrived in Casablanca and did not expect what followed. I deplaned the Emirates Airlines fight and got on a bus that took us to the terminal where we had to walk thru a door that was not visible due to the amount of people that were trying go get thru the terminal door.
When I finally was able to get thru the door to proceed to customs, all hell broke loose. There are hardly any signs to direct the passengers to were we needed to go, as I followed other passengers, finally we arrive in a big room with 2 lines already full of people, however no line had any distinctive signs to make sure we were standing in the right one.
Passengers on both lines were determined to be the first on the line, so if there were 75 people on the line, instead of lining up in the order they arrived, they all proceeded to get in front of the line at any cost. Almost 1 hour and 15 minutes later, I finally got to the front of the line.
When it was finally my turn to see a customs agent, I walk to the window at the same time the bread seller was getting there to offer his goods to the agents, I stand there witnessing as all agents stop what they are doing, gather around this man selling bread, and they ALL STOP what they are doing and get their bread loot. About 5 minutes later, Customs agents finally resume their duties again.
I had a driver picking me up once I exited the airport, however, thru all this waiting, I was already 2 hours late from my picking up time and I was convinced he would not be there waiting for me anymore. I had already been trying to connect to either wi-fi and or my international roaming plan (I have T Mobile and it did NOT WORK one day in Morocco, even though on their website they say there is coverage there), making it impossible to communicate with my driver, fortunately for me he was there waiting for me, what a relief it was to get in that car and go to the hotel where I met the rest of the group.
We spent less than 24 hours in Casablanca before departing to Chefchaouen or “the Blue City”, that evening, after meeting the group I would spend 9 days with, we had dinner close by and had some traditional Moroccan food and tea, the next day, we visited the Mosque of Hassan II, It is the largest mosque in Morocco, the second largest in Africa, and the 13th largest in the world. It is a photographer’s dream, so make sure you bring your camera with you.
After, we got on the road to Chefchaouen, also known as “The Blue City”, We stayed at the Hotel Tarek, about 20-minute walk from down town and where the blue buildings are, which let’s be clear, Chefchaouen is many shades of blue, in some places, NOT ALL places ).
To get to the “Blue” part of the city you need to walk into the “Wall City” and as you walk thru the city walls, its if you entered a magical place, almost like shifting into another time, immediately streets narrow and you finally start to get a glimpse of the magical “Blue city” , here, you will find that most of the city walls, buildings, doors , steps are painted in shades of blue (One popular theory of why the city is painted blue is that the blue keeps mosquitoes away, another is that Jews introduced the blue when they took refuge from Hitler in the 1930s, also, the blue is said to symbolize the sky and heaven, and serve as a reminder to lead a spiritual life), along with store fronts that offer its visitors endless souvenirs, you will encounter many, many cats, most of them homeless but they are well taken care of the people of the city, they are “mostly” very friendly.
We spent the day walking around the Blue City, taking pictures and wondering around. Myself, mostly trying to find cats to pet, we had dinner in town and after a few hours of mindful discovery and picture techniques, we returned to our hotel to rest.
We depart the next morning to Fes where we would spend the next 2 nights. Once there we spent the day exploring the old city and visited Al-Attarine Madrasa, Chouara tannery (it is the largest tannery in the city. The tannery is packed with the round stone vessels filled with dye or white liquids for softening the hides. The leather goods produced in the tanneries are exported around the world), Funduk Nejjarine (Museum of wooden arts and crafts). This city is full of architecture shots, a dream for any photographer, skilled or beginner. The old city is vibrant and full of movement and life and very easy to get lost in its enchanting streets, so if you get lost, just linger and wonder, you never know what treasure awaits you just around the corner.
After our visit in Fes we departed on route for Merzouga in the High Atlas Mountains, we arrived at the Auberge to start our camel trek to the overnight camp in the desert. We took some time admiring the scenery and friending the camels that would patiently takes us to our overnight camp during an hour. During this hour we had the chance to enjoy the views, landscapes, marvel at the miracle of life in the desert in the way of palm trees that beautifully exist silently and lonely in the desert, all while enjoying a spectacular sunset and admiring the changing landscape of the ever-changing sand dunes.
We finally arrived to our camp and it was a site out of a story books, tents furnished with beds, covers and a full functioning shower, toilet and sink, oil lamps and Moroccan rugs thru out, completed the mood for the night, we proceeded to eat a traditional Bedouin dinner and then enjoyed the rest of the night enjoying the sound of drums, a bonfire and a magnificent starry night.
The next day we woke up early to catch the sunset and take some spectacular pictures before heading to the Todra Gorge , (The Todgha Gorges are a series of limestone river canyons, in the eastern part of the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco) but before, we visited with a nomad family, were the matriarch shared with us stories about their way of life and on the way we had a chance to marvel at the scenery and take some spectacular pictures on the way to these natural wonder canyons.
After spending the night at a local hotel in the area and sharing dinner with the local and playful cats, we head to Ait-Ben-Haddou, in Ouarzazate province, which is a striking example of the architecture of southern Morocco.
Aït Benhaddou is an ighrem (fortified village in English) (ksar in Arabic), along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech in present day Morocco. (The ksar, is a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls, is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat. The houses crowd together within the defensive walls, which are reinforced by corner towers)
We walked and climbed to the top of this Ksar and once on the top we were able to enjoy the beautiful views when we were able to fight the strong and cold winds from knocking us down.
Once we were down again we stopped a local rug factory to see how authentic Moroccan rugs are made
It was the middle of January in the Africa, in the High Atlas Mountains, the next day we woke up to find a light dusting of snow that was as magical as it was whimsy.
After breakfast we began our the day long journey by bus to incredible Marrakesh and it was wonderful to travel by bus and not by air to experience and marvel at all the natural and exuberant beauty that Morocco offers to everyone.
Every wounding road offered unparalleled beauty, vistas, landscapes, and picture-perfect moments. We made a rest stop to see the how argon oil is made and support the women’s collective that painstakingly make this precious beauty oil by hand before continuing our journey.
Once you get into the city of Marrakesh, everything changes, the vibe, the scenery, the traffic, the madness becomes alive. We checked into our hotel and then walked about 15 minutes to Jemaa el-Fnaa, a square and market place in Marrakesh‘s medina quarter (old city). It remains the main square of Marrakesh, used by locals and tourists.
Here we had street food and took in the hassle and bustle of the place where locals meet each other, where you go on a shopping spree thru the labyrinth streets of the city and buy leather goods, iconic Moroccan lamps, sweets, spices, souvenirs and many more things, after all the shopping, go back to the square where you can enjoy cobras being enchanted by man playing flutes.
Take it all in and enjoy the colors, the pottery, if you are there at the right time, enjoy the sunset or a call to prayer and the scenes, remember to be careful and mindful of your surroundings and keep your belongings close and safe there are a lot of pickpocketers waiting for an opportunity to strike a trusting tourist.
If you like spa treatments, then Marrakesh many treatments including the hammam, a couple of people traveling with me, went to Hotel Mamounia for their treatments, they had a great time there and said it was worth every penny and the hotel was spectacular on its self.
If you like art and fashion, you are in luck, you should visit the Yves Saint Laurent museum, it’s a must.
Morocco is as enchanting as it is overwhelming, an experience worth living to the fullest. I hope you visit, because it is a country that should be experienced even if only once in your life time.
AFAR Magazine: www.afar.com
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