When I was thirteen years-old, I wrote a list of eighty-one places I wanted to see before I died. That list was misplaced somewhere in the midst of my middle school angst, so I drafted another one. Well, one day when I was sixteen, the OG travel list reappeared. My mom had found it somewhere behind my desk, and taped it to my door. I took a look at both of the “Places to Go Before I Die” lists, and Morocco was listed near the top of both of them.

A decade later, and still just as angsty and restless, I went to Morocco. Armed with a Fodor’s Travel Essential Morocco guide book, what my roommate affectionately refers to as Kate Hudson sunglasses, and an obnoxiously large (and atrociously heavy) black backpack, I was ready to take the country in stride. I’d say I overall did pretty well, considering that I had a camel ride on a beach in Agadir less than an hour later after getting off the plane. It was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. I have a history of horseback riding and even jumping, but riding a camel is dramatically different than riding a horse. You are unnaturally high above the ground, and it’s like sitting on an old sofa with a distinguished lump in the center from years watching Friends. It’s also very wobbly. Plus, my saddle was slightly crooked, so while I’m smiling in my photos, most of the smiling is strained and my sunglasses hide the terror in my eyes. (Don’t even get me started on when the camel started running.)

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Camel ride in Agadir

After that brief stop in Agadir, my tour group and I went to Marrakech, one of the largest cities in Morocco and, arguably, the most popular. Marrakech is probably most known for its medina (old town). In general, the medinas in Morocco are… intense. I’m someone who is prone to anxiety when in large, loud crowds for too long and definitely entered survival mode while walking through the medinas. It’s best to just embrace the chaos and stop worrying whenever you bump into someone, whenever there’s a motorcyclist trying to (magically) squeeze his or her way past you and a bunch of vendors, or whenever you hear the chants of “buy this, the price is good.” Just keep walking, stop wherever you want to, and remember that bargaining is everything. The prices you see are not set: keep negotiating. Unfortunately, bargaining is not a skill that comes naturally to me, but I gave it my best attempt and ended up buying a fair amount of items. I ended the day in Marrakech in Jemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakech’s main square. If you’re looking to try staple Moroccan dishes, you’re in luck: there’s a multitude of stands to choose from. Just pick one and order as much couscous, tagines (lamb, goat, chicken, beef, or vegetarian varieties), and mint tea as you see fit. As a side note, Moroccan mint tea is green tea exported from China with Moroccan mint leaves crushed into it. There are also A LOT of stands selling different kinds of mint leaves, something that I had never seen before. After having actual Moroccan mint tea, I’ll never be able to look at the “Moroccan mint tea” boxes sold at Star Market the same way again, let alone take them seriously. Bye, peasants.

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Jemaa el-Fnaa

 

The next stop after Marrakech was one of Rory Gilmore’s top cities she planned on visiting: Fez. My Gilmore Girls fandom aside, I can see why: Fez is entrancing, bustling with street vendors and all types of artists working on their crafts. It is a city that is very known for items such as handmade tile products, pottery, and leather, and you can see workers crafting various pottery, tagines, jewelry, and leather products on the streets. What took my breath away was seeing them constructing tiles by hand and how much detail and concentration the craftsmen devoted to setting down the tiles one-by-one. Concentration marrs their faces as they individually and carefully place each tile in a specific line-up. The products are pricey, but justifiably so, and worth a thorough window shop at the very least. Fez’s medina was equally chaotic and beautiful as was Marrakech’s, and I may or may not have cried tears of joy upon seeing a man lead his donkey up one of the narrow streets.

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Tiles in Fez

Unlike Marrakech and Fez, Rabat––Morocco’s capital city––is a lot more modern architecture and style-wise. Two of Rabat’s main attractions are the Royal Palace and Gardens and the blue-and-white neighborhood, Kasbah des Oudaias. If you know me at all, it’s painfully obvious that I love birds. Morocco boasts an impressive stork population. There was a plethora of storks gathered in the Royal Garden and I was that obnoxious person who would hold up the group to take pictures of the storks from all angles until my thighs cramped from the squatting. Worth it.     

I have never been to Greece (although it’s definitely on my list), but I can imagine that Kasbah des Oudaias largely resembles the blue-and-white streets littering its landscape. Though the neighborhood is small, it makes for a captivating stroll and you’ll end up by the ocean. I wish I wasn’t suffering from some sort of random mini plague that day, because I would undoubtedly have enjoyed this day of the trip even more in good health.

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Kasbah des Oudaias

Our last major stop was Casablanca, so here’s looking at you kid. Casablanca boasts a mix of modern and historic landmarks. I wish that my tour group and I had more time to spend here. We started off in one of the main squares of the city, Mohammed V Square and took in the French and Moorish architecture clashing and yet somehow fitting together. Pigeons appeared out of thin air, creating a tapestry of gray wings. Following the Mohammed V Square, we ventured to the Hassan II mosque. It is the largest mosque in Africa, the fifth largest mosque in the world, and the only mosque in the world that non-Muslims are permitted to enter. After taking my shoes off and carefully placing them into a plastic bag, I was able to walk all over the mosque and take it all in. My eyes were met with massive columns, stained glass, a fountain, and high ceilings. It was breathtaking. We ended our time in Casablanca by going to the boardwalk and drinking espresso in a beachside cafe. After downing the juice of life, I spent the remaining hour we had left in Casablanca walking the boardwalk and staring at the ocean and pictures of the royal family (the royal family is a massive presence in Morocco and their photos frequent the cities).

My trip to Morocco was certainly not a relaxing trip, nor do I consider it a vacation; I consider it an activity-packed, energetic cultural journey that I would not trade anything for. It is not meant to be a vacation, it’s meant to teach people a lesson about a culture vastly different than their own and immerse them firsthand into the differences. Morocco is the kind of place where you need to be actively engaged at all times, or you will miss crucial bits of information and not get the most out of your time there. All five of the senses are activated at all times if you are doing Morocco correctly, so embrace that. I definitely want to come back to Morocco, but focus more on the south and its small towns, sand dunes, and camels. There is so much to see in this country: from snake charmers to medinas to mosques to gardens. People ask me why Morocco and my answer is “why the hell not?”

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Casablanca

 

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