Morocco. I’ve always had a fascination with this country. As a teenager I read an indulgent novel titled ‘The Tattooed Map’ about a woman travelling through Morocco, who awoke one day while in Tangier to find a mysterious small mark on her hand, which grew and spread, turning into thin tattoo lines… revealing a map on her skin.
I know – right, a far fetched tale, but boy o’ boy, did it draw this girl from suburban Brisbane in. For me there has always been something so very attractive about the exotic nature of this North African melting pot.
My first visit to Morocco was over a decade ago and it didn’t disappoint. That first visit was overwhelming, in the best possible way; the exotic fragrances, the sun bleached colours, the mayhem, the noise, the food, the people, all of it and all at once.
For a destination so foreign, it felt strangely familiar and I was addicted. So to be able to visit once again was such a pure thrill.
This time round I wanted to see more. The real stuff, the gritty pretty, life happening outside of Marrakech. Looking in on the everyday life in other parts of the country, finding the ordinary beauty and seeking out the genuine.
So that’s exactly what husband Timothy O and I did – three weeks on a road trip around Morocco. Travelling through Casablanca, Rabat, Tangier, Fez, High Atlas Mountains, Essaouira (nicknamed the port of Timbuktu) and every haunt of a dusty town in between.
We arrived into the seaside port city of Casablanca at sunrise, then travelled north through the forted town of Rabat and up to coastal Tangier, Europe’s gateway to Africa, arriving after dark.
I woke just before dawn in Tangier to watch the sun rise and flood the city with delicate morning light.
It was freezing cold and somehow our tiny top floor colonial hotel room was locked from the outside, so scaling the window ledge and leaping onto the neighbouring terrace below was the only option. All I was hoping for was that the view would be worth it.
And it was – it was always going to be. Looking out across the skyline of Tangier at dawn was one of my favourite moments of this trip. I felt so very fortunate witnessing such beautiful silence from such a stirring city.
We would stop in on any local village markets which happened to be ‘happening’. The markets would always be such overflowing colour attractions, swathes of blaring colourful fabrics, gleaming from afar and contrasting against the soft faded peach landscape.
There would be markets on every day, each one with a slightly different offering for the village – the Monday market, the Tuesday market, the Wednesday market and so forth, all dedicated to fresh produce and the ritual of cooking.
A harmonious rhythm to the week, grounded around nourishment.
A few outtakes along the Algerian border, on the way to The Sahara. We came across a shepherd I saw on the horizon and leaped out of the 4wd to talk with him. He turned out to be such a sweet gentle man.
It’s always the way – without shared language you can easily have a meaningful conversation with a stranger and learn something from them.
It’s how we make each other feel which is the most valued language, something I constantly reflect upon while travelling.
We had a couple of nights out in various desert camps in The Sahara. This one, Scarabeo Camp, in the Agafay Desert outside of Marrakech, was particularly beautiful – like time travelling to another era, filled with campaign furniture and the spirit of old world travel and style.
If Morocco taught me one thing, it would be to find the calm within the mayhem. Sounds like an ‘eye roll worthy’ quote from pinterest, though it is true. The country moves at such a pace; it’s a hustler.
It hustles every hour of every day, moving to a fast primitive beat – an escapable beat which knows each one of your moves. It can wear you down, though it always builds you back up again.