During my trip to northern Morocco, I kept a log of things that ‘surprised’ me – about the country, the experience and also about myself… Here are some of the things I learned.
Morocco is a heck of a lot bigger than I expected! I’m not sure I had really appreciated the scale of Africa, and I was quite taken aback by some of the distances (e.g. 450km from Casablanca to Tangier). We had some quite lengthy travel days – none too far for comfort, but still quite far.
On a related topic, I was also surprised by how green northern Morocco is. I guess the majority of pictures I had seen of Morocco were the standard ‘camel ride in the desert’ ones, so I was expecting a quite arid and brown country. What we saw was some quite lush and cultivated countryside, and I was blown away by the changing landscapes we saw as we travelled between cities.
As a linguist, I was interested to find signposts in a number of languages… one of which I most definitely didn’t recognise. The official language of Morocco is Arabic, with French as the second. My French came in handy at times (I refer you to my previous post!) and whilst there is some English spoken, we actually didn’t experience that much… But there was also a language whose written form looked a bit like Greek, and which our tour leader, Youssef, explained was Amazigh (or Berber). This *is* recognised as an official language, and thrives in its spoken form, however Youssef told me that 80-90% of speakers of the language can’t read or write it.
Which leads me to another link… The Berber / Amazigh people live predominantly in the mountains. This was where Youssef was brought up. He told me that the nearest doctor was 17km away, that the community nurse did a round once a month, and that his village had a primary school, but that anyone who continued to secondary school had to go to the nearest big city. In his case he was able to go from Aroumd to Marrakesh and live with an uncle while he continued his education. But for many poorer families, this is just not an option, so the children stop school at 11 and start work.
We saw many many animals on our travels. Mules and donkeys are widely used to work on the land or for transporting goods in the car-free parts of cities. Cows – often in very small numbers – and sheep or goats – in small flocks often accompanied by a traditional-looking shepherd. Dogs and cats seemed to live a nomadic life – only in Tangier did we see a dog on a lead with a clear owner. Elsewhere there were a few with tagged ears, which I guess identified them as ‘belonging’ to someone. Cats were everywhere. Living on the streets, sometimes provided with cardboard boxes in which to feed their kittens, and frequently bothering cafe/ restaurant diners for scraps of food. Without exception, every animal we saw was incredibly skinny.
As a prolific coffee drinker (it often takes me 2-3 mugs to get going of a morning), my visit to Morocco certainly offered a serious opportunity to detox! We did get coffee at breakfast time, although this was typically in a small glass rather than my usual bucket. The most frequently offered beverage was Moroccan mint tea. With meals, without meals, in shops, and at any time of the day, you could find yourself with a hot glass of mint tea in hand. No tea bags involved, this was fresh mint with hot water poured on it to release the flavour. The pouring was an art in itself, with the height of the spout being skilfully judged to create a pleasing layer of bubbles at the top of the glass. Don’t get me wrong, I am quite partial to mint tea. But believe me, you can have too much of a good thing…
Another thing I had rather too much of by the end of the trip was steps. As in ‘stairs’. There have been times when I have wondered about walking the Great Wall of China or climbing Macchu Pichu for charity. I am now pretty sure both of those are beyond the capabilities of my knees. Usually, I can do steps. Nice, evenly spaced European or even American steps. But I think the Moroccans created sets of steps with the aim in mind either (a) to trip you up / send you tumbling, or (b) to check your concentration levels. Not one single set of steps had either an even tread or an even rise. And handrails? Pah, they’re for lightweights. If I had a Dirham for every time I’d stumbled on the first or last step, I’d have brought home more money than I left with 🤣
So, what did I learn about myself?
Well, some simple things first. Like, I need to become a much more decisive souvenir shopper! I came home with very little… partly because I missed my last minute souvenir catch-up due to spending the day in hospital instead, but partly because of the number of times I thought I’d ‘come back for that later’, only to find the shop closed… or worse, not even be able to find the shop again 😂😂
On the other hand, I discovered I’m quite a good packer! I wore most of what I took, barring the outfits I had earmarked for the Lisbon leg of the trip. I did, however, take too much paraphernalia- No need for bath towel, hairdryer, or many of the boxes of emergency first aid bits and pieces or drugs that I carried … ‘just in case.’ And also, no need to give two novels a tour of north Morocco and return them to the UK unopened!! ‘Red’ magazine made it out of my hand luggage on the flight out and once in a hotel room, but the books? Totally unnecessary 🤣
I also learned that single supplements are worth their weight in gold! I relished the down times we had when I could retreat to my own space and write up my journal / blog / shower / snooze / FaceTime with my kids without interruption or having to consider the needs of others. I found the overnight train experience quite a challenge – sharing a very tight 4-berth compartment with other group members (who were still relative strangers) was not really my idea of ‘comfortable’… I was on a top bunk, trying hard not to snore and willing my bladder and sphincter to behave for fear of needing to clamber off my bunk in the dark and find my way the the loo… The very thought was horrifying 😱
I learned that I can safely leave my anxiety-ridden rescue dog with family or friends for over a week, and she will be fine! 🐶 And on the subject of anxiety, I learned that in terms of my own, I have proved to myself that a good deal of self-talk and a couple of powerful wing-women (thank you Georgia, Heather and Diane), I can face most things. Enjoy them even!! For two pins, I could have turned around and flown home when I missed my connection at the start and had to navigate new PCR tests and private taxi transfers to catch up the group. But I didn’t. And at the other end of the trip, the reverse was true – I knew that it was time to throw in the towel and head home rather than try to fulfil my stopover plans in Lisbon.
Solo travel / Group travel requires a willingness to embrace the unfamiliar and to go with the flow. Majority rules and all that. I learned to just smile and accept that things I might not have chosen if I was in control could still turn out great if I smiled and went with it.
Which brings me to my final point. Smiling. I’ve done a lot more of it since I got home. I have learned that my desire to see stuff and do stuff, to travel and experience the world is a real thing… and that in doing so, my outlook on life changes for the better. I am looking outward in a much more positive and fulfilled way, and I know that my next adventure is just over the horizon.