Morocco, a North African country slightly larger than California, lies across the Strait of Gibraltar.
It’s a country so diverse geographically where visitors experience may range from the bustling port city of Casablanca, the high-altitude Blue City, Chefchouen, traversing the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara Desert and visiting the myriad of coastal towns and cities. Approximately 274 ethnic groups live in Morocco; the Berbers comprise the largest non-Arab group. Morocco had been on my radar for some time as it truly has something to offer for everyone, which felt essential when planning a trip for a family with four adult children.
My husband shares my passion for travel, and enjoys being outside of his comfort zone, experiencing new and unfamiliar cultures. As our children grew older, we agreed to prioritize travel experiences over gifts grounded in the belief that our children would gain more in the long term. Traveling became one way in which we had a chance to reconnect and recharge away from the distractions that everyday life brings, learning history, geography, cultural sensitivity, and flexibility. We enjoyed local hiking and camping trips. Our road trips took us far and wide, always offering us a chance to pause and genuinely listen to one another relatively free of distraction.
As the children grew older, we earmarked a travel budget, expanding our family trips to include places off the beaten path. Some trips brought us to developing nations, which offered opportunities to connect with other nationalities, broaden their perspectives, appreciating the richness of different cultures. We would notice our children’s fascination with new cultures, and merely exploring small grocery stores stocked with items they had never seen before became an experience. In retrospect, I recognize that our children learned to appreciate different cultural perspectives, try new things and grow attentive when listening to people speaking in English as a second language, all of which have served them well.
In August, I presented the idea of a family trip to Morocco over the winter break. When our two oldest children put in requests for vacation time from their demanding full-time jobs and our two college-aged children agreed to spend their winter vacation with us, my enthusiasm for this trip soared. But my concerns about what could go wrong with distinct personalities outside of their comfort zone for two full weeks caused some angsts. To dissipate my tension, I involved each family member in the trip planning process to give them ownership in the process.
Our journey began in Casablanca, home to Humphrey Bogart’s film by the same name and the impressive Hassan II Mosque. We then traveled onto Fes, the spiritual capital of Morocco and a UNESCO World Heritage site, boasting one of the world’s largest walled in cities with winding, labyrinthine streets, and stunning architectural highlights. The narrow streets lined with colorful spice stands, Berber carpets storefronts, and fresh fruit carts are enchanting. Taking it all in, one may suddenly need to quickly step aside to make room for a donkey driven cart. Our oldest son, Slade, was captivated by Instagram images he’d seen of Chefchaouen, also known as the Blue City, and we included it in our itinerary. The Blue City, known for its beautiful blue-washed buildings and streets, is situated in the picturesque Rif Mountains. Some say the blue serves as a spiritual reminder of the sky and calls one to lead a more spiritual life. I appreciated the spiritual reminders, and the serene, beautiful city was charming, unlike any other I had seen before.
We carefully maneuvered through the winding middle Atlas Mountains with its jagged rock face to Erfoud, and then continued in a four-wheel drive for our adventure across the majestic Sahara Dunes. Later in the day, we met the dromedaries that would transport us through the dunes at sunset towards our authentic Berber tents. Feeling exhausted from our fast-paced travel, the thought of a peaceful night’s rest and the chance to stargaze away from light pollution soothed me. We all found ourselves captivated by the dromedaries with their large brown eyes exceptionally long curly eyelashes that protect them from the sand and opening and closing nostrils. Their height was a little startling at first but provided a new perspective on the “ships of the desert,” and the opportunity to appreciate the awe-inspiring Sahara Desert from up high. We came to quickly understand that when a dromedary decides to stop and sit down, they bend their long front legs requiring the rider to actively engage the core and lean back to avoid an unpleasant face-first fall.
The desert is vast and peaceful, and as the sun set, the sand turned to a magical golden yellow color with orange and pink hues, offering a continually changing landscape of dunes. Without light pollution and the absence of clouds, the stars are bright and clear, an astrophotographer’s dream. The following morning, we silently made our way out in the cold chill of dawn to sit peacefully, watching the beautiful dance of changing colors from dark grey to pink and then bright white as the sun rose in the Sahara Desert.
The last part of our trip included snaking our way through the rugged High Atlas Mountains towards the Todra Gorges onto the coastal fishing village of Essaouira for our last sleep in Morocco. We stopped along the way to see the unique tree-climbing goats. I silently admitted to myself that this country had captured my heart and imagination. Goat herders lead their goats towards the argan trees, and yes, the goats happily climb into the treetops to feast on the nuts. Witnessing those goats scale Argan trees is an unforgettable sight we will all treasure for years to come. The ingested nuts are ultimately regurgitated and become valuable in the production of upscale Moroccan Argan oil.
Morocco magically transported me to a world so different from anything I’d had ever experienced before and offered something that delighted everyone in our party of six. I boarded the plane in Casablanca, knowing that Morocco is a country that I feel drawn to visit again in the future.
“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert
Photos from Natasha Reisner