Morocco: An Unexpected Gem

by Michael Gioia / Feb 15, 2010 /

In the fall of 2008, I was busy making last minute preparations for my voyage with Semester at Sea in the spring. The trips were paid for, my bags were beginning to get packed, and all of my free time was spent researching the countries I would soon be visiting.

Then, in the midst of all the international news surrounding the Somali pirate hijackings, Semester at Sea announced a major alteration to our upcoming voyage. No longer would we be passing through the Mediterranean and Red Seas en route to India, but would circumnavigate the southern coast of Africa instead. In exchange for the scheduled countries of Italy, Turkey and Egypt, we would now be visiting Morocco, Namibia and South Africa. My heart sank. Morocco, a country I knew virtually nothing about, seemed to be the last place I would want to visit during the semester. However, I soon discovered that Morocco is a country full of vibrant culture and unique endeavors unlike any place else in the world.

On the first day we drove from Casablanca down to Marrakech to explore the ancient 'Red City.' Passing through rolling green hills and many farms, we soon reached the city which sits near the edge of the Atlas Mountains.

 

 

Beginning our trip with a tour inside the medina walls, it felt as though I had stepped into a completely different world. From the smell in the air to the unique clothing, everything was completely different from what you would see in a modern city.

 

 

After visiting an ancient Viziers palace and the Saadiens Tombs, we ate lunch at a local restaurant before venturing to the electric Jemaa el Fna square that night.

 


 

The square is filled with snake charmers, dancers, and story tellers all waiting to impose their oddities on the dazed visitors. While many of these characters will demand extremely high fees for taking pictures, do NOT give in, and agree on a lower price before you take the actual picture. From the square, we retired to the Imperial Plaza and Spa Hotel for the night and enjoyed a very Moroccan buffet-style dinner.

 

The next day, we left early to ride ATV's through a Moroccan village in very wet, muddy conditions. As we rode through the village, we were greeted by many schoolchildren who would run alongside to give us high-fives and cheer us on as we rode.

 

When we made a stop in a small house in the village for some Moroccan Mint Tea- some of the best tea there is- I had to use the bathroom. What I found, however, was merely a hole in the ground- a typical Moroccan toilet that left me a little anxious to say the least.


 

Our next (and most anticipated) activity for the day was camel riding through the Palm Groves of Marrakech. We were greeted by men who quickly tied head wraps on each of us as they paired us up to be matched with our camels. Riding on the back of a camel through one of the most beautiful areas I have ever been to was certainly one of the highlights of my entire semester. Even though I was pretty sore by the end of the trip, I would have loved to stay on my camel even longer.

 

 

The remainder of the day consisted of a visit to a local pharmacy supposedly specializing in herbal and natural healing products, and a visit to the local hookah bar Soukra. Filled with so many varied and exciting activities, it seemed that Marrakech was a city that offered something fun for each person with varying interests.

 


 

The last day was spent traveling back to Casablanca and just wandering through the city. I was able to find some relatively cheap, beautiful artifacts and enjoyed a more American style lunch at Ricks Cafe (a replica of the famous cafe from the film Casablanca). Returning to the ship after only a couple of days in Morocco, I realized that while I was able to do so many new and interesting things, there was still so much more of the amazing country that I didn't get to see. Even though a lot of people felt somewhat indifferent towards the country, I myself found it to be one of the most unique and eye-opening places I have ever been to.

 


 

Looking back on it, it seems that a change in plans I was genuinely upset about turned out to be one of the best surprises of the entire semester. I probably would not have visited Morocco on my own terms for some time, yet now I find myself anxious to return one day to see all of the other parts of the country I wasn't able to. Had I still been angry and bitter about the switch, I probably wouldn't have allowed myself to just enjoy the new experience and appreciate the fact that I was still going to see an amazing country. I realized then that being flexible and adaptable is an absolute necessity when visiting foreign countries, and is perhaps the most useful trait you can take with you wherever you go.

Traveling and flexibility seem to go hand in hand, so learning to accept changes to itineraries is something that all avid travelers should learn to get used to early on in their pursuits. Keeping yourself open to new plans and alternatives enables you to turn things that at first seem disappointing into pleasant surprises in the end.

The next time you are contemplating where to go or what country to see, maybe venture somewhere on the map that you would have never imagined yourself visiting. It just may turn out to be one of your favorites.

 

#StudyAbroadBecause

 

 

 

This is part of a series on international education, as part of our commitment to #GenerationStudyAbroad and our commitment to the White House Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship. You'll find many more inspiring stories here on Wandering Educators!

 

 

Michael Gioia is the International Experiences Editor for Wandering Educators

 

Comments (1)

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    11 years 7 months ago

    michael - i can't wait to get to morocco. your story - and photos - have added fuel to that travel fire. thanks!

     

    Jessie Voigts, PhD

    Publisher, wanderingeducators.com

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