This story took place in November of 2016. I was living in Spain at the time and took advantage of the fact that Morocco was right next door by going on a 10-day trip to visit some of the main parts of the country.
It was my first time traveling to a place outside of North America or Europe so it was a totally new and unique experience for me from the moment I landed in Marrakech.
Act I: Culture Shock in Marrakech
Before visiting Morocco, I don’t think I had ever truly experienced culture shock before, but it didn’t take long for me to experience it in Marrakech. The city is known for its historic old center, called a medina, which is the biggest draw for tourists. It’s home to a huge square with a sprawling maze of small streets surrounding it that you can easily get lost in if you’re not careful.
One of my first experiences was watching some snake charmers in the middle of the square do their thing when one of them came up to me and placed a snake on my head. He told me to take a selfie, which I did. However, he then demanded that I pay him 10€ for the photo which I refused to do since I never asked for him to place that snake on my head and take that photo. Imagine if I had a fear of snakes!
That experience was my first instance of culture shock, but it wouldn’t be my last. There are many stalls and local shops lined along the small streets in the medina and every single shop owner makes it their mission to get your money somehow. Constantly harassing you and offering every single item they have in their shop, regardless of whether or not you’re actually interested in their wares.
At first it was overwhelming, but then it just became annoying and something I tried to avoid as much as possible as it wasn’t a pleasant experience. However, what was a pleasant experience were the super cheap fresh fruit juices and smoothies that you can get from the stalls in the middle of the main square. They were so delicious and a great start to my day!
This is all in contrast to the city’s modern district which is full of expensive bars and clubs. Here’s the thing: alcohol is heavily discouraged by the government, but you wouldn’t know that if you visited the modern district. While they often crack down on normal citizens that consume alcohol, they seem to turn a blind eye to its consumption in these fancy bars and nightclubs, most likely to allow the elite and wealthy to have their fun.
Morocco is not an expensive country to visit, but a single drink in one of these bars or clubs would cost you more than a full meal in the normal parts of the city. And Marrakech is not the only city with a district like this, most of the major cities in the country have one. However, I only visited the one in Marrakech out of curiosity and it was enough for me.
I’m a budget traveler so I couldn’t justify spending that much on drinks at a club. My budget traveling tendencies are also the reason for my final experience in Marrakech which was one of the strangest I’ve ever had. After Marrakech, I was due to go on an organized group tour to visit the Sahara desert which I had found via a guy from Couchsurfing.
There are many Sahara desert tours that you can book, but this guy was promising a discount on his and even said I could spend the night at his place the night before the trip, saving me some extra money on accommodation. I couldn’t turn down that offer so on my last day in Marrakech, I got all my stuff from the hostel I was staying in and made my way to the address he gave me.
Act II: A Crazy Couchsurfing Experience
He lived a little bit outside the medina so I took a taxi to get there. Upon arrival, I see that the building seems a bit derelict, but then again, so do quite a few buildings in the city so it wasn’t too out of the ordinary. I made my way inside and up to his apartment.
The first thing I see upon entering is about 10 Moroccan guys sitting around a massive pot of tajine, which is one of the 2 main dishes eaten in the country (couscous being the other one). They motioned for me to join them and I’m not one to turn down free food so I sat down with them and started eating. If you imagined us eating with cutlery, you are wrong; this was a bare hands affair.
Most of them didn’t speak English (nor French, for that matter, even though it’s an official language in the country), so I wasn’t really able to communicate with most of them. However, one of them had connect four set up for some reason so I opted to challenge him to a game. I don’t know why, but I’m quite good at connect four so I beat him quite easily, including in the several re-matches we had.
It was a fun little moment that distracted me from the strange situation I found myself in. I was in an apartment with 10-15 Moroccan guys who were just sitting around hanging out. However, the apartment itself was even stranger as it didn’t have any windows. I mean, it had large openings where windows should be, but there was no glass covering these openings like normal windows would have.
In addition, there was no working shower in the apartment. The bathroom had a working toilet and sink, but a non-working bathtub. Since I had planned to shower that evening, this posed a problem. However, they told me I could still shower by dumping water over myself from a bucket of water that they would supply for me. Talk about old-school.
When it came time to go to bed, everyone was given a mat to sleep on as well as a pillow and blanket. There were about 20 people sleeping on the floor in this seemingly abandoned apartment. I was in a room with 2 other Western travelers who also found the guy through Couchsurfing and were also a bit confused by the situation, but we were all leaving the next morning so we didn’t worry about it too much.
The rest of the night was uneventful and I woke up the next morning ready to go to the meeting point for the Sahara desert tour!
Act III: The Sahara Desert
The meeting point was back at the main square of the medina so I got myself one last fruit shake and got into the small minibus with several other travelers who I would get to know over the next 3 days. The Sahara desert is located over 500km away from Marrakech and rather than spend a whole day traveling there, the tour was split into a 3 day/2 night trip with several stops along the way.
Passing through the Atlas Mountains, the first main stop was the famous ancient city of Ait Ben Haddou. We were given a tour of the site by a local and got a chance to take some nice photos before we continued on our journey. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant which seemed in the middle of nowhere. The food was quite pricey and wasn’t the greatest, but there weren’t any other options around so we had to deal with it.
Our second stop that day was a place where they made handmade rugs and tapestry, but it was really just a sales pitch to try to get us to buy them. Most of us weren’t really interested and wanted to get on with the rest of the tour however.
As the sun started to set, we stopped to sleep and have dinner in a hotel halfway to the Sahara. We slept in shared rooms and I got a chance to get to know some of the other people on the tour. I met an Argentinian guy and 2 Polish guys who were pretty cool and offered to take photos of me at the Sahara that they would send to me later.
The next morning, we set off for a pretty gorge which gave us some nice photo opportunities. When it was lunchtime, we again stopped at a restaurant that the tour guide directed us to, but this time the Polish guys and I looked for somewhere else we could eat instead and found a local who was willing to cook for us. His tajine was delicious and we were glad we found him!
After lunch, we were finally on our way to the desert! We arrived around 5pm in Merzouga which is the starting point for any desert visits. The plan was to spend the night camping in the desert, but to get to the campsite, we had to ride some camels. The sun was starting to set since it was November and by the time we reached the campsite, it was already a bit too dark to take photos.
However, I took the opportunity to make use of the SIM card I bought at the airport in Marrakech to try to video call my mom. Since it was dark outside, she couldn’t really see me, but the call was able to go through somehow and now I can actually say that I have called my mom from the Sahara desert!
We had dinner and a little campfire to end the night and when it came time to go to bed, I learned the hard way that the Sahara desert isn’t always as warm as you think it is. In fact, in the winter, temperatures can drop to below freezing. The tents didn’t have any heating so I had to put on pretty much every piece of clothing I brought with me in an attempt to stay warm.
However, I didn’t bring all that much with me so it didn’t work too well and needless to say, I didn’t sleep very well that night. However, I was planning to get up early anyways since the sunrise is one of the best times to take photos of the Sahara desert. Everyone else did the same and I was just in such awe at the spectacular natural beauty of it.
I think the Sahara desert should be on everyone’s bucket list and I wish I had more time to experience it, but we were scheduled to ride the camels back to Merzouga after breakfast so that was the end of my experience. Everyone else was going back to Marrakech that day, but I was continuing on to Fez as my next stop.
Act IV: Visiting Fez
The ride to Fez was not included in the tour so I had to find my own way there. There are no scheduled public buses between Merzouga and Fez, but in Morocco, there are taxis that are designated as long-distance taxis. You agree on a fare, and you basically go on a road-trip with your taxi driver to your destination.
I ran into some issues finding a taxi driver who would take me to Fez for a reasonable price, but I managed to run into two other Western tourists who were having issues with this as well so we banded together to make sure none of us would get ripped off. Our teamwork worked and we finally managed to get a reasonable price for the ride so off we went!
It was a very long drive, almost 8 hours long. It wasn’t the most comfortable ride I’ve ever been on, but it got me to where I needed to go and I was so relieved once we entered Fez! I parted ways with my road-trip partners and made my way to my hostel which was easy to find thanks to Google Maps, however that didn’t stop a multitude of locals from offering to help guide me there.
Here’s the thing though: they aren’t offering to help you out of the goodness of their hearts. If you accept their offer to walk you to your destination, they will then ask for money as soon as you arrive as payment for their service. Their persistence of offering to guide me to my hostel reminded me of the shop owners in Marrakech and was super annoying.
After a short walk, I found my hostel and checked in. It was already late and I was exhausted from the long drive so I planned to visit the city the next day. I had dinner and called it a night.
The next day, I ventured out to explore the medina of Fez which was even more of a labyrinth than that of Marrakech. At one point, not even Google Maps was helping and I was completely lost. I was with two other people from the hostel and they were also extremely frustrated by our situation.
We were so lost that locals would offer to help guide us out, but given our experience of having to deal with locals who would ask for money for giving us directions, we didn’t trust their intentions and were turning down any and all such offers, even ones that seemed genuine. It took a while, but eventually we found our way out, much to the pleasure of the other two people from my hostel.
Before we got lost, one of the places we visited was the Chouara Tannery which is one of the main tourist attractions in the city. It’s fascinating to watch the locals cure leather from above, but the smell is something else. I couldn’t last more than a few minutes there because the smell was just that strong.
Anyway, the main highlight of my time in Fez took place later that night. I found a German girl at my hostel and asked her if she wanted to grab some street food for dinner and explore the market together since going to a bar wasn’t really an option. She agreed and off we went! This is where it gets crazy.
Act V: Why I Love Traveling
The night started off uneventful. We grabbed some street food and wandered around the market because there wasn’t much else to do. We checked out all the stalls and spent about an hour doing that before deciding to turn back and return to our hostel. On the way back however, I heard music coming out of a building which was odd because up until that point, I thought the locals didn’t party unless it was at a fancy bar in the modern district.
I asked the few guys in front of the door who were standing there smoking what was going on and one of them invited us to go upstairs and take a look for ourselves. At this point, my curiosity was piqued so we went upstairs and checked it out. We poked our heads through the door upstairs and looked around.
Inside there was a big hall with chairs placed all along the walls and large tables scattered around. In those chairs were many Moroccan women and their children just sitting down as a DJ was playing Moroccan music. We didn’t want to be intrusive so we were about to turn around and head back downstairs when one of the women noticed us looking around and came over to us.
She spoke to us in French and thank goodness I spoke French because otherwise I probably wouldn’t be writing about this story right now. She essentially told us that this was a baby shower celebrating the birth of a new child. We thought okay that’s cool, but then something even cooler happened: she invited us to join the party!
I told the German girl about this and her eyes lit up, you could tell she was equally as bored of the non-existent nightlife in Morocco as I was and also equally as interested in having unique cultural experiences like this so without hesitation, we accepted her offer and she guided us into the hall. She told us we could sit at one of the tables and brought us chairs, plates, and cutlery which is when we also realized we would be getting food as well!
We weren’t really sure what to do since most of the people there didn’t speak English or French and because we weren’t really sure what the customs were for being guests at a Moroccan baby shower so we kinda just sat there for a while watching everything that was going on.
More people started arriving and eventually, they were making their way to the dance floor. At first, we weren’t sure if we should join them, but the woman who initially talked to us told us to come down and join in so we did! We did our best to match their dance moves, but we obviously weren’t very familiar with the Moroccan music being played.
However, the partygoers didn’t seem to mind and seemed to love seeing us, two random Westerners, enjoying the moment with them. Eventually, the star of the night, the newborn, showed up in the arms of the mother and everyone went crazy. They all went to say hi and congratulate the mother, but it didn’t take long for everyone to go back to the dancefloor!
Some more time was spent dancing before the food finally arrived. Since the German girl and I had already eaten street food beforehand, we weren’t super hungry, but we still indulged in the food that was offered to us, which was absolutely delicious. We were stuffed, but I was ready for some more dancing right afterwards. This was after all, the most partying I had done during this trip.
However, much to my dismay, people weren’t going back to the dancefloor after dinner. In fact, some people were starting to leave. We were super confused by this and asked what was going on. This is when we were told that the party was over! This was a complete surprise to me because I’m used to having dinner before dancing, not the other way around!
The biggest issue with the party ending was that I didn’t have a chance to take any photos of it before since I chose not to out of respect for the hosts. It wasn’t until after dinner that they told me that I could take photos and videos, but by then it was already too late since the party was over. This is why I don’t have any photos of the experience, unfortunately.
They did invite us to an afterparty in the fancy bars of the modern district, but we both had to wake up early in the morning so we politely declined and thanked them for letting us join them for the baby shower. We said our goodbyes and made our way back to the hostel, both of us now having a totally unique travel story that we could share with our friends back home!
I didn’t expect to have an experience equally as memorable as my visit to the Sahara desert, but you have to expect the unexpected when you’re traveling! The next morning, I woke up and caught the bus to my final destination in Morocco: Chefchaouen.
Act VI: My Final Few Days In Morocco
It was about a 4 hour bus ride to arrive and I actually chose to couchsurf there so my first stop was my host’s place. My host was a viral couchsurfer and loved to host multiple people at the same time so I was not the only traveler staying at her place. It almost felt more like a hostel than couchsurfing, but I didn’t mind! I left my things at her place and headed into town to explore the famous blue city of Morocco.
Similar to the Sahara desert, a visit to Morocco is not complete without a visit to Chefchaouen. The city is absolutely beautiful and is well-deserving of all the attention it gets from travel bloggers. The houses and buildings are all painted in a very pretty bright blue and the atmosphere is very relaxed which is a nice change from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech and Fez.
It’s not the biggest city and you can visit all of it in about a day, which is what I did. To end my day, I caught the sunset on a nearby hill which let me see the whole city from above as the sun was going down. This was a great end to my time in Morocco and it was very peaceful and relaxing.
Since I was returning to Spain by ferry, I left the next day to go to the departure port in the Spanish city of Ceuta, which is actually an exclave located on the African continent surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea on one side and Morocco on the other. It’s a strange place since it feels like you’re in Europe, but you’re actually still in Africa.
I love experiencing anomalies like these so I opted to buy a ticket for the last ferry of the day leaving at 5pm instead of buying one for an earlier ferry because I wanted to explore the city a little bit beforehand.
Ceuta isn’t really built for tourism and it doesn’t necessarily have all that much to see, but there is a large hill you can drive up to that gives you a great view of the city so I made it my mission to get up there. The only way I could really do that though was by taking a taxi to the top which is what I did.
After getting my view, I made my way back into the city to go catch my ferry and finish off my first ever trip to the African continent. All in all, it was a very memorable one from start to finish and gave me many memories that I still cherish to this day!
I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it! I highly recommend experiencing Morocco for yourself and if you’ve already been there, let me know about your experience in the comments below.
If you’ve never been, I hope this post helped give you an idea of what to expect if you do decide to visit. And if you’re already planning to go, be sure to check out my Morocco Destination Guide to get all the information you need to plan your trip!