Morocco, a land weaved with colours

Morocco held a very special place in my heart because it was the first of many for me. It was my first backpacking trip staying at hostels, sharing dorm rooms with other travellers and it was also my first trip to Africa. One could argue that Morocco is too French to be called part of Africa; I can absolutely relate to that argument but geographically, I believe that it still counts.

Morocco was an incredibly beautiful country; I came across very diverse landscapes from Mediterranean sea towns, snow-capped mountains to dry arid plains and desserts. Saying that I was mindblown is an understatement; vibrant and contrasting colours, textures and patterns weaving through the land were mesmerizing. Morroco was nothing that I imagined but it was so much more.

I spent two weeks travelling in Morocco, visited Marakkesh (Erg Chebbi desert and Atlas mountains), Tangier, Chefchaouen, Fez and Casablanca. I really had a great time seeing all these places – I started my first day feeling mindblown and thought it is not going to get any better. Yet, Morocco kept surprising me with its beauty.

I really wanted to go to Essaouira but I couldn’t fit it into my schedule; perhaps I could visit next time. Toubkal mountain is another place that I missed out, so hopefully, I can go for a hike there next time.

1. Marrakesh

After landed in Casablanca, I took the train south to Marrakesh. It was intimidating for me navigating through labyrinthine-like Medina; I was never able to navigate through the streets properly but after finding out later that they are meant to make the invaders lost – so I take this that their design works!

Viewing Windows at Ben Youssef Madrasa
Viewing Windows at the Ben Youssef Madrasa

Jemaa el-Fnaa, the public square at the heart of the old town was both mindblowing and intimidating at the same time. It is a massive square filled with street vendors, shops and performers (also read as Touristy) – it does have a certain charm to this place. I visited the other attractions like Majorelle Garden, Bahia Palace or El Badi Palace over the next few days.

Entrance to Ben Youssef Madrasa
Entrance to the courtyard of the Ben Youssef Madrasa

Marrakesh was amazing for me because I felt that I was transported back in time and into a different world (you know, like Tatooine from Star Wars or somewhere in the land of the Arabian Nights). Every sight and sound was new to me, the colours are so vibrant and weaved in with patterns – that’s when I start to feel that Morocco is amazing.

2. Erg Chebbi Desert and the Atlas Mountains

Undoubtedly, this is one of the greatest highlights of this trip!!! I was indecisive initially but I was really glad that I went; I joined a group tour – 4 days 3 nights desert tour as it was impractical to travel on my own. Again, I am glad that I decided on this option rather than 2 days 1 night option because the shorter tour brings you to nearby sand dunes near Marrakesh which is hardly proper sand dunes rather than what you will get to see in Erg Chebbi where the sand dunes rise and fall as far as your eyes can see.

First, the highland pass – I wasn’t expected to see snow in Morocco, so it was a pleasant surprise for me; who would imagine that I will see snow-capped mountains first before getting to the dessert?

Snow-covered Atlas Mountains near Tizi-n-Tichka Pass
The Snow-covered Atlas Mountains near Tizi-n-Tichka Pass

Aït Benhaddou was definitely worth visiting – the view from the top of the settlement was really stunning; date trees with fields around the settlements and dry lands as far as your eyes can see – that’s probably how an oasis should look like, I suppose.

Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou, a World UNESCO Heritage Site
Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou, a World UNESCO Heritage Site
View from Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou
View from the vantage point of Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou

Then, Erg Chebbi desert was majestic; with sand dunes stretching all the way the horizon as far as your eyes can see and as the sun set, the last light of the day painted the whole landscape a warm glow.

Sunset in Erg Chebbi Desert
Sunset in the Erg Chebbi Desert

With the sun going down, the temperature dropped rapidly and by the night comes, it was too cold to get out from the blanket. It was the first time ever that I get to see the entire milky way with all the stars in their full glory – maybe because it is away from all the manmade lights and the sky being free of clouds, I never know that we can see so many stars (I can even see the constellations so clearly!)

Sunrise in the Horizon in Erg Chebbi Desert
Sunrise on the Horizon in the Erg Chebbi Desert

3. Tangier

After seeing the desert, I returned back to Marrakesh because my plan was to take the overnight sleeper train to Tangier. I should have gone to Essaouira from the desert first before returning back to Marrakesh but I found out too last minute; hence I missed out Essaouira. People tend to go to Fez after the desert but I decided not to – because Fez and Marrakesh shares some resemblance and I thought Tangier would a nice fresh sight.

Small Roads at Tangier Medina
Small Roads at Tangier Medina

And I was right – Tangier was beautifully painted in white and blue; overlooking at the Mediterranean sea – it was such a welcome sight after seeing sand and date trees for the last few days.

Seaside Cafe at Tangier
View of the Atlantic Ocean from Tangier, overlooking Spain across Gibraltar

A lot of people tend to skip Tangier as there isn’t much to see – but I really like Tangier as it has a nice laidback atmosphere; people watching from a cafe in the old Tangier was akin to being in a cold war era spy movie scene where you are meeting an informant to trade secrets.

View from a Cafe in the Tangier Medina
View from a Cafe in the Tangier Medina

I was running out of things to do by the second day (I stayed there for three days) but it was a good thing that I slowed down in Tangier as I fall sick and at least it helped to get some rest.

Local Convenience Store in Tangier
Local Convenience Store in Tangier

4. Chefchaouen

Next destination was Chefchaouen – the famed poster child of Morocco tourism industry. It is a small hillside town painted all in blue – which doesn’t look that impressive when you see but it looks incredible in the photos; the blue looks so beautiful and vibrant.

Carpets in Chafchaouen
Carpets in Chafchaouen

Regrettably, I was only spending one night there and still sick, I didn’t get much chance to see the town. Some of the other travellers went for a hike to the mountain behind for the waterfall and the view of the town from a high ground but I was still too sick for that.

View of the Mountain behind Chafchaouen
View of the Mountain behind Chafchaouen

5. Fez

Fez was one of the more conservative, traditional and older ancient cities in Morocco, much similar to Marrakesh and filled with beautiful historical buildings. As with all the medina in Morocco, the streets were insanely complex and the sheer size of the medina made the exploration an even more daunting task.

Interior of the Madrasa Bou Inania in Fez
Interior of the Madrasa Bou Inania in Fez
Wall of a Water Fountain in Fez Medina
Wall of a Water Fountain in Fez Medina

If you are in Fez, you need to visit a Tannery where they processed the leather before making them into goods. Supposedly, if you can navigate your way through the medina, you can go into any leather shop behind the tannery (multiple leather shops share the same tannery) for the view – but reaching to the tannery was a crazy and impossible task, so I get a local guide to brought me there.

View of the Tannery from the Leather Shop
View of the Tannery from the Leather Shop
Leather being Processed in the Tannery
Leather being Processed in the Tannery

I went to the hill above Fez where Merenid Tombs are located for the view the town – it reminds of Assassin Creed games where you have the beautiful bird-eye vintage view of the city.

View of Fez against the Crumbling Walls
View of Fez against the Crumbling Walls

6. Casablanca

My last stop was Casablanca before flying back to Singapore and by the time I was there, I was so exhausted and just decided not to do anything. Perhaps, if I visit Morocco again, I should explore Casablanca – at least visit Hassan II Mosque.

My trip to Morocco was nothing short of amazing sights and beautiful landscapes. I am really glad that I didn’t cancel the trip and went there. I think being my first backpacking trip, Morocco takes a special place in my mind and when I think about my experience, it always brings a smile back to me.

Another thing that I learnt is that it is not always important to have the research done intensively where to go, what to see and what to eat. I didn’t book any accommodation or transportation, know how to navigate the cities – but I had a great experience there. Of course, having the research done is crucial for a good trip but there is great virtue in going with the flow and be in the moment.

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