Morocco – A Story In Pictures

I just got back from an incredible 15-day trip to Morocco. I was initially a bit worried about traveling to Morocco after the disturbing news that came out of there in December. Thankfully, the trip turned out the exceed all my expectations. I never felt unsafe. The Moroccan people were extremely welcoming, and eager to show us their country. Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip, each one with its own story.

Random street corner, Fes

December 22, 2018: Our first stop in Morocco was Casablanca. We had been told that there isn’t too much to see over here, so we had only one evening. Our hotel was just a block away from the Grande Mosquée Hassan II – the largest mosque in Africa. It was around 5pm, and we had to stay awake for a few more hours to get over the jet-lag, so we walked over to check out the mosque. People were there with their kids, just hanging around and enjoying the sunshine. As we got to the mosque, the sun had settled down over the city and was shining directly through the series of arches that surround the mosque:

December 23, 2018: Fes is the cultural capital of Morocco. If you want to buy leather goods, carpets, shoes, the iconic Moroccan “Fes” hat, this is where you should do that. We got into Fes after a three hour train ride from Casablanca. After settling in, we walked into our first medina of this trip. A “medina” is a traditional old, Arab area that is characteristic of cities throughout Northern Africa. A typical medina will have maze-like tiny streets with stores everywhere. Tourists and locals will be squeezing through the tiny streets, often sharing the already restricted space with donkeys, street vendors, carts, and sometimes, even scooters. It’s not something that most westerners have ever seen, and this was the case with my girlfriend, who was instantly on the edge as we walked through the tiny alley ways. After the initial fear went away, she was a bit more relaxed:

December 24, 2018: Fes is known for its tanneries. The interesting mix of colors on display is offset by the horrible stench of decaying organic matter. Often times, the store owners of shops next to the tanneries will offer to let you go upstairs through their shops and view the tanneries next door in exchange for a little money. Make sure you haggle it down to nothing more than 5 dirham (50 US cents). They will likely offer you some mint to help you deal with the smell. Keep that mint close to your nose as much as possible, except for a picture I guess:

December 24, 2018: We stayed at a riad in Fes. A “riad” is a traditional Moroccan house with a central courtyard/garden, often characterized by intricate designs and patterns on the walls and windows. If you ever visit Morocco, I would recommend staying at a riad (you can book them using Expedia, for example). Our room at Riad Andalib in Fes had a very nice window with colored panels, that just happened to look over the courtyard. The skylight over the courtyard shone through the colored panels, illuminating the opposite wall inside our room in multiple colors. Sensing some photographic potential, I asked my girlfriend to stand in front of the window. It took a few attempts before she stopped laughing and posed seriously:

December 25, 2018: After a 3.5 hour taxi ride from Fes, we arrived in Chefchaouen, a quaint little mountain town where everything is painted blue – the houses, stairs, walls, doors, you name it. Shortly after arriving, we walked through the tiny old town alleyways in search for Chez Hicham, a restaurant that we had heard had a nice rooftop. We took our time getting to it, because literally everything around us was begging to be photographed. A few stores had bags of colored powder lined up outside, which stood out even more given all the blue surrounding us:

December 25, 2018: My girlfriend posed for the camera somewhere among the blue alleys of Chefchaouen, and got photobombed by a little kid playing football (soccer, if you’re American):

December 26, 2018: It was our last night in Chefchaouen before heading back down to Fes and catching the train to Marrakech. As we walked to Lala Mesouda for dinner, we discovered a little art gallery close by and learned that there would be live music there later at night. After dinner, we walked back to it and sat down to watch a local band play. With traditional Morrocan tea in our hands, a rather romantic, candle-lit ambience, and good music to listen to, we couldn’t have asked for a better ending to our visit:

December 28, 2018: As a visitor to Morocco, you’re very likely to end up in Marrakech. It has the biggest, and most intense medina that we saw during our entire trip. There was a lot more heckling, lots of unwanted attention, lots of scooters and animals squeezing through the crowds, and just a lot more chaos in general. It is a lot to take in, especially after coming from a quaint little town like Chefchaouen. We had spent all of the previous day traveling down to Marrakech and were eager to explore. Marrakech has an interesting juxtaposition of really upscale restaurants with rooftops sitting right alongside the stores, and people living in poverty. We spent two days walking through the souks, and then popping into one of these restaurants to take a break from the chaos. One of the restaurants recommended to us was Nomad. After losing our way a few times, we got to it and went up to the terrace right around sunset. As we waited for our food, I walked around the terrace, politely asking patrons to let me take photos of the view over their heads. Luckily, no one objected:

December 28, 2018: Shopping in Marrakech is quite the endeavor. Between all the store owners trying to get you to buy from them, and the hecklers trying to help you get to wherever you want (or don’t want) to go, you have to also remember to haggle over the price. Me and my girlfriend walked into a store to buy her some shoes. The owner was a chatty, young Moroccan man. Right after he had haggled and negotiated prices with us, he started giving us advice on how to avoid getting scammed in Morocco. The situation was a tad ironical, but I don’t think he felt that way :). As he was packing up the shoes for us, he noticed that I was taking photos of some shoes. He asked me if I would take a photo of him and his friend, as a memory of our shopping adventure in Marrakech:

December 29th, 2018: The Bahia Palace is one of the main attractions in Marrakech. If you want to see this, I’d highly recommend getting there early, as opposed to rolling in at noon like we did. The line to buy a ticket was 30 minutes long, and local guides would keep cutting it to get their tickets first. Anyway, once you do get inside, the palace is quite nice. Lots of patterned walls, arches, skylights, and windows with colored panels. At one point, I asked my girlfriend to stop for a picture. I leaned back against a wall behind me to take the shot. Suddenly, she raised her phone and took a photo of me taking a photo of her:

December 30, 2018: Our next destination after Marrakech was Dades Valley, which is sort of like the Grand Canyon of Morocco. After a 5AM wakeup, and a 6AM departure, we eventually arrived at the valley around 2PM. The road snaked up and down the cliff face as it made its way through the valley, overlooking the river that cut through it. We stopped at some point on this road, and our guide, Adil, asked us to follow him off the road, and down to the river. We had no idea what to expect and we started hiking down over the rocks. When we got down to the river, we discovered that a nomad and his family were staying there, and had agreed to host us for lunch! Carpets had been laid out for us, and the smell of warm food filled the air. We saw our hosts cooking over a little fire, and sat down on the carpet to wait. While we waited, one of them poured out some traditional Moroccan tea to warm us up:

December 31, 2018: Our next stop, after a good night’s sleep at Dades Valley was the Sahara Desert. After yet another early wake up, we started our drive just as the sky started turning blue, then purple, then pink, and orange. Our shuttle driver pulled into a gas station by the highway just as the sun peeked over the hills in the distance. We got out to stretch our legs. It was really cold, and my body was absolutely not ready to face the near-freezing temperature. At this point, someone had the brilliant idea to do an early morning hip-hop dance session. Someone else suddenly produced a bluetooth speaker and four people started performing a little choreographed routine. I quickly grabbed my camera and sat down on the ground to catch the sunlight shining through their legs. After getting this shot, I promptly put the camera away, and joined the party, along with about 20 other people. It was a great way to beat the cold:

December 31, 2018: After a whole day of driving, we arrived in Mhamid, the last town before paved road ends, and the desert officially begins. To go further, we got into 4x4s, and started making our way over sand and shrubs into the Sahara. After 1.5 hours, we saw what looked like a mountain range, but was actually a bunch of sand dunes. Our camp site was right next to one of the dunes. We arrived just before sunset, and promptly started walking up to the highest sand dune in sight. The last sunset of the year was happening right before us, as we made our way up. It is hard to describe how I felt in that moment, but suffice to say that it was a pretty nice way to close out 2018:

January 1, 2019: After a lovely feast and just after midnight, we walked out of the dinner tent to look at the sky. The Milky Way was clearly visible – a band of stars stretching all the way across the sky. Our campsite was still producing a bit too much ambient light, so we walked over the adjacent sand dune, and then another one for good measure. Just as we stopped walking and looked up, a shooting star went across the sky leading to a collective “Ooooooh” from the entire group. Everyone lay down quietly. No one spoke a word – they simply looked up at the stars. I set up my tripod, and attempted to get a long exposure photo of the sky. After a couple of less-than-satisfying attempts, I moved the camera to point in a different direction, hoping to get something better. As I opened the shutter for another 25-second exposure, someone turned on a red headlamp behind me, pointing in the opposite direction. They quickly turned it back off, but I was worried that it might have ruined the shot. I waited for the shutter to close and looked at my camera screen. The sand in my photo had an eerie red glow that made it look as if it was taken on Mars. There was also a weird orange glow in the distance that turned out to be light from our campsite, reflected off of the clouds above it. It was going to be hard to out-do this one:

January 1, 2019: It was time to head out of the desert, and back into civilization. We made our way back to Mhamid, and got into out shuttles. Our next stop was a little village called Amazraou, just next to Zagora. We walked down a tiny street, past a mosque that was over 500 years old, around the corner and past a synagogue, also 500 years old, down another alley, through an antique store, and out into another alley. Just as we came around a corner, I saw a woman sitting with her child in the doorway of her house. They looked at me, and she smiled, almost anticipating that I would take a photo:

January 1, 2019: Still in Amazraou, we walked into a local jewelry store that sold assorted pieces of silver jewelry. While explaining the meaning of certain symbols on a trinket, the owner offered to show us how it was made. We first walked into a foundry, where two men were making molds that would eventually be used to shape molten silver. Next, we walked over to another room where one man was actually melting silver over a small fire. There was a white-hot container sitting in the fire, presumably containing the silver that would soon be in a liquid state. The owner sat down, and took over. He cranked up the fire a notch. Sparks flew into the air. Everyone looked at the glowing container that turned brighter, and whiter. I sat down, and raised my camera:

January 2, 2019: We got to a Aït Benhaddou, the site of an old fortified village, that also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage site. Right by the village is a hill that overlooks the whole town. We decided to climb this hill right before sunrise. It was pretty dark when we set out and the moon was shining brightly over us. We got to the top of the hill after a quick 20 minute hike, and waited. Slowly, the horizon turned pink. The glow intensified, reflected down from the clouds, then again off of the river down below us. The early morning wake-up was worth it:

January 3, 2019: As we were checking out from our hostel in Aït Benhaddou, I noticed a little courtyard that looked cute. I decided it was time to hand someone the camera and get a photograph for myself. Pity that the fountain wasn’t on:

January 3, 2019: As we drove out towards Agadir to surf for the next two days, we went past (what looked like) an abandoned gas station on the highway. It looked strangely non-Moroccan, perhaps even American. Naturally, we pulled over. Out guide informed us that this was actually a set for the movie “The Hills Have Eyes”, which is a horror movie. Everyone instantly went about taking pictures of all the scary objects and mannequins that were still lying around the gas station. Four of us decided that the middle of the highway would make for a much better photograph, especially if we all were airborne. The tank tops read “You were born to do more than just pay bills and die”:

January 6, 2019: The adventure was over, for the time being. I had a broken phone screen, a cracked camera screen, and a sprained finger from surfing (and falling). On the upside, I got to explore a new country, eat its food, meet its people, learn about its culture, and re-discover my love for traveling that had been overshadowed by work for the last few months. It was time to head back to New York City’s winter, but also to start thinking of travels up ahead:

Photo by @deshoots

2 thoughts on “Morocco – A Story In Pictures

  1. WHOA. Can’t decide which is more inspiring, between your narrative and your photos — but in combination they make for an *incredible* adventure for your readers. Thank you for sharing your trip (and your insights) so beautifully. Love that last frame especially; clearly, you’re following your own advice. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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