Writing about travels and experiences in some places is easier than others – some stories write themselves and it’s hard to edit them down to a readable length. I’ve struggled on how to write my memories of Morocco. On paper, and in reality, Morocco has it all – amazing scenery, unique cultural experiences and dynamic cities. Looking at these things objectively I would say that it is off the charts in all of these categories too, still I was left with a strange feeling after time in the country.
I’ve spent a lot of time since leaving the country reflecting on what travel means to me personally. After some reflection I’ve came to realize that for me there are several components that must be in some way there, otherwise I’m left feeling empty or that I haven’t really experienced a place in the same way as others.
First, I’m used to travelling to countries and places where I have an interest or knowledge in the culture, history or both. To me this provides a baseline for enriching my knowledge even more, and in the simplest of terms, it gives me guidance and what I want to see and do in that place. The Balkans and much of Central Europe are certainly this for me – anyone who knows me has probably been subjected to me babbling on about the history and politics of the region at one time or another. It’s precisely this that can define my interest in going to certain places while in the region…. It’s what turns visiting Banja Luka into something more than simply a strange stop in a small city in Bosnia into me wanting to go there and understand what is so different about this place and it’s people that they want a separate state from their neighbors.
Next, I tend to remember and cherish the experiences that would fit categorization as a “sight” in any guidebook. This is the toughest one. One can’t seek out certain experiences – randomly seeing a newborn piglet in a Romanian home because we needed a key to get in the town church, having a friendly innkeeper prepare us a hot goulash meal at 9pm because we arrived late, biking in the blustery cold streets of Vienna in December….. I could go on…. To me, these are the gifts of travel, and certain places give these gifts more than others.
This all leads me to my thoughts on Morocco. I can’t imagine soon forgetting the feeling of the first walk through the Medina in Fez….complete disorientation, confusion, but delight at seeing a completely different way of life than anything I’m used to. In that way the journey through Morocco started on a very high note for me. Even if it was difficult, and somewhat uncomfortable it rewarded in the most exotic manner. Later on, the Sahara desert was exactly as I imagined from the stories Babci had told me (even if I’m not certain if she ever left the cities of Morocco)….vast, beautiful in its starkness and covered in a blanket of perfect stars. The coast, first in Mirleft and Legzira Plage and eventually in Essaouira was an incredibly welcome respite from the long night buses and dusty interior of the land. Finally, Marrakesh with its central square packed full of a cacophony for the senses – a man with an ape, elders telling stories to an oil lamp to young children, and endless food hawkers.
All of these memories looked at independently rank high up in my bank of travel memories! Yet, somehow, there was a strange lack of cohesion and unique experiences that, for me, failed to bond it together into an unforgettable destination. In addition, unlike some places I’ve been where locals seem to treat you as a friend and family member without any expectation in return, a sadly large amount of my Moroccan experiences were quite the opposite – ones that left me more defensive and ready for the next scam or overcharging to come. Also I came to Morocco quite excited at the culinary prospects – the land of Couscous, Tagines…spicy Harissa!! After trying most of the national dishes in a variety of restaurants from home in the wall to fancy I’m left very confused. Where was the spice? Where was the flavor? Why did the Couscous that my Mom made in the 90’s have more flavor than those of Morocco? (To her credit she explained this very succinctly when we spoke several days ago – you’ve got to cook the Couscous in chicken broth she says…so listen up Moroccans!)
This is by no means meant as a hatchet piece on an entire country and its people. Perhaps it was the way I approached the places we journeyed in Morocco that led to this experience. Perhaps my expectation wasn’t aligned with reality and this colored the experience more than it should have. I certainly take partial responsibility for my experiences and memories.
“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” – I believe this little G.K. Chesterton gem was on my first profile back in the late 90’s on the travel BB’s of the time on the internet. The older I get and more trips I am able to have taken I realize that I might be a decent traveler, but I’m not so sure I’m the best tourist….
I leave you with some of the beauty that we’ve seen at the end of our time in Morocco and the travels that led us to the heart of Transylvania…..
Morocco (Legzira Plage, Mirleft, Marrakesh, Essaouira)
Slovak Republic (Bratislava)
Romania (Sighisoara, Saschiz)