DAY 1: I’m in a van with my friend I met only three months prior to this trip and five other girls I do not know. There is a tall and tanned man driving us, making small talk with us in broken English.
“Where are you from?” “Where are you studying?” “Have you ever been to Morocco before?”
Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) by Shakira is playing on the radio. We’re driving on a barely paved road as mopeds zoom past us. One moped driving next to our van had a man driving, and a woman behind him with a head scarf covering every inch of her face but her eyes. The only thing that separated the man and woman was an infant baby being held by the woman. No seatbelts, no helmets, no carrier for the infant baby; just the two seat moped and the open, warm African air.
I peered out the window taking in everything about this foreign landscape.
Suddenly the van came to a halt in the middle of the city center. The door flung open and a young white male eagerly greeted us.“Yo what’s up guys! My name is Cody. Welcome to Africa! Are you excited to be here?”
Cody was our tour guide through Bus2Alps, a program led by trained and certified individuals who have a passion for travel. He led us through the tight alleyways of Marrakech, Morocco, where locals sold handmade crafts of jewelry, purses; notebooks, blankets; pants, and scarves.
“This would look great on you,” men shouted, placing various hats, scarves and toys on your shoulder as you walked past their stands. “Stay close!” Cody would shout to us causing a scene, as if we did not stick out enough.
After being led through the ins and outs of the alleyways by Cody we reached our hostel.
Once we were settled in, Cody led the group back out to the city center to get ‘dirham’ the official Moroccon currency. “How do you get so lucky, all these wives,” a Moroccon man shouted at Cody as the seven of us girls followed. We got pulled into various food huts as menus were shoved in our faces as the men tried to lure us to have dinner at their numbered food hut. We shuffled our feet and kept our heads down as we tried not to make eye contact with the men.
We followed Cody back to the hostel, where we met the rest of the group.
A traditional dinner commenced later that evening. We danced with Moroccon musicians and feasted upon traditional dishes like couscous, various grilled meats, and drank the national drink of mint tea.
DAY 2: The sun was out and the temperature had steadily increased, preparing to reach 100 degrees that day. Our activity in the 100 degree heat: atving.
We jumped back into a van that transported us out of the city center and into the desert. We arrived to a large building in the middle of the desert with over 20 ATVs lined up, ready to go. With my helmet strapped on and our five minute test run over, we took off. One by one, our Moroccon instructor led us through the desert.
Children of families in huts that line the trails ran out to wave to us. One hand on the throttle and the other waving to the young children that ran out, trying to keep up with us. We stopped for photos and a small group of children run down a sand dune with a cooler full of water hoping to make some money to bring back to their family. No older than seven or eight years old, I shake my head and try to say “no thank you” through the massive helmet covering everything but my eyes.
“If you want to go fast, keep up, and let’s go,” the instructor said before leaving us in his dust, literally.
Nerves turned into excitement as I pushed my limits and fears and kept up with the instructors speed as we splashed through little streams of water.
Our group stopped at the hut for mint tea, fresh bread and honey before finishing the last leg of our ATV expedition. Going as fast as I possibly could, I made it back in one piece. I drove my atv back in line and took off my helmet. Hair: insane. Sand: everywhere. Atving in the desert of Africa: priceless.
Back at the hostel, a group of girls and I decide to adventure into the city center on our own. With confidence we managed our way through the crowded and dark alleyways of Marrakech. Walking by pop-up huts where people were selling various goods, I was determined to master the skill of bargaining and buy intricate crafted items from Morocco.
I wanted a real stone purse. I was determined. I did my research and went to various huts that were selling these purses asking how much the owners were selling them for. After much deliberation and heckling I landed upon a hut with two young boys selling the stone purses.
“600 dirham,” the boy said. In U.S currency that would be roughly $60.
I went back and forth with the young boy. Asking him how old he was, if he owned this shop or if his family did. Creating a short term relationship with him. After bargaining with him, I got him to bring the price down to 200 dirham or $20.
“200 but a picture too,” the boy said to us. I handed him 200 dirham and told him it was nice to meet him. Despite a language barrier this boy and I created a connection.
DAY 3: The sun shone brightly down on us as we once again got transported in a van far out of the city center and into the desert.
I rode a camel through the desert and alongside a beautiful creak with mountains as tall as the sky. The blue sky and open land was effortlessly beautiful in every way imaginable. The beauty continued as we got to the base of a mountain and met a man who went by “The Goat”.
The Goat was our hiking tour guide up the five-mile mountain. He only allowed us short breaks before running and leaping up the side of the mountain, only to beat the rest of the group to pull us up the side of a mountain. One wrong step and the Goat would plummet hundreds of feet to the bottom of the mountain, easily breaking multiple, if not every bone in his body. I was ahead of the Goat at one point when I heard the noise of rocks crashing against one another and faint yell from a girl in my group.
My head spun around in time to see the Goat slip off of one rock, push his foot onto the next, and leap to the next platform of rocks. A small smile emerged from his face as he said, “I am the Goat. I have been climbing for years. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,” he said repeatedly.
“You could have fallen,” I said with panic in my voice. “It’s okay,” the Goat said. I soon realized the Goat only knows a few complete phrases in english and the only one he knew by heart was ‘it’s okay.’ As we came up to a ledge on the side of the mountain only a couple inches wide enough for one foot to walk in front of the other; I started a conversation with him. “Why do they call you the Goat?” I asked him.
The Goat told me in broken English the story of how he has lived in a village near here with his family all his life and fell in love with hiking; the thrill and adventure of it. The Goat told me more about his family and how they all live together: a common thread I noticed in Morocco. He told me all about he and his brothers job, but when he described his sister, all he said was, “My sister is a wife.” That comment stuck with me through the rest of the hike - a cultural difference I was aware of, but not prepared to hear first hand. I was taken aback by his answer because I knew this cultural difference existed but was not prepared to hear.
After much fear coursing through my body, the Goat led us to the bottom of the mountain in one piece. We finished our day with lunch in the middle of the mountains alongside a stream that ran for miles on end. I was surrounded by pure beauty.
DAY 4: It’s 5 am the next day and it’s time to depart for the airport to leave Marakech and head back to the city I am studying abroad in. I double check to make sure I have all of my belongings. Passport, check. Phone charger, check. Hand crafted stone purse, check. Feeling like a piece of me will be left in Morocco, check.
I was not ready to leave Morocco. A new found love for other cultures, food and history was instilled in me during my time in Africa. All of the prenotions I thought I had about Morocco were forgotten about. But what will never be forgotten is our guide telling us to package up any leftover food we had because we will be giving it to people that are less fortunate, or when our Moroccan tour guide told us how he met his wife through an arranged marriage.
Cultural differences are not something to be afraid of, rather embraced and cherished.