Friday thought #17 Morocco – what a place!

So I’ve just spent the last 5 days in Morocco, and despite being fortunate enough to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, I’m truly sad to be going home. I have never been to the continent of Africa before and still struggle to believe that a mere 3 hour plane ride from Geneva, Switzerland; a bustling hub of tangible wealth and fortune, you can find yourself in a place so far removed from western culture, where subsistence and daily struggle seem to simply be a way of life. It was one of the most interesting and diverse places I have ever been, and I found it really hard to say goodbye!

We started off in Marrakech and those who’ve spent any time there will know exactly what I mean when I say that after just one day you genuinely feel like your brain may explode! Fascinating isn’t the word, it’s not even close, a massive sensory overload is getting warmer. There is just so much to look at, to listen to, to dodge around, to comment on. It’s so difficult to take it all in, there’s just so much of it! I had heard about the souks, the monkeys, the snakes and the bartering, but until you’re in it you really have no idea. It’s wonderful, it’s amazing, it’s a totally different world. What totally blew my mind as a very first impression was the realisation that there don’t seem to be any rules for vehicles in the centre of Marrakech; rental cars, taxis, donkeys and pedestrians share the same road. Horns blaring, fingers waving and no acknowledgment of lanes; a 2 lane road to us was clearly a 5 lane road to a local Moroccan, it’s every man for himself, a stressful start!

Donkey and cart navigating the traffic!
Donkey and cart navigating the traffic!

The souks are seriously amazing and such fun! As a white westerner be prepared for hassle and attention, but also be prepared to embrace it! The bartering and haggling is all part of the fun and you just need to stick to your guns and only pay what you were initially prepared to pay. I assumed I’d be a dreadful haggler but was mightily pleased with myself when I managed to negotiate the price for a pair of leather sandals down from 350 dirhams to 150! Marrakech is colourful, it’s noisy, it’s exciting, and it’s so worth a visit.

So many olives!
So many olives!
So many plates!
So many plates!

For many people, Marrakech is the first and final stop, where the Moroccan experience both begins and ends, but as we discovered in just 5 days, there is SO much more to this endlessly fascinating country than its most famous city.

From here we headed to the mountains, to the foothills of Mount Toubkal in the Atlas range. The drive alone was worth it, moving quickly from heaving, bustling, crazy Marrakech to ‘real Morocco’. Here we found dirt roads, curious locals perched on their haunches on the roadside and random camels just grazing next to the road. We stayed in Imlil for one night, a beautiful, tiny mountain village, which would be impossible to describe. Suffice it to say that upon arrival in the village, the ‘hotel’ owner came down to meet us and loaded up our luggage to be carried up the hillside by a mule!

Camels!
Camels!
Our own private mule!
Our own private mule!

The peace, the tranquility and the pure simplicity of such a place was something to be marvelled at. Everyone was busy, whether it was manning a stall selling local goods, hanging out the washing, or moving earth for a new building project, everyone was doing something, from the very young to the very old.

Having had a whirlwind visit to the city and the mountains, the obvious end to our short trip was a few days by the sea. This I loved. It’s December and we wandered round Essaouira in flip flops and t.shirts! Quite the novelty coming from winter in the Alps! A sunset on the beach in December is hard to beat and without a doubt I could have spent a lot more time in Essaouira.

A tough view to beat
A tough view to beat

I never cease to marvel at how air travel can make you feel so far away from home so quickly. These 5 days have reminded me that I want to do trips like this for the rest of my life. From the precious little I saw of it, Morocco is a country that makes me feel like I have gone back in time, and not just a few decades, I’m talking medieval. People live off the land, donkeys and horses are used as transport on a daily basis, happily trotting along main roads and many people are living in sheer squalor yet seem very content. Fashion plays no part, there is no materalism (wow there’s even no alcohol!) It’s good to see how other cultures live, it’s interesting, it opens our eyes, changes our perspective on our own lives.

Morocco is a wonderful place and I will most certainly be back.

Real Morocco
Real Morocco
A busy main street
A busy main street
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Friday Thought #5 The importance of stopping to appreciate your surroundings

My journey to and from work, as I’m sure is the case for many people, is long and feels tiring, especially when both there and back are in the dark. Sure my commute is for the most part along a motorway surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery, but it’s difficult to enjoy even the most stunning snowy peak in the pitch black of winter mornings and evenings…! It’s totally my choice to live as far away as I do from my place of work so I am in no position to grumble, however, endless hours spent in a car, especially when you get closer to the international borders and cities, can really start to grate on you. The sheer volume of traffic, the angry and intolerant (and incompetent?!) drivers, and the traffic lights, oh the incessant traffic lights!

This tedium day in day out can really get to you, something which so many people can relate to, almost to the point where you feel like you are on auto-pilot, mindlessly covering the kilometres in order to get to where you need to be, and therefore ignoring everything around you.

En route home tonight, adding to the endless stream of Friday night traffic, I took a moment to stop and realise that I don’t always need to be in a hurry. The sunset was beautiful, the mountains were literally glowing, and so I pulled over and just sat, watching the beautiful scenery in front of me. It sounds like a cliché but I’d be interested to know how many people ever stop their daily routine to simply look at the world around them and reflect on how spectacular it is without even trying. We’re all busy people and have a million and one things to do every day, but it’s amazing how peaceful it is to stop every once in a while, pull over and forget that traffic. The World is a beautiful place…

Sunset over the haystacks
Sunset over the haystacks
Beautiful vineyards at sunset
Beautiful vineyards at sunset