So, I’m not going to lie, leaving my husband, four kids and chocolate labrador isn’t something that comes easy to me. I have done your usual girl’s weekends away, but I’ve done a two week stint only twice before in the whole 18 years I’ve been a mum! As my kids are getting older and I start to approach a significant birthday, I thought to myself, it’s time. I had completed a Diploma of Professional Photography a couple of years ago and I wanted to do something that would mean something to me and would help me grow as a photographer and Morocco seemed to tick all the boxes.
It helped that I knew Sally from Souk & Co. from years ago and I know how passionately committed she is about Morocco and showing people why she loves this amazing country. It also helped to know we would have a guide with us 24/7 who speaks 5 languages, is a local Berber and who Sally works with very closely on a daily basis whether it is on the ground in Morocco or from Australia. It didn’t hurt that we would also have a driver with us the whole time and would travel in a luxury minivan with air-conditioning and wifi and have a place to dump our shopping as we went around the medinas! Once I had made my mind up, the rest was easy. The girls who I had asked all met with Sally over a glass of wine and chatted about what we wanted out of this experience and that was pretty much the extent of the effort we needed to plan this amazing trip.
Sally then went off and collaborated with Hassan our guide and together they created just for us, quite literally, a trip of a lifetime.
I started this blog wanting to talk about a particular day that I can honestly say, changed my life, but I can’t do that without telling you about the magic that is Morocco. From the time we got out of our van in Rabat, to the time we boarded our plane back in Casablanca, we were transported to a another place and time I had no idea ever existed.
Rabat gave us a gentle introduction into the wonders of Morocco, but nothing could prepare us for arriving in Chefchaouen, referred to as “The Blue Pearl”. If you don’t like colour, particularly blue, this is not the city for you. If you do, then prepare yourself for something quite extraordinary. The gentle coolness of the colour blue sets a scene that is so peaceful and calm, you literally go into a state of zen almost immediately. There is beauty all around you and it is actually quite overwhelming how unique and special this place is.
The history of Morocco is so extensive and Volubilis, the ancient Roman ruins really brought home just how rich in history this amazing country is.
The thing I love about Morocco is every stop was as beautiful and interesting as the last but in very different ways. Fes for example is a bustling mecca of town life. The second largest city in Morocco, it is a busy, vibrant place. I will never forget entering the ancient walled medina of Fes. You are immediately hit with the visual spectacle on the ancient medina where every alleyway is like a picture from National Geographic all bathed in an ethereal light illuminating magical scenes in an old world atmosphere you could only hope to see in a movie.
The souks with their vibrant owners offering a colourful array of just about anything you could possibly want literally sent me into visual overload. Everywhere I looked there was something gorgeous and colourful worthy of a photo to the point where I actually closed my eyes to take a minute and collect my thoughts!
Get ready to bargain as it is expected here. I guess the one thing to remember is this is part of their culture and they will not be offended if you don’t buy anything. Don’t get me wrong, they will try their absolute best and possibly follow you for a couple of steps, but don’t be intimidated by this, it is all part of the game. It is almost like a sport which has a beginning a middle and an end. “how much do you want to pay?” you name a price “on no, how about?....” you say, no, sorry, that’s too much then you come up a little, they say no then you give your last price and usually they will say OK with a big smile and start to wrap it up. 10 out of 10 times, you have won this game because the prices are amazing compared to anything we could possibly source here. There were times we didn’t agree on price and even then, they are perfectly fine with you not buying. They wish you well and you are on your way, no offence taken.
The next thing I need to talk about is the colour, but I just don’t know where to begin. It is everywhere, it makes you happy, Moroccans wear it, they live in buildings with it and they eat in colour. I can’t remember how I felt when tv went from black and white to colour, but it would be like that. Everything was so vibrant and alive and it just makes you feel happy. The Moroccan people are not scared of combining all different colours and textures because for them, it is their culture and tradition and it is effortless and perfect.
One particular foundouk we visited was a riot of colour, so rich and vibrant with the agave silk they weave their stunning scarves and throws with. We met the family whose business it was, the father and the son. The father was literally weaving the scarves we were buying on a 300 year old loom right in front of us. It’s just the whole experience.
The architecture, so simple yet so sophisticated in it’s detail. I am still in awe of the level of intricate detail and the time it would have taken to create the insanely beautiful buildings we got to see. I remember seeing a man chipping away at a tile I had seen many times in different forms in the Madrassas we had visited. It was about 20cm x 20cm and I remember Hassan asking him on my behalf how long a single tile would take to complete - 2 days! There were thousands upon thousands of them in just one building we had visited and the scale of workmanship and time is really quite astounding.
Have I mentioned the tiles, OMG the tiles! No matter where you go from rustic dwellings to opulent riads the tiles are flawless in their colour and design to the point where I was literally just taking photos of them trying to capture the beauty and authenticity of such a huge part in the architecture and decor of Morocco life.
The only thing I struggled with was, being a photographer, I was so torn with what I should and shouldn’t photograph as far as the people of Morocco. Literally everywhere you went it was like something you would see in a postcard. The people are so rich and vibrant with their traditional dress all on a canvas of coloured walls and ethereal light, but a lot of Moroccans do not like their photos being taken. I can totally understand this as they are going about their every day work and I’m sure we would be the same if someone stuck a camera in our face while we were going about our daily business. I felt a responsibility not to exploit this as we had been treated with nothing but respect and trust in our whole time there, so I really did have to get out of my head and stop worrying about all the amazing shots I was missing and just commit these beautiful moments to memories.
I’m not going into all the details of what we experienced (I know it doesn’t seem that way!), but at this point I need to say the accommodation was out of this world. So absolutely stunning it felt like you had walked into a magazine shoot everywhere you went yet it was warm and inviting and totally authentic, and the food was absolutely delicious. Amazingly tasty and only seasonal produce is used so it tastes real and the way it is meant to, prepared lovingly from ancient recipes and in traditional ways - say no more!
Our next significant adventure was our camel ride through the desert and into our glamourous tents as part of Riad Madu. Think Sex in the City but keeping it real! Not a Camilla kaftan in site, but equally as spectacular in a very real and moving way. By this time, the girls I was travelling with had really become like sisters. I knew the 4 other girls I was travelling with, some more than others, but they all didn’t know each other. Having said that, it didn’t take long before we were all finishing each other’s sentences and laughing hysterically about something funny that happened. It just worked and I think part of it was, we had no responsibilities, everything to the smallest detail had been thought of by Sally and Hassan which freed us up to just enjoy - something very removed from our everyday life (we have 12 sons and 5 daughters between the four of us!).
Our camel ride with our divine guide Abraham was everything you could imagine and hope it would be. The serenity and peacefullness of the desert was broken up every now and then when Abraham would stop the camels and break into a dance unique to him. We stopped at sunset, took our beautiful berber carpets off the camels and sat down watching the sunset over the mighty Sahara desert - did I mention we did this while sipping champagne?! When we made it into camp for the night we were met with luxurious tents complete with our own bathrooms and sat down to a delicious dinner all the while being entertained by a traditional desert band and completed a perfect day with desert dancing by an open camp fire. I certainly slept well that night.