Inspired by the loads of photographs I found while browsing the internet and instagram (follow me here), I decided to book a trip to Morocco alone. There was something about the country – the architecture – the culture – the interiors – that made it irresistible. It had been on my bucket list for a while, and when a decently-priced flight popped up, I impulsively booked the trip. I ended up staying three weeks, and it was a journey that changed my life.
But sometimes we are so often caught up in our destination that we forget to appreciate the journey, especially the goodness of the people we meet along the way.
My trip wouldn’t have been as memorable as it was, if it hadn’t been for the many people that I met who helped me throughout it. I partnered with American Express to share some of the stories of the #Journeymakers who saved me a WHOLE lot of trouble during my trip – from the innkeeper in Chefchaoean who showed me her favorite local food spot, to the kind-hearted guide who practically dragged me up Toubkal. If it weren’t for them, the trip wouldn’t have been as amazing as it was.
So here are the stories of six people I met while traveling through Morocco solo.
1. The inspirational hotel owner
As soon as I stepped off the plane at the airport, I realized that I had not written down the name of the hotel I was staying at for the night. There was also no wifi. Ugh – I was so unprepared.
I stepped outside after leaving customs to approach a taxi driver (there is a line of taxis waiting outside the airport), and asked if he knew of the hotel La Maison Blanche and its location. He had no clue, and had to refer to his colleagues – a group of men began going back and forth discussing the hotel and its possible location (at least it seemed like it – all of which I couldn’t understand).
He turned around, told me that he knew where it was, and proceeded to put my luggage in the trunk of the car. I had no choice but trust him, so I got in and hoped he knew exactly where he was going.
Luckily, he did. 🙂 A 45-minute cab ride later, I pulled up to a small street in the Kasbah, or the old city, of Tangier. As soon as I got out of the cab, I was promptly greeted by several different men asking a whole bunch of questions. I was a bit taken aback.
Note – in many places in Morocco, a lot of young men will stop you if you look like a tourist. They will ask you if you need directions. They will ask you if you need a tour guide. They will ask you lots of questions in hopes that you will hire them unofficially and give them some money for helping you for whatever reason. Most of the time, they are completely harmless.
To be honest, I was a bit hesitant to tell them too much about anything.
I had never been approached randomly like this before, as SOON as I got out of a taxi cab, and being alone (and female) – I was more than a little skeptical.
The most persistent man was perfectly nice, but I politely declined any assistance he offered. He wished me a nice day, and moved along.
Just a few steps away was the entrance to La Maison Blanche, the recently renovated riad (the name for a more upscale hotel in Morocco) that I stayed in for the night.
The beautiful fountain in the main lobby of the hotel – the rose petals smelled absolutely heavenly.
The owners of the hotel (a sweet, lovely couple named Aziz and Pilar) hired local artisans to hand-place each and every single tile throughout the riad. It’s charming, quaint and culturally beautiful. But the view – this view from their communal rooftop – is absolutely breathtaking.
Later that evening, the owner of the hotel, Aziz, personally asked if I wanted to take a small tour of the medina (equivalent to the “downtown” of a city in Morocco). Tangier was bustling. There are tons of small businesses, big department stores, independent street vendors, cafes, and everything in between.
We stopped at one of his favorite shawarma spots, and I got this sandwich with fresh, seasoned, grilled meat and onions for 10 Moroccan dirham – that’s $1 USD.
Aziz was one of my first #Journeymakers from this trip.
If it weren’t for him, I probably wouldn’t have left the hotel at all. I was still a bit nervous from earlier that day, being in a new country, alone, and as a female. I also hadn’t seen that many younger females walking around / hanging out outside. It was all mostly men.
If he hadn’t been so gracious to invite me to tour the medina for an hour or two – I would have never experienced Tangier, and I would’ve left without seeing the vibrant culture + beautiful sights of the city.
2. The waiter who was at the right place, at the right time
Chefchaouen is the iconic blue town high up in the Rif Mountains – after seeing the beautiful photographs – I knew I had to see it in person. And I’m not alone. It’s frequently visited by tourists, thus my finding a bus VERY last minute was not an issue. (I literally woke up that morning and decided I wanted to find a bus to Chefchaouean that day. It’s a 2 to 3-hour bus ride.)
I said my goodbyes to Aziz and Pilar (the owners of the Hotel La Maison Blanche), and took a taxi to one of the main bus stations in Tangier. The cab driver didn’t speak English very well, so I asked him where I could buy a ticket to Chefchaouen in my rusty, high-school French. At first, he tried to explain where I had to go, and where the schedules would be found – but after looking at the confusion written all over my face, he laughed and said, “Hold on, one minute.”
He got out of the car, and then he locked the doors. (This also freaked me out a bit – I mean, was someone going to try to get into the car while I was in there?)
I didn’t know, but I went along with it anyway and hoped for the best. Alas, 10 minutes later, he came back with a bus ticket for one to Chefchaoean, leaving in 10 minutes. He took my luggage, ran me across the street and showed me the exact bus that I needed to get on.
This man was another one of my #Journeymakers.
A simple, yet kind gesture, that put me on the right path.
If it weren’t for him, I probably would’ve missed that bus (trying desperately to figure out bus schedules, destinations, etc.) and wouldn’t have made it to Chefchaoean when I did.
The ticket from Tangier to Chefchaouen was around 35 dirham – equivalent to a little less than 10 USD. I was one of 3 women on the bus (everyone, again, were mostly men). There was no bathroom on the bus, and it didn’t make any stops. I slept most of the way but was able to snap a few pics of the scenic drive there – which was only about 2 to 3 hours.
As soon as I got off the bus, I walked around to explore.
The city was painted in the 1930s by the Jewish refugees that settled here. Since then, the community (now mostly Berber or Arabic) paints it in the spring to replenish the colors that attract so many tourists every year.
So after all that exploring, I got hungry (obviously), and after checking into the hotel I stayed at – I asked a young lady at the reception desk if she had any recommendations on where I should eat. She recommended Bab Ssour Restaurant – a personal favorite of hers.
I got lost trying to find it about 3 times (Chefchaouen’s streets are narrow, there are tons of stairs that lead to dead ends, and not enough signs for a direction-dumb girl like me), but I made it.
And I ordered the beef tagine (think fresh veggies seasoned and steamed into a delicious, hearty stew), the couscous and a big Diet Coke (don’t judge, k?).
Thanks to another one of my #Journeymakers, I had a delicious meal – but the best thing about this spot was that I felt like I had fallen into fate.
I was sitting down at a corner table, alone in the restaurant, eating my meal when I looked around the walls to find a huge, framed photograph that was hanging right next to my right shoulder. It was a stunning, birds-eye view of Chefchaouen. I had to find out where that was, and I absolutely had to go there before I left that town.
So I asked my 16-year-old waiter, Muhammed, if he knew where that photograph was taken. He said yes, and then asked his cousin to show me the direction of that exact spot when I finished my meal.
Two more #Journeymakers to add to my list. His cousin walked out of the restaurant, through a few streets until it opened up to a view of the surrounding mountains. He pointed across and showed me a building sitting at the very top of a hill.
“That’s the Spanish Mosque. That’s where you want to go.”
This mosque sits alone and ruined on a hill overlooking Chefchaouen to the east and is a pleasant, 45-minute slow hike from the medina. The trail begins from Bab al Ansar, the medina’s eastern gate, and passes the Ras el’Ma river, where you’ll often find the local Riffian women going about their daily laundry chores.
And when you get there, this is what you see. The exact view I found in that small local restaurant recommended by the receptionist at the hotel I randomly booked the night before I got there.
I made it for sunset, sat alone for a little over an hour – just soaking in the view, collecting my thoughts, and being thankful for being safe and having the opportunity to be there at that exact moment.
‘Cause that’s what travel does for you – it changes your perspective, makes you realize how small your problems really are, and how beautiful and big the world can be. (READ: 10 Ways Travel Changed My Life Forever)
3. The fearless, fellow solo traveler.
One four-hour solo bus ride later, I arrived in Fes – one of the oldest cities in Morocco. Fes was busy, busy, and extremely busy. I went from a pleasant, quieter port city (Tangier) to a calm, cool mountain town, to downtown Fes – surrounded by people asking you questions, pulling you in each and every direction, hoping that they can be your driver, your guide, your anything.
I was completely overwhelmed.
I immediately went straight to my hotel (just a 20-minute drive into the old city), and waited for my friend, who had decided to fly to Fes earlier that day. I didn’t know her that well at the time, but through mutual friends, she had heard that I was coming to Morocco and asked if she could join for a few days.
An hour or so went by after I reached out to her, and with no response, I started to get worried. Was she okay? Did her flight get in? I wasn’t sure if she had access to wifi, and I knew her flight had landed before I arrived into the city.
Twenty minutes later, I got a facebook message from her saying she was at the hotel of a random girl she had met at the airport, and that she was headed to my hotel with her new friend.
They both showed up to my hotel and proceeded to tell me the story of how they met. My friend had gotten off the plane, had no access to wifi at the airport, couldn’t speak French, Arabic or Spanish – and wasn’t really sure where the hotel was. It was also her first time in Morocco.
All of a sudden, a crowd of taxi drivers started circling her and arguing with each other to decide who would get to take her as a client.
After a few minutes (my friend being completely overwhelmed and a bit scared), a girl showed up, told the cab drivers that my friend no longer needed a ride (very sternly), and pulled my friend out of the circle.
This woman could see that my friend Jane was completely overwhelmed and stepped into help. She offered to let her join her in the cab back to her hotel so that she could use wifi to contact me. We ended up laughing about the entire situation (after a few dropped mouths), and decided to go explore and get dinner together.
This girl, Ana (left), from Spain – is another one of my #Journeymakers.
She was fierce, fearless, well-traveled, filled with tons of stories – open to going to dinner with two random girls she had met that day – practically saving the sanity of one of them, and was just an overall beautiful soul. My friend Jane (right) is pretty awesome too. 🙂
4. The woman who teaches you something you’ll never forget.
While in Marrakech, I took a traditional Moroccan cooking class at La Maison Arabe – something I would highly recommend you doing if you’re in the area.
Cooking classes are such an amazing way to bond with friends/partner – but really take a deep dive into the culture + cuisine of the country you’re visiting. I had eaten enough Moroccan food at this point to know that I absolutely loved it, and to learn firsthand from a kind-hearted, local woman was one of my favorite parts about this trip.
We made chicken tagine, complete with all the spices sourced locally from the markets right outside the hotel.
This woman, one of my #Journeymakers, taught me how to steep Moroccan tea, cut a tomato peel and shape it into a flower, shape + bake Moroccan bread, and sent me home with a tagine of my very own.
After the cooking class, we all sat down and enjoyed the meal together – a small, intimate group of people from all over the world, sitting at the same table – eating the food we made together. It was such a memorable experience, one that I’ll never forget.
5. The traveling nomad who changes your perspective.
After leaving Marrakech, I booked a tour to spend the night overnight at a nomadic Berber camp in the Sahara desert. I didn’t have that much time left in Morocco (and was planning on climbing Toubkal two days later), so I couldn’t go too deep into the Sahara (where the bigger dunes are) and could only spend one night at the camp. I had never ridden a camel before, and I had certainly never been in the Sahara desert, so this was going to be a completely new experience for me.
That’s when I met Mohammed – one of my #Journeymakers – the Berber nomad who owned this camel that I rode to the camp.
He led me through the desert – and there was something about him that spoke volumes (despite him being a very softspoken person – I think he only spoke 2 or 3 words to me the entire 2 days).
He was a nomad. He lived in the desert. He didn’t need much at all – he set up and maintained the camps with his friends / colleagues – sent money back home to this family in the mountains.
And he changed my perspective on what it is that I needed in my own life to be happy. Did I really need all that much? Probably not.
I spent the night in the Sahara desert, sitting around the campfire while Mohammed and the rest of the Berber nomads sang traditional Berber songs, danced around the fire and played their handmade drums. It was nothing short of a magical experience.
6. The selfless, supportive mountain guide who will get you through anything.
The final stop on my trip through Morocco was the small village called Imlil, which was located at the base of Toubkal – the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains – which is also the highest peak in all of North Africa.
I had never climbed a mountain before. I saw that there were tours + treks around Toubkal – didn’t do that much research – but decided if I was ever going to climb a mountain, it was going to be when I was naive enough to try.
I started out at 9AM in the morning. My guide, Mohammed, was 24, and had climbed Toubkal over 316 times. I was freaking out about climbing it once. He was, in my defense ;), way more physically fit than I was, and had grown up in the mountains – thus did not have to worry too much about things like elevation sickness. I had no idea whether I was going to get up there and have to vomit or not.
It took me a total of 17 hours over the course of 2 days to get to the top of Toubkal. It took me even longer to get back down (thanks to a messed up knee and it being pitch black on the way back to the village).
I stopped to sit and rest about 20 times. The ground moved like ripples when I looked at it for too long. More than half of it was covered in snow. I was freezing, my fingers were swollen from the elevation, and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to finish or not.
But this man kept me going. He told me to rest when I felt woozy/dizzy and sat down next to me patiently. He gave me a packet of sugar to eat like old-school pixie sticks when I felt weak. He practically carried me up the last few steps to the top of the mountain.
I never would have made it without him. I broke down in tears for 30 straight minutes after reaching the top. I soaked in the view, tear-stained, sunburned cheeks, chapped lips and all – in awe of Morocco’s majesty – and a tiny bit in disbelief of how I actually did what I had set out to do.
This is what #Journeymakers is about – the people that you realize you can connect with on such a deep level – even if you’ve only met them that day.
There are so many reasons to travel (beautiful scenery, cheaper living, amazing experiences) – but the people are the selfless, real-life reminders that there is still good in this world, no matter where you go.
I am so grateful to each of the wonderful individuals I’ve met throughout this trip to Morocco. I know that it wouldn’t have been nearly the same if it weren’t for them. Thank you for shaping me into the person I am. Thank you for supporting me even when you didn’t know who I was. And thank you for changing my life.
So, do you have any stories about the people you’ve met throughout your travels who helped change your life, and made your trip more memorable? Who are your #Journeymakers? Leave a comment below.