Todra Gorge(ous) and Aït Ben Haddou

The past two days are better told in photos than in words. Wednesday morning, we packed up camp and rode our camels back to mainland while the sun was rising. We said goodbye to a Said, ate breakfast at the hotel where we had stored our luggage, then headed out to the road once more.

We spent the rest of the day traveling to Todra Gorge, a mountainous region in southern Morocco known for its massive gorges. When we arrived at the hotel , we got settled in then headed out for a walk in a nearby forest, which was actually a fruit farm. Our guide showed us pomegranate trees, almond trees, fig tress, walnut trees and many more, and we got to try everything! It was like walking through Willy Wonka’s factory. Yum.

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Our walk ended with a visit to a carpet workshop, a small house where a cooperative functioned. We watched a demonstration on how carpets are woven and how different plants and minerals are used to dye the eucalyptus silk and camel wool. A few of us bought carpets, which were overpriced but still a one-of-a-kind souvenir.

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Then we headed to the gorges to have a look around. The huge rock walls were absolutely gorgeous, towering over us and making each of us feel minuscule.

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After about half an hour at the gorges, we headed back to the hotel. This hotel had a beautiful outdoor patio overlooking a massive gorge wall. We dipped in the pool and later had a filling latern-lit dinner in the gazebo. It was a quit and peaceful night, most us us heading to bed soon after dinner.

The next morning, we left at 9 a.m. to head to our next stop, Ait Ben Haddou. It was another travel-heavy day, though we made several stops at overlooks to take photos.
The restaurant where we stopped for lunch was overpriced but rightfully so because the setting was stunning. We sat on a rooftop patio with a view over the small city. The food was not very good (the veggies weren’t fresh, meat overcooked, and the bread stale) but the heavenly view made it a great place to grab a bite.

Lunch was followed with a trip to a local spice shop. A Moroccan spice doctor (ha, I completely made that term up. I guess the better term in herbologist? ) showed us the uses and benefits and many Moroccan herbs. We sat in a small room filled with shelves of spices and oils.

The spice doctor also demonstrated the uses if Moroccan oils, from oil with orange blossom extract to the classic Moroccan Argan oil. I volunteered to be the guinea pig for the massage oil and natural make-up demonstrations, and got a free massage and a makeover out of it! We all left the spice shop feeling and smelling great.

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Our last stop of the day was at our hotel in Ait Ben Haddou. It was late afternoon and we had some time before dinner, so a group of us and our guide set out for a walk to a nearby kasbah.

Little did I know, the uninhabited kasbah was actually a famous filming location. Apparently, Gladiator, Game of Thrones, and other successful movies and shows have used the deserted structure for an ideal background. When we were there, there was even a filming for a French movie called Aladin. The was a small village on a hill, completely formed of mud and clay. The alleys were narrow and winding and were paved with cobblestone. For lack of a better word, it was just really cool.

We climbed to the top of the kasbah and looked out over the incredible landscape. I know I’ve said a million times that this country is truly beautiful, but I’ll say it again because I cannot convey that enough. And on that note, I’ll leave you with pictures, because I’m out of words for the day.

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I won a trip to Morocco — and I’m leaving in 2 days!

Image from moviepilot.com
Image from moviepilot.com

I haven’t posted anything to the blog about this yet, because it seemed too surreal, but in two days, I’m leaving for a 10-day trip to Morocco.

Yes, Morocco. Totally random, right? I mean everything else on this blog is about Europe – how I’ve been saving up for it, planning itineraries, sharing tales of my adventures and so on.

And now I’m going to Africa.

Here’s how it happened:

The Contest

In March, I got a promo email from StudentUniverse, my ride-or-die site for booking flights, about a contest the company was hosting. Entrants were to create boards on Pinterest tagged #NeverHaveIEver and pin a bunch of travel-related things that they’ve always wanted to do, like skydiving, going snorkeling in Sydney, riding a gondola through Venice, etc. The grand prize was a trip to Morocco and $500 towards a flight.

Morocco had never crossed my mind as a destination to but on my bucket list, but I thought Y-O-HACTVMFF-O (you-only-have-a-chance-to-visit-Morocco-for-free-once), so I entered the contest.

Already a devoted pinner, I had no problem getting the board going. For the entire month of April I poured all pinning efforts into my Never Have I Ever board. Any free time I had before and during classes, I’d take to the board and pin pictures of all the beautiful cities I want to visit and crazy escapades I wanted to embark on.

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For a month this went on, and along the way I shared some of my pins with StudentUniverse on Pinterest and Twitter, grasping their attention and promoting their contest. And then, about a week after the contest ended, I saw this tweet:

StudentUniverse Tweet

OHHHHH EMMMMM GEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!1!!1!!!!!1!!!!!!!

I couldn’t believe it. I won. I won a trip to Morocco. I was going to Morocco. Morocco. MOROCCO!

The Dilemma

I sent an email to the address provided and waited, and waited, and waited. I finally heard back and got the details of the contest. The tour dates are all pre-set, so I had to choose any from the list provided that worked for me.The only conditions were that the tour had to depart before the end of August and already have at least four people signed up.

That’s where I hit a brick wall. My internship was already letting me take off a month for my trip to Europe, so I definitely couldn’t take off another week to go to Morocco.

Frick.

The other option would be to go the last week before school starts, but then I’d be missing crucial preparation time.

Frickety.

Decision time. I sat on it for a while, evaluating pros and cons, but then had to smack myself upside the head (in Homer Simpson style) when I realized traveling to a new country was way more important than missing preparation time for my last year of college.

I sent StudentUniverse my dates and mentally prepared myself for the adventure that Morocco would bring. But then I got a response. The tour group I chose did have enough people signed up, so I couldn’t go on that one. I had to choose another tour date that departed the week after or the week prior. My only options, then, were to have my internship boss kill me (figuratively…kinda) or miss the first week of school.

FRACK.

I was forced to make an ultimate decision. I definitely couldn’t take off from my internship because I desperately needed the money to afford going on the trip (Young, Broke Traveler). That left me with option #2. (Keep in mind that I’m an honors student who’s had perfect attendance since kindergarten, graduated high school with a 4.0, and has been on the dean’s list every semester of college — and I’m not bragging, I’m just trying to convey how important school is to me!) It killed me to think of missing my first week  of class, but I also thought “When will I ever get another chance to experience northern Africa and spend a week learning about a culture completely different from what I’m used to, meeting people who will teach me a different way of life, and appreciating the natural beauty of the world?”

A trip to Morocco would teach me more than I could ever learn sitting in a class that first week of school. Plus, Y-O-HACTVMFF-O, right? I responded to the agents at StudentUniverse that I’ll take the tour to that goes from Aug. 30 – Sept. 6. And that was that.

I completely pushed Morocco out of my mind to return my focus to my Eurotrip. Over the next few months, Europe was all I thought about, wrote about and talked about. But now it’s Aug. 26, and I’ve got some preppin’ to do.

The Details

The tour, a G Adventures tour called Morocco Kasbahs & Desert, begins in Casablanca and heads through Meknes, Fes, Merzouga, Todra Gorge, Aït Ben Haddou and Marrakech. The 14 of us on the guided tour will be traveling in a quaint van from town to town, staying in hotels, walking through medinas and meeting locals. Midweek, we’ll even be hopping on camel-back (I’ll do my best to refrain from making Hump Day jokes) and riding out to the desert where we’ll camp out overnight.

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Yeah, sounds better than sitting in a classroom taking notes on data analytics, doesn’t it?

I’m flying into Casablanca early to have an extra day to explore the city. I leave Thursday the 28th and will arrive early Friday morning, spending the day alone until my tourmates arrive the next day. Saying I’m nervous doesn’t even begin to cover it. I’m realizing how sheltered I’ve been traveling to touristy places where most people speak English or Spanish and I’ve been comfortable on my own. Morocco, while generally safe, is not the safest place for a young woman to travel alone due to the forwardness of most Moroccan men. And the primary languages spoken are Arabic and French, of which I know nothing. So I better not get lost.

I’m aware that I am freaking out for no reason and I’ll be fine — especially in a city as metropolitan as Casablanca. But for now I’m just doing my best to prepare and make sure everything can go as smoothly as possible. And trying to get the phrase “Here’s looking at you, kid” out of my head. 🙂

Have you been to Morocco? Casablanca? What did you think? Any advice to offer me?