Olivia’s Easter Travels

After spending the majority of March studying, writing papers, and attending to other academic commitments, I was ready for Easter, as I was eager for my imminent adventure to a place that was a bit further afield: Morocco.

My biggest adventure over Easter break was a trip to Morocco at the end of the month. When I originally booked this trip, it was February and quite cold in Leeds, so I was craving sunshine and warmth. Not only did I get the much-desired beautiful weather, but an amazing adventure that I will remember for the rest of my life.

My visit to the country began rather late, as I took an afternoon flight out of London Gatwick. Although I was exhausted after spending nearly an hour in the queue for customs, the hot air and the warm welcome to Marrakech from the organization with whom I was travelling helped me perk right up. I was so glad I took the flight that I did, as I met one of the nicest girls ever!

Since I could not find any friends who wished to go on this trip with me, I was incredibly happy to have met them, as I ended up spending the entire week in Morocco with her. Even though we were from two completely different countries, China and Canada respectively, we clicked immediately. Meeting her was truly amazing, as it was a wonderful opportunity for each of us to learn about each other’s homes and cultures alongside that of Morocco.

My first, full day in Morocco began with a tour of Marrakech. We saw the Koutoubia Mosque, wandered around the bustling, spice-scented Medina, toured the opulently beautiful Bahia Palace, and even visited a Berber pharmacy. It was so interesting to experience a way of life that is so different from what I am used to in Canada and the UK.

Olivia Sykes 1

We then took a bus ride to the tallest peak of the Atlas Mountains, which offered the most incredible view. While there, I had the opportunity to practice my French, which is usually people’s third language in Morocco after Berber and Arabic, by speaking with a local Berber man. Apparently, he walks up the mountain every single day from his village, which I thought was quite crazy, since the incline on it was so steep!

After the Atlas Mountains, we went onward to Ait Ben Haddou, which is a location that is quite well known on television screens, as many films and shows have been filmed there. It is commonly called ‘the doorway to the Sahara Desert.’ In the past, it was a caravan route between Marrakech and the Sahara Desert. While walking around it, we had the opportunity to see a local man make a painting with fire, which was truly incredible.

Our second day began with a very long bus ride to the Sahara Desert with a brief pit stop to purchase some scarves. It was recommended that we have a large one that we could wear over our heads while travelling through the Desert later that day, as it would keep the sand from blowing into our hair and faces. It was a really nice shop, as they gave us complimentary henna along with our purchase of the scarves, which was really cool!

Aside from my desire for warm weather, this part of the trip was my main motivation for choosing to go on it. Camel riding, sand boarding, dancing to traditional Moroccan music, laying on the terracotta coloured dunes under the clear, starry sky at 2am, and sleeping in a Berber tent were truly once in a lifetime, bucket list opportunities that were too good to pass up! I also got to celebrate my new friend’s twenty-first birthday with her, which was absolutely wonderful.

Olivia Sykes 2

After our night camping in the Sahara Desert, we went onward to Fez. On the way, we stopped at the Cedar Forest near Azrou. It was really cool because wild monkeys live there. They were extremely cute and funny to watch. I was lucky because a nice, French gentleman offered me some food to feed to one of the monkeys. It was a really neat experience! The only sad part about the visit was seeing all of the homeless dogs. Moroccans prefer cats, as they believe they are more pure, due to the fact that they are cleanlier than dogs.

Fez was absolutely amazing! Although we arrived rather late in the evening, the time we spent there the following day was really great. We wandered around its infamous walled Medina, which had so many adorable cats, went to the top of a hill with a grand view of the city, saw the infamous Golden Gate of King’s Palace, and saw the oldest, continuously functioning university in the world. We also tried some Moroccan bread, Khobz, which was hot from just being cooked and very delicious.

Olivia Sykes 3

The next stop on our trip was Rabat, which is currently Morocco’s capital city. I think that it was my favourite city that we visited. I loved its traditional Medina, the marina, adorable cats peeking around every corner, delicious, fresh oranges, and the pretty, blue walled Kasba with its interesting, little bookshop.

The last stop in the trip before returning to Marrakech was Casablanca and its infamous, Hassan II Mosque. I think this building might have been one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

I ended the trip with an evening spent wandering the crowded Marrakech Medina after dark, and a visit to the Saadian Tombs the following day before my flight home to England. I also partook in a brief haggling session for some bracelets, which I plan to gift to my mum and grandma after I return home. I was quite proud of myself for the latter activity, as I did entirely in French. It was a strange experience wandering the streets of the city alone, after everyone had left, as I found it incredibly difficult to say ‘no’ to the countless shopkeepers who were trying to sell me their wares, as they were very persistent.

Morocco was an incredible experience that I will never forget. I met so many amazing people, including the friends I travelled with and the incredibly friendly locals. I saw and experienced so many amazing things that I never would have seen or experienced elsewhere. I also enjoyed having the chance to try couscous, tagine chicken, cinnamon-topped oranges, bread, and traditional, mint tea—it was all so delicious!

However, the most important thing I learned from this trip was how very easy it is to connect with other human beings, regardless of one’s maternal language and country of origin. I will always remember the intense feeling of togetherness that I felt while travelling with my new Chinese and Spanish friends, speaking with our Moroccan bus driver in French, being given a free Khobz bread by an orange seller in the Rabat medina, and sharing warm smiles with a traditionally dressed, Moroccan woman in a square in Marrakech during my last night in the country.

by Olivia Sykes – Carleton University – Canada

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