Wow! Is my first response when people ask about my most recent retreat to Morocco. While I want to share everything with you, I can't write a novel so here's a few of my trip highlights and greatest lessons I learned along the way.
#1 - Morocco takes hospitality to the next level! We stayed in 3 different Riads; a Glamping Resort, and a larger hotel over the 8-night journey. Each accommodation had staff that greeted us with mint tea, homemade meals, freshly fluffed pillows, and huge smiles. They happily made our requests happen effortlessly. Yes, we even asked to store our Marrakech souvenirs in the Riad for 5 nights and have it transferred by wheel barrel to the last Riad on our last night. The response: "no problem!". My favorite was in the Sahara Desert, where I was coordinating the timeline for meals with our host, Houssine, and every answer to my endless questions was "Whatever you want" or "Whenever you want" HA! I was amazed by how accommodating and laidback they were!
Side note: I treasure the luxury of traveling in small groups! The one night we spent in the larger hotel was my least favorite since we had buffet meals that felt like a cruise ship and had so many tourists around rather than our own private B+B. This hotel experience made me appreciate the exclusive and private accommodations we had every other night.
#2 - The details!
Everything is treated with amazing pride and detail. I literally wanted to take a photo of every doorway, rug, lantern, tile design, pillow, rooftop, and table setting. The aesthetic appeal is no joke and authentic to the culture and work ethic.
#3 - When to stop and soak it up!
The glamping resort in the Sahara Desert was unreal! It literally felt like we were on a movie set. Some of the group was in awe of the place and just wanted a morning to rest, take photos, read, reflect, and not rush off to another village as originally planned in our itinerary. So, we did just that! The village visit was amazing (as we heard from the other part of our group), but there were no regrets in choosing to pause. Sometimes we need that pause button without having the fear of missing out about what we don't see.
#4 - Kindness There were so many acts of kindness we witnessed with the locals helping each other out, but these two stories below were my favorite. We were 8 American ladies traveling with quite large luggage. Our escort carrying our luggage in a massive wheel barrel thru the windy streets of Marrakech was helped numerous times by local business owners standing outside their shops who would push behind while our friend was pulling the massive cart out front. This was especially loving when we were traveling uphill. They would push for a block or two and then wish our escort farewell with a smile. The interaction between the men was beautiful.
The next story is when we were in our Mercedes Sprinter driving with our guide, Omar, from Sahara Desert back to Marrakech. We were driving thru remote areas with very little traffic and villages at this point. Note: This was during Ramadan, which is a holiday in the Muslim religion where observers fast, pray, and reflect. Omar was fasting each day until sunset when he could finally eat and drink water. It was getting towards sunset and a man was pulled over on the side of the road with his hatchback open and filled with cardboard boxes. There were several young kids running around his vehicle. My initial reaction in my mind when Omar stopped at this stranger's request was "Why is Omar stopping for this man? It feels like a set up! He could be trying to rob us or hand over a bomb!" How quickly I was checked! They exchanged a few sentences in Arabic and we were off continuing on our journey with a new package in the front seat between me and Omar. He asked me to open it for him since he was driving. It was a beautiful dinner prepared by this man's family. He knew Omar was still working, but could now break fast until it was sunset. Oh wow! I was humbled and ashamed by my initial worried thoughts. Quickly the tears of humility and joy poured down my cheeks. I couldn't stop! I was so moved by this stranger handing out such a beautiful meal to those he knew needed it since they were still working to provide for their families at home. I am still blown away by this kindness!
#5 - My expectations When I first studied our itinerary, I was most excited by the anticipation of our visit to the city square in Marrakech where street performers, snake charmers, and dancers welcomed audiences to enjoy their talents. I thought this would be one of my favorite parts and envisioned this glamorous experience as one from the movies. I quickly learned it was NOT. They were pushy, manipulative, and NOT my vibe. I was reminded to let go of expectations especially when traveling abroad. What we expect and what is actually experienced can be so vastly opposite. Some of the simplest things that can be glossed over when reading an itinerary actually end up being my most treasured memories.
#6 - Prayer and the dedication it requires
Our first night in Marrakech we were getting ready for dinner after a long flight. All of sudden we heard these voices. They were strong, beautiful, and in harmony with all the others surrounding our Riad. We traveled 3 stories to the rooftop to witness the sunset prayer sung by countless Muslims in the mosques around us. WOW! It was beautiful and there was such a feeling of comfort, respect, and dedication, not to mention the beautiful warm colors of the sunset surrounding us as this immersion into a new culture welcomed us in. Devote Muslims pray five times a day, at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and evening. The dedication and commitment to their beliefs and the lifestyle it requires is admirable.
Needless to say Morocco has stolen a special place in my heart. I hope to revisit it in the near future!