Have you ever loved a destination but couldn’t figure out why, or a way to express your feelings? That’s my dilemma with Morocco.
In August, I went with Intrepid Travel and crossed off a country that has long been on my bucket list. I rode a camel, drank all the mint tea I could find, got lost in medinas, and ate more couscous than I thought was humanly possible.
I loved the tour. Our guide Rashid was friendly, took us out to smoke shisha, introduced us to the locals, and was generally very helpful. I made friends with my tour mates and got along with my roommate. And Morocco itself – wow! I loved walking down the street and being barraged by the smell of 1000 diffrent spices, getting lost in the maze-like medinas with their endless nooks and crannies, the chaos of millions of people shuffling about with vendors vying for your attention, and the crimson red of the Sahara with its endless rolling dunes — they were all I wanted them to be! Sure, there were many overwhelming moments when I felt like a fish out of water and things didn’t go my way but I relish those moments!
Travel is about feeling uncomfortable. It’s one of the reasons I enjoyed Ukraine so much, where I was completely out of my element. The country challenged me and I loved it. I fawn over it every chance I get!
Morocco was everything I wanted it to be. It lived up to all my expectations, but for some reason, my experience has been hard to verbalize. Why can’t I express how I feel about Morocco? It’s been bothering me for months.
I’ve racked my brain thinking about it, pondered it on trains, and stared at a blinking cursor while trying to write about it.
Then, suddenly a few weeks ago, the reason hit me.
One constant in my travels — and I’m sure many of you might feel the same — is that of a touchstone, one defining point where the trip all comes together and acts as a prism for everything the journey represented. On my trip to Japan, it was befriending a local who wanted to learn English. In Costa Rica, it was getting lost in a jungle. In Ukraine, it was drinking vodka with locals who knew less English than I knew Russian (and I only know “cheers” and “hello”). On my first visit to Thailand, it was meeting those five people who changed my life. In Ios, it was being taken to a local community festival by my hostel owner.
My trips revolve around one memory that crystalizes the trip and puts everything into focus. Each of the moments ties together all my other memories of a place: the food, the smells, the sights, the people. It’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the place and acts as the door to all other memories.
Despite the wonderful times I had and the amazing itinerary Intrepid put together, I’ve realized the reason I’m so ambivalent about Morocco is because I lack that touchstone. There’s no “whoa” moment I can point to where I felt ultra-connected to the country, where everything came together.
But writing this article has made me realize that I have thousands of little moments — staring at the a million stars in the backness of the desert, wandering the empty ruins of Volubilis, discovering new foods with some amazing Australians on my tour, befriending the fish sellers and gorging on fresh seafood in Essaouira, getting lost in medinas, haggling over a chess set and laughing with the seller, and drinking about 1,000 pots of mint tea (OK, slight exaggeration, it was more likely 999).
So maybe you don’t need that one special moment. Maybe I’ve relied on that touchstone as a crutch for too long.
Paul Theroux once said travel is only glamorous in retrospect. I’m not sure I agree with that but what I am sure about is that, in retrospect, I’m only now truly appreciating the time I spent in Morocco and how unique it was.
Sometimes your senses get so battered it takes time for the dust to settle, the thoughts to process, and the wonderful moments to shine through.