Into Africa

From the beautiful calmness of a yoga retreat, we traversed the Strait of Gibraltar to find ourselves in our 25th country together, and on the coast of a brand new continent.

We had arrived in the chaos of Morocco.

Except that it wasn’t as chaotic as I thought it would be. I carried heavy dread into the first day – after finally finding some pure peace of mind at the retreat, I expected to be abruptly awakened with noise, aggravation, and crowds of people at every turn. And when I felt a sharp yank of my big backpack immediately after disembarking the ferry, causing my neck to snap back at the unexpected shift in weight, I thought to myself: “Here we go”. Except that my harasser, a woman wearing a traditional Berber djellaba of rich sandy brown and a floral scarf in bright oranges and yellows, wanted nothing more than to point out that my shoelace was untied.

I felt quite daft and embarrassed, not just at my ignorance in that moment, but at my highly faulty expectations and generalizations of all-things-African.


Our delayed ferry forced us to miss our first-choice train scheduled south to Marrakech from Tangiers. We spent a couple of hours waiting for a ride from the ferry dock and again at the train station. Besides some discomfort at being constantly stared at from local men, everyone was very friendly and helpful, and most spoke English.

When we finally boarded the train, we settled into our comfortable first-class seats and bathed in the newness of the country and the continent that appeared out our window. The alternating Arabic and French words on all official signage, open fields being sown by hand. I squealed at my first sight ever of camels as a few roamed the wide valleys of sporadic green against dust. A single man lay collapsed on his knees in prayer on a field with loose garbage scattered around him.

So many laboring donkeys. I saw a herder with a flock of sheep behind him, waiting for cars to pass on a paved road at the edge of town. They were properly waiting to use the painted crosswalk to get to the other side.

There was one uneventful train change in Casablanca, and we spent our last few transit hours sharing a car with a man and his son who had the same destination. Originally from Morocco but now living in Minnesota, the man generously offered many tips on cuisine and other cultural items, and also used his proficient Arabic tongue to help guide our taxi to our hotel.

For a fourteen hour travel day after five days of decompressing, it was tolerable. In fact, it was almost pleasant.

I love it when my expectations are proven completely wrong. Just goes to show that I still have so much to learn.


40 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • January 20 2012

    Bismillah! Pretty sure you guys are in NY now, from your fb page, but look forward to reading more Morocco posts. I had a great time there in 2010. Might bus up from Mali in a few months possibly to explore some more off the tourist trail places.
    Phil recently posted..Brief Recap of 2012 Festival in the Desert

    • January 21 2012

      I think we’ve got 6 more posts to come! Yeah, we’re a little bit behind (I write this from chilly NYC!)

  • January 20 2012

    Yes! I love when expectations are proven wrong. That happened to me many times in Africa as well.

    • January 21 2012

      I expect it could happen over and over again on this continent! I wish we had more time to find that out on this trip…

  • January 20 2012

    Ditto, the word was pretty much unanimous before I left for Morocco: “pestery”, “harrasment”, “so much ack, I simply had to leave”. But I went anyway and…

    I found nothing but friendly, helpful, kind and charming people, incredible landscapes, amazing food, and bountiful diversity at every turn (I mean, we’re talkin’ the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, the Atlas mountains, and the Sahara – all in a country little bigger than the state of California.)

    Please, please, please don’t miss Chefchaouen (my new favorite corner of the Planet), Fez is amazing, a night in the Sahara a must, and Essaouira (which I’ve dubbed “The City of Vowels”, utterly divine (though maybe too cold at this time of year). Marrakech, my least favorite (most touristy). Can’t wait to hear your experiences in Morocco.

    • January 21 2012

      Oh Dyanne – we REALLY want to see Chefchaouen but just ran out of time. 🙁 We did the night in the Sahara and saw Essaouira (posts coming soon!), wish we could have done more but we only had 10 days.

      • January 21 2012

        Ah yes, never enough time to see everything. ‘Tis a pity though (missing Chefchaouen) as “The City of Blue” is verily THE most charming, tranquil corner of the Earth I’ve ever been (shoot, it beat out the San Blas Islands in my Top 10, and THAT’s saying something!) 😉

        Can’t wait to read/see your experiences in the Sahara (presumably Merzuga?) and… that “vowel” place (Essaouira).

        • January 22 2012

          Yeah, I am disappointed we didn’t make it there too, it was just so far out of the way with everything else we had to do in 10 days! But, next time! We started out in Merzuga for the Sahara, but spent the night in a tent out in the desert! We had dessert in the desert!! (Other witty remarks like that to come soon in our posts… 🙂 )

  • Mom
    January 20 2012

    Anxiously waiting for more !!!!!!

    • January 21 2012

      There are six more from Morocco coming…patience Mother! xoxo

  • Alouise
    January 20 2012

    Morocco has been a country I’ve always wanted visit, ever since I was a kid. I always find my expectations of a place get muddled with what I’ve seen from movies, what I’ve read from books, and what I’ve heard from others. But my experience of actually going to that place is usually totally different from the expectations (but sometimes the same in a different way, if that makes sense).

    • January 21 2012

      That’s one reason why I don’t like to read about places that I am going to, I prefer to go in with zero expectations – I don’t even want to see pictures! With things like travel blogs, I prefer to read about places I’ve been instead of places I haven’t, for that exact reason!

  • jan
    January 21 2012

    This photo of Morocco is very interesting. I look forward to more photos and information about the experience.
    jan recently posted..KICKING HORSE PASS (HOW I LOVE THAT NAME)

    • January 22 2012

      Thanks Jan, there is lots to come!

  • January 21 2012

    Great story, and glad it wasn’t as hectic as you thought it would be. I still haven’t made it to Africa so I am looking forward to more of your stories from there.
    Anne McKinnell recently posted..Visiting NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

    • January 22 2012

      Thanks Anne, got a few more coming, but I do wish we had more time as we were in and out in 10 days. I can’t even feel like I can say we’ve been to Africa! But, it’s never enough time when traveling.

  • January 21 2012

    We have been so miseducated about the African continent. More of us need to see and experience it for ourselves to dispel some of the myths.
    I haven’t been to Morocco but it’s definitely on my list. Look forward to reading your more of your posts.
    InsideJourneys recently posted..Weekly Photo Challenge: Simple

    • January 22 2012

      So true, and I thought I was a smarter traveler then that. After 2.5 years of traveling, you think I would be able to push those miseducations (new word!) aside right at the start. But, like I said, I was so glad to be proven wrong.

  • January 21 2012

    Nice picture you paint with your words here… Morocco is very high on our list of dream places for 2012. I’m such as huge fan of the music, the art, the cuisine, the culture, I just want to immerse myself in every aspect of it. Looking forward to the rest of the stories!
    Bret @ Green Global Travel recently posted..GO GREEN TIP #82: DIY Aquaponics- The Future of Green Gardening

    • January 22 2012

      Thanks Bret! One thing I couldn’t get over is what a diverse country it is. The people were amazing – such a gentle, courteous, nature to them with a great sense of humor. You would really enjoy it there.

  • January 22 2012

    Have fun! It will probably be easier for you since you are travelling with your husband. When I went I was just with another girl, and we found the constant harassment almost unbearable.
    Jade – recently posted..How Studying Abroad In Denmark Taught Me More About Myself Than About Statistics

    • January 22 2012

      Yeah, I didn’t like it at all either, and they still did it constantly even with Pete there. I can’t imagine what it would have been like with another girl, or solo.

  • Abby
    January 21 2012

    Oh, I’m so excited you’re in Morocco. I studied in Granada and never made it there, even though it’s so close.

    • January 22 2012

      It was a very brief stay, but an eventful one. 🙂

  • January 22 2012

    Wow — what a totally different experience you had arriving to Morocco. When I got there, I was immediately bothered and asked for money for having someone walk with me to a cab. I am so glad you didn’t have that. I had a hard time there at times. I’m looking forward to reading about your experience … especially as a couple versus being a single female backpacker.

    • January 22 2012

      There were several times I mentioned to Pete that I didn’t know how solo female travelers handle it. I got more used to it by the end, but all the harassment from guys in the beginning (even with Pete right there, some guys would circle me), really bothered me. I never believed that I was ever in any danger, it just made me terribly uncomfortable.

  • January 24 2012

    Ohhhh how awesome, Morocco! Can’t wait to hear more about your time there … it’s on my list for this year.

    • January 25 2012

      Oh – I hope you make it there Cheryl! We only had ten days but were so glad we made it.

  • Trvl8dintern
    January 25 2012

    I am so intrigued! 🙂
    Trvl8dintern recently posted..Food You Need To Buy in Italy Part 2

  • February 12 2012

    I thought the donkey was a hedge when I looked at the second photo!
    James – recently posted..James’ travel manifesto

    • February 13 2012

      Haha – an easy mistake considering all the brush he’s carrying!

  • Theodora
    March 21 2012

    Interesting! As others have said here, I found the Mid-East challenging as a solo woman. It’s as different with a child as it is with a partner.

  • I had the tiniest of samplings of Morocco in Tangiers on my ferry ride from Spain. Ever since then, I have always wanted to delve deeper into the country. I look forward to reading more about your adventures!
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..THE PERUVIAN AMAZON- Day 1 Photo Gallery

    • April 11 2012

      It was quite a different experience for us, that is for sure. I would like to go back again too someday as there was so much of it that we missed.

  • January 21 2013

    Went to Morocco years ago, we might go back there again this year, so many things I’d like to see.

    Did you see the tree-climbing goats? So funny 🙂
    Sofia recently posted..Exploring Cornwall’s Best Beaches

  • Trixabelle
    September 7 2013

    Chia Donkey! 😉

  • Gene
    March 24 2015

    Beautiful photos!!

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