This past Thursday (November 3rd) at about 1am, I arrived home from one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever taken. Each year, ISA (the program that I am studying with) organizes a six-day trip to Morocco for its participants, for which we pay extra. And I gotta tell ya, it was worth it.
My trip consisted of the following:
- Ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar
- Visit to one of the oldest cities, and Morocco’s first Imperial city, Fez
- Shopping in Fez’s famous Medina (market)- a vast array of some 9,500 narrow, winding alleyways
- Visiting Fez’s ceramics district, it’s oldest university (from the 9th century) and the Royal Palace gates
- Seeing a belly dancing show
- Traveling into the Sahara desert via Jeep 4x4s
- Camping in tents among sand dunes for two nights
- Seeing the sun rise over the sand dunes and the brilliant stars in the middle of the night
- Riding camels through the sand dunes
- Visiting a typical desert village
- Climbing sand dune ‘mountains’ with friends to fill up empty water bottles with sand from the top
- Eating spicy food for once (Spain spices their food with olive oil.)
- Drinking lots of mint tea
Needless to say, all of this was truly amazing. My favorite experience was walking with three other buddies of mine through the sand dunes. We had an afternoon free to explore the desert on our own, so we grabbed our empty water bottles and walked for about two miles to a giant sand ‘mountain’ and climbed to the top. It was maybe 700 feet high and the view was absolutely breathtaking. We filled our water bottles up with sand from the top of that mountain, and just sat there, taking in the sights and having great conversations as the sun slowly began to set. Interestingly enough, the day we climbed that sand dune was Halloween Day. What an awesome way to spend the holiday, eh?
No matter how amazing the views were, how awesome the gifts I purchased are, or how memorable the experiences, one of the things that will inevitably stand out to me the most from Morocco is the state of living. It’s something unmistakable and unvarnished that leaves visitors with a sense of “whoa.”
The cities had lots of litter, there were hardly any traffic lights, the homes were run-down and the cars were beaten up. Make no mistake, there were plenty of nice cars around and comfortable homes. Even so, the simple way of life and the evidence of minimal materialism or wealth stands out like a bright light in the middle of the night.
As a result, I often found myself wondering what effect all of this was having on tourists. Morocco benefits greatly from tourism, as it’s a popular entry point for those hoping to visit more than one country in Africa, since there is such an overlap with Europe and many languages are spoken in Morocco. When I was sitting on one of our three coach buses, passing through these cities, I couldn’t help but look around the bus at my friends and watch them look out the window at such a different way of life. What were they thinking? Feeling? What will they do with this experience when they go home?
What we saw was a culture that was very different from our own, and people that were incredibly content with how they were living. There was no desperation for lavish accessories or the newest style of anything. This isn’t to say that Americans are desperate for lavish things, which may or may not be true, but rather that there is a stark contrast between America and Morocco in terms of evidence of wealth, expense and the way we live our lives. Bearing this in mind, will we (as tourists) become more aware and careful of our decisions or purchases from now on? Or will we simply make a mental note of the contrast in living, remember to tell people about it, and then go home and continue to live life as we have before?
I don’t have any answers or ideas, nor should I at this point. I guess theimportant thing is that I was there, that I saw a place and a group of people living a lifestyle different from my own and that I was aware of the difference. I believe it’s trips like these that make for a ‘global education’ that will somehow, someday impact my way of life and the decisions that I make. Maybe I’ll start changing next week, when I go home, or a year from now. Who knows? This is the benefit of travel and although the sights weren’t always so pretty, I like to think that my thinking has expanded in a new, unique way and I couldn’t be happier with that.
To look at my pictures from Morocco, click here!