Around the World Trip: Morocco!

*by Whitney*

This is the THIRD Country on Our Trip! To see posts on our first two countries, click below:

Timeline: July 26-August 4

Flying to Morocco

We had a very early flight out of Ireland to Morocco. We had a layover in Munich, which was kind of out of the way, but routing to Morocco was a little bit difficult. We got into a weird situation at the Munich airport during our layover, where it was most people’s final destination, so they were heading toward passport control/customs and baggage claim, but we needed to go to a connecting flight. They had us sectioned off so we kept just wandering around this controlled area trying to figure out where to go. Finally we went through a security check back into the departure gates. We then had a very strange flight on Air Arabia. Unlike most US flights where everyone sits quietly and behaves obediently, on this flight everyone was up walking around, yelling/talking loudly. One family consisting of a husband, wife, several small children, and another male companion moved around quite a bit. The husband moved seats at least 10 times and talked to everyone. The children were up running around, and even the flight attendants were holding the baby at times. It was very chaotic and strange. The last several rows were empty so there was a lot of room to spread out. They also did a prayer to Allah before take-off on the overhead screens which was interesting. Announcements were made in Arabic and English which was new and foreign to us. Overall it was an interesting experience!

First Two Days in Morocco

We arrived in Morocco in the afternoon, and we stayed at an Airbnb together the first two days. Our Airbnb hosts were a couple, the wife from the US and the husband from Morocco. They were very helpful and communicative. They arranged a taxi for us to be picked up from the airport and taken directly to the apartment, at what we found out later was a discounted rate compared to if we had called a taxi ourselves. At the airport, we withdrew the local currency, Moroccan Dirhams (MAD). At the time of our travel, one dollar was equivalent to approximately 9.4 dirhams, so for practical purposes we just treated the dirham as 10x the amount of USD. So the taxi was 200 dirhams, or about $20.

Our first impressions of Morocco were that it was dirty and desolate. We were a bit concerned on the drive in from the airport. Where we were visiting, Aourir, was a smaller town/village. There were no major stores, supermarkets, etc. The area was poor and the environmental awareness was low, so they just throw their trash outside. Fortunately, we later became a lot more comfortable with the area. In all of our encounters, the people were very nice, and after getting used to it, we didn’t feel unsafe.

On our first day, we walked around the village some to get a feel for the area. We bought a few groceries and necessary items such as toilet paper in the small local store, the “superette.” We scoped out the local menus for a couple restaurants by taking pictures of the menu outside, then going back to the apartment to study the menu and figure out what things were and how much they cost. Most of the menus were in both Arabic and French, and some had English translations. I used the Google Translate App to help with translation from French to English, as well as context clues. Unfortunately I found out that the camera for reading text and translating it does not work for Arabic and is inconsistent for French. We ended up going to a very nice restaurant with traditional Moroccan food on our first night, and to our delight it was very affordable.

The next day, we explored some more including walking on the local beach, which was very rocky and also covered with trash. We did walk further and over some larger rock formations to get to another beach where they do surfing lessons which was much nicer, with more sand, less rocks, and less trash. We found an area where the ocean runs into the riverbed that had shallow, calm water to skip rocks. We scoped out where I’d be going the next day for my women’s health retreat, the Villa Mandala, which was only a 10 minute walk from the Airbnb. We relaxed in the private Airbnb apartment and got some laundry done (including washer and dryer this time, for free), and we had another nice dinner at what we would consider a fancy restaurant for less than $15.

Women’s Health Retreat

The reason we came to Morocco in the first place was that I signed up to attend a women’s health retreat, hosted by two women’s health/pelvic floor specialist physical therapists. The retreat however was not for healthcare professionals, as I was the only other PT there besides the hosts. The retreat had a variety of purposes, including relaxation, a sense of community with other women, learning about the pelvic floor and core, and incorporating yoga, dance, fitness, and meditation, among other things! I was excited to see what this retreat would be like for myself as a woman, as a physical therapist, and as someone who has struggled with my own stresses and pelvic floor/core/low back issues.

Jared and I purposely chose the Airbnb close to the Villa Mandala so that Jared could stay there for the time that I was at the retreat and still be closeby. I was glad that we came a couple days early to stay there together and get used to the area. Fortunately, because it was so close and we had some down time during the retreat, I was also able to see Jared every day during the retreat, even if just for an hour or two.

I really enjoyed getting to know the diverse group of women who attended the retreat. We had many opportunities for laughing, crying, opening up, and expressing ourselves and our feelings. The educational aspect of the retreat was a good refresher for me on some things that I have learned in the past about pelvic and core health, but it also allowed me some new perspectives. Yoga and meditation are relatively new practices for me, so I certainly was able to learn and grow in those areas during the retreat. We also had some fun times doing belly dancing which I loved!

Overall, I really enjoyed the retreat. I’m not sure if it was exactly what I expected, but I think that each person gets out of it what they put in. I think that by having Jared there for some of the time, I may have limited myself somewhat in getting fully immersed in the retreat and bonding with some of the women. But, as I kept learning throughout the retreat, there is no “supposed to…this, supposed to…that.” There is only whatever you want to do. And for me, this retreat would probably not have happened unless Jared traveled with me, because honestly I would have been scared to travel to Morocco by myself. So I’m glad he agreed to go with me to Morocco, and I’m glad I had the experience that I did! I hope to take some of what I learned and experienced during the retreat and carry it on in our travels and in my future. My goal is to be able to focus more on myself including my own body as it pertains to my pelvic floor health, core and low back health, as well as my mind-body connection. I plan to focus more on this as we slow down during our one month in Chiang Mai, Thailand (starting mid-August).

Adventures Outside the Retreat

There was actually a lot of free time during the retreat where we all enjoyed a variety of excursions. Jared was able to join for any of the excursions he wanted, as long as he paid his own way. Together we took a day trip with part of the group to Paradise Valley, which included a short hike to some amazing, natural pools in the middle of the desert. This was an amazing day trip with gorgeous views. Unfortunately I was feeling ill the night before and the morning of the trip, and then the 45 minute bus ride through windy mountain roads made me feel even worse. This was the start of me feeling sick for the next week or so. But we managed to still have a great time on the excursion and experience a naturally beautiful place!

Another day trip we took with a smaller group was to the town of Essaouira, Morocco. This was about a 3 hour drive each way, so this time I was smarter and sat in the front seat of the van to help with the motion sickness on the mountainous terrain. Essaouira was a bigger town than where we were staying, but it wasn’t a big city like I would imagine Casablanca and Marrakech are. They had a big market with a variety of shops, restaurants, etc. They also had a harbor area where they bring seafood in fresh from the boats and have a local seafood market. This was a good cultural experience for us, and we saw a huge variety of sea creatures! For the Game of Thrones fans out there, we also got to see where they shot a scene for the show right there in Essaouira. The other ladies were excited to do some shopping there, but I unfortunately am very limited on buying any souvenirs because we are backpacking. I did splurge and buy some fun elephant patterned pants and a pair of knock-off RayBan sunglasses to replace the ones I brought on the trip, which broke while I was riding a camel!

That brings me to my next excursion, a sunset camel ride on the beach! I did this with a few other people from the retreat but without Jared. It was a really cool experience and a pretty view, but I think it will be the one and only time I ride a camel! It was a bit of a rough ride, and a little scary being up so high. But mostly I felt bad for the camels, because they had to get up and down several times with extra weight on their backs, and it looked very taxing and unnatural for them to get up and down that way so many times! So I’m glad I did it, but I don’t plan to do it again!

The last excursion Jared and I did with a couple other ladies was a 2-hour surfing lesson. It was the first time ever trying surfing for all of us, so none of us were very good at it. Our surf instructor was the real deal, and he told it like it was! This tough love was a little challenging for some of us, haha, but hey maybe it’s what we needed! We all managed to at least get vertical on our boards at least once, and that to me was a success! It was a great intro, and I think Jared and I will probably try it again in the future.

A couple other things we did included walking around the local “souk” (market/bizarre) in Aourir, where they sell goods each week ranging from clothing, to hardware supplies, to fresh vegetables and spices; getting henna tattoos; and going to another property owned by the same company as our Villa (“Surf Maroc”) for a couple events. The other property was called “The Amouage” and it was a “Boutique Hotel.” We went there on our second to last night for a “BBQ” dinner and also got to enjoy the gorgeous poolside and ocean views, the bar, and dancing to the DJ! We also got to hang out there again on our last day for a few hours between check out and our flights. It was cool to see this other property which was in a different village called Taghazout.

Overall, we enjoyed Morocco. It was the country we were most nervous about visiting, but now that we’ve been I think we may plan to go back there in the future. It was definitely a developing (“third world”) country, but the people were very nice, and we had some good experiences. I’d like to check out some other parts of the country next time!

On to the Next Country

We had an evening flight from Morocco to London. We got to enjoy another free airport lounge using my Priority Pass from my American Express Platinum card. The lounge at the Aourir airport was very basic, but still it’s always nice to have a place to relax away from the gate and get some free snacks and drinks. Unfortunately, I still wasn’t feeling too great, with a cold and some GI problems, and Jared was also starting to have some GI problems. This was to cause some problems for us as we moved on to our next stop in London. Stay tuned for our posts on that!

Next Stop: London!

Insider Tips on Morocco:

  • It’s considered a liberal Muslim country, so in the tourist destinations and especially by the beach, it’s okay to wear shorts and tank tops. But it’s respectful to cover up a little more when in the public/towns. I definitely got some looks if I was wearing shorts and no sleeves in the small village, even though it was right by the beach. No one ever said anything to me, and I don’t think they will. But I do think it’s important to be respectful of their traditions.
  • Many people speak at least some English. However, you’ll do well to know some French as well. They speak a mix between Arabic and French there.
  • It’s very dusty! Don’t plan to wear really nice shoes around. Especially in the small village where we were, we were constantly covered in dirt/dust because it’s so dry there and some of the roads/sidewalks aren’t well paved. Our shoes were filthy!
  • Most places only take cash, and they prefer smaller coins or bills. It can be tricky because the ATM’s dispense 100’s or 200’s (roughly equivalent to $10 and $20), but even those bills were often considered too large to break for some items in town, especially if you’re going to a street vendor.
  • Most of the people, especially the women, do not smile and greet you on the street. This seems to just be their culture, not them being rude. But it was challenging for me as an American, since I’m so used to smiling, making eye contact, and greeting others.
  • You should haggle with street vendors. We had trouble with this and were quick to accept the first price. But for the most part they expect you to haggle and are not offended.
  • Probably don’t drink the water. Our Airbnb host said that it was safe to drink, but we still weren’t sure about it and mostly drank bottled water. We still showered, brushed our teeth, etc with the water.
  • People drive crazy! Be careful as a pedestrian. The streets are overcrowded, and cars and motorbikes zoom past each other and cut around into the pedestrian areas.
  • Public bathrooms are hard to come by. I didn’t go to any in the small village; not sure if they had them or not. I did go to a couple in the bigger town of Essaouira. Some of them are a squatting toilet in the ground, which I was not brave enough to try. Others will be “normal” westernized toilets. Sometimes you’ll be expected to pay to use the toilet, so having small coins is a good idea. There is also not always toilet paper, so I always carried napkins or the like. Also sinks and/or soap are not necessarily always available, so I had both hand sanitizer and also “Coleman Camp Soap Sheets,” courtesy of my sister. The soap sheets are similar to Listerine Pocket Pack Strips, in a small container. They are dry and you wet them with water then they turn into soap! Highly recommend!

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