Moroccan Spice

A few years ago I went on my first overseas holiday by my self.  It was scary, overwhelming, exciting and all those other things it should be for a first time solo international traveller.  I booked an Intrepid 15 day tour that took me through the major parts of the country so that I could see and learn as much as possible.  I planned for everything I could think of.  Although having never travelled by myself, there was an awful lot I neglected to consider in amongst my pedantic packing and itinerary planning.  At the end of the trip though, I was glad I didn’t have the foresight or knowledge to have every aspect covered.  After all, that’s where the fun and adventure in travel lies.

I’d spent the better part of 24 hours on planes to arrive in Casablanca, Morocco.  At the airport a stern looking officer with an AK47 (or some equally crazy looking gun) asked to see my passport after coming through passport control.

“This is not you” he said.


“This photo,” he pointed to my face on the page, “is not you.  Not your passport.  Sorry you not allowed to stay.”

“But, I just came through customs.  The man, back there, he stamped it… What do you mean that’s not me?  That’s me in that photo!” I said, pointing madly between the man behind me in his little official booth and the photo in my passport.

“Ah, I just joking.”  He said, before doubling forward as laughter belched up from deep within his gut.


It was all I could manage to get out.  My brain was fried from lack of sleep and this laughing man in front of me with a gun swinging from his shoulder.

“Es salaam alaykum.  Welcome to Casablanca.”  He closed my passport and handed it back, still chuckling.  “I hope you enjoy your holiday.”

“Wa alaykum salaam,” I replied, gripping my passport firmly in between both hands.

This was apparently a common joke to play on young female tourists.  The hotel manager played a similar joke on me.  Except after checking in with a few of the other members of my tour group and all handing over our passports to be copied, mine was not returned.  It had been sold.  But I was not to worry, they had gotten a good price for it.

Oh, great at least they got a good deal.  Nothing to fret about then.

And there wasn’t.  The little hotel manager, burst out laughing and whipped my passport from under the counter.  “I joking.  I joking.  Here is passport.  Welcome to Morocco, Miss Emma.”

In my jet lagged, exhausted state I was beginning to wonder if I’d bitten off a little more than I could handle for my first trip.  Maybe I should’ve gone somewhere normal and sat on a beach for a week and drunk cocktails.  Jet-lagged delirium was warping my brain.  It was just another country half way around the world.  Sure they spoke a different language, drove like crazy and dressed a little differently, but that was the point of this trip.  Adventure, live a little, push yourself outside your comfort zone.  And once the jet lag wore off five days later, I did just that.

Camel burger

I ate camel burgers at a stall in the souk in Fes and bartered with a carpet seller for a Moroccan woven carpet.  I learnt French and Moroccan Arabic from an embroiderer at the Franciscan Nunnery on our way to the desert and taught her English translations.  I learnt traditional Berber dance moves and danced with the Berber women after dinner in Midelt.  Moburak (our camel trek in the desert guide) taught me Berber words and drumming at our nomad camp in the Western Sahara desert, before I curled up to sleep in my camel blanket in a sandstorm.  I hiked up a mountain to find a nomad family and drank mint tea with them and learnt about their life, moving from camp to camp, following the seasons.  I went to the local Hammam (local wash house) at Todra Gorge and had every inch of skin scrubbed off my body until I was red raw.  I had tagine and couscous cooking lessons in Ait Benhaddou and was painted in henna tattoos in Essaouira.  I got lost in the souk in Marrakech (largest marketplace in the world) and shopped my way back out again.

Nomad camp

I picked up basics of the language and became accustomed to the culture.  I got the jokes in the end.  I even played along, particularly when bartering.  Our games becoming so dramatic as the shop keeper and I threw polite insults, coy plot lines and witty banter back and forth until we reached a mutually acceptable price on an item.  And if we didn’t reach a price we at least laughed and shook hands, having enjoyed the social interaction the exchange provided each of us.

I survived my first experience out there in the big wide world all on my own.  I guess it’s the beauty of travelling, even when you set out by yourself, you never end up alone.  There are new friends made and phone calls to loved ones at home.  There is always a human connection somewhere.  A new adventure to have or to find each day and to share with your new friends you make along the way.  No matter how much you have planned out a trip, you can never account for every detail.

I was glad too.  Otherwise I would’ve missed out on so many wonderful adventures and memories, because I was to focused on the details I’d already planned for.

Henna Tattoos


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