My Sahara Experience
Hey guys. I know, I know. It's been like, a whole month since my last post. I have been living absolutely fully. But, I'm here now to share how absolute incredible my first African experience was.
Late posts are better than none at all, right? Well, if you can forgive me for not updating sooner, I'll happily share my unforgettable experience there. I'm talking top three bucketlist items marked off unforgettable. Was I prepared? No. Would I go back in an instant to have more adventures in the Sahara Desert? Absolutely. Get ready for this.
So, I have to start off super honest and prepare you for the reality of how things work for tourists in Morocco (Africa in general). If you don't know what you're doing, or are unprepared(learn how to haggle), you will be scammed. I was. I had just landed in Marrakech, exhausted and ready to find my hostel and crash, and didn't have the energy to really haggle my way through. That was my first mistake. Taxis from the airport should never run over 20 dirham for a 10 minute ride from the airport during the day. That's about equivalent to about $2 USD. These prices can slightly fluctuate, but overall, that's about what you should be looking at. Check out CurrencyFX in the app store for real-time conversion rates between all currencies if you're ever in doubt. Also, ALWAYS make sure there is a meter in the car. If there isn't, just don't accept the ride unless you can haggle your way through, because guaranteed they WILL try to rip you off.
All of this to say, I was too tired to do much of anything when I argued the price I knew it should be compared to what the cab driver offered. I ended up paying almost triple what I should have because I just didn't. I was *thankfully* only scammed twice, and definitely learned how to finesse myself in those situations after. It's their livelihood, and they know what they're doing. Plan accordingly.
So, getting the negative out of the way, I gotta tell you how AMAZING my whole experience was. For me as a traveler, to be honest, I know I can't have good without some bad. It's just part of the life. But, I gotta say, I would hands down drop just about anything to make another trip. Morocco is BEAUTIFUL. It's incredibly different than anything I've ever experienced, and for a lot of the time, it didn't feel real. I felt like I was walking through a movie set, even though I really knew I wasn't. If you've seen my Facebook, you've seen my extensive amount of pictures documenting my experience.
Walking through the streets of Marrakech, you'll find a wave of different odors and aromas hit you all at once. I vividly remember a wave of spices, various foods, cigarette smoke, and exhaust from cars and motorbikes passing by, hitting my senses all at once. It's both (mostly) welcoming and overwhelming at the same time. Food markets are plentiful, but be careful if you haven't been vaccinated against certain diseases such as Hep A and Typhoid, as you never really know where the meat originates.
The food markets are presented on the streets, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of daily commute of pedestrians, cars, and motorbikes alike, only separated from the ground by blankets and carpets, while shop owners are calling out in Arabic about their best prices, beckoning the buyer to come near and explore his wares. You'll find various types of fruits, vegetables, and meat in this organized chaos. There are no prices listed. You haggle for the price you're willing to pay. You dodge all types of traffic in the process. There is no alternative.
The traffic here is no joke. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the way traffic flows, it just does, and you adapt. I've heard stories of similar happening in places like Thailand, except much worse, and honestly couldn't imagine it (yet). You have to be on your guard as you cross any street. Somehow, it just works. Most of the time. I actually met a Polish guy who told me he was hit by a motorbike here on his trip. He laughed about it and proceeded to skillfully navigate himself across another busy street with ease.
Africa is an entire continent on its own, and you would do well to prepare yourself of that. There are some restrooms that you have to pay to use a few sheets of toilet paper, unless you bring your own (I didn't). The cuisine is very different, but delightful. You haven't been if you haven't tried any kind of Tajin. It's a very traditional dish that's offered literally everywhere. I can't fully describe it, as the flavors are just something so different from food I'm used to eating, but it's TOTALLY worth it.
The first day I arrived, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I had a mission, and that mission was to get to the Sahara Desert. I spoke with hostel staff as soon as I arrived asking about what kind of Sahara tours I could find. I found the perfect one immediately: a three day tour, with breakfast, dinner, lodging, transportation, and sightseeing (with tour guides), and (ethical) camel rides into the Sahara for sunset, for the low, low price of 80 euros. To say it was worth that and more is the biggest understatement of my life.
WHY, you might ask, did someone like me who is NOT a fan of excessively hot climates want to visit a place like the Sahara Desert so terribly much to the point where I booked the trip spontaneously without even a second thought before I visited? Well, my friends, that is an excellent question, and one I have an answer to.
Flash back to Winter 2018, and I'm just getting settled into life in Seattle, and loving it. I started off with a really smooth transition to city life, but also losing some of my focus on my European goals. I was losing some of my inspiration and motivation. Life in Seattle was drawing me in, I was meeting great friends, and just genuinely loving life there. But I knew a part of me was still missing. I remember one day scrolling through Facebook, and stumbling upon a photo of a girl sitting in the sands of the Sahara, with an overall glow of radiant joy and happiness surrounding her entire person. She was glowing with such a happiness! All of a sudden, I was hit with memories of my own travels that gave me the same feeling. I knew it well. I was officially re-inspired.
Fast forward to my trek across European countries, and I meet a friend in Greece who I subsequently meet up with again twice more in two other countries, and she tells me of her plans to visit Marrakech, and I all but leap out of my seat with an overwhelming "YES" that I would love to join her. So, with barely a month of planning, I book my tickets and and set my intentions on getting to the Sahara Desert. Where there's a will, there's a way, and I was going to find a way to make it happen. Even with little time to make it happen.
The emotions I was overcome with when the tour bus with the desert coming into view were magical. I was reminded how I'm able to do anything I set my mind to. A year prior, I had no idea how I was going to make it happen, I just knew I wanted it. And here I was, making yet ANOTHER GOAL HAPPEN.
The next moments happened in a whirlwind, but I remember every moment clearly. Meeting my camel companion, being hoisted up, and discovering just how similar it felt to riding on the back of a horse. I had my GoPro and phone camera at the ready, and I took off capturing everything I possibly could, as my group was ushered into the desert to catch the Sahara sunset. It was like a vivid dream come true.
Disembarking from my camel companion and running up a sandy hill was a challenge in and of itself. Two American girls made it look exceptionally easy, but it took some effort. But the reward was the best spot to look out at the soft warm glow of the setting sun, Magic. The local tour guides were present and ready to snap photos for tourists like myself. I couldn't believe I was there.
Can you imagine the magic? How utterly breathtaking the sights were. How overwhelming the mere idea that I was in a place exotic to me, but absolutely normal to locals, and the understanding of such different cultures coming together like they did? That's my new normal. That's my life. As I sat there for sunset, I was overcome with the sensation and realization of it all. I had made it to the Sahara Desert. I had actually made it happen. I was sitting there, live and in the flesh, not just a distant dream, soaking in the moment. It was pure bliss.
Later, after another delicious dinner and some dancing (because Muslims definitely know how to host) and beat some African beats into their drums in front of a sparkling bonfire, I was asked by a couple of Italian girls if I would like to go out with them into the desert again. And how could I deny? After gathering a couple other new friends, we were off. And so, two Italians, a Scottish guy, and myself and one other American made our way up into the dark desert for some stargazing. Me being me, I decided to ditch the shoes and enjoy the sand entirely barefoot, with barely a turtle neck sweater and my Moroccan scarf to keep me warm into the night.
We walked (I ran) up the dunes and out of the light of the camp, absolutely blissfully enjoying all of it. As luck would have it, we found a random picnic blanket just laying in the sand and decided to bring it along on the adventure. We got just far enough out to really soak it all in, when one of the Italian girls pulls out a ball of hashish. When in the Sahara, right? Talk about an unforgettable experience. We lit up and talked about life, cultural differences and similarities, and why we were traveling. It was a beautiful melting pot, in a beautiful place.
Not long into this, we see a moving glow from a light headed in our direction. Shit. We suddenly wondered if we were not supposed to be out alone. Or worse, smoking in the desert. This light gets closer, and we determine it's one of the local guides. Double shit. He makes his way to us, and we seriously think something is wrong. Next thing you know, he's pulling up a seat right next to us and pulls out his own EVEN BIGGER ball of hashish. Grins at us and starts laughing as all of our faces have sheer SHOCK written all over them (fun fact: it's difficult to find alcohol in Morocco as Muslims don't drink, so some of them get their kicks by smoking). He speaks no English, but the message was very clear. And thus, it turns into an event I will cherish for a lifetime. No phone to take pictures, just memories in the moment to enjoy for the rest of my life.
That night was by far my favorite in Morocco. It inspired me even further to never give up everything I've ever wanted in life. It's a night that reminded me WHY I travel like I do. WHY I love living outside of my comfort zones so much. WHY I can never be who I was before I started traveling, ever again, and don't want to be.
I definitely would go back and have an additional Sahara experience in the future. I would love to experience several days camping out and experiencing life in the desert. I found a new piece of my soul there, and loved meeting it. To travel is to live.