This is how I know I am remarkably privileged. I was about to start writing about how we normally plan our trips. We have have a travel planning routine. This life is absurd. This chance to learn and explore together is something I will never take for granted.
Also fair bandwidth warning. There are a lot of pictures in the this post.
Normally when we decide to go somewhere I do most of the before the trip preparation and Jeff does the on the ground logistics. I research things on the internet, Jeff makes sure we get there in real life. I highly recommend finding a significant other/best friend/hostel companion with a complimentary travel skill set, ie if you are incapable of reading a map, a map reading partner is an excellent choice. Jeff’s navigational/car driving abilities were not necessarily in the top 25 reasons why I married him, but in retrospect it worked out pretty well.
It makes trips like this possible.
After a short time in Marrakesh we headed south toward the High Atlas mountains.
You see for a very long time I have wanted to go here:
I have a strange fascination with the history of medieval caliphates, and the Tinmal mosque, built in 1153, was the spiritual center of the Almohad dynasty. From here the Almohads would control a vast region of northern Africa including the area which is now Portugal and Southern Spain, and as far as the northern shoreline of Libya. It is also the only Almohad mosque open to non-Muslims. It is also incredibly beautiful.
The only problem is that getting to the mosque requires careful driving through the mountains on roads like these
The internet generally recommends hiring a driver, but given our slightly more realistic budget, Jeff made it happen. Teamwork. Funny enough when we pulled up to the mosque there were about 10 Landrovers parked outside, and a large tour group complete with their own drivers. I felt super rugged in our beat up rental (really, we almost took it back as we left the airport. So many weird noises).
It was worth a little hyperventilating.
After the touring caravan left, it was just us and the mosque’s caretaker. He gave us a tour in Arabic/French/English/hand signals, which is probably exactly the way it should be. We stayed for a long time. I’m not sure if he was used to my level of enthusiasm.
Someone profound (or let’s be real on Pinterest) once said that traveling was learning history by touch. This remote mosque might not be on everyone’s must see before they die, but for me it was a bit of history off the page.
It also brought us to a part of Morocco that I may have otherwise overlooked. We took four days to drive from Marrakesh through the mountains, stopping to hike and explore on the way. The Berber people have lived in this region for centuries and their home is breathtaking.
The weather was a little unpredictable, gorgeous mostly, but just as we reached the look out peak it started to snow.
So we stopped and drank tea till I calmed down about the visibility and then kept on going. Jeff was not concerned.
My favorite day, we spent waking from village to village, beginning in Imlil the trail head for Mt. Toubkal, the highest point in North Africa.
We had little agenda other than to wander.
It’s hard to add narrative to this part of the trip. Mostly because it all sounds quite obvious. Morocco is a beautiful place full of beautiful people. If anything, I would suggest to go experience it. To see all the beauty for yourself. I know how the news portrays the Arab world, and certainly caution in the Levant is advisable, but there are so many places where violence hasn’t touched that are so worth exploring and learning from. The Moroccan Arab Spring pales in comparison to Syrian, Egypt, and Tunisia, but the monarchy introduced tangible democratic constitutional reforms (A Saudi perspective on Jordanian and Moroccan post-Arab Spring success) and everywhere we went we saw state investment in infrastructure and education, including Berber cultural schools. The economy is still struggling and they have a long way to go, but Morocco is fighting a good flight.
After Imlil, we stayed in the walled city of Touradant, the gateway to the Sahara.
We mostly just intended to stop through on our way to the beach, but the (very inexpensive place) we booked turned out to be amazing. A young French couple had moved to Morocco in September to buy a beautiful turn of the century home and run it as an inn. We stayed out in the tents around the pool (very inexpensive), and that night they invited us to eat with them. Dinner was incredible, traditional Moroccan goat tangine, and lentils and wine, because they are French. It was a quick stop but their hospitality made it so memorable. We ended up staying up late talking about the difference between French and US and Moroccan health care, which is not that surprising.
And from Touradant, we headed to the coast past the giant resorts to the small fishing village/surf mecca of Tagazhout. The waves weren’t quite was incredible as Jeff had hoped, and it rained most mornings. But we managed.
We lounged and read and ate lots of food and drank lots of orange juice. I ran in the sand and we remembered what sun felt like. It was a beautiful way to end an incredible birthday trip. The coast reminded me so much of home, minus the houses fighting for an ocean view. Maybe one day we will go back and buy our own inn.