Story and Photos by Julie Paterson
We were all feeling exhausted but exhilarated… to be expected after a couple weeks of travel in an exciting place like Morocco. “Sensory overload” is the best way to describe it — it’s a journey of exotic sights, unusual sounds, intriguing smells and emotional highs. Every day is magic, and it leaves you wanting more. Yes, you can get a little greedy in Morocco!
We are on an 18-day all-girls trip to this magical country, and everywhere we go, our guide, Adil, is the envy of every man we meet — policemen, rug salesmen, waiters. “They are my wives,” Adil jokes in his thick Moroccan accent. It is fun to be a female tourist here: a bit of flirting never goes astray when trying to get the price of a carpet down! And every time we walk into a spice shop, mint tea is served and we are entertained for a good hour smelling spices, having our temples massaged with orange flower oil, and our wrists dabbed with sweet smelling oils. Now, we wouldn’t get that at home!
Aside from meeting the wonderfully generous Moroccans, riding camels into the Sahara is one of the many highlights. With the sun setting on the horizon, we saunter on camelback to our desert camp for the night; the color of the huge dunes changes from orange to rose. The silence and vast nothingness of the desert clears the mind and is good for the soul. On arrival at camp we relax with a gin. Mohammed, our Tuareg guide disappears into a goat-hair tent, emerging an hour later with a wonderfully tasty vegetable tajine. He knows the way to a girl’s heart! We all agree “Life doesn’t get much better than this,” as we nestle into our blankets for the night, and sweet Saharan dreams are had in our “million star hotel”.
A few days and several amazing sights later we take an overnight hike into the Atlas Mountains to stay with a Berber family. Our hike takes us along well-used donkey trails on bare mountainsides, dotted with goat-herders and their flocks, and random Berber villages. Lunchtime is again a feast prepared by our guides — Berber omelets, salad, bread and fruit. The food in Morocco is always prepared fresh, spiced just right, and is, quite frankly, just the best!
In the late afternoon we arrive in our remote village, a convoy of curious children in tow. Mint tea is immediately served on the terrace of the house, whilst neighbors peer curiously at us. Most of these people have never even been to Marrakesh, a few hours walk and two-hours drive away. Life is simple and basic here. The mother of the family gives us a toothless grin as she sifts hot cous cous through her hands. The cous cous is delicious and we all eat from the same large dish, with our right hand. After dinner we are tired, but reluctant to go to bed: it’s very special spending this time with the Berbers…
It’s time to go to Marrakesh!
Gone is the peace of the mountains and the desert: Marrakesh is exotic, chaotic, exciting and irresistible. Our first stop after the hike is a hammam (traditional bath). Dressed in just our undies in a hot, steamy room, we pour water over ourselves and rub our bodies all over with savon noir, an olive-oil soap. One by one we are taken to a warm marble slab for a scrubbing — the attendant uses a rough glove to scrub us to within an inch of our lives! Probably the last time I was this clean was at birth! This rough treatment is followed by a luxurious argane oil massage. Relaxed and sleepy we make our way back to the riad (a beautiful tiled accommodation) for an early night.
As we sit on the rooftop terrace of the riad we hear the Berber drums beating in the big square and enticing wafts of food and spices drift our way…who can resist? We decide we’ll sleep after the trip is over. Off we go to the square: belly dancers, storytellers, acrobats and snake charmers entertain the throngs of people attracted to this madness. Behind all this action are rows of brightly lit food stalls, orange juice and dried fruit stands, spiced tea stalls… Food hawkers try to lure us to their tables, henna ladies vie for our attention to sell us a henna tattoo, children selling trinkets follow us around, swarthy men make casual advances and beggars try to cadge a dirham or two. After a couple of ours of this we finally give into our tiredness, and, thoroughly over-stimulated, we make our way back to the riad for some well-deserved sleep. After all, tomorrow is awaits another day.
Julie Paterson is a modern-day nomad and the founder of Venus Adventures. As a child she traveled to distant places in her head whilst putting her sticky mitts all over the exotic souvenirs on her grandparents shelves, bought in countries thousands of miles away. Her grandmother’s somewhat long and drawn out travel stories served to feed the flames of her travel desire, and at 18 years of age she left her native New Zealand.
Her travels have since taken her from North America to Europe to Africa to Asia and . . . literally . . . to Timbuktu — and back. Julie has worked in tourism since 1992 in New Zealand and Switzerland, and has studied history and business. After many years of guiding both mixed and women-only trips, she decided she really liked the relaxed atmosphere that develops in a women-only group and started Venus Adventures.
All photos: Author