February 16, 2017
March 2, 2017

Through my years of traveling, what I’ve discovered I like most are the surprises, the unplanned and unexpected. This always takes on many forms. Morocco surprised me at nearly every turn.

I learned that the Arabic word Islam was derived from the root word salam (or salaam) which literally means peace. I learned that the basic formal greeting for men or women is as-salamu alaikum, translated:  peace be upon you. This hello generates a friendly and relaxed atmosphere and I like that the words have solid meaning.

I had expected the melting pot of cultures from North and East Africa, Europe, as well as the Berbers and Nomads. My surprise was the Moroccans overall generosity, openness and tolerance. There are a small number of Christians and Jews who live in the country. They live and work together in intertwined communities.

I was awed by the variety of landscapes from snow-capped jagged mountains, bone-dry plains, sky-reaching Saharan dunes, and deep mountain gorges dotted with lush oases. The highest ski resort on the African continent can be found east of Marrakech in the High Atlas Mountains. And the resort town of Ifrane felt like a bit like a Swiss Alpine village, green and lush during my May visit, but in the winter, it’s a full-blown winter playground.

There are monkeys in Morocco! Living a relatively peaceful yet endangered life within pockets of the forested Middle Atlas Mountains, the Barbary macaque is the only living macaque outside of Asia.

Our National Geographic Journeys G Adventures Moroccan guide, Yacine, made spontaneous introductions with the Nomadic Bedouins of the very eastern reaches of the Sahara, only miles from the Algerian border. At Ait-Ben Haddou Kasbah, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Ouarzazate, our group sipped mint tea with a shy and generous grandmother. She’s one of the few inhabitants who still have a home here. We walked up many rock-hard mud stairs to her inviting living area, the stairs lined with lanterns and miniscule side rooms where chickens and goats lounged on piles of hay.

My most memorable Moroccan surprise was the Erg Chebbi Dunes in the Sahara Desert. I wasn’t prepared for the stark beautiful contrast of golden sand set against the twilight sky. Into infinity, artful waves were created by shadows on the crests of the dunes. Riding a camel through the wall of heat, my head wrapped in a Berber-style turban, I felt I could have been my favorite character in an adventure novel. Aside from the wind, there was no other sound. It was otherworldly. –Rochelle, February 2017


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