My semester at sea: Morocco

Martha Bawn/Courtesy

After this semester, I’ve been to a lot of exotic and unfamiliar places. I’ve seen people, places and practices that I never knew existed. For my last port with Semester at Sea, Morocco was the perfect place to end. It was the only stop on this voyage that I had been to before (although only for a day), but it was also the only place that felt like a fantasy world. As soon as I left the European-style city of Casablanca, the things I was seeing did not seem real. Everything from the nomad Berbers dressed in bright blue from head to toe to the bustling Marrakech town square full of snake charmers, monkeys and belly dancers to the landscape itself didn’t seem to be part of this world that I am beginning to know so well.
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The highlight of my time in Morocco was a night spent in a camp out in the Sahara desert somewhere. We reached it by camel caravan, riding through the sand dunes for almost two hours before we reached a group of tents bordering an area covered with beautiful rugs with a huge fire pit in the middle. From that spot I was able to watch the beautiful sunset and sunrise from the top of a huge sand dune, as well as see the Lyrid meteor shower at the edge of one of the most remote places on Earth. That felt like one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences when nothing else matters, and it’s impossible not to be entirely present in that moment.

martha bawn 3Most of the rest of the trip was spent on a bus, since the Sahara is pretty far away from Casablanca, where my ship was docked. I wasn’t expecting so much travel time, and usually I would have felt like I was wasting valuable sightseeing time, but this drive was so incredibly beautiful that I enjoyed every minute of it.

My favorite part was driving through the Atlas Mountains. I definitely didn’t associate beautiful mountain scenery with Morocco, but these views were unlike anything I have ever seen. The rocks of the mountains themselves are bright pinkish-orange, and the little village scattered around them are made of the same rock. The windows and doors of the village are painted in bright blues and greens, which are echoes of the shockingly bright sky and the crops growing in the valleys. I have never seen a landscape that looked more like a painting.

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The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca

When I wasn’t riding on a bus through spectacular views or marveling at the Sahara, I found an endless supply of things to do in Morocco. I spent my time bargaining with the vendors in the Marrakech Medina, drinking delicious avocado juice, visiting Rick’s Cafe from the movie “Casablanca” and seeing the largest mosque outside of Mecca. I feel like I only scratched the surface of this incredible country. I can’t wait to come back so I can explore more of Marrakech and visit Fes and the villages surrounding it, which I hear are even more exotic than the places I’ve seen. This was a wonderful way to end my voyage around the world, and all I want to do now is plan for more travel!