Catherine Smith is a student at the College of Saint Mary and an ISA Featured Photo Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Valencia, Spain.
As a part of my study abroad program, ISA gave me (and many other students) the opportunity to visit the North African country of Morocco. We spent five days traveling around the country and had experiences that I had never even dreamed of. Here are three of my favorite parts of the trip.
Our adventure in Morocco started in the beautiful ancient city of Fez. Inside the city lies a UNESCO world heritage site, the Fez Medina, a huge open-air market lined with almost 10,000 narrowly paved alley ways that connect hundreds of tiny shops packed with handmade goods. No cars can fit through the small streets of the Medina so the only way to transport supplies in and out is by mules or small chariots.
While exploring the Medina, you can find many things, including huge rooms filled with colorful rugs of various sizes that are made with many different weaving styles…
…artisans weaving beautiful scarves from materials such as plant silk and wool…
…and mesmerizing vibrant ceramics that are all sculpted and hand-painted. These are just a few of many shops we explored on our day in the Medina. The Moroccan vendors were extremely friendly and we quickly learned that a little bargaining in the Medina goes a long way! Needless to say, we left with full hands.
Next on our journey was a small Moroccan town located in the Sahara Desert. Merzouga is home to one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen, the Erg Chebbi sand dunes. The Erg Chebbi sand dunes stretch for as long as the eye can see and the sand is as soft and fine as water. We spent two nights camping under the stars in tents on the dunes. I have never seen so many stars in my life! The local people fed us native food and taught us about life in the desert.
On our second day in the desert, we wandered around the sand dunes on camel back. My only prior experience with camels was at the zoo and in books, so I was pleasantly surprised when the camels turned out to be really friendly and kind to beginner riders. This was an unforgettable experience!
The locals who referred to themselves as Berber people were very helpful and informative. They explained so much about the history of desert and what it is like growing up and living in a place so different than what we are used to. In a world that sometimes treats difference with suspicion and distrust, it was so wonderful to get to know the Berbers.
When the sun disappeared, the desert got really cold. Small brush fires made by the locals helped to keep us all warm and toasty as we watched the sun set and rise.
Our last stop on our travels through Morocco took us to the old city of Meknes. Meknes is much smaller and quieter than Fez, but still offers a beautiful Medina that is also a UNESCO world heritage site. We spent our last day here wandering around a labyrinth of shops and tiny restaurants.
There were so many amazing sights, sounds, and smells that we experienced while exploring the Meknes Medina. My personal favorite was the wide variety of teas that were very inexpensive and tasted so good!
It was not uncommon to see food such as beans, noodles, and teas sitting out in the open like this. Although is was strange for me to see the food just sitting out, it was really neat to see how the market worked.
Exploring Morocco was one of the most amazing opportunities I have ever been given. Every city and town that I visited was so extremely different than what I am used to back home in the USA. I was able to learn so much more about the culture and people of Morocco then any book could have taught me.
The world awaits…discover it.