After returning to England from Florida three days after Christmas (brr!), we reunited with the Howlin’ Yoweller (our van home), who had been awaiting our return for three whole months at Gatwick long-stay parking (just £50/month)! We had to leave him behind and return to the US for a few reasons, the most pressing being our Schengen Visas. Mentioned in #10 of our post on VanLife Europe vs. VanLife in the US, as Americans we are limited to 90 days in the Schengen countries out of a 180-day period. Being that we exhausted our Schengen Visas while exploring Scandinavia, we took the ferry to England where we had to wait 90 more days before we could cross back in to head South for Morocco… 90 days of COLD that we did not want to endure in our heater-less van. So back to Florida to spend the holidays with family and friends we went. Ice cream and champagne anyone?
After reuniting with the Howeller just 2 days after Christmas, we unpacked our duffle bags and began our 1,500-mile journey south to Africa! We caught the ferry from Dover to Calais and basically drove 4 days straight, stopping only to climb Les Dunes du Pilat in France (photo below) + to celebrate NYE in San Sebastian, before arriving to Algeciras, Spain, where we would be catching the ferry to Tangier Med in Africa:
Now before we dive into this blog post, it’s important to explain that we have SO MUCH to share about Morocco and even more so, we have SO MANY incredible photos that we want to show you, but giving it all away on the world wide web just doesn’t feel right, which is why we will be creating a KickStarter for our first book! It will follow our route, sharing the entire journey from the Northern tip of Africa, winding down through villages and beaches, all the way to the disputed land of Dakhla, in Western Sahara, before looping back up through the sands of the Sahara Desert, across monkey-covered mountains and back to the sea before taking the ferry back to Spain. For a visual, our route looked a little something like this:
In our book, you will also be able to read handwritten stories from our travel journals and see all our best photos, which we have yet to share anywhere! It was hard not to include them all in this post, but it truly feels necessary to create a book in order to do such an extraordinary place/journey justice. For updates on the book + kickstarter, you can subscribe to our newsletter and we’ll keep you in the loop once the project begins! We can’t wait to share it with you.Now, back to the post! Here are a few key tips/insights/lessons learned from our time in Morocco, starting with GEOGRAPHY: Morocco is characterized by a rugged mountainous interior, large expanses of desert and a lengthy coastline that stretches along the sparkling Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. The country’s Mediterranean climate is similar to that of southern California, so basically it feels like PARADISE most of the year, which would explain why so many Europeans have been driving their campers down every winter since the 70’s! THIS is what we experienced January- March in Morocco:
Besides the superb weather, the landscapes are as dramatic as they are beautiful, resulting in a constant state of amazement. No day was ever the same and we could have stayed longer everywhere we went:
Also, you won’t see any camels, BUT you will see dromedaries! Morocco only has the one-hump variety of “camel,” which is specifically known as the “dromadaire” in French, pictured in the road sign here!
Morocco can be an overwhelmingly EYE-OPENING country, especially for those of us coming from the comforts of The Western World. Things/people/animals are everywhere, the landscapes are extreme, the daily routines are fascinating, almost everything is dirty (yet totally functional) and everywhere smells are very much RIPE and ALIVE. If we had to choose one word to describe Morocco, it would be RAW. WARNING: The 2nd photo below (at the butcher in Fes), is graphic. I had a really hard time trying to edit it while squinting, but it felt important to share such a normal aspect of everyday Moroccan life. But first, here’s a very happy photo of me about to devour a delicious Prickly Pear Fruit (which one should never try picking from a cactus themselves… trust us, we know…):
And now here’s a cute kitty:
+ Pomegranate orange juice for .50!
+ a kilo of dates for like $3!
Then there’s the GARBAGE: Waste management, especially plastic waste, in Morocco is a huge problem. We saw locals burning their trash in nearly every town trying to help alleviate the situation, though unaware of the harmful toxins they are breathing and releasing into the atmosphere. We saw recycling NOWHERE, not even once in our three months, though locals will reuse plastic water jugs for selling oil, olives and honey + gas stations in smaller towns will use them for selling gas! Some people are even able to repurpose trash to build their homes/shelters:
LANGUAGE: Morocco’s official languages are Arabic and Berber + French is spoken by 32% of the population and is taught as an obligatory language at all schools – thank goodness or else we would have been totally lost… though street signs weren’t always the most helpful:
Spanish is also spoken in some parts, but we truly would recommend anyone coming to visit, especially in a camper for an extended period of time, to LEARN FRENCH. Fortunately I’m fluent, and while I knew it would help, I didn’t realize how absolutely VITAL it would be! From shopping at the markets to buying gas, asking for help with a flat tire, hustling to buy ANYTHING, ordering tea at a cafe, finding the right size SIM card and simply making friends with the locals; speaking French in Morocco transforms possible frustrations into rather easy, enjoyable experiences:
Bananas are such a happy fruit 🍌😁 Moments after taking this photo, the banana man behind me insisted that we follow him for a quick tour of the plantation where these delicious bananas were born! He was so happy and proud to share the beautiful plantation by the sea (literally in the sand) that his family has owned and worked on for generations. Pretty sure these are the happiest little bananas we may ever meet ❤️ #bananasmile
Moroccans get really excited when you use Arabic/Berber terms too! We’ve circled the ones we used most below, the most important being “Inshallah.” Three words make up this phrase: “In,” which means “if,” “Shaa,” which means “will” and “Allah,” meaning “God.” Literally, it means “If God wills so,” and it’s part of every Muslim’s daily vocabulary because in Islam they are taught not to make definitive statements about the future, since only God knows what will happen. It is also used as a phrase of respect because it’s seen as more respectful to say “Insha Allah,” when asked something, instead of plainly “OK.”
PEOPLE: 99% of the population is Muslim, though they pride themselves on being tolerant of other religions. We found everyone to be extremely friendly and open, some of the fast friends we made happened to be some of the nicest people we have ever met, ever:
When in Morocco! 🇲🇦 ••• We were introduced to Mohamed (@ourtyx) when another Instafriend (@MarcusGrip) told us to check out his Insta because he seemed "super nice." As we have been traveling across this incredible country, Mohamed has been like our virtual, personal tour guide, watching where we are, making suggestions for adventures, encouraging us to discover some truly incredible places we would have never known about otherwise. Well, yesterday we were finally able to visit his home and after spending time with his beautiful family, we were amazed by the immense kindness and hospitality. Delicious Moroccan home-cooked meals, eye-opening insights and stories, hiking, dancing, lots of tea, warm hugs, amazing wedding cookies and friendship. We left Mohamed's home with the most priceless souvenirs ❤️ Thank you so much, shukraan jazilaan, for everything. We hope to see you again soon #inshallah
Unfortunately though, it is important to mention that some were as deceiving as they were friendly. It was a bit tricky trying to figure out who to trust at times, but overall we felt extremely welcomed, appreciated and special even. Out of our three months in this incredible country, we had just two instances where we felt unsafe. Once in Zagora, where we were tricked into going on “the camel trek of our dreams,” and another time in Fes, where we were almost robbed – all these stories will be included in our book 🙂
Our favorite photo of the trip, (air) kissing on our camels, who were brothers… and there was no getting them to smooch too despite our efforts 💕🐪💕 ••• Our journey into The Sahara was nothing less than extra-ordinary. We absolutely could have never predicted the beauty, the magic or the unusual circumstance that we found ourselves in… while our mystery trip into The Sahara ended up being very different than what we expected in many ways, it was even more incredible in many more. Swipe right to enjoy our little gallery of sand + the rainbow we awoke to on our last morning after sleeping to the sounds of the desert rain ✨ (many more photos to come)
Besides that, we truly got the sense that the Moroccans respected us 1. because we journeyed from so far (with our GB plates) to explore their country full of so many unknowns and 2. because as VanLifers we have chosen to leave the “comfort of walls” behind – to live on their land, to get to know their people, to travel to the lesser known villages, to buy the same food at their souks, to ultimately be more vulnerable and many of them recognize the courage that it takes. They would touch their right hand to their hearts as we drove by.
Because we know many people who have expressed concerns, we just want to take a moment to stop and tell you what a wonderful country Morocco is for foreigners. We have been met by more hospitality here than possibly any of the other 24 countries we have visited along our travels. Everyone smiles and waves as we drive through their villages in our rolling home, often thanking us, touching their hearts in respect, for traveling all the way from England (British plates) to visit their country… if they only knew the whole story! Then there's the willingness to help in every situation, from a dead van battery, to 5 flat bike tires (the Argan Trees have wicked thorns), to @ourtyx being our digital tour guide and being invited numerous times (all across the country) to share tagine dinners in people's homes! And then there is the gentle pace of life, the magic of their nature, the incredible camping spots and the unimaginable number of stars that glow so bright it's as if you could reach out and touch them!! Morocco has surprised and blessed us in more ways than we ever could have anticipated, and we just thought it was important for everyone to know ❤️🇲🇦❤️ #travelMorocco
CLOTHING: We dressed conservatively and kept our knees and shoulders covered, especially in non-tourist towns. We visited January – March so it was relatively warm and comfortable everywhere we went, though we avoided the High Atlas, which still had snow, and always consulted our weather app before deciding on our next destination.
Drew bought a djellaba (which made him look like a wizard), I bought a few traditional dresses and we both grew accustomed to wearing a turban, all of which doubled over as the perfect accessories for photoshoots!:
It took a lot of preparation, courage, discomfort and soul to get to where we are today, and beyond the next year of traveling Morocco and Europe in our van, we don't know where it's all going. We thrive on challenges that awaken us and right now we feel like we're on a mysterious quest traveling far into the depths of The Western Sahara, discovering some of the most mystical parts of our earth… and souls 🌏✨ #freedomvessel ••• PS- If you had been here with us, you would have LAUGHED at all the truckers and shepherds that honked and waved as us 2 kids took a photoshoot with the camel statues at the roundabout outside of town 😆
"When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too." #TheAlchemist ••• Night #1 in The Sahara was incredible. The next 2 nights will take us deeper into the pillowy dunes of the great unknown. We look forward to sharing when we return ✨
AS A WOMAN: I never went anywhere alone because it didn’t feel like I could without being stared at and we didn’t go out to eat at night unless we were in a tourist town because women were nowhere to be found. Just dudes on the streets, dudes in the cafes, dudes at the night markets, dudes on scooters and donkeys, dudes EVERYWHERE. We learned that women rarely ever leave their homes + they have segregated hair salons, cafes, etc. When we were together we tried our best to respect their ways and so didn’t hold hands or kiss in public… which was hard to remember at times, so on our two year wedding anniversary we decided to venture out and set up camp on our own deserted island:
It's crazy to think that we've only been married for 2 years babe. These have been the most incredible, unpredictable, unforgettable, life-changing years of our lives… and there is so much more to our story that has yet to be written. I love exploring life's questions with you. I love discovering parts of our souls in some of the earth's most beautiful, peaceful places… but most of all I just love you for loving me as patiently and deeply as you do… day in and day out ❤️ Here's to an eternity of finding home in each other's hearts. I love you. ••• Swipe right to see our little gallery of photos from this morning's adventure to Sleeping Dragon Island! We literally made it just in time, Drew had to come to my rescue and carry my bag over his head!! Now, with the high tide, we have this magical island alllll to ourselves. Camping + bonfire + a million stars + banana pancakes for dinner 👌🏼 I couldn't imagine a better way to celebrate this life with you ✨ #lovelovove
FOOD: We cooked a lot of van-made meals which included tons of zucchinis, tomatoes, potatoes, oranges, avocados and any other seasonal fresh produce that we found at the souks:
But, when it comes to eating out, there are a few things you MUST try, starting with 1. “Moroccan Whiskey,” aka the famous mint tea, which is actually Green Tea from China + mint leaves from Morocco + a few HEAPS of sugar. I was almost always met with looks of confusion and shock when I would say no sugar, “sans sucre,” and a few times they would “sneak” just one heap of sugar before passing me my “sugar free” tea:
2. Camel/Dromedary: Now I don’t eat a lot of meat, but Drew does, so when our new friends in Dakhla presented us with a beautiful plate of dromedary steaks he was stoked! As it turns out, dromedary is actually one of the best meats to eat in Morocco, along with goat and sheep, because they are not treated with hormones and are able to roam freely and graze in the wild.
They also made a beautiful Moroccan salad, which I nearly devoured on my own:
3. Tagine, the most common dish in the entire country, which we were very excited about in the beginning and very tired of by the end. A bubbling stew of spiced meat and vegetables prepared by slow cooking in a shallow clay dish with a tall, conical lid. Our absolute favorite tagines were the dromedary, fig and almond (at Douyria in Ouarzazate) + the lamb “kefta,” which is a spiced meatball served with tomatoes with an egg on top (at Sauvage Noble in Zagora):
4. Street food, literally! Warm couscous served with farm fresh milk in a little ceramic bowl. A local fave!:
5. Sellou, also called zmita, is a unique unbaked Moroccan sweet made from toasted sesame seeds, fried almonds and flour that has been browned in the oven. Packed with calories and nutrients, it’s traditionally served during Ramadan and after childbirth, when there’s greater need to restore energy and maintain good health. We found it at the Jemaa El Fna in Marrakech:
There is so much more food to mention but that covers most of our favorites… though we have to squeeze in Hkalid, the amazing omlette sandwich man in Marrakech! Fresh khobz (traditional round flatbread) stuffed silly with a hefty mix of fresh eggs, olives, potatoes, various veggies and cheese, all scrambled together and topped with OIL = 50 cents! And the best part was the sweet man making it all. If you go to Marrakech THIS is the place you truly can’t miss for an authentic, unforgettably local experience (GPS coordinates here). We recommend paying more for the sandwich, the gratitude you will receive in return will be worth way more:
Important to note, BEFORE LEAVING SPAIN: If you have any favorite foods, or special dietary needs (ie. gluten free, vegan, etc), DEFINITELY stock up on some essential items at the ginormous Carrefour in Los Barrios, this is what made (gluten-free) pizza and a movie night nearly every Saturday in Morocco possible.
SOUVENIRS: Buying things in Morocco takes about as much out of someone as a full-time job. The most difficult being rugs because the Moroccan hustle game is STRONG and as outsiders we don’t really know how to question their spiel. We found the weekly “souks” to be the most enjoyable and affordable way to go about this process, and the same goes for most other items too (tea, spices, dresses, jewelry, cloth). The Azrou Tuesday souk (below) was our absolute favorite. Here’s Drew with my $3 dress and a bag full of avocados, he also contemplated getting his hair cut at the barber behind him:
Other places we found to be good for souvenirs were Marrakech, where they had the best variety of goods at pretty reasonable prices:
+ Tafraoute, with their famous “babouches”:
+ Ouarzazate for jewelry and other random goods:
WILD CAMPING: Throughout our three month stay, we did a healthy mix of camping in campgrounds ($2-$11 per night) + wild camping with the help of apps like “Park4Night” and “Parkings.” After we started to get a feel for things, we grew more and more courageous in scouting out new wild camping spots on our own. If you’d like to purchase full access to our “Wild Camping” list on GoogleMaps, which spans our 3 years of travel across Europe and Morocco, click on the image below! There really is no place like home…
Waking up in places like this revitalizes and brings rest to our ever-searching souls ❤️ Even though the best campgrounds in Morocco cost just $5-9 per night, nothing beats bringing our home to the foot of The Sahara, surrounded by an immense sea of peace and tranquility. It's moments like this when we feel the most free. Free from thought, time, expectations. Free to simply be. #easylikesundaymorning
Stars so bright it's as if we could reach out and touch them ✨Tomorrow we start our 3-night camel trek through the Sahara… we can only imagine the stars we'll see there. ••• PS- This photo was taken in one of our absolute favorite places to wild camp in all of Morocco: The Painted Rocks of Tafraoute. And in case you're wondering why our van is glowing, it's thanks to our fun @powerpractical party lights 💙
Waking up in the middle of an oasis 🌴 One of the many things we will miss about Morocco… especially on days like today when we wake up in a Carrefour parking lot 😏But we're back on the road, in a new land and that always feels good! Morocco yesterday, Spain this morning, Portugal tonight and on Wednesday we catch flights back to California for a month! We can already taste the 🐟 tacos and west coast sunshine. #theadventurecontinues
OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS TO MENTION:
We bought our ferry tickets from Algeciras, Spain to Tangier Med, Morocco via Viajes Normandie in Los Barrios, which we highly recommend. They organized all our ticketing and customs forms into one simple, complete package (bottle of wine and cake included!) + the return ticket was valid for any date within the year, no advanced notice required!
We enjoyed incredible wifi/phone service the entire time in Morocco thanks to our Maroc Telecom SIM cards = 100Dirham (or $10) for 10 Gigs that last a month!
Download the app, “Maps.me” for navigating places where wifi isn’t.
We always drank bottled water, as do many locals, which unfortunately doesn’t help with the trash + no recycling situation.
No trip to Morocco is complete without experiencing a traditional Moroccan bath house, aka “Hammam.” We highly recommend The New Hammam in Tafraoute.
The medina and port in Essaouira + kitesurfing in Dakhla (with Jo of White Dune Kiting) + hiking the rocks in Tafraoute + the creativity/craft in Marrakech + the dreamy blue alleys of Chefchaouen, were amongst our favorite destinations and memories.
We’ve only been in Morocco for 2 days and beyond all the crazy, beautiful sites that have been endlessly surrounding us (Chefchaouen, The “Lost Paradise” of Akchour + the 3 camels we saw while biking the North coast yesterday!), what has really left us awestruck are the people. They are so friendly, so grateful, so kind and more than anything, they are some of the most sincerely helpful people we have ever met… it’s astonishing 💙 #VisitMorocco, where the people are as sweet at their mint tea 👌🏼 ••• Special shoutout to @come_to_see_Morocco for basically creating our entire itinerary!! And to @marcusgrip for finding him for us!✌🏼This instagram community is awesome, we love all you guys. Thanks for being a part of this unpredictable adventure we call life!
Moroccans are afraid of dogs, especially black dogs. If traveling with your pet, be sure to always keep them on a leash.
There are stray animals everywhere. Buy dog/cat food + always save any leftovers to help feed them.
Bring any old phones, shoes, clothes, etc. for trading/donation. An old iPhone can buy you A LOT in Morocco.
Don’t give the children candy or money, it shames the families and encourages them to harass tourists, which is already a huge problem. We had to leave villages and wild camping spots a few times because we were surrounded by a gang of kids. One little girl even threw her bike under our van so we couldn’t leave!
Being a Muslim country, alcohol is very limited and expensive. Most people bring in a supply from Spain before catching the ferry, stocking up on Whiskey to use for bartering with many Moroccans.
The Call to Prayer happens five times a day. We grew to love this (except for maybe the 5am one…) and chose to use it as a little reminder to stop and connect with our Higher Power and The Source within.
Hopefully this helps give you a fun little overview! Morocco is truly an extraordinary country, full of unimaginable adventures and life-changing experiences just waiting to unfold. We hope you get to experience all the wonder and magic for yourselves one day… Inshallah.
And don’t forget to subscribe so you can stay up to date with our book and more! We love being able to share the world with you.