by Maleeha Sambur
Each year, my family members and I carve out one week of our lives for a family vacation, and in 2014, Morocco was our chosen destination. Morocco is a country of remarkably diverse landscapes, and with so many fascinating regions to explore, it was tough to choose which places to visit. Since only one of us had been there before, we were seeking a general introduction to the country, and with a large party of six, we decided that the easiest way to accomplish this would be to travel by car, with a tour company guiding us in our explorations. With the help of the excellent folks at Rough Tours, we settled on an itinerary that took us from Marrakech to Fes to Chefchaouen, along with a night in the Sahara and plenty of interesting stops in between.
Since we usually prefer self-guided exploration over organized tours, we were a bit concerned that taking the well-trodden tourist route would feel inauthentic, but our guides made it seem unique, catering their talking points to our individual interests, showing us key sites while steering clear of tourist traps, and weighing in on where to eat and shop without leading us to a friend or relative's business. It was a lot of driving, but the ever-shifting landscape provided plenty of distractions as we watched the scenery change from lush, palm-lined oases to surreal, mind-bending desertscapes; barren stretches of otherworldly rock formations to terracotta kasbahs camouflaged among undulating hills of ochre; verdant valleys with crystalline lakes to pine-forested, snow-blanketed ski towns.
We also made stops at artisan workshops and had the opportunity to watch craftspeople at work making ceramics and processing the rose and argan oils for which Morocco is famous. We were on a mission to find authentic rugs, so our guides took us to a wonderful showroom whose aim was to promote the work of female weavers (sadly, I've forgotten the name). There were stacks upon stacks of gorgeous Azilal, Beni Ourain, and Ourika styles, and the staff unfurled carpet after carpet, patiently explaining the different tribal patterns, techniques, and traditions without pressuring us to buy. My husband and I ended up taking home a beautiful Zanafi pattern in rich earth tones.
What made this trip particularly special were the lively discussions we had along the way with our guide, Ismail, and driver, Muhammad, on wide-ranging topics. Getting to hear their thoughts on contemporary culture, politics, education, and social and economic issues in Morocco was eye-opening and added a dimension to our travels which we wouldn't have experienced otherwise. Ismail was recently engaged and showed us photos of his fiancée, whereupon we peppered him with questions about her, the courtship process, and their wedding plans.
We covered so much ground in just eight days and saw so many wonderful things that it's difficult to condense it all into one trip diary, so I'll be sharing a few highlights per city over a series of posts, as well as some of the photos my brother and I took. Happy reading!
Photos by Tawfeeq Khan and Maleeha Sambur