I’m starting my Morocco Blog at the end of my stay here, as I leave the country.  The past 3 weeks have been a whirlwind.  The first 5 days in Rabat were jarring.  It was uncomfortable, shocking, dirty and isolating.  I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere.  Women were nowhere to be seen (and if they were, they were covered, eyes lowered), men were everywhere, glaring- especially from cafes, sitting outside, backs to glass windows, smoking and sipping tea, not a woman in sight.  I couldn’t understand the looks, the smells, the etiquette, the culture, and so I immediately compared it to what I knew and felt scared.  It didn’t help that I heard (incorrect) rumors of the culture: you can’t walk around with wet hair, or you’ll be deemed a prostitute; you shouldn’t go running at 7am, again- thought of as a prostitute; women shouldn’t swim (too masculine); don’t make eye contact (you’ll be harassed)- that one has some merit…, etc.  Everyone appeared unfriendly at first.  I was shoved out of line, walked off a sidewalk, ignored completely and cut off in the grocery store line… and those looks from men said ‘you don’t belong here’.  I hid in my apartment for an entire day and night and cried.  I couldn’t seem to connect to people from Remote Year and I felt isolated.

After 5 days in Rabat, I left for Marrakesh to do a private running tour in the Atlas Mountains and then to start a 5-day Safari with 5 other people, just 2 days later.  What was supposed to be a week away turned into two as I toured around the country, collecting experiences, new smells, opinions.  Rabat is what I compared everything to as I saw the rest of the country.  No longer alone and isolated, I was finally safe in a group of friends I grew closer to, and mainly under the care of a local guide.

The tour of the country went something like this: Amizmiz and a Berber village running tour, Marrakesh for 2 chaotic (but fun) nights in the medina, Ouarzazate and the hollywood of North Africa, Todra Gorge, Dades Gorge, Cave Nomads, Desert Nomads, Sahara Desert tour with Camels and ‘Glamping’, Fes, Volubilis’ Roman Ruins, Chefchauen: the Blue City, Tarifa (Spain): Kite Surfing Capital of the World- and the sweet, brief taste of the western world, Tangier, back to Rabat…

And now I’m on my way to Amsterdam, Cyprus, Israel, Jordan and Bulgaria.  It seems… indulgent, as my friend Lorien would say.  And if I weren’t living it, I would say it also sounds exhausting.

But the whirlwind of Morocco was real and I was ready to leave… until it was actually time to leave.  Am I quitting exactly what I had signed up for?  Maybe I should have stayed longer, stuck out the last 2 weeks of our Remote Year month in Rabat, Morocco.  Instead, I’m hopping between 6 countries (this includes Greece since I have a 10 hour layover in Thessaloniki) and getting to see people I haven’t seen in years.  There are really no bad choices, though.  In the end, I’m happy to leave Morocco on a high note filled with emotional experiences, having found kind people, stunning scenery and a culture I didn’t realize would be so hard to integrate into.

I returned to Rabat 2 nights ago, to pack up and leave.   As I had traveled through the country of Morocco, everything was compared to Rabat: I like Marrakesh better than Rabat, people are at least vocal instead of silently judging you.  In Fes: Look- there are women around at night!  See that?  And there’s more to do here.  Much better than Rabat.  Tangier: People are friendlier than Rabat; they may be hard to get rid of and demand money for walking you somewhere you intended to walk on your own, but they seem friendlier… and this view of the Atlantic from the hill over the city?  Much better than Rabat.  And so on.  It wasn’t until I returned to Rabat that I realized I may have been too quick to judge.   Those glaring looks from men were of curiosity and most likely not malicious.  The city was quieter than the others I had visited around the country.  And the beauty was there, my neighborhood was clean, the people friendly (again, now that I had something to compare it to).  I was wrong about Rabat, and about Morocco.  I’m sad I didn’t spend another week soaking up what had been intended as my home base and have the opportunity to connect with more Remotes in our co-working space (which is a beautiful and open start-up space, complete with a Berber tent on the roof used for napping, meetings, sleepovers, and working.  They offer unlimited mint tea, fruit and snacks, and couscous family meals).  But there are 10 more months to go, and plenty more experiences to have.  I’m off to a few exciting places in the next 2 weeks, and am excited to look forward.  Check out some of the highlights of my 3 week Moroccan Tour below (hover on pictures to read descriptions)… it’s hard to capture the beauty from a camera lens.  Sometimes, you just have to experience it in person.