“Why Morocco?” was a question I seemed to get a lot during the weeks leading up to my trek across the Atlantic – and to be perfectly honest, I never really had a great answer.
I tried “Why not?!” which seemed unsatisfying, “I’ve always wanted to!” (apparently just as insufficient), and “Rug shopping?” which at least got a laugh. I didn’t have a perfect answer. I wanted to go somewhere slightly outside my comfort zone, I’d been stalking photos of Morocco for years, and I loved a good bacon-wrapped-date (turns out, wrapping a date in bacon and stuffing it with cream cheese is a very American thing to have done. Who knew?!).
Intrepid’s 9-day North Morocco Adventure was my first experience with group travel, and I honestly enjoyed the group aspect way more than I anticipated. I came with a friend and we fully expected to be the youngest on our trip by a long shot. We were wrong. We found ourselves in a group of about half 20-somethings and 30-somethings, which was a total blast… for us. Maybe less so for our tour guide Abdu, who had to remind us to pipe down once or twice when our group games became a little too fun and (admittedly) a little too loud.
The trip itself was just as magical as I had imagined it to be; we explored Chefchaouen (The Blue City), ate camel burgers in the Fes medina, experienced a true Moroccan Hammam, saw the Mediterranean meet the Atlantic in Tangier, took an overnight train to Marrakesh, and ate lots of dates – no bacon needed. I expected to leave with incredible photos and memories; I didn’t expect to leave with genuine friendships or to be scanning flight prices back to Morocco as soon as I got home.
To back it up some, I’m an illustrator based in Nashville, Tennessee. I’ve always been a self-described “doodler” but really started to take illustration seriously when I was studying abroad in South America in 2014. As my trip mates were blogging and journaling, I found myself wanting to record all that we were seeing, and illustrating our daily experiences became a natural way for me to process everything as it was was happening. I loved creating these visual journals, and the other students on my trip encouraged me to pursue art and illustration after returning home.
Spoiler alert: I did! That little venture is now my full-time job – I sell gift products (think mugs, dishtowels, art prints, etc.) featuring my city-themed illustrations to about 50 stores in the US, manage a team, and have illustrated versions of more than 115 cities around the world.
Travel had sparked this love for illustrated cities back in 2014, and although I didn’t realize it going in, the trip to Morocco offered a return to the original time-crunch thrill of capturing a very full day in a very small square. I ended up illustrating each day of our Moroccan adventure every night, racing to finish drawings before I fell asleep and then uploading them to our Facebook group before we were outside of WiFi.
I now love looking back at all the tiny details that I would have already forgotten – the goofy photos, the limited Arabic we learned, the hilarious miscommunications, and the (borderline inappropriate) Australian slang that we learned along the way.
Illustrating these trips, for me, is a thrill in the moment and a treasure after I get back home; I love the idea that they can offer a peek into our group’s experience in Morocco. Enjoy!
We arrive in Casablanca and head to our hotel to meet our travel companions for the next nine days.
Today’s all about train travel! We get up early and train to Rabat, then continue on to Meknes, and finally to the tiny little town on Moulay Idriss, where we spend the night at a homestay overlooking the plains of Volubilis.
After a walking tour of Volubilis, an ancient archaeological site, we travel to Fes – the spiritual heart of Morocco. Fes is home to a huge medina, which is hard not to get lost in!! We also indulge in a (not-so-relaxing) hammam – definitely an experience!
Today we’ve got a long-ish drive by local bus to Chefchaouen, Morocco’s famous – and very photographed – Blue City. Apparently the houses are all painted blue to keep mosquitoes away.
We get a free day in Chefchaouen today, so take one million photos each, explore the city, and eat lots of great food. The walk up to the Spanish Mosque on the top of the hill is pretty challenging but SO worth it; make sure you do it!
After a little sleep in, we travel by minibus to Tangier, which used to be a hotspot for artists, millionaires and… SECRET AGENTS! We don’t spot any agents (that we know of), but we do spend some time exploring the fascinating medina.
Days 7 and 8
It’s our last couple of days of our Morocco adventure (sadface). We get the overnight train to Marrakech and spend time exploring the city’s incredible medina, the Djemaa el Fna (the city’s huge town square), and enjoying our last few delicious tagines. And just like that, our trip is over – but it’s been such an amazing adventure!
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All illustrations by Sarah Baumann.