It’s an autumn afternoon, and I’m scouring the Internet for just the right tour (hours pass. No… no… nice but not quite…), when something different pops onto the screen: Intrepid’s South Morocco Discovery for Solo Travellers.
A whirlwind adventure that will take us from the souks of Marrakech, to a hike in the Atlas Mountains, to the casbahs of the Draa Valley, to a night in the Sahara Desert, to a stroll in the seaside town of Essaouira. What’s more, everyone will be coming alone, just like me. It’s love at first sight! I call my mom, tell her I’ve found the one, and book the trip within the hour.
Four months later, I arrive at our first hotel, bleary-eyed but alive with anticipation. The woman checking in ahead of me turns out to be a tour mate, and soon we’re sharing stories of previous journeys, as well as our hopes for the one to come. That evening, I sit elbow to elbow with my new companions in Marrakech’s bustling main square, the Djemaa el Fna, partaking of an outdoor feast including calamari, kebabs, and fresh bread. Then we wander the souks, losing ourselves in the winding alleys. Back at the hotel, our tour leader invites us to join him for some Moroccan beer, and I can’t say no to yet another round of fascinating conversation. Who cares if I barely slept on the plane?!
More than once over the course of the next nine days someone says, “This is a good group.” I think it’s luck but also something more. When solo travellers join a tour — however personal the pilgrimage, however independent they may be — they come because they want to share the experience with others. And so we really talk to each other — sitting next to someone new at a meal or in the tour van, standing at the highest highway pass in North Africa, or watching an artisan spin clay into a tagine. We give of ourselves. We become friends. We share food, supplies, photos, and insights, as well as our concern for each other’s wellbeing.
Our tour leader Abdu sets the tone. At our first group meeting, he states that, as a proud Berber, it’s important for him to share his country and culture. True to his word, he adds extra stops to the itinerary, such as a walk around the weekly market in Ourika, where every Monday people come from far and wide to buy and sell all kinds of merchandise, from clothes to mounds of fruits and vegetables to just-slaughtered chickens. He tells us about how, when he was a child, his father would promise that, if he behaved , he would take him to the weekly market near their hometown. Abdu insists we taste the fresh donuts. Eventually, he says, “Yallah,” which means, “Let’s go,” and we reply, “Wahaa,” meaning “OK.”
On the second day of the trip, five of us are hiking to the Sidi Chamharouch Shrine in Toubkal National Park when it starts to snow; just a flurry at first and then a real shower. It’s the first time a young Australian woman in our group has experienced falling snow, and I delight in her awe and the scenic beauty.
In the lodge that night, we sit near the fire, playing a frenetic Moroccan card game we’ve just learned: “Bonjour Madame, Bonjour Monsieur.” Each time a one card is drawn, we throw our hands on top of each other’s at the centre of the table.
As evening falls over the Sahara on day five, we follow Abdu to the top of the highest dune in sight, our bare feet slipping below the surface of the sand almost every step of the way. Together we sit on the crest, watching the sun set behind rolling hills of sand.
When we arrive in Essaouira on day eight, I’m the only man in the group who chooses to go for the “local” hammam (bathing) experience. When I get back to the riad in which we’re staying, person after person asks how it was, and I happily provide the details of my scrubbing as if I’ve known these people for years.
There are fifteen of us, as well as Abdu. We are young, middle-aged, and old. We come from five continents and, among us, have touched all seven. We come by ourselves, and then we come together. The goodbye hugs are genuine. Our days have been full. Our journey deep.
Interested in having your own incredible adventure in Morocco? Check out our wide range of small group adventures now.
All images by Ben Feldman, except the feature image by Mark Borton.