If you know anything about me, you’ll know I’m an obsessive planner. For my upcoming trip I’ve got budget spreadsheets, a notebook full of itineraries, to-do lists, and plans. My month in Morocco was the most free and spontaneous I’ve ever been, and I loved every second. If you have enough time in a country, I think flying by the seat of your pants is the way to go – I experienced places I never would have gone to if I had planned ahead, and it was so much fun waking up in the morning with no idea where we were going to go that day.
Example: the guys I was travelling with wanted to go to the Todra Gorge, which I had never heard of, and it turned out to be one of the most amazing nights ever. We arrived in a grand taxi (look out for a post explaining all the ways to get around Morocco) fresh from our desert trip. On the taxi ride I pored over our shared Lonely Planet guide and picked a hostel – Camping Poisson Sacree. Which means Sacred Fish Camping. What? Still confused.
When we got there, the staff seemed strangely confused by our presence and we weren’t actually sure that they worked there. The hostel has multiple campsites if you have your own tent, but we stayed on the covered rooftop terrace in some tents that are set up permanently. I gotta say, I’d be happy to camp all the time if all tents came with comfy mattresses.
In one of the greatest feats of my travelling life, I managed to bargain down the price from 50 dirhams ($7) each to 30 dirhams ($3). Bargaining often fell to me as the only one who spoke French, and while I started the trip feeling super guilty every time I bargained, I ended it feeling quite competent.
The night we stayed in the gorge was one of the most magical of our trip, and that’s saying something considering we had just come from an incredible experience sleeping under the stars in the Sahara. In the late afternoon, one of the hostel workers guided us to the gorge, leading us along a river and through stone villages and ruins. We never would have found our way on our own, and the walk to get there was almost as beautiful as the gorge itself.
We arrived in the gorge in the early evening, so it was practically empty – no other tourists, and almost none of the souvenir sellers that probably would have annoyed us during the day. It was cold (relatively), and windy, and dust kept whipping me in the face, but it was so pretty that I didn’t care. The gorge’s walls are astonishingly high and steep, and walking among them feels as though you’re strolling through another world – it’s one of those places that makes you feel very insignificant and awed.
We paid our ‘guide’ a little bit for his kind ‘tour’, and headed back to the hostel in a taxi. One of the boys hitched a ride into town to pick up supper supplies and wine (which, yes, you can find in most areas of Morocco!), and then they cooked while I sat around being unhelpful. Cooking in hostels in an art which I have not yet mastered, while lying on a canopied sofa in the Moroccan twilight drinking wine is one of my greatest skills.
One of the hardest things about travelling, especially in places like Morocco, is trying to experience local culture while avoiding taking advantage of locals and simultaneously getting a fake experience. In the desert, our Berber guides played traditional music for us, but it felt forced. In the gorge, however, we were treated to one of the most authentic nights in my travels. The staff was hanging out in a living room of sorts and after we finished our supper they invited us in. They were raucously playing drums and singing in Arabic, Darija, and French – I’ve never seen people have more fun. The guys took turns trying out the drums and I just sat there soaking it all in. Talking to our new friends about their lives, traditions and beliefs over the sounds of Moroccan music being played right in front us was one of the coolest things I could have asked for.
For about 10 dollars each, we got an amazing guided hike into a natural wonder, a homecooked meal, and a night of culture, music and laughter. I slept soundly and blissfully in my comfortable tent, breathing in the open air of the Moroccan countryside. Who says budget travel can’t be luxurious?