Hello! My name is Janis. I recently moved to Vancouver, Canada but was previously living in South Korea for the last three years. While in South Korea, I was teaching at a Canadian international school and traveling my way around Asia with my husband. I had time off for Canadian holidays and South Korean holidays so we were able to do a lot of traveling!
One of my primary motivations for traveling is simply to see beautiful things. I grew up in the Canadian prairies and there is a very unique beauty to that part of Canada. The prairies are so flat that the sky just seems enormous & there are the most amazing sunrises and sunsets. However, the world is so diverse and I want to see as many beautiful, mesmerizing, breath-taking things as I can. I think traveling also teaches me that, as different as we all are, there are a lot of similarities and things that we share in common as well. It’s really wonderful to share a laugh with someone, despite the fact that neither of you speak each other’s language very well.
How does photography influence the way you travel and see the world around you?
There is always this struggle of trying to stay present in the moment and wanting to capture it with my camera. I try to do both – I go crazy taking pictures, but then also make sure that I put it away and just enjoy what’s happening. However, I think if I weren’t taking photos, I would sometimes miss things. I’m always on the look out for interesting details to shoot.
What was your favorite approach to photography while there? How did people react to being photographed?
This was a really interesting trip photography-wise because we found out very quickly that most people in Morocco really do not like having their photo taken. We, of course, tried to be very respectful of that, but as a result, we have barely any photos of people from this trip. We found attitudes about this really vary, country to country. We were in Nepal this past spring and people were asking us to take pictures of their babies or of their houses.
What sparked your interest to travel to Morocco? Which cities/regions did you visit?
After our first two years living in Asia, my husband and I had seen a lot of the continent. We were keen to go somewhere totally different and Morocco seemed to fit the bill. We went to Chefchaouen (famous for its blue Medina!), Fez, Merzouga (Sahara Desert) Todra and Dades Gorge, Marrakesh, and Essaouira.
How did you plan for your trip? How did you navigate between each city?
I have a lot of friends whom rarely plan anything in advance and just figure it out as they go along. It totally works for them, but I have to say, I’m not that type of traveler. I don’t schedule things down to the minute, but I like to figure out at least transportation & lodging before we go somewhere. Trip planning is one of my favourite things to do so I spend a lot of time on it! Planning a trip is like anything else – you get better at it the more you do it. I look back to our first big trip together (Hawaii) four and a half years ago and think, “I was such a baby! I had no idea what I was doing!” I usually get my hands on a Lonely Planet, but I also look at travel forums online (Thorn Tree and Trip Advisor primarily) and travel blogs. I look up the best places to check out, sample itineraries, and methods of transportation and then try to figure out what would work for us. For this trip, I’d read that a lot of people try to zip too quickly between the desert, the gorges and Marrakesh and just end up exhausted. So I really tried to be mindful of that and do it at a more relaxed pace. I was a little intimidated at first to ask questions on the Trip Advisor forum but people are so helpful and answer very quickly! It’s a great resource to utilize if you’re trying to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B.
We found a super cheap overnight flight from Istanbul to Casablanca, however, we didn’t spend any time in Casablanca. We headed straight to the bus station and took a bus to Chefchaouen. We then took a second bus between Chefchaouen and Fes. Once we had wrapped up in Fes, we rented a car. We paid $250 for 8 days, which seemed pretty reasonable to us – although there was no GPS! Our first order of business was getting a map. We used the car to drive to the desert, Todra and Dades Gorge, and Marrakesh. Dropping our car off in Marrakesh at rush hour with no GPS was a bit of a nightmare, but I’ll certainly never forget it! After our time in Marrakesh, we bought round trip bus tickets Essaouira-Marrakesh, as we were flying home out of Marrakesh.
What would you say differentiated each city and region you explored from each other?
Something unexpected was how much language differed from place to place. Our friend we were traveling with learned some Berber expressions early on in the trip, but then found out that elsewhere in the country, they spoke a different Berber dialect and didn’t understand what she was saying! Different cities and places had very different vibes. Essaouria and Merzouga were a lot more laid back, while Marrakesh and Fez were busy and chaotic!
Did you have any expectations or preconceived notions about the culture you would be exposed to? How did they differ from the way the culture actually was?
I think I had a bit of a romanticized idea of the busy markets and leather tanneries in Fez. While there was a lot to see and experience, it definitely wasn’t an easy traveling experience. Faux guides were constantly popping up and were sometimes quite aggressive. The medina's walls were high and the passageways were narrow. The whole experience was a little suffocating. However, I would still recommend it on anyone's Moroccan itinerary. Fez seems like a key piece of Morocco's cultural puzzle and I'm glad we got to spend a bit of time with it.
How did this trip differ from trips you’ve taken in the past? What surprised you most about your experience?
As I mentioned before, we had travelled mostly in Asia before this trip. Morocco is so different than Asian countries in so many areas – culture, language, cuisine, architecture etc. It was really exciting to be in a place that was so different than anywhere we had been previously! Before going to Morocco, we had been to a few countries that have a significant Muslim population, such as Malaysia. However, Morocco (in general) seemed significantly more devout. It was interesting to learn more about Islam, especially during the Ramadan season.
What were some of your travel experiences throughout Morocco?
I think we learned the most about Moroccan culture and had the most interesting discussions with the people working at our guesthouses. We had really pleasant experiences everywhere we stayed. We were traveling during Ramadan, so we learned a bit about Iftar. As soon as the sun goes down, everybody tucked in for a delicious meal (Iftar). Often, the owners of a guesthouse would offer to share their Iftar meal with us. In Todra Gorge, some of the guys working at the guesthouse also taught us how to play a popular Moroccan card game, while drinking mint tea. So neat!
What foods did you eat? Did you have any favorite/unfavorable culinary experiences?
We drank tons and tons of mint tea and had banana shakes at almost every breakfast. There are so many different tajines to try, but chicken tajine was always my go-to. We also got to try harira soup quite a few times. It’s a really hearty soup that’s popular to eat when breaking the fast. And of course there was plenty of couscous to eat!
While frequenting restaurants in Morocco, we quickly realized that 99% of our interactions were with Moroccan men. There were very few women working in the hospitality or restaurant industry. Café Clock in Fez was the exception to this rule. The restaurant had a really nice, laid back vibe and the servers (both male and female!) were really open and chatty.
Travel has a tendency to look very glamourous, though that is not always the case. What types of challenges have you had during your travels and how did you overcome them?
We definitely had a few challenges. As I mentioned previously, we were in Morocco during Ramadan. While we learned a lot, it was not a particularly easy time to travel Morocco. We were only able to go in the summer due to my work schedule so we just made it work. However, if you have a flexible schedule, I’d recommend going during another time. Restaurants were often closed during the day and it was hard to find something to eat. And even when we did, we felt so guilty eating while all the restaurant employees were fasting.
Another challenge was when Mike and I both had some bouts of traveller’s diarrhea (TD) and Mike also became dehydrated. We loved this pharmacist’s advice: “Drink lots of Coca Cola!” It totally contradicted everything we read online about treating dehydration! Whenever we had a coke on the trip, we’d always say, “Doctor’s orders!” After our TD experiences in Morocco, I started packing TD medicine with us on all our trips. I waited too long to go to a pharmacist and the problem was resolved so quickly once I started taking medicine!
Finally, getting to Chefchaouen was probably one of the most arduous parts of our trip. We took two overnight flights and a train from the airport into the city. Then we had to hang around Casablanca’s bus station for six hours (with a death grip on our bags since bus station staff told us luggage was often stolen). We then hopped on a bus for another six hours to Chefchaouen. Then of course we got lost in Chefchaouen’s (small!) medina on the way to our guesthouse! We were exhausted by the time we got there!
What recommendations can you share for future travelers also interested in exploring the region?
The Sahara desert was my absolute favourite place in Morocco! Looking back at the photos from our time there, I can’t quite believe that we were actually there! I had looked at so many photos of Merzouga (the area of the Sahara desert we visited) prior to going that I was afraid I would be a bit underwhelmed. However, I was still astounded - it was amazing! I will warn you that it kind of ruins you
for any future desert experience. The Sahara desert just cannot be topped! My next favourite place was Essaouira. It was so beautiful and a bit cooler in the summer, due to its location by the ocean. There is not a terrible amount to see, but it was really relaxing just to walk around, grab a bite to eat, and do some shopping. It has a totally different feel than Marrakesh or Fez. I’m also really glad we started in Chefchaouen as its medina is a lot smaller and easier to navigate. It’s good preparation for the crazy medinas in Fez and Marrakesh! Chefchaouen is also incredibly beautiful as most of its medina is painted blue.
Is there a particular moment during the trip you would relive given the opportunity?
Our sunset camel ride in the Sahara desert was just pure magic. The previous night, it had been quite windy so we weren’t sure if it would work for us to go into the desert the following night. However, the conditions the following day were perfect for our camel ride. We ate dinner at the dune camp and listened to some music. There were tents set up for us to sleep in, but our guides told us that we could drag our beds out and sleep under the stars if we’d like. It sounded like a beautiful idea, but the wind picked up and the sheets kept flapping everywhere. Definitely did not turn out as romantic and idyllic as we thought, but it’s funny to look back on!
What’s next for you? Do you have any final words of advice?
Mike and I recently moved to Vancouver, BC. Mike is attending Emily Carr University of Art and Design and I’m looking for a teaching job. It’s so exciting to be living in a new place and there are TONS of things for us to check out. We’re not sure if we’ll be able to travel internationally much while Mike is in school, but we’ll be sure to keep exploring.
Images Courtesy of Janis Roseanne
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