The Moroccan saga continues! I recently took a 10-day trip to Morocco and had the time of my life. While the hustling and bustling cities of Marrakech and Rabat were amazing and incredibly stimulating experiences, the truly immersive experience where I got to know the local people and fully immerse myself into the culture was in the smaller towns. The first of those towns was Tinghir.
In order to get to Merzouga, we broke up the trip and took an 8 hour bus ride from Marrakech to Tinghir. The bus ride was windy and long but took us through many small towns and gave us a look into the local life outside the massive city of Marrakech. We stopped a few times along the way, some of which I think corresponded with the Muslim calls to prayer. We drove through the Atlas Mountains and saw palm-filled oasis in the valley and snow capped mountains in the distance.
Although it was short, spending time in Tinghir was one of the highlights of our trip. We stayed at a humble hostel called Retour au Calme, which was a tad hard to find late at night and had modest amenities, but at $8/night it served its purpose and had a lovely bunch of people with whom we befriended.
Upon arrival we were greeted with mint tea—lovingly referred to as Berber Whiskey because legit the amount of sugar in that stuff is addictive. We met Germans, French, Moroccans and played cards and even dabbled in playing some traditional Berber music! The hostel had a set of drums for to use and combined with my friend Joe’s ukelele and a French friend’s harmonica, we had a solid little band!
The beauty of travel for me is that I get to experience so many different ways of living and thinking. I find that the more I travel, the more I realize how little I know about the world and the people in it, as travel literally expands my horizons.
When talking about It’s Not Hou It’s Me to people around town, I like to describe myself as an unofficially, official ambassador of Houston. However, when I travel abroad, that diplomatic role multiplies ten-fold. Many people who I’ve encountered on my travels often just go off stereotypes about Americans because they’ve never met or conversed deeply with one. Even the simplest small talk conversation over Moroccan tea can help give depth to the narrow American persona that other countries witness. I make a point to be the best representative of my country (and state and city!) that I can be!
We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic to creativity. When we get home, home is still the same, but something in our minds has changed and that changes everything.
The next morning we enjoyed a traditional Moroccan breakfast of bread, jam, mint tea and fresh pressed orange juice and then set off for the Todra Gorge.
We caught a taxi by the post office and paid a standard rate of 8 DH/person to get to the base of the gorge. Using some delightfully hand drawn maps, we found the starting staircase and hiked up the mountain. With a series of stops for photos, music and conversing with other hikers, it took us about 4 hours to complete.
Along the route we were passed by many Berber families taking their donkeys down into the town. We also stumbled upon a very humble Berber settlement with open air stone houses and caves dwellings. According to my fitness tracker we climbed 5 miles and nearly 130 flights of stairs!
Afterwards we crossed the river and caught a taxi back to Tinghir. If we had had more time we would have followed the riverbed under the palm trees back to the hostel (and additional 2 hours by foot). Back at the hostel we showered and had a Berber omelette prepared with eggs, onion, tomato and fresh bread and olives on the side. I had a vegan version in a tajine that subbed in olives and golden raisins instead of eggs. I loved how accommodating they were!
In general, visiting Tinghir was delightful because the people were so much more chill and authentic. We weren’t getting hustled every two seconds and being harassed to answer where were from, what riad were going to, etc. On the taxi ride back from the gorge, we paid 7DH/person instead of 8DH because it was a shorter trip —very fair set price unlike the taxis in Marrakech and Rabat.
For stories of hustling and common scams, check out my Rabat recap.
As we left Tinghir for Merzouga, we met one of Morocco’s national marathon runners! He trains twice a day (in the Moroccan heat yikes!) and does ultra marathon races through the desert (double yikes!). While we waited for the bus (Moroccan buses and trains are notoriously late) loads of towns people came up to him to say hi. It was so sweet! We were legit with a Moroccan celebrity and a true man of the people!
Although we worked Tinghir into our schedule because we didn’t want to take a 12 hour bus ride, getting a break from the chaos of the cities and medinas by visiting Tinghir was definitely one of the best decisions we made and absolutely time well spent! Experiencing the lush green patch of Tinghir gave true meaning to oasis in so many ways.