Colors and Culture of the Moroccan Medinas

Colors and Culture of the Moroccan Medinas

 

Here is an excerpt of my photography passion project for Wanderingeducators.com on the beautiful and unique Moroccan medinas. To read the full article click here.


Colors and Culture of the Moroccan Medinas

The best part of travel photography, for me, is capturing images of culture. There is nothing I love more than being completely immersed in a place with culture vibrant and new to me. While living in Morocco for three months, I have been photographing the life and culture of the medinas.

A medina is the historical old town of a city in Morocco and other northern African countries. They are full of tight alleyways, high walls, colorful storefronts, warm street food, and people. They are also free of cars, which make them an easy place to spend the day wandering around and photographing.

To read the rest on wanderingeducators.com click here 🙂

Colors and Culture of the Moroccan Medinas

Shoes for sale in Essaouira

 

1/20/17 – Morocco: The Atlas Mountains

Morocco, mountain travel

I felt the chilly mountain air brush against my face as I stepped off the bus. It was two a.m. and we had just arrived at a Berber homestay in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. I looked over my shoulder only to find myself staring into a snowy mountain range illuminated with the glowing light of sky filled with stars. I’ve never felt so awake at two a.m. in my entire life.

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Staying warm with friends

I heard the others laughing and breaking into excited conversation as they too saw the gorgeous scene.

We walked into the house and I chatted with my friends Salma and Shaema for some time. Then,  the Berber family that hosted us for the night carried into the room a delicious dinner of cous cous. We ate around a gigantic shared clay dish, and then ran to the roof to see the stars and mountains again.

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Dinner!

The view was impossible to be captured on camera. Sparking snowy peaks, the glow of the moon, and a million stars over our heads. Words can’t describe it. Soon after, I was asleep sandwiched between all three of my sisters on a bed inside the house at around four am.

The next morning we woke up early, quickly bundled up in all the layers we had and ate a Moroccan breakfast of msamen, which is a type of fried pancake, and bread with cheese, honey, olive oil, and sweet tea.

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my Moroccan breakfast

After breakfast we traveled for another few hours through the Atlas mountains to a ski resort called Oukaimeden. Bus travel with Moroccans is no ordinary experience. Five hours through the mountains we clenched our teeth and gripped our seats as the bus raced around sharp turns. Meanwhile Arabic pop music played in the background at full volume. Surprisingly none of the Moroccans actually seemed to notice the crazy driving. There was dancing in the aisles, singing, and a lot of laughter of course.

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the ski hill

The skiing ended up not being what we anticipated, but more of a giant ice-covered sledding hill. My family separated from the group to go on a hike. The view from the top of the mountain was unreal. Miles of steep, blue mountain slopes spread out before our eyes, and jagged, snow-cloaked peak lined the horizon. I stood motionless, entranced by the dramatic beauty of a scene unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

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It was soon time to go, we hiked back down the mountain to find our friends and shortly after drove to Marrakesh to experience the Jamaa El Fena square and medina at night. The square was a cultural experience, but also loud and chaotic so we explored the back alleys of the medina and found a quite Hammam spa, with a restaurant upstairs. We spent three hours sipping wine, which is pretty much a forbidden luxury in Muslim Morocco, and eating a nice tajine dinner.

On the way home I gazed at the twinkling stars that blanketed the sky outside my window, a stunning finale to an amazing trip.

One Year of Travel

We’ve been traveling for a year. Wow. I can still remember arriving in Mexico last January and thinking how 365 days in the future felt so incredibly far away. And here we are. In the grand scheme of things a year isn’t a very long time, but it is a milestone to celebrate.

This year has offered a wide range of emotions for me, but overall it has been the best and most exciting year of my life.  I’ve been to more places than I could have ever imagined, and learned more than I ever learned from 10 years in school: Mayan culture in the Yucatan, eating brain in Thailand, the best Indian food of my life (so far ) in Malaysia, amazing friends in Morocco. I couldn’t be more lucky to call this crazy life my own… and this crazy amazing world my home.

That said, here is a list of the most important things I’ve learned this year.

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In Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Most Important Things This Year Taught Me

1) To be bolder. A year ago, I was a very different person than I am today. For starters, I was very shy and introverted. It was hard the first few months of travel, and I missed a lot of opportunities to meet people because I was too nervous to talk with them. Then I just started forcing myself into social interaction, and now I talk to everyone and anyone…. usually in broken English and assorted basic phrases of other languages, and usually to strangers much older than me. A year ago, this would have sounded like a crazy impossible feat to a girl who could hardly recite a line of poetry in class. Confidence is an important skill.

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Swimming in the Adriatic Sea, Croatia

2)To be comfortable being uncomfortable. This year I have been out of my comfort zone probably 99% of the time. Travel forces me into odd and difficult situations, language barriers, strange food, and new places, so often that things that should bother me just don’t. This includes, but is not limited to, open sewers, hanging cow carcasses, goat heads, eating brain, bullet holes in buildings, sharing a bathroom with 13 other people, and more.

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Train travel in Bangkok

3)To grow up faster. I’ve always been a fiercely independent person, but I think travel has made me more so. So many unexpected things can happen when you are traveling, and many of these moments come with a lot of stress. There isn’t room or time to act like a child or complain in this lifestyle. I’ve also had very limited interaction with teenagers or a peer circle that is my age. Most of the people I hang out with are adults. I get asked a lot of questions about what that is like, or if it’s hard for me. Honestly, hanging out with adults is the best, especially adults who take me seriously. Having people 3,5,10, or 20+ years older than me as friends has really helped me grow.

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Breakfast in Mexico

4)To make new friends, and keep the old. Some say that it’s impossible to form deep emotional connections with people when you are constantly moving, but I don’t find this to be the case. Everything in a friendship happens, only more quickly. Instead of talking a little everyday for a year, you talk with a new friend for hours and hours over a few days. We realize the limited time we have together, and try to fit as much learning about each other as possible in the shortened time.  I’ve also kept in touch with new friends and formed strong friendships with people I’ve never even met.  On the other end of the spectrum, I don’t know where I’d be without my old friends. Our relationships surprisingly haven’t changed, even though we don’t see each other off Skype. Online friendships are no less important and special. Email is a gift, and with it you can have many deep conversations that don’t happen over coffee or at school. 

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

5)To live minimally. My backpack weighs around 12ish kg right now. Everything I own fits into a 45 liter REI backpack. It’s crazy to think about, but I would never trade this simplicity for a life filled with clutter. When I buy things now they become treasured luxuries that I care for and appreciate. Living minimally taught me to be creative and resourceful as I often have to repurpose old possessions so they can be used in new ways.  

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At the airport

6)To learn all the time, and learn anything. The best lessons come from unlikely places and unlikely people.

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Teaching English in Thailand

7)To take the path less traveled. Yes, we go to tourist spots occasionally because how could you not see the Eiffel Tower and Arc De Triumph when in Paris? How could we skip Chichen Itza, one of the seven wonders of the world, when in the Yucatan? Other than that, we spend a lot of time away from the tourist track. This is where the most fun happens. My favorite was when we got invited into the home of a lovely Thai family. We were in a province called Uttaradit, in between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, teaching English at a primary school. The province does not receive any tourism, so we were quite the oddity. One second we were walking down the street, and the next we were drinking ice-cold water and eating an infinite number of mangos. This would have never happened in Bangkok.

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Uxmal Ruins in Mexico

8)To eat literally everything. This is one of my favorite skills that I’ve obtained through traveling. Most of the time, I don’t have the luxury to choose what I want to eat, and western food is expensive in non-western countries. I’ve learned to eat all food and not be limited by preferences, including unusual food like boiled snails, brain, durian, chicken feet soup….

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Delicious soup in Thailand

9)To appreciate what I have, and not dwell on what I don’t. I spent a lot of time at the beginning of this year dwelling on the thought of what my life would be like if I hadn’t left my comfort zone in the US. Negativity can be overpowering, and it sent me into a pit of self-pity that I struggled to climb out of. What I had forgotten is that I have the best life I could imagine, experiences that many only dream of, and an amazing family with me every step of the way. I focus on these things, and all the other good and beautiful things in my life now. I’ve never felt happier.


That’s all for 2016. Here’s to another year of travel, love, life, family,  and new adventures. Bring it on 2017. Thanks for reading! xx -Iz