Falling In and Out of Love in Morocco

Before we left on this around-the-world adventure, I would’ve said Morocco was my favorite country. Of all the places I’d visited, I loved everything about its culture, landscape, and people.

The melting pot that is Tangier, where Europe and Africa meet in a whirlwind of Spanish, Moorish, Arabic, and African influences. The labyrinthine medina of Marrakech, with its bright colors, smells, and sounds. The vast desert of Merzouga, where Morocco borders Algeria and tribal cultures still thrive in the Sahara. The modern mecca of Rabat, with its French colonial influences situated side-by-side with ancient Islamic landmarks. And cosmopolitan Casablanca, home to fervent prayers at the colossal Hassan II Mosque and to thousands of non-Muslim expats from all over the world.

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My new friend, Clyde, and me just before we set out on our trek through the Sahara Desert

We’d spent two months in Europe with Ben, and he’d just left for the States and the beginning of his school year. We were sad to see him go, and it was exacerbated by storms in the northeastern United States that left him stranded alone in Newark. Mike and I spent several hours on the phone talking him through the unexpected situation, making arrangements for his hotel, and ensuring he got home safely, which he did.

This was the same night Mike was mugged in Mallorca, and to top it off, we hadn’t slept well in days with the European heat wave.

Needless to say, we were feeling pretty low.

We buoyed ourselves with the knowledge that we’d be in Africa soon and back to the Moroccan culture we loved.

Our route took us through the city of Melilla, a 7.6 square mile (12.3 km²) area of Africa that belongs to Spain. It’s a coastal town with a confused identity, but the people we met were very friendly and the food was a delicious Spanish-Moroccan mashup that we really enjoyed. We began to feel optimistic and hopeful that our travel mojo was back.

It was not.

We crossed the land border on foot, since taxis won’t drive from one country to the other. Our passports were reviewed and our luggage was inspected, and that’s when the trouble hit.

While there’s no law preventing you from entering Morocco with a drone, you aren’t allowed to fly them in the country, and the border guards had a field day with Mike’s DJI Mavic Pro. After passing us — and the drone — from one person to the next for a couple of hours, we were finally told that it would be confiscated and held while we were in Nador. We could come back to the frontera before we went to the airport for our departing flight the next week, and a border guard would accompany us to the airport with the drone.

We left the border, swam through the sea of screaming taxi drivers and beggars waiting for us on the other side, and made our way to our hotel in Nador. Our room was on the fifth floor, and after climbing the stairs and dropping our luggage just inside the door, we turned on the blessed air conditioning and licked our wounds.

Hoping for a good night’s sleep and a fresh start, we showered and went to bed early.

And then the music began.

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An art installation made of recycled garbage at a summer music festival in Nador, Morocco

King Mohammed VI was sponsoring a series of summer beach festivals throughout Morocco, and it was the first night of free concerts in Nador. And it was right outside our balcony. The live music began around 10 p.m. each evening and went until 2 or 3 a.m., and it was filled with Autotune and musicians who hadn’t yet learned how to work a crowd.

After a sleepless night, a bathroom that flooded when you showered, and intermittent wifi access that prevented us from doing any work, we felt even lower than we had in Mallorca. We were embarking the second phase of this year-long adventure, and we needed a reset. We resigned ourselves to giving up on our “authentic” Nador hostel and moving to the international chain hotel across the street.

And it was glorious.

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The purpose of our trip is to find our next home, so we typically avoid hotel chains, restaurant chains, and anything else that feels homogenized. We want to know what a city or a country is really like, which means local businesses and neighborhoods where we can meet people and have experiences that are more authentic.

But sometimes you need a break. A chance to catch your breath and catch up to where you are, because this whole experience is wonderful and incredible but also quite exhausting and overwhelming.

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The staff at the Hôtel Mercure Rif Nador could not have been kinder to us. We took most of our meals in the restaurant, and Azzedine, a server from Casablanca, made every experience special and lovely. The talented chef of the hotel’s Restaurant International saved a special portion of his traditional couscous for us one evening, and it was spectacular. The manager found out we were leaving at 2 a.m. and made arrangements for us to stay in our room long after checkout, and he had a taxi waiting for us when we came down to the lobby.

While Mercure is a hotel chain, it was run by Moroccans who offered us their heartfelt hospitality as guests in their country, and we were restored by it. So much so that we had the energy and the courage to leave its walls and venture out into Nador, exploring the nearby market during the day and walking along the esplanade at night to observe the king’s festival.

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At the end of the week, we returned to the frontera, where Mike had to pay a $40 USD fine to recover his drone, which was driven to the airport by a border guard in a separate car. There was much negotiation with airport officials as Mike worked to get it into his checked baggage to Tunisia, but after several hours of touch-and-go, he was successful and was rewarded with a beautiful sunrise as we boarded the plane.

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A relationship with a country is much like a relationship with a person. You can fall in love hard and relish the blissful honeymoon phase, but reality will eventually set in. Sometimes you find that it magically works, like my marriage with Mike. There are bumps in the road, but that’s life. And if you’re overwhelmingly happy, it can last a lifetime.

Am I still in love with Morocco? Yes. But is it still a contender for our next home?

We’ll see.

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