Four Days in Morocco with Contiki Tours
Written and photographed by Salvatore DiBenedetto [@TheGrubfather]
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a huge believer in independent travel. When the winds of Morocco knocked on my door, I was ready to open. The catch? It would be through Contiki, one of the world's most well known guided tours for traveling young adults. Without much to lose I found myself touching down on Moroccan soil against an orange tinged sunset, ready for whatever lay my way.
25 destinations in two years and I've never quite tasted air like Morocco. It was spicy, it was alluring and it was exotic beyond belief. I found myself captivated within moments. Contiki had arranged an airport transfer and I found myself swirling through the streets of Fez. At first glance, Morocco was what I had expected, an old world vibe given life by pulsing mystique.
The hotel was budget quality by all means, but nonetheless efficient. After checking in I wandered to the lounge where I lit any apprehensions up in hookah smoke and drowned all nerves in beer. If there's one thing I've learned in travel it's the value of rolling with the waves.
Awakening to a fresh Moroccan morning came with renewed energy. The country has sat on the top of my bucket-list for some time so the prospect of having a full day's worth of exploration started to light my blood on fire. Breakfast was my first time really interacting with my Contiki group and as per all first meets conversation was shy yet inquisitive - a far cry from our alcohol-singed sing alongs later that evening in the lounge. After washing away any remnants of the prior evening with Moroccan coffee, it was time to board the Contiki bus and embark into the Fez's lifeline: the medina.
Chaos becomes you in the winding roads of Morocco's medinas... It was during the guided tour of Fez's medina where I (as a solo traveler) was able to first appreciate the Contiki experience. Not only were we guided by a seasoned local, the tour also dipped us in and out of shops that may have escaped my own itinerary. My Contiki group was filled with about 45 people and I always found myself riding along the tail of the crowd, flirting with the dangerous idea of simply turning a corner and getting lost. Professionalism and logic my only anchor, which inevitably prevailed.
Contiki’s curation of the ancient city Fez opened the door to a world of history and a preserved way of life. In some wishful thinking on my part, I felt as though I had entered a vortex into the past. Experiencing moments like grazing my hand along the golden doors of the King's palace, buying ripened Moroccan fruit from the market, sitting in on a Moroccan rug demonstration and learning how leather is crafted at a tannery gave me insight into the raw way of life here. As a traveler, I treasured this deeply and looking back appreciate the itinerary even more.
The second (and last) evening in Fez closed with a live entertainment dinner. The flavors danced in my mouth as rapid as the waist of the belly dancer who enchanted the room. Between wine-coursed meals and varying Moroccan acts, my new Contiki friends and I began to bond. Admittedly, I had them all beat on age by at least three years, but it wasn't hard for me to tap into my carefree youth and soar. And soar I did right into a hangover the following morning as I boarded a bus across the Sahara.
I won't lie, I wasn't into the idea of trekking across Morocco for eight hours on a bus. Rehashing thoughts of a 23 hour flight to Thailand, I kept reminding myself that no matter how much success I've achieved in life, I never wanted to be a bad traveler. If 8 hours was all that stood in my way of the Moroccan gem of Marrakech, than so be it. Contiki broke the trip up by stopping at a budget resort for lunch and a swim, interactive bus games and sing alongs. My plan of attack was simple: Forced sleep and my favorite jams.
Yet, as most rough rides go, the trip was undoubtedly worth it. Marrakesh was vivid and shook me right to my core. It was here, after all, that Morocco’s reputation in modern global traveling has been built. I was relieved to see Contiki had allocated a lot of free time in Marrakesh as the modern(ish) city didn't require a watchful eye so much as Fez.
Within moments, I was devoured by Marrakesh and in the sway of being totally lost, I found new parts of myself. Right there lies the beauty of traveling to places that bring you away from the comfort zone... you get a real opportunity to feel vulnerable. I bartered with merchants, I was charmed by snakes and most importantly, I truly felt alive. When you travel to Morocco, every moment seems like one you'll always remember.
When the sun dipped below the horizon, a new energy in Marrakesh's medina came to life. Our large group briefly walked past the chaos on the way to dinner and throughout the whole meal I couldn't stop thinking about it. The people, the smells, the rapture of culture... it danced in my mind like a fiend.
After another exciting dinner performance with Contiki, we all made our way to a rooftop bar. Still consumed with the thought of what was happening outside, I crushed a whiskey for liquid courage and bid my fellow travelers a last goodbye as my time with them was over after this evening. I generally hate goodbyes and this one was unexpectedly sad. The group turned out to be filled with people who were just as excited about traveling as me and watching them discover new lands as I did inspired me in ways I didn't realize at the time.
But I had my mind set on one thing and that was immersing myself into the chaos... alone. In some ways I feel like I had to prove it to myself. Could this kid who trekked Northern Thailand alone still hold his wit in a totally foreign place? Turns out, I could. I threw myself into the varying crowds who gathered around story-telling bards, snake charmers and musicians. Ignoring the foreign tongues which danced around my ears, I zoned in on the raw emotions of smiles, laughter and ferocity. This was culture. This was what it meant to give yourself to a place without apprehension.
After watching two men with monkey's on leashes get into a fist fight, I decided it was probably time to go. Hailing a cab and disappearing from the square, I looked back one last time, wondering when my eyes would be graced with Marrakesh's beauty again.
Though it was a quick stint, my time in Morocco proved to be a life changing and eye opening experience. It was also some reassurance that I could still kick it with budget traveling. In that spirit, I'd highly suggest Contiki for young adults seeking adventure, friendship and planned itineraries in their travels. Though I will always be an independent traveler, Contiki showed me that sometimes a little structure ain't a bad thing.
PS: Don't bring drones to Morroco, they will get seized. I'm speaking from experience.