Being Challenged in Morocco

Morocco has brought us some challenges.  Which is a good thing really.  No, seriously.

Marrakech, Morocco

When we were preparing to leave Mexico, some people asked me why we were so eager to leave.  We did love it there and had met some wonderful people.  But I hungered to be challenged.  Some might wonder if being a single parent and traveling with your child as full-time nomads isn’t enough of a challenge.  Well, I suppose so, but Tigger and I have adapted so well that really, well, it’s become easy.  Way too easy.

We spent our first 1-1/2 years of travel in Latin America.  I already spoke Spanish fluently before embarking on our new lifestyle, so I didn’t have the challenge of language.  I had already lived in Mexico and Ecuador previously.  We lived in Honduras for 8 months where my life consisted mostly of dive, eat, dive, eat, sleep, repeat.  A glorious life for sure, but not a real challenge.  Except for the occasional student having a panic attack underwater.

Interestingly, my greatest initial challenge was learning how to slow down.  Before we began a life of travel, I worked full time in a very emotionally demanding job, ran and cycled regularly, volunteered, had an active social life, etc.  So busy was my normal.  All of a sudden I found myself on a Caribbean beach with only maybe 3 hours of work to do a day.  It drove me crazy even though I enjoyed it.  Once I was finally accustomed to it, Utila helped slow me down a bit more.

Everything had become just so darn easy really.  So, I was excited to go to Europe which would be a jumping off point for more adventures.

And then we arrived in Morocco.  Hello challenges!

First we had the challenge of getting into Morocco.  Then came the language issues.  I have a very basic grasp of French.  In the north you can get by with a mix of French, English, and my almost nonexistent Arabic.  That was a good breaking-in for life in the south.

Tighmert, Morocco

In southern Morocco, very few people speak any English.  We’ve left behind the tourism-driven areas of Marrakech and Essaouira for “small town, real world Morocco.”  There are many people here who understand even less French than me.  The French phrase I now speak with the highest degree of fluidity is: “I don’t understand.”

The food is even more plain than up north.  Tagines and couscous can only take you so far.  Which, ultimately is fine since we live on an oasis about 10 km outside of town.  We’ve found camel to be quite tasty, and as a kefta (ground meat) it’s really tender and easy to work with.  Goat not so much.  And because they’re Muslim, there is no pork.  Edam is the most glamorous cheese we’ve been able to find.

I guess we can add remote to that list, eh?  Yes, we live on an oasis.  As in a green area in the middle of desert.  It’s gorgeous here, and this time of year means you have comfortably warm days with chilly evenings.  A perfect combination in my mind.

There are a few small stores nearby where you can get toilet paper, maybe bread, maybe eggs, some yogurt, some candy, and stuff like that.  Our refrigerator is dorm room-sized (and runs off a small propane tank).  So that means we make twice weekly trips into “the big city.”

Getting to the city is always an adventure.  There are petit taxis that come by that will cram up to 6 people in them (not counting the driver).  They only leave town when they have 6 riders, so you are never quite sure when they will be coming by. There are also grand taxis (mini buses) which will stuff in as many people as can they possibly can.  They run on a more scheduled basis, but since they make frequent stops, you’re never quite sure when they’ll be driving by. Basically, once you get to the road, you can expect to wait anywhere from 5 minutes to 45.  A trip into town for groceries is usually a half day proposition.

Guelmim, Tighmert, Morocco

Why so long? Well, aside from the waiting to get into town, and a bit of a wait to get back, you can’t just go to one spot to buy all your groceries.  The “super market” has things like pastas, beans, detergent, frozen meat.  It’s either a short taxi ride or a long walk.

For anything fresh, you have to go to vendors.  The butcher sells camel, goat, and supposedly beef.  Seafood is right next to them, so that part is easy.  For chicken, you have go to the chicken butcher.  Your future meal is still running around and clucking when you select it, and after a few minutes you’re handed a bag containing your freshly killed and plucked chicken.

We go to our favored vendors for vegetables but usually have to go to another one for fruit.  There is another guy I buy my olives from.  Usually while they’re preparing my chicken purchase, I make another quick stop for bread at one of the pull carts.  My favorite vendor gives me a brief Arabic lesson each time, which I really enjoy.  The look on his face as I use words from our last visit is always worth it.  If I decide to buy some alcohol, I have to go up an alley to a nondescript store to grab that.

Then, if you didn’t get it at the supermarket near the center of town, you have to stop by the dairy store to get milk.  We have rabbits and chickens which eat a local plant as their main food source, so we have to stop by the guy who sells that bundled up as well. That’s usually our last stop before we head to the petit taxi stop (much easier to take these if you have a bunch of bags you’re carrying).

I make my living via the Internet.  There is no cable, no dialup, no WiFi.  We use 3G USB modems.  Depending where you sit on the property, you may have fairly fast speeds, or you’ll be thinking “If only we could get dial-up speeds. . . ”  Naturally, the areas with the best speeds are nowhere near an outlet, so your time is limited there.

If we hadn’t been trained for slow living before coming here, you’d find me up in the date palms giggling insanely and talking to myself in no time.

Being white-skinned and without a car (most of the few expats here have cars), makes us somewhat of a local oddity.  We are gawked at quite regularly.  When I smile and greet them with a salem or bonjour, they always seem a bit relieved as if they had been previously wondering if I was considering them as an ingredient in my next soup.  Tigger is also quite amusing for the locals.  On a bus, Moroccan children sit down and are quiet.  Tigger amuses himself with a Lego man he’s brought in his pocket or by using me as a climbing structure, and he’s still learning what exactly his “inside voice” is.

Are you exhausted yet?

With all these challenges, one might be thinking “I bet they can’t wait to leave there!”

You’d be wrong.  Yes, I’m being challenged, and I love it.  I wouldn’t change a thing.

What place have you visited that challenged you the most?

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32 Comments

  1. Talon, I think you should know that – having just this minute returned from 3 weeks more or less off-the-grid in Oz – I have no less than 552 blog posts waiting in my Google Reader, and…

    Yours was the FIRST one I opened ‘cuz I can always count on something unique and authentic from the “Crazy” duo.

    Once again, you didn’t disappoint. ;)

    Morocco is among my favorite destinations in all the world. Glad to see you’re enjoying it too.

    And to answer your question: Mongolia – trekking by hoof amid the g-forsaken (and incredibly awesome) wilds of the Altai mountains in western Mongolia. Sleeping on frigid floors in nomadic eagle hunter gers heated by yak dung (but an hour each evening whilst the everlasting mutton sizzled), with no electricity nor running water – hell, not even an outhouse for a wiz.

    Challenging? Youbetcha. And I loved every blessed minute of it. Indeed, I too have concluded that it is the perpetual CHALLENGES (both big and small) that are at the core of my addiction to wandering the globe.
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  2. WOW! Thanks for such an outstanding compliment! I am quite honored!

    Your Mongolia experience sounds like quite the adventure. Mon dieu! Does the yak dung fuel have a yak poo smell? I’ve been curious about that since I first heard of people burning dung for fuel.

    I think I’m right there with you. The challenges are what make it so exciting and memorable. Too much “everyday norm” is just too boring.

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    • Ya know, I hardly noticed any doo-doo odor to the yak dung burning. I guess ‘cuz I was just so blessedly GLAD to get some HEAT. Plus, the stuff was verily EVERYWHERE you walked – especially tricky whence taking a wiz out under the stars. Trust it gives a whole new meaning to “tip-toeing through the tulips”. ;)
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  3. Well 6 years of “challenges” here may have been enough, it has been exciting at times and definitely memorable, however a new language may be on the horizon. We are ready for new excitements and a whole bunch of happier people :)

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    • Six years in one place would be a challenge for me for sure! The only reason I lasted 8 months in Utila was because I was diving virtually every day, and because we did a few trips off the island to go exploring.

      Happier people are always a welcome find!

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  4. Talon,
    I feel your need to be challenged. Right now we’re working on our second year in France and It would be so easy to get complacent. But the kids are in school here immersed with the other french kids so we have to stay.

    Everyday I try to do something scary or challenging or unexpected. If i don’t i go stir crazy and get bored.

    I actually am very jealous of people who are content to stay in once place. I wonder what my life would be like if I could just stay put..
    Annie Andre recently posted..25 Lessons I am Thankful I learned from travelling and living abroad With My Family: Photo EssayMy Profile

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    • Sounds kind of boring to me. :) I often have been envious of people like one of my friends who grew up in the same home his whole life and still is in touch with people he knew since kindergarten, but then again, I don’t know that I could handle it.

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  5. I love it! Being challeneged is so importat in life I think. It makes it hard day to day but overall it’s where the most personal growth develops from! We are also crazy and seek it out rather then hide from it like most people do:)
    Mary recently posted..8 Ways to Make Travel with Kids More VauableMy Profile

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    • Sure makes life more exciting! I think that’s why too much routine drives me crazy. Even in the day to day I just have to find things that challenge me somehow.

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  6. Literally laughed out loud when you said, “If we hadn’t been trained for slow living before coming here, you’d find me up in the date palms giggling insanely and talking to myself in no time.”

    I’m pretty sure I am not up for the kind of challenges you’re experiencing in Morocco, but it IS fun reading about them. I think the most challenging place we’ve ever been to was Costa Rica…not because it is a challenging place, but it was the first place we’d been as a family outside the US. The currency exchange, not being as fluent in Spanish as I’d hoped and not being used to non-US grocery stores was HARD!

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    • If we had started here, I think we would’ve ended up back in the States. LOL Cozumel was the perfect place to get broken in.

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  7. I can feel exactly what you are saying! I lived in Tetouan, Morocco for several years and when someones says they live a “slow” life I always think that they have no clue what that really means. Ha, and I lived in the “city”, not in an oasis!!

    I think that if did have palm trees then yes, I would have been sitting at the top going bug nuts crazy, LOL.

    Enjoy Morocco as it really is a special place.

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    • Yeah, I thought island life was slow until we got here. LOL Luckily, though, I’m able to enjoy it most of the time. But think we’ll be more than ready for Europe again when our time is up here. :D We’re actually talking about doing a trip to the big city of Agadir here in a couple of weeks.

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  8. Cairo tested my patience. No language barriers, but the constant demands for money was fast and furious while the traffic was incredibly slow. Still, I had no problems rolling with it, but I had to constantly remind myself that this was Cairo and it wasn’t going to change on my account. Nice post.

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    • I’ve heard that from many people. Part of me is looking forward to the experience, and part of me is dreading Cairo for those reasons. Aggressive touts can really ruin an experience.

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  9. Great post, Talon. I love reading about daily life in places I’ve never visited. I feel like I just spent a day with you guys.

    We had a super challenging year last year in Europe & Turkey, and were quite exhausted by the end of it. So it’s been nice to relax for a bit in this super-quiet little village by Lake Chapala and just get some work done. But we’ve been here two months, and I’ll admit that my feet are already getting itchy. Also it’s hard to relate to the extreme number of gringo oldies here. If you were to look at this area on a satellite map you’d probably see a big patch grey!
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    • I have a harder time in places where there are tons of expats, so I don’t envy you.

      How was Turkey?

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      • Turkey was beyond awesome, and we plan to go live there at some point in the next few years.

        I didn’t mean to sound quite so brutal about Chapala. It’s been a comfortable place to focus on work while we learn Spanish. Though since you’re already fluent, I can see why it wouldn’t be on your itinerary.
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        • Cool about Turkey. I’m looking forward to going there.

          I didn’t think you were brutal about Chapala. I get it. I loved Cuenca, Ecuador, but had a little bit of a hard time there because of the expat community and its surprising narrow-mindedness and colonial attitude.

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    • Yes indeed! Part of what makes it all so exciting.

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  10. Great post! I was just writing about how it’s OK not to be 100% comfortable all the time. In fact, I think I’m like you in that I actually prefer it. I’d rather be somewhere where English isn’t spoken, food is a bit weird and the landscape is completely different from home. Morocco sounds like a treat!!!!
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    • Otherwise, what’s the point really? That’s how I felt when we were in some areas and they tried to get us to go to the expat communities. I would say “If I wanted to be surrounded by gringos, I would’ve stayed in the US.” LOL

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  11. Very interesting. I can’t say I’ve experienced anything even close to what you have. And like Susan, I’m pretty sure I’m not up for it. I do admire you for it and love reading about your adventures. Maybe traveling with a child makes you more resilient? What do you think? If I’m traveling alone and things don’t go well, I can sit down and be miserable if I want to but with a child or children, one has to think of them first and foremost yes?
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    • Hmm. I don’t know that it’s made me more resilient. Instead I think it’s made me more patient, and I’ve had to learn how to actively seek out the positive whereas when traveling solo I could just easily move on to the next thing, leave, gripe about everything, etc.

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    • Yep, I actually enjoy it. It’s a much more personable experience as well. And very true, when you don’t really have anything else to do, what’s a 3- to 4-hour shopping trip into town? :)

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  12. Hello challenges. I didn’t know people don’t speak English there. It must have been the biggest challenge. Read about your problems with getting into Morocco. Bless you guys!
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    • There are a lot of English speakers in Marrakech and Tangier, but outside those areas it’s much harder to find. Come to small towns like we’re in and forget about it! I’ve met a total of 4. LOL

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  13. When I read a few months ago that you guys were housesitting in Morocco I was a little jealous. Seems we’re on a similar path to what you guys were on. We flew into Madrid from Cancun almost two weeks ago and will be making our way to Morocco in the coming months after a short jaunt through Portugal and some time in Seville and Andalusia.

    No idea how long we’ll be down there but I’m not sure I want to get too remote this trip. The plus side is that I’m fluent in French. If only my Spanish was a quarter as strong I would be living larger in Spain!

    Love the post and the imagery in it was quite strong! Glad you guys are enjoying your croissants now in Paris. Bet you’re missing the heat though!
    Charles at The Barefoot Nomad recently posted..Snorkeling Our Way Through Cenote Dos OjosMy Profile

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    • We were most definitely missing the warmth. Especially when the highs in Paris were lower than our lows in Morocco!

      Being fluent in French certainly helps! Sounds like you have some great travels ahead. We didn’t make it to Portugal this time. Still would like to check that out.

      We’re in Thailand now and definitely missing the croissants!

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