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Starry, Starry Night

One of the most memorable experiences from my trip to Morocco was the night we spent in the Sahara Desert. From riding a camel into the deep orange desert, to singing and playing drums around the campfire while trying to stay warm in below freezing temperatures… it was all amazing.

But it was the experience of seeing the stars that night that is most memorable for me.

The sun was still setting when we arrived at our Sahara camp. We spent the last few moments of light setting up our sleeping tents and settling into our dining tent as we waited for dinner to arrive. After a while of playing word games while we waited for dinner, someone alerted us to the fact that it would be dark outside by now and we should go out to look at the stars. As soon as we stepped out of our warm tent and I looked up to the skies… I was floored. A vast sea of glittering stars were spread out above me. After the initial ooh’s and aah’s (think 4th of July  fireworks reactions), most people headed back to the tent for warmth. I knew I was experiencing a rare nights sky, so I grabbed a blanket, spread it out on the sand and laid down for the best seat in the house. In a unpolluted night sky, one can literally see layers of stars as if you were wearing 3-D glasses. And the milky way! It looked like a kid spilled milk on the sky and his mom tried to unsuccessfully wipe it up. With a sky so clear I spotted a handful of shooting stars. It was a truly magical experience.

Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult these days to find yourself below a clear night sky as I did, devoid of light and air pollution. The good news is, there is a group of people trying to preserve said skies.

As I was taking in this magical ceiling above me, I remembered that one of my tourism professors, Dr. Edith Szivas, had told us a about a project she was involved in with UNESCO and the UNWTO called the Starlight Foundation. The aim of the foundation is to “promote the importance of clear skies for the humankind, emphasizing and introducing the value of this endangered heritage for science, education, culture, technological development, nature conservation, and tourism.” The Starlight Foundation has created a certification process, to help promote clear skies for the sake of science and tourism:

The Starlight Tourism Certification System was created with the aim of encouraging, at world-wide level, the improvement of the quality of tourist experiences and the protection of the night skies in Starlight Destinations.The Starlight Certification seeks to guarantee the capacity to enjoy the view of the stars and to discover the associated scientific, cultural, natural and scenic values.

The Starlight Certification makes it possible for the first time to bring science and tourism together, It aims to ensure the quality of tourism experiences involving the nightscapes, the view of stars and the cosmos and the related scientific, cultural and environmental knowledge. Recognition of science as a tourist product and, at the same time, as a working method in tourism, is the foundation of developing this standard. – Source

Looking to find an unpolluted piece of the sky to experience for yourself? Use this Starlight Finder to start your search!

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The Colors of Morocco

As our plane left Paris en route to Casablanca, I closed my eyes and started to imagine what my next 2 weeks would be like in Morocco. Having never visited the country before, I let my imagination take flight. I pictured being surrounded by varying shades of desert orange. Sand in my toes, my hair, and probably my mouth. Men and women adorned in scarves that kept the wind and blowing sand at bay. So you might be amused at my surprise when as we were about to land and I asked my sister, who had the window seat, “What does Morocco look like?” She responded… “Like California…”

California? Yah, I guess we have a desert, but that is not the first visual association most people have with the state. So, in disbelief I leaned over my sister to get my own first look of Morocco. She was right. It looked liked we were flying over Central California. There were bright green agricultural plots of land, rolling hills, and snowy mountains. All I could think was, did we get on the right plane?

Over the next 2 weeks I was amazed and in awe each day as Morocco surprised me with a new landscape, a new set of colors, a new destination image to add to my travel memories of this magnificent land. Here is a taste of  the kaleidoscopic backdrops of Morocco.

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Ruins of Volubilis which are surrounded by olive fields

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Evening walk in Midelt, a town known for it's apple production

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The Sahara Desert

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Palm grove oasis in Todra Gorge

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Snow in the High Atlas Mountains

Sunset in Essaouira

The Taste of Travel: camel pizza and other strange eats

On my own home turf, I would not necessarily call myself an adventurous eater. But that all changes when I travel. Nothing is off of limits for me. Well, almost nothing. Eating out of my comfort zone adds an exciting new element to my travel experience that I look forward to every time I travel.

Food is an integral component of culture: from the way it is prepared, to the ingredients used. Understanding the local cuisine of a destination helps you understand the people and history of the place. Therefore, what better way to show your interest and appreciation for a destination than eating like the locals!

Yummy food - Morocco

Following this philosophy, it isn’t surprising that many of my ‘food firsts’ have happened while I have been traveling around the world. From fried alligator tail in Louisiana, reindeer stew (sorry Rudolph) in Finland, to durian fruit in Bali. I love the taste of travel.

Other travel ‘food firsts’ for me have included:

First Green Tea Waffle - Kyoto, Japan

First Lobster - Barcelona, Spain

First fish with eyeballs attached- Marathon, Greece

I racked up a lot of travel food firsts on my trip to Morocco in January with Intrepid. Some more strange the others. Moroccan tea, gazelle horns, harrira, and camel meat. Yes, camel meat. And it was AMAZING.

As soon as I found out a lunch stop for camel burgers was on our itinerary, I squealed with delight! I did not know what to expect, but knew, good or bad, eating camel was going to be a good story to tell when I got home. The whole group, minus the vegetarian, was excited for “Camel Burger Day.” Little did I know, I was actually going to be eating camel the night prior to the designated special day.

We got into Meknes pretty late in the evening and struggled to find restaurants open near our hotel. A couple of us finally decide on a pizza place that looked legit, and I had remembered seeing it in our Lonely Planet book. We ordered a couple of pizzas to share: a sausage and pepper one and one called pizza du maison (house pizza). The menu was in french, and my high school french failed me in deciphering what what was on this house pizza. But, I thought “when in Morocco, eat what the Moroccan’s eat.” If it was a house special, it must be good. What came out was some sort of mystery meat and cheese pizza. Lamb maybe? Goat? We didn’t know, but we didn’t care… it was delicious! Especially when doused in sriracha sauce .

Fast forward 12 hours and it was lunchtime on “Camel Burger Day”. We headed into the souk in Meknes and landed at a camel burger whole in the wall. 12 westerners in a very non-western spot was apparently a sight to be seen. People starred, but most were pleasantly surprised by our adventurous meal choice. After a cup of Moroccan tea and a 10 minute wait, our camel burgers arrived. As soon as I bit into my mouthwateringly delicious burger I started cracking up. I looked at my sister and said, “Katie, we totally ate camel pizza last night.”

Camel burger - Meknes, Morocco

It was good times and good eats. The only sad part was that a week later we rode camels in the Sahara desert. My camel, who I was sadly told had no name, seemed rather disinterested in me.

Riding camels in the Sahara

I am pretty sure he knew I ate his cousin the week prior. It made me feel pretty guilty, but not guilty enough to never eat camel again.

Do you have any good food stories from your travels?

Here are some other travel food posts to get your taste buds watering…

An Indulgent French Afternoon Picnic

Nicaragua: Rondon Recipe

Culturezest

Experience Ukraine as a local: comfort foods, bread, grandmas and bazaars

Day 4 in Morocco

We are closing in on the end of day 4 of our 15 day trip through the Best of Morocco and I am already amazed and smitten with this country and it’s people. Equally, I am impressed by the quality of learning and experiences Intrepid offers on it’s tours. I cannot imagine having a 1/100th of the experience I have had so far if I planned this trip on my own.

Here are the top 5 lessons/facts I have taken away from my experience so far (not in any particular order):

1) Moroccan history and culture is ingrained with respect for humanity and tolerance for all religions. While the country is 98% Muslim, over a thousand years of their history indicates they have always welcomed, protected, and included Judaism, Christianity and Muslim faiths in their country without war or persecution. The rest of the world could learn a lot from this country.

2) Everyone should follow the rule of the Moroccan spice of life. Indulge in 15 minutes of crazy everyday. This includes laughter, dance, celebration, etc. If you do this it will keep you happy, healthy, and wealthy.

3) Camel meat is delicious. No joke. Moroccan food in general is pretty amazing. I have indulged in olives, tangine, couscous, lentils, moroccan whiskey (aka moroccan mint tea), harira soup….

4) Moroccan man love melts my heart. I love the affection that is shown between male friends here. From the way they great each other with hugs and kisses to the dance moves they share when moved by their favorite traditional tunes.

5) Pigeon poop is the key to soft and colorful leather. Gross, but kind of fascinating.

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