This is a continuation of my last article, “Go on a Trip with your (Oldest) Sister and Trigger Your PTSD(?!)”I wanted to share the good parts of this trip in so as not to discourage you from going on a trip with your own sister or wanting to explore Morocco on your own.
My sister Mikaela and I were discussing potential places to go for our Sister Trip. Mikaela is well-traveled. She was born in northern Italy while her dad, in the U.S. Military was stationed there. She lived all over the country and then returned to live in southern Italy for a couple of years as a teenager. She’s been to many European countries and seen much of the U.S.
When we were brainstorming possible destinations to go to we had a couple of considerations to work through: (1) the time constraint – we had to go after she took her Nursing Board exam, but before she started a job; and, (2) the cost – I was footing most of the bill, except the flights and I’m not rich (yet!).
I knew I wanted to take a trip with G Adventures, a socially/environmentally responsible worldwide small-group tour operator. I hadn’t yet traveled with them but had sent clients on their trips and wanted to experience it for myself. Plus, they are known for being friendly to solo-travelers. Though we weren’t technically solo, we would benefit from being with a small group (~12 people) that were open to traveling with strangers. The other cool thing about G Adventures is that they have different tiers of service level and price points. With my budget, we were looking at their “YOLO” trips designed for 20 and 30-somethings – she in her early twenties, me in my early thirties. This also meant we would travel with younger people. In my mind, this was good because since having my kid, my tolerance for partying is abysmal and thought she’d have the option for some late-night fun with the group in a safe way if I had to “retire early.”
Side note: the other great thing about G Adventures is they offer travel agent discounts! Perk #1000 for being a travel agent 😉
She was highly interested in East Asia, specifically Japan and New Zealand, but as we looked, we quickly realized it was above our budget. We finally found an amazing tour to Morocco in March that included a camel ride through the Sahara and an overnight stay in a Bedouin camp. When looking at flights, we found that the most logical and economical choice would involve an overnight layover in Paris on the way home as well – so, we added a bonus night in Paris on to the end of our trip. (Win-win).
She flew from Montana to join me in my then home Virginia a couple of days before we left to explore Morocco so she could spend some time with my daughter and husband. It was nice to have a little time to acclimate to being around each other again before we left the country and my daughter got to know her Aunt Mikaela a little better.
Side Note: I once had a prospective client ask me if 5 days total was enough time for a trip to Morocco and back and I advised against it. Morocco airports are not super easy to get to; therefore, expect to take a good 18-24 hours to just get to Morocco from the US. Our flight to Marrakech (RAK) airport went as follows: Newport News, VA → Atlanta, GA → Amsterdam Schiphol Airport → RAK and took about 18 hours. We left at 5pm Virginia time and arrived the next day at 6pm Morocco-time.
Once we arrived to RAK, we found Mikaela’s checked bag did not make it. Long story short: after dealing with the local carrier and then Delta, we found it was left in Atlanta somehow (despite the 2.5 hour layover there). Due to the limited flights going from Atlanta and RAK we were told her bag would not arrive for another 3 days at least. This was not going to work for us as we would depart for the Sahara desert in less than two days, which was a good 16 hour drive from Marrakech (they would only deliver the bag to the airport). We wouldn’t be back in Marrakech for another week!
Lesson learned here about checking bags of course; however, there were three things that saved us in this situation:
- (1) Mikaela had packed a small amount of necessaries in her carryon bag as I always advise in the event that something like this happens.
- (2) She had purchased travel insurance which covered up to $300 in delayed baggage expenses. We were able to go to a drug store and H&M to get her enough things to keep her supplied and clothed until she could be reunited with her bag. She just had to keep her receipts and file a claim with the insurance company and was reimbursed without question.
- (3) I spoke to our G Adventures tour guide and he made arrangements to swing by RAK on our way from the Sahara to Essouiara two days earlier than planned so she could get her bag earlier. Plus, as a local he called the airport on our behalf and spoke to the baggage rep to confirm arrangements in the local language for us.
Other than that initial hiccup, we had a wonderful and memorable trip!
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The first night we spent in a beautiful boutique 5-star Riad, Riad Nashira & Spa where we enjoyed a lovely local meal and woke up to get a full-service hammam treatment in the hotel spa. If you go to Morocco, get a hammam treatment. (PRO TIP: If you are shy or it‘s your first time like it was for us, splurge on a private hammam in a hotel spa rather than doing the public hamman. It is possibly too culturally shocking to go through the experience completely naked in front of strangers at a public hammam for most people.)
We started our touring with a private guided half-day tour of Marrakech, which included visits to the El Badi Palace, Saadian Tombs, Majorelle Garden, and a Berber Pharmacy (I can still smell the Jasmine – divine). That afternoon we met with our tour group and G Adventures guide.
In the morning we started a long 9-hour van ride through the beautiful Atlas Mountains to Nkob. Along the way we stopped for an occasional mint tea (one of my absolute favorites) and learned how to tie our scarves the Berber way. When we reached our first hotel/ Kasbah, which was situated overlooking a beautiful date palm oasis and the desert, we had a lovely traditional Berber dinner and were treated to a private tour of the small village. At the end of the tour, the local guide surprised us by taking us into his home to share tea with his family. It was such a memorable and unique experience – something you don’t get to enjoy with your average tour operator. G Adventures; however, is great about employing locals along the way and incorporating as many immersive and genuine experiences as possible.
The next day was one of the most memorable travel experiences I’ve ever had! We started with a 5 hour van ride further east to the Sahara in Merzouga, where we enjoyed a lovely lunch and relaxed by the desert camp pool. After we mounted our trusty camels and rode through the dunes of the Sahara for one hour to a Bedouin Camp, which was AWESOME. First, these camels are so well trained! Second, they are so cute and sweet! I loved every minute of it.
When we reached our camp, we climbed to the top of a dune and watched the sunset over the desert—indescribable experience. As it got darker, we had a traditional Bedouin dinner and were entertained with traditional music – singing, drums, and dance. We camped for the night under billions of stars in the desert night sky in sleeping bags. I will never forget that experience. That alone is reason to go to Morocco at least once in your lifetime!
The next day we woke up to see the sunrise and rode our trusty camels back to the desert camp to depart for a new destination 4 hours away, the Todra Gorge, which is a river nestled in between two sheer cliffs.
If you are a fan of the Gladiator movie with Russel Crowe, you’ll surely recognize our stop on the next day. We traveled along the route of “1000 Kasbahs” to Ouarzazate, where we toured the UNESCO world heritage site, the Kasbah of Aït Ben Haddou. While there, I purchased a beautiful hand-woven area rug at a Women’s Cooperative and my sister and I learned how to cook Tajin, a staple of Moroccan Cuisine.
We wound our way as westward as possible after a 7-hour drive to the laid-back, “hippie” coastal town of Essaouira the next day, where we had a short walking orientation tour and enjoyed some free time. The following day was completely free for us to explore Essaouira on our own. We had many options including: wind-surfing, kite-surfing, visiting a hammam, shopping, and relaxing. We relaxed most of the morning and then took a stroll to the beach in the afternoon. It was too cold for water sports.
IMPORTANT TIP: Don’t be dumb like me and agree to ride the horses on the beach with your sister. Arrange horse-riding ahead of time with a reputable tour operator that is licensed, etc. My sister is a horsewoman. I am not. She really wanted to ride a horse on the beach, but it was an hour out and back and my paranoia of her going off alone with a random man in Morocco (see my last article: PTSD, etc) prevailed and despite my hesitance, I got on the other horse. Needless to say this expedition ended with me falling off a horse into a thorn bush. I had a thorn literally stuck in my side for 6 months after this – seriously, it was the size of a quarter and embedded in my lower back. The two young men guiding our horses seemed to be less than concerned and offered nothing more than to let me sit for a minute before we rode back. If this was a serious injury, I’m not sure these guys would’ve had the skills or resources to help me, let alone the licensing/insurance to take care of serious liability issues. Anyway…I survived, but another lesson learned…
The next day, we made the final drive back to Marrakech where our tour ended. Instead of flying home, we stayed one more night in the old Medina of Marrakech at another beautiful riad, Riad Karmela Princesse. For our final day, I had scheduled us a photo shoot with a local photographer who led us the souks of the old Medina to the majestic Kutubiyya Mosque, then back again (thankfully – because, it’s super easy to get lost in the souks and the old Medina!) These photos are beautiful and one of the best souvenirs we could have possibly acquired on this trip. We capped the night with a gourmet dinner in our hotel’s restaurant and comfortable rest in our beautiful violet-themed room.
On our way home the next day, we flew to Paris for a one-night layover, because…why not? We stayed in a lovely hotel in central Paris and strolled the evening streets drinking wine in cafes and testing crepes. It was the perfect way to end our trip.
TO SEE OUR DETAILED ITINERARY, CHECK IT OUT → HERE
So, let’s circle back to the main intent of this trip, which was for me to spend alone time with my sister and experience a new destination together. This trip was perfect for that. We spent long van rides looking out at the vast landscapes of Morocco catching up with each other, giggling at the sometimes awkward hammam experience, whispering under the stars of the Sahara, debating which souvenirs to buy in the souks of Marrakech, retelling cherished memories while drinking mint team, and lamenting the challenges of womanhood while learning to cook Tajin.
Travel allows a removal from daily distractions. Travel with your sister allows for a bonding experience that can’t be recreated in a normal daily life. We grew with each other on that trip, we learned to understand each other better, and we evolved our relationship to that of two adult women. I’m not saying there wasn’t the occasional annoyance or snide remark, but what is a family gathering without those things? Overall, the trip will always be a cherished memory of mine that I’ll never forget.
If you’re ready to go on a bonding trip with your sister, reach out to us by filling out our trip planning form.
Or, if you want to give your sibling the gift of travel instead of *things* for their next birthday, but don’t know what kind of trip the recipient would like, purchase one of our gift certificates – HERE.
In the meantime….
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