It was the winter of 2019. After spending 4 months in the United Kingdom, the miserable cold and pettiness of daylight felt enough to end my exploration of beautiful western Europe, for now. After a spontaneous ski trip in Aviemore after a 2 weeks workaway in the Scottish Highlands, I found myself on an Air Arabia flight down south to the Kingdom of Morocco.
A breath of crisp, cool air greets me upon arrival at Agadir Airport. ‘You are welcome’ – was my first local interaction with a customs officer. I could feel all eyes on me as I stumbled outside to meet a designated driver holding up my name sign. Supposedly, it was not common to see a young Asian girl on her own in this great continent, bordered by the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Riding in the taxi with the windows down, I was only in awe of the new landscape and sceneries in the now new and much appreciated warm, humid climate.
There were two reasons why I chose to come to Morocco – to escape the winter and to learn to surf. The latter has been on the top of my bucket list. Even at 12 years old, I’ve always dreamt of living in Hawaii as a surfer gal. That dream could’ve been inspired by a family trip to Australia as a little kid and feeling starstruck by a gorgeous lady in a surf shop. That, coupled with a period at some point in my life of an endless loop of Mcfly’s ‘Surfer Babe’ must have done me some brain-washing. Anyhow, being calm and carefree seemed to resonate with a lifestyle of ocean sports, and that itself made me drawn and interested in surfing.
As part of signing up for a 2-weeks surf camp, I enjoyed learning how to surf in Taghazout and Tamraght in the company of one of the most genuine surf coaches, a hiking guide, and the sweetest chef named Lou. While she only spoke French and Arabic, we communicated through hand gestures and cooked together at times. In the surfhouse, I also spent time with Moha, who shared with me his idea of a simple and happy life. ‘You need no nothing’, he says, a phrase that enveloped most of his identity. I also met Aziz, a local Moroccan building his own hostel in Boilers’. I could only describe him as having a pure, sound heart through and through. His goodness and kindness is an invaluable gift from Morocco. One of our best memories were hunting for sea urchins and octopus, then making fresh Tagines with our catch.
My surfing experience was written in detail here, where I shared how it transmitted to my mindset in growth and maturity. What I would add here would be that memorable first day of going to the beach with no sunscreen, and hence getting unbelievably sunburnt after spending the months prior in winter. My body was also aching and inflexible from skiing, combined with a sharp and sudden change of climate. In fact, I had to take a few days off the surf camp just so I could practice on my own before getting back to the instructors. During the 4 days spent in a surf hostel, my overthinking spiraled into a downward mental trajectory again. Not only were my social skills at an all-time low, but I was also continually beating myself down with my thoughts. I never understood why those days were such a low point in my life. Perhaps the environment, the people, or a combination of many different factors.
Going back to the surf camp eventually felt like a relief. My surfing improved, and I was able to catch my first proper wave. Looking at some of the videos taken back then was funny because, in some instances, I was shy to be standing on the board, to the point where I’d just let myself fall. Other times I could not time the right moment to push off and stand, resulting in a quick tumble down, wasting all the effort it took to paddle out. The following paragraph was something I wrote in my reflections on surfing:
‘The waters strip one of all ego and pride. Every wave comes crashing into you without waiting nor mercy. Everyone is equal. The more you try to resist the waves, the harder you’ll get hit. Learn to go with the flow, understand the waves by spending more time with them. With experience, everyone can surf. Be more straight-forward, know what you want and what you need to do. Paddle, feel the rush, stand up and look straight. Viola, you are now surfing. Overthink, and you fall. Look down, and you fall. Don’t read too much into details when it comes to nature. Nature doesn’t lie.’
Those 2 weeks of surfing went by quickly. I fell in love with it, partly because I’ve always loved the waters and partially because I am now addicted to that exhilaration of catching a wave. Taking a bus north towards Essaouira, I am on my own again. Before Essaouira, I have always naively believed in the good of all people. Here, an unfateful encounter made me truly develop a distinction between good and evil. I choose not to go into details, but I learned that humans are created to experience life. Every experience, whether good or bad, serves as a provider of knowledge. As you develop a deeper state of living, you will experience the usefulness of how the subconscious registers every experience and how you can pull it out and use it when needed.
Marrakech was where I visited next. I’ve heard about this city from other backpackers. For example, how stall owners are always trying to sell you stuff in the medina, their overboard interest in tourists and sarcastic remarks. I thought it would be similar to how it was like in Turkey, which I visited with family years ago. But here, it was worst than expected because I was a solo female traveler. I couldn’t walk a minute without getting called out in either friendly or cruel ways. It was a total sensory overload. I was left subjecting myself to the hostel most of the time. One of my plans in Marrakech was to make a desert trip to the Sahara. This was a recommendation from a friend named Bolaji, as he had a friend who’s a tour guide for the desert trips. I never really thought much about it, but I guess it was part of life’s plan to meet Mostafa because this encounter was one of the trip’s best memories. Interestingly, how I met Bolaji was chanced too. It was in a Salsa class in Cardiff, England. Completely random, yet not random at all. Life is crazy. I never thought much before of fate and destiny till then.
Mostafa was full of wisdom and shared with me his knowledge of the world through experience as a tour guide and teachings from the Quran. I easily understood his words because, albeit religious, they were also facts and commonsensical. In some ways, he provided answers to what I have been seeking during my travels – it was enlightening. The night in Merzouga, Sahara Desert, I attained a higher state of consciousness – calm, relaxed, worry-free, living in the present and happy. I’ve never in my life sang nor played music in front of people, but in Sahara, I did both. I sang with my heart and connected with the Sahara nomads. It was amazing. That same night, falling asleep in the sand under a thousand stars, I heard a ringing in my ears. It felt like I was listening to the vibration of our universe.
The adventure across the desert ended in Fes. Fes, Chefchaouen, and Tangier were my last destinations in Morocco before I took a ferry across Gibraltar’s Strait to Tarifa, Spain.
My journey in this beautiful country definitely formed a part of my new identity. While it was an experience meeting new people and trying new adventures, none of it would’ve been as great as it was, without having an open mindset, courage, and learning to trust myself. Other experiences in this country include:
- Going to a naked hammam with local women.
- Getting mild food poisoning
- Hiking across rivers and slippery rocks to see the Oum er-Rbia waterfall.
- Visiting a hash farm
- Learning Arabic greetings
- Holding a friend’s new baby sister (I have never really held a new baby)
- Calming down anxious tourists pressurizing our driver
- Experience how local women live
- Joining a busker on his journey
- Accidentally starting a fight
- Sharing beautiful views with new friends whom some I still keep in contact with.
Within a short period, I lived more than I would have back home or even in other places. I’ve also developed more empathy towards others. Experiences like these are reasons why I’ve always encouraged others to travel, get out of their comfort zone, and do things that seem scary at first. You’ll never know what awaits.