“Slices of Morocco make the Star Wars bar scene look bland,” says travel writer Rick Steves about the North African region. Our group of eighteen Chicago Booth students and partners got a taste of just that during the 2018 Morocco Spring Break Trek coordinated by Experience Morocco. Whether winding through narrow, smoky alleyways or off-roading into the desert dunes, we were constantly introduced to novelties – slurping snail soup sold by street vendors, watching goats climbing high into argan tree branches, or engaging in Arabic-French-English shouting matches to bargain down taxi fares, to name a few.
Our trip itinerary was jampacked. We began in Marrakech with a hike into the High Atlas mountain range, followed by a cooking class of chicken tagine (slow-cooked savory stew). After a hot air balloon ride for an aerial view of the city and surrounding farmland, we traveled to the seaside town of Essaouira and rode ATVs across the beach overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. We enjoyed the hotel poolside and Turkish bath-style spa treatment, and then traveled to the city of Ouarzazate. There, we took a tour of the earthen dwellings at UNESCO World Heritage site Ait-Ben-Haddaou and saw the film location of movies and shows such as The Gladiator, Game of Thrones, and Lawrence of Arabia. We then made our way to the Sahara, where a caravan of dromedaries transported us to a campsite surrounded by sand dunes. We concluded our time in Morocco with one last visit to Marrakech, where we tried our hand at bargaining for rugs, leather sandals, and paintings in the ruthless bazaar.
However, behind the scenes of this speedy schedule, the eighteen of us had many opportunities to gradually get to know one another better. Long rooftop dinners were the perfect setting to learn about each other’s backgrounds, from second-year student J.P. Mills’ devotion to all things heavy metal, to first-year student Teresa Wang’s time in Uganda with the Peace Corps, to Booth partner Michelle Wang’s residency match into dermatology. Of course, gathering over glasses of wine also resulted in hilariously absurd debates about credit card rewards and digital data privacy. The trek began, for many of us, as an opportunity to explore a new country with the guidance of our trip leaders, first year student Herbert Zea and second year student Emma Sotomayor, along with our assigned local guide Jaffar. However, we realized that traveling among our classmates actually added another element of discovery and enjoyment to the trek. Herbert Zea commented that, “the trek was a great opportunity to meet people and make new friends,” and that “getting to know my peers at a more intimate level,” was his favorite part of leading the trip.
Although many of us were excited to fly back to Chicago to dump the grains of sand out our suitcases and return to stable WiFi, we’ll always retain the grains of amazing memories we formed as a group touring the beautifully unique country of Morocco together.