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Tales of Morocco from a self-confessed travel addict

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We don’t know about you, but Morocco is HIGH on our must see travel list. So we couldn’t resist getting one of our fellow tour hosts at Two’s A Crowd to share her experiences with this mystical country. And now, we want to go more than ever! Thanks Gillian Scaduto for this beautiful review of Morocco – oh, and you’ve suddenly made us very hungry for Moroccan food…

Who are you and what do you do for a living?

I’m a travel addict on the freeway to recovery…….. That freeway leads to the nearest airport!!

Yes, I guess admitting you have an addiction is not the best but a travel addiction is one I’m happy to work on. The rush that fills me from the moment the plane is circling over a new destination is one of excitement and fear mixed with the wonder of courage. Travel takes you out of your comfort zone it challenges even the most experienced traveller.

To travel well is like putting together the ingredients of a good recipe. Trial and error with many tastings can be half the fun. Although since I landed my dream job as a tour host for Twos a Crowd it’s been a culinary magical gift. Travelling the world with like-minded people is a gift that keeps giving to both you and the clients who come on tour.  It creates memories, it can place you out of your comfort zone and it provides a sense of structured adventure.

Gillian in Morocco

Guest writer Gillian Scaduto.

The essence of travel is moments both heart-pumping and serene; riding a gondola through the mystical canals of Venice; setting a nervous foot on icy, iridescent blue glaciers in Canada. On a quiet evening, cruising in Alaska, a pod of whales silently pass, or the the calmness of the Sistine Chapel.

I travelled across the sea to Morocco and went sand surfing in the Sahara. I drank tea with the local Berber people, and felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude and compassion for their warm hospitality.

Kenya provided a pinch-me moment when, snug in my tent, I heard branches breaking and looked out to witness a family of elephants majestically pass our camp site only stopping briefly as the matriarch looked my way.

My role is not all glamorous globe trekking. I’m responsible for the logistics, confirmations, planning, damage control and group dynamics. That can mean dinner reservations at the Eiffel Tower, silent disco-dancing to the beat till all hours in Alaska, coordinating synchronised tyre-swimming in the crystal waters of Croatia, or riding a bike along the Seine canal as the top button of my jeans pops from over-indulgence. It can be offering a silent time for reflection to take in beauty from places like the Canadian Rockies to Monet’s garden.

And then there are the moments, such as when someone turns to me, elation on their face after they have climbed, huffing and puffing, to the top of the Sun Pyramid in Mexico, that I enjoy most. It is the people I connect with and share these incredible experiences with that I find most rewarding.

Where is home?

Where ever my family is. They reside mostly in Melbourne, Australia, and in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Where have you been? When did you go?

My first travel job commenced when I was 16 years old when I auditioned for a world travelling ice show extravagance spectacular……with only one year of tuition but many years of classical ballet. We travelled through Asia, Europe then South America. I trace this moment to when my travel addition took hold.

Family life came around so jumping on the plane was not as easy. I trained as a travel consultant then educator for the Tafe system in Tourism. But looking at all those glossy travel images day in day out was not good for a recovering travel addict.

My dream job with Two’s a Crowd commenced three years ago, and I have now completed 13 group tours and met inspiring people from all walks of life. One of the most fulfilling aspects of being a tour host is watching clients gain confidence, you witness them achieve lifelong goals and overcome fear with encouragement, confidence and courage. One thing they have in common is the ability to rise to the challenge that travel offers, from salsa dancing in Cuba with moustached men smoking cigars, to weaving in and out of traffic on the back of a vintage red Vespa in Florence, and yes, red definitely goes faster.

Who did you travel with?

Travel reaches out to the curious and does not discriminate, people from all walks of life have shared my table whilst touring.

When not on tour I travel with my adult children and friends. They both have different travel styles which adds to the adventure. I can sleep under the stars snug and warm by the camp fire in Norway with my son or sip on some fancy French champagne whilst soaking in the hot tub, on the back of a barge, in the French country side with travel clients. I enjoy both and appreciate the difference.

What have been the highlights?

There are so many, but I’ll stick to my last trip with Two’s a Crowd in Morocco.

Even saying the word aloud conjures a feverish imagination. Our local guide throughout was a story teller; he had a way of weaving us through labyrinth alleyways only to stop mid-sentence and in the middle of no-where and walk us across barren land to have tea with nomadic Berber people. They are just as hospitable and humble to fellow travellers as they have been for centuries. An enchanting place where time has been suspended.

What did you least like about your trip?

Okay this is where I get to talk about the negatives of travel??

Really…….? An addict is in denial and will always make excuses but I’m going to try and pull out a negative.

Well……the one thing about travel is getting from A to B……this is the negative. They say it’s all about the journey and not the destination but reclining seats on the bus with someone massaging my feet and a first class plane ticket with champagne would have been the icing on the cake.

Hey……..gotta dream big.

Do you have any funny stories from your travels?

I once booked what I thought was a hotel in Japan back in the 70’s when my bible was the book called – Travel on a shoestring – $10 a day!! Yes it was possible. We arrived late in the evening and entered the lobby, as lobbies go we thought we had stumbled across a jack pot, lush upholstery and rich deep burgundy colours surrounded us. As we opened the door to our room our eyes didn’t know where to focus – they went from the heart shaped bed covered in fake pink fur then wandered up to the mirror on the ceiling. We hadn’t read the fine print – the price was per 10mins – We just fell in a heap laughing…..

What were the locals like?

The people of Morocco are genuinely warm, hospitable and gracious. The Berber people are believed to be the original inhabitants going back to 8000 BC. They are nomads and tend to live in the mountains and valleys of Morocco, previously using camels to cross the Sahara desert. Although we passed a few trucks loaded up with the household goods which is now one of the favoured ways to move, many more still walk. But each year the numbers are dropping as the younger generation seeks work in the cities.

They are incredible hospitable, not knowing the family our guide stopped on the side of the road with his pre-purchased block of sugar in anticipation they will accept it but not money. We shared the traditional mint tea with a generous amount of sugar with this humble family. They greet you like a long lost relative and don’t want anything in return other than to share your company. No appointment necessary or invitation.

Even without language we managed to share a funny moment with an old married couple, through the body language we knew they were having a domestic moment while she was preparing the tea. As she broke off a hunk of the sugar to dissolve in the tea his hands were waving around – we gathered he didn’t think it was enough sugar. He was then put in his place with some verbal banter……. Our eyes met and we all just burst out laughing. The tea had so much sugar I’m sure he was the one who consulted with Coca Cola……

There are many different Berber tribes and each has slightly different dress according to the region. They are talented craftsman, from the bright patterned handmade rugs that have influenced many famous designers. Missoni studied these patterns and took influence into his work, the rug I purchased was the root beginnings. To the Islamic geometric tiles which was thought to be used in design so as not to interpret the human form, which would be seen to compete with God. Yves Saint Laurent helped transform the lavish embroidered caftan to fashion heights in the 70’s. He moved there and built a home which is now a museum. The silver workmanship and clothing display of the Berber people is amazing at the Berber museum of Yves Saint Laurent, well worth a visit in Marrakesh.

What was the food like?

Just like the pizza in Italy it has been expanded around the world, Moroccan food has tangled its way into many corners of the globe. One of my favourite dishes I cook at home is Moroccan chicken a recipe that was influenced with the traditional soft spices and herbs, although local products had been added. I found once in Morocco there were many different versions of my favourite dish. The one that I kept looking for on the menu was served with extra citrus that left you wanting a second serve. It was served on a bed of fluffy couscous and came out in the usual tagine bubbling away the citrus aroma filling the air. Although my all-time favourite was the Berber omelette – the eggs are poached in a rich tomato sauce containing paprika, onions, red pepper, garlic with a sprinkle of fresh coriander and parsley on top. It comes out in a tagine, great for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

When I didn’t feel like eating much I loved to order Zaalouk. Generally served at the beginning of a main meal more like an entrée. But with at least seven cooked vegetable salads with bread that can include green peppers, tomatoes, olives, sweet carrots, aubergine dip seasoned with the usual paprika, cumin, garlic and chilli in it, it can become a meal in itself.

Did you learn anything about yourself or the world on this trip?

When you wake up travelling every day and get to experience everyday things in a new way it is such an eye opener. Reflecting on these moments connects us all. Morocco has 3000 kms on the Atlantic Ocean and 500 kms on the Mediterranean Sea. While visiting Essaouria on the coast where the Portuguese architecture, Berber and French food, the maze of allies of medieval structure in the medina, your nose twitches as you walk past the treasure of the fisherman’s catch. Your eyes dart as rag torn men push their rusted supply cart to market, children run through the narrow allies laughing, playing oblivious to their surroundings. Mothers run after their children and love not because of religion or law but from birth just as all mothers do around the world. I felt like I had stepped back in time. Game of Thrones was filmed there and I can understand why.

Would you recommend others travel here?

Most definitely………. Morocco is a tick box destination for the adventure traveller. It challenges all your senses and will leave your heart open in wonder. Its diverse landscape from the Atlas Mountains to the dessert and historic beach towns. Fes, the labyrinth mazes of the largest medina in the world capture and hypnotise you. Copper pots, glowing lanterns, sunlight streams through cotton roof tops, wooden doors ajar feature large looms and rhythmic workers. It’s raw, its dusty you lose all perspective of modern time.

Gillian with her tour group in Morocco.

Gillian and her tour group.

Two days after I left Morocco I was shopping in High Street, Armadale, in Melbourne for my daughter’s wedding dress. Feeling slightly jet lagged I felt like I had discovered time travel. This experience of the medinas of Morocco took me back right into the medieval market place that has been operating every day since it opened. Walking down High Street I was still hearing the shop keepers calling out, smelling the smoke from the tannery, listening to children running through the streets playing. Yes, Morocco will take you back and beyond and stay with you well after you leave.

Do you have any tips for people thinking of travelling here?

When visiting a hammam, a traditional Moroccan day spa for detoxifying and relaxing purchase your own scrub and products. We were scrubbed to an inch of our flesh by a very ‘strong’ vigorous women who had no mercy…….the next day instead of the smooth glow we should have achieved we had red raw skin that needed antiseptic cream to heal.

Other than that, go with an open mind and heart and you will open a door filled with colour and patterns that reflect life from middle ages, history complete with romance, culinary delights that sit on your taste buds. Stay in local Riads, it’s the best way to capture the ancient living of Moroccan homes. They are an oasis in contrast to the hustle and bustle of the busy streets. The central courtyard is often open where sunlight streams into either a garden or water feature where you can chill and relax.

Morocco will take you down a fairytale adventure, think of One Thousand and One Nights, Aladdin, magic carpets which will open the door to many adventures that await you. You just have to put yourself into the story….

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