SITTING IN A HISTORIC PUB in London with my husband on New Year’s, we pulled up Skyscanner and looked for a cheap flight onward in the next week. Morocco caught our eye, a direct flight for $60. With little to no expectations we secured an Airbnb in the old Medina of Marrakesh, booked our flights, and took off just a few days later. We spent a month living in Marrakesh, and while Morocco doesn’t have the best reputation among photogs for being photographer-friendly, I still can’t believe some of the moments I witnessed, experienced, and captured. Here are 16 — and it was hard to pick just 16 — of the best moments I had in Morocco.

1

Getting lost

The centre of the Medina in Marrakesh is a total zoo of tourists, hawkers, snake charmers, monkeys, and noise. While it was fun to grab a fresh orange juice and people watch — and even better to sit high up drinking sweet mint tea and watch the sun go down and the food tents pop up — it did get overwhelming. So my camera and I wandered farther away. And in Marrakesh, it's not hard to wander. I came across this man selling books in Arabic — obviously not hawking at tourists — and doing some calculations. He didn't notice me, which was the best part, and I was able to just observe the goings-on of this far more local quarter, and capture this subtle image at the same time.

2

J'ma El Fna Square at sundown

This one is a near-given, any guide book will confirm that. Heading to the square a little before sunset, climbing high to a balcony, and taking in a mint tea while watching the sunset is, indeed, as good as it sounds. Yes, there are other tourists, but it's still an experience to be had. Peering down at the square, crawling with tourists and thumping with activity, while everything turns a burnt orange, it's almost surreal.

3

Eating our hearts out

Watching the tents pop up and the famous nighttime food scene unfold in billows of smoke is equally fascinating. To boot, when done with our tea we could just head down and into the tents and get dinner for a few dollars: lamb skewers, tangine, snails, fried fish, or best of all in my opinion, a Moroccan soup called Harira. That is, if you can deal with the menu hawkers vying for your attention and shouting "no diarrhea since 2012!" It was overwhelming but once we found the stall we trusted (word of mouth from our hosts, and also tripadivsor) it was a cinch.

4

Essaouira Harbour

We took a weekend to head to the coastline of Morocco, of which I knew little and had no expectations. Essaouira proved to be an incredible little port city, full of Portuguese architecture, restaurants, crumbling ruins, colourful doors, and, since it faces west, sunsets. Oh the sunsets. Standing in the harbour watching the boats come back to harbour, all decaying or smacked together, paint peeling, well-worn and well-loved ropes and nets adding texture and story — it was like you could almost picture what this might have been like 500 years ago.

5

Wandering Essaouira

A smaller town with a simpler layout, wandering Essaouira was a dream. The blue doors, the aging paint and peeling textures — and the cats! Oh the cats. It was a street photography mecca. Then, after asking if I could take a photo of her door, this adorable lady asked us to come inside for tea. With our broken French (thanks Canadian high school system!) we learned she had a son, who was at school, and the two of them lived in this single room. It had two twin beds, a few shelves full of clothes, and one small TV in the corner. Oh, and a cat, which apparently had fleas (I understand French worse than I speak it). Still, with the three of us in a room the size of some people's closets, she patiently made us mint tea, dropping in bricks of sugar, and going through what was apparently a lengthy routine to dredge the tea leaves and thoroughly mix everything. We'd also been told that the higher you can pour your tea without splashing, the more impressive a host you make. She was certainly that.

6

Black Berbers of the Sahara

There is much debate about who was in Morocco first. There are many different tribes of Berbers, all with long histories in the area. Most of the Berbers we met along the way (and you'll see, we were invited to a traditional berber wedding!) were more Arab in appearance (though certainly specific to Morocco). This particular tribe consisted of sub-Saharan, self-described "black African" Berbers who have occupied parts of the Sahara, modern Mauritania, Ghana, and a few other regions of North and West Africa. While culturally there was a lot in common with other "Arab-African" Berber tribes we met, this tribe was amazing to meet and witness their cultural music and rhythm.

7

Berber Pharrell

One thing I grew to love about the Berber men we met was the colours. Some wore simpler black turbans but others wore blue, yellow, red, and yes, purple. We also found the turban was a Berber's swiss army knife — shielding from heat, used as an oven mitt, as a snack bag (by tying off nuts or dates at the edges), and as hydration (when forced in the heat for a long time, they cover their mouths and breath into, and chew on, the turban, collecting their own salvia and retaining moisture in their mouths). This young man was with us in Agdz, halfway to the Sahara, when we stopped to stay at a traditional Kasbah. I called him Pharrell because when not wrapped up, that's who he looked like.

8

4am, fireside

By way of one of the more random, chance encounters of my life, we ended up invited to travel out to the Sahara for a traditional Berber wedding. Obviously, we said yes. After making the trek out there, we found ourselves fireside with the groom, Habib, for what was basically his bachelor party — a night of hollering traditional Moroccan and Berber songs into the night, drumming up a storm, clapping and stomping, passing the hookah (though unlike many Middle Eastern countries, the hookah is only just gaining acceptance into Moroccan culture), dancing, telling stories and tall tales, and making fun of Habib. I gave up by 4am, but the rest of them carried on til dawn.

9

Berber Girl

A young girl on Day 1 of the wedding. There were 5 days of festivities. This day involved driving around the town honking horns and blasting music to draw attention to the celebration. Something — I didn't catch what — was delivered to the bride and there was a large impromptu street party outside her door. I managed to capture this portrait before all the tween girls blushed too hard and ran away giggling. I loved the intricacy of the henna along their hands, and arms, and even feet.

10

Dancing til dawn

Most of the wedding events took place at night. This event began at midnight and went until 8am, with the bride and groom arriving first in their western-style outfits (Habib in a black suit and his bride in a sparkly white wedding gown, albeit a modest one with long arms and a high neck). The next night they would do it again, in far more traditional garb. For now, we danced. The women especially whirled around the room, even putting scarves around each others hips and moving quite sensually. I found this fascinating given how covered most of the women I'd met or seen in Morocco were. Not tonight!

11

Under the veil

Not only are the women veiled at Berber weddings, but the men kind of are too. Habib was wrapped completely, everything covered but his eyes, and carried outside and under a veil that was being stretched almost a city block by wedding guests. Under the veil, his groomsmen unwrapped his hands and feet, and smeared them with henna before wrapping them back up again. Traditional songs were being sung up and down the street as people cheered on this traditional event for the groom. I was — surprisingly — invited to join under the veil, and while it was nearly pitch black (another event beginning at midnight) I captured this spooky photo looking up at the guests outside of the veil. It might not be the prettiest photo of all time, but man if it wasn't one of the most unique experiences I've ever had.

12

Floodwaters

While I could write about the wedding for a whole essay on it's own, it wouldn't totally be a trip to Morocco without the Sahara. One moment that really floored me was arriving to the dunes (12 hours from Marrakech for us) and discovering the plains below them had flooded. It was possibly one of the most spectacular sights I've laid eyes on. I was told this happens about once every 10 years. The flooding was shallow, yes, but it looked like a lake and the locals were saying can even contain fish who survive the trip down in the flood waters.

13

Dunes on fire

A berber guide took us up onto the dunes outside Merzouga. It was amazing to see, even in such a short time, how well these people know the desert. He recognized dunes, told us how they watch them change and memorize the shifting shapes; how he grew up out in the sand and couldn't get lost if he tried. As I huffed and puffed up different dunes, he was constantly one ahead, practically skipping along them with ease. Equally amazing to me was the changing colours as the sunset. This image is barely edited — it was simply taken close to sundown as everything seemed to light on fire.

14

Borderlands

Yet another thing I didn't expect was to stand on the dunes and be able to see Algeria. While this border isn't safe to cross, it is one of those travel moments that truly, actually, genuinely gives you pause. That's Algeria. This is Morocco. I am sitting in the Sahara desert.

15

Self-portrait

Because one requires a photo when about to head into the Sahara, by camel, with a sandboard and several cameras. This just about sums up the sense of adventure that was pulsing through most days out in the desert. (Not a true self-portrait; photo credit goes to my husband, Peter).

16

Starlight

Wrapping up not only our time in Morocco, at Habib's wedding, but also our time in the desert, I pulled myself from bed to capture one star shot. The timing happened that the moon set as the sun was rising so I had just a 20-minute window — but sitting on the shores of the flooded plains, before the Sahara, next to Algeria, contemplating everything we'd been through in the last 30 days, it was the perfect place to wrap up this particular trip. And, obviously, make a promise to myself that we'd be back one day.

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