Published on Internation
All photographs by the author
When my best friend and I decided to go on a totally unplanned two-week trip to Morocco with the idea of travelling mainly by hitchhiking, more than a few people told us we had lost our minds.
We went there anyway
Although Morocco has a stable monarchy that makes it the safest country in North Africa and despite the fact that in 2011 King Mohammed VI set a constitutional reform that guarantees more freedom and rights for women, it is not yet perceived as a safe place for two Italian girls in their early 20s.
For this reason, the omens announced to us were not the best. But trusting in a good dose of prudence and letting ourselves be guided by our irresistible call for adventure, we went there anyway. Our journey began in the chaotic Marrakech where we landed and planned to return at the end of the trip. We did not know which stops we would have made along the way and we relied solely on the goodness of the wayfarers who would have given us a lift.
All we carried with us were two big backpacks filled with very light clothes (the temperature is always quite hot, especially during the spring when we went) but plenty of scarves for covering in places of worship, a pair of comfortable shoes, water bottles and – you never know – sleeping bags. We hoped that light travelling would have allowed us to move faster and be two less bulky, and therefore more desirable, passengers.
And in fact, it did not take long before finding the first kind travel companions. Thanks to Hamou, Mohammed, Ilyas, three Abdul, Yusef, Badr and some others whose names I, unfortunately, did not take down, our trip was memorable. We went from comfortable leather seats to sandy off-road vehicles, trunks of gardening trucks and – inevitable – camelbacks. Thanks to them, our journey has led us to cross the south of Morocco in an authentic, local and definitely more rewarding way.
It was not always that easy: we spent hours and hours with our thumbs up seeing cars whizzing past us without stopping, we received jokes that we preferred to ignore, and we endured long waits in the scorching heat. Thinking back to it now, I am also really grateful for my friend’s A2 knowledge of French, because without that we would have never gotten away. Indeed, the vast majority of the population, as well as all the people we dealt with, does not speak English but only Arabic (the Moroccan dialect is Amazigh Berber) and French as a remnant of the area’s colonial rule.
Yet today I am still convinced that having that trust and following our gut has really made our journey worthy. Hitchhiking has allowed us to see small towns like Zagora or M’Hamid, less noteworthy and little known, wherein other circumstances we would have never stopped by. Thanks to this choice we unexpectedly spent a night in a tent in the Sahara Desert with a Tuareg community that played the drums for us under the stars. It took us to the home of Yusef, whose dream is to open a hotel for surfers on the Imsouane promontory (a gem for wave lovers), where he offered us extra-sugary mint tea and sesame sweets. We ended up at a traditional wedding in a restaurant with 80s disco lights on the Agadir seafront and we spent a few hours in the ancient pharmacy of Badr, smelling exotic spices and trying countless essential oils.
Is hitchhiking in Morocco dangerous?
Sadly, we never met any local women, except for those who warmly smiled at us in the oldest hammam of the Marrakech medina, the only place where they come together to chat freely while having a bath in steam water. Surely gender equality is still a distant goal in Moroccan society, but the fact that my best friend and I were able to travel alone in total safety and that everyone we met on our way made us feel welcome, made me think a lot.
I am quite convinced that many of the recommendations that I have heard before my trip were guided by bias and would not refer only to Morocco but would include all those destinations where “girls alone should not go”. Let me be clear: I am not denying that there are risks in travelling with little or no planning at all and in relying only on lifts offered by strangers. Anyone undertaking a trip of this kind must have great caution and probably a much deeper knowledge of the place than the one we had.
But what struck me were the myriad recommendations made specifically to us because we were females. Since their younger years, women are constantly taught not to trust any new encounter when travelling, never to go out alone or to hit remote areas. On the contrary, I hardly hear about appropriate male travellers’ behaviours. The more we keep spreading the message that there are places that are not safe enough for women to travel to, the more we support the belief that there are dangerous countries rather than dangerous people. This construct will change only if we do not succumb to fear or prejudice. From what I learned in this unforgettable experience; the world contains way more kindness than harm.