Morocco gave me one of the great National Geographic moments of my traveling life. The nine of us on our Classic Journeys’ adventure tour of Morocco were walking single file on a dike between two fields in an oasis. Out of nowhere, a local woman stepped in front of our guide, waving us to a halt. At first we worried that we were trespassing, but her smile quickly changed our minds.

In fact, her mission was to invite us into the mud-walled home of the village elder who had spotted us from his rooftop. Visitors like us were a rare sight—and nothing would do but for us to be his guests. Our guide assured us it was a great honor and that he could adjust our plans to make time for this experience. So, after ducking my 6’3” body through a maze of chest-high doorways, I found myself in a cool dim room where the bunch of us dropped cross-legged onto a floor layered with rugs.

Then the mint tea started to flow. Holding a metal pot a good two or three feet high, our host arced a stream of green tea to a perfect splashdown in glasses containing fresh mint leaves. We sipped, smiled, discussed the date crop, and basked in hospitality that simply has no parallel in our culture.

Mint tea being poured

Jalil, who today is one of the top-rated Classic Journeys guides in Morocco, tells me that such close encounters are really quite common. “I introduce my guests to the people I know in the souk and the desert and villages. But it is also our tradition to know no stranger. As you say, it is our pleasure to go with the flow.”

Saida—mother of two, a former journalist and longtime guiding colleague of Jalil—finishes his thought. “In our country, the friend of my friend is your friend.” She and Jalil are both well-known for their logistical finesse on Classic Journeys’ Morocco adventure tours. But her eye is always open for an out-of-left-field experience. “If I see a shepherd with his tea kettle on the fire and he raises his hand in greeting, I think, ‘Yes! This will be a good day.’”

And that is what I found so special about Morocco. It repeatedly up-ended my expectations. I found out that oases are vast rich river valleys—not solitary palm trees in the desert. I discovered that there’s snow (and a lot of it) in the awesome Atlas Mountains. I learned that a luxury Berber tent in the Sahara is as gracious in its own way as the palace where I slipped between fine sheets in Fès. And I came to the realization that tea isn’t just tea. It’s a delicious tie that binds new friends to an ancient culture.

Steve Snapp is Co-founder and Creative Director of Classic Journeys. He counts Morocco as one of his favorite adventure travel destinations.