Our Morocco Tour
A Feast For The Senses
As soon as we stepped off the plane onto the tarmac at Marrakech airport, our skin was hit with the dry Saharan warm air which was quite a contrast from the grey skies of London. We started our Moroccan holiday in Marrakech, a lively city with hundreds of merchants who never miss an opportunity to sell you something (at five times the price)! We felt completely safe in the bustling souks but were advised to go just before midday to avoid the rush and intense heat!
There are pops of colour everywhere you look in Morocco; from the mosaics at a water fountain to the streetscapes lined with shops selling fruit and vegetables, and local crafts, to the terracotta houses that encircle a derb (alleyway).
There were three people on our tour – two best friends from Melbourne and our guide, a charming Berber from the desert – we all became great friends. We began by driving through the Atlas Mountains, an ever-changing landscape of valleys and gorges up to two kilometres above sea level over the Tizi n’Tichka pass. Never had we experienced such diversity in rolling mountains with forests of trees to dusty red plains. Each valley had traditional Berber homes nestled into the mountain side or lining the dry river beds with greenery aside the pebbled banks.
Perhaps the most impressive Kasbah was the first one we visited, Telouet with its kaleidoscopic tiles and intricate wood and plaster workmanship above the doorways that spanned over several rooms with breath-taking views across the countryside.
We visited a salt mine where we saw evidence of the back-breaking work required (with little to no attention to health and safety!) for the extraction of this valuable commodity once used as money for trading. We finished the day with a Berber family, learning how to cook delicious tagine from scratch and had delicate henna painted on our hands by one of the young daughters.
The next day we set off to Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou, a fine example of southern Moroccan architecture powerfully positioned to identify any threat from the surrounding valley and mountains. We then headed to the Road of 1000 Kasbahs, driving through an oasis where we visited the magnificent 17th century Kasbah Amridil which features on the 50 dirham note. We enjoyed an enthusiastic guided tour of the typical clay brick and straw structure followed by a bicycle ride exploring the plentiful palm tree flood plains!
The drive through Dades Valley took us through some incredible scenery, spectacular rock formations in various shades of red and orange including the extraordinary Monkey Fingers. We were treated to a unique overnight stay in a cave where we enjoyed delectable cuisine, including Moroccan moussaka which was a highlight! We ate as the light faded in the valley and witnessed an impromptu jam session of guitar and drums by our guide and the hotel staff.
We started the following day marvelling at the 300m canyons at Todra Gorge, watching traders set up for the busy day of tourists and a woman washing her clothes in the river with her child. The sheer size of the gorge was quite magical.
Desert Camping & Camel Trekking
We continued our journey through very baron land, so it was a delight to finally see some wildlife. We stopped in what seemed like the middle of nowhere to meet some thirsty camels who had congregated around a well waiting patiently for a passes by to offer some water – lucky for them we obliged!
After a quick dip in a resort pool by the dunes escaping the hot sand, we managed to squeeze in a ride on some quad bikes, familiarising ourselves with what would be our home for the night. We followed our guide timidly, taking the steep dunes slowly at first but soon realised the bikes could handle anything – although we both needed rescuing at times!
Our adrenaline was high when we hopped off the quad bikes only to jump back in the car and race to our camel transport who sat waiting patiently with their shepherd. We set off into the desert with our Berber turbans, smiling and laughing while snapping photos of the incredible sun setting behind us. Our young but energetic local guide, who spoke three words of English, was eager to stop for every photo opportunity!
We arrived to the luxury camp some time later and enjoyed exchanging stories with the four other travelers around a camp-fire. After a three course traditional dinner we returned to the cushion circle and listened to local Saharan desert music from both Berbers and Black African Moroccans while gazing at the stars. When the rest of the camp had retired, we stayed up just to absorb the incredible silence of the desert.
After rising early to see the sunrise, we opted to travel by 4×4 out of the desert due to the scorching heat and we were not disappointed – the drive matched scenes from Indiana Jones!
Next stop was Agdz where we had ice creams and more panoramic views. As we returned to the winding roads, our guide was excited to demonstrate the magnetic forces of the Earth’s core allowing the car to move by itself with no acceleration!
We were spoilt with our riad that night, we were warmly greeted and enjoyed a refreshing swim and relaxing on sun lounges after a hot day in the car.
The next morning we departed early as it took the best part of the day to get to Essaouira driving through familiar territory where we continued to see herds of camel silhouettes walking elegantly across the open plains. The landscape continued to change with huge flower bushes filled with pink oleanders scattered along the roadside. Morocco seems much unfinished; you notice there are roadworks everywhere and the Berbers rarely complete building their houses! The latter, so we have been told, is in protest to other tribes claiming their sacred land. Like many indigenous people, they have a strong connection to their land, a love of its life and awareness of its capabilities.
We arrived to Essaouira just in time to watch the sun set on the horizon.
The next day we visited the old medina, which has a clear European influence, set in the city walls by the port. There were great views from the fort tower of the long stretch of white sand, main square and vibrant fish market. However be warned the pungent smells of the array of seafood can be slightly overwhelming, so bring a scarf so you can still enjoy the sight of fish mongers and boats crowding the harbour!
We lost our way more than once as we meandered through the narrow lanes benefiting from the wafting smells of busy kitchens in cafes. As always in a tourist destination enterprising shop owners are keen to sell you Moroccan specialities including scents and spices, leather goods, exotic shoes, tasselled handwoven blankets and of course the locally produced cedar wood crafts. Each street corner is a post-card opportunity with roaming kittens, donkeys at work and brightly coloured doors with hamsa knockers.
The wide esplanade and beach is something out of a movie. The shore front is filled with kite and wind surfers, and beginners who are attempting to conquer the ocean. The sun sets slowly over the water leaving behind dusky warm pink hues to draw in the evening. The streets are alive after sundown when the locals are feasting during Ramadan and on our last night we had the most amazing seafood at the family owned riad where we were staying, sampling all the local delicacies from the sea.
We have now returned to life in London with so much more than memories of an amazing trip. Not only do we have evidence of our lack of self-control with our exquisite ceramics, rugs, baskets, lanterns and footstools, but we have a new perspective on life. There is no doubt that Morocco is a country that will test your senses, but if nothing else it is Mother Nature boasting her beauty!
Written by Hannah Keely & Sophie Groom July 2016.