Tag Archives: morocco

Three day Merzouga Desert Trek, Morocco

While my North Morocco Adventure covered most of what I wanted to see in Morocco, there were a few things I still wanted to see/do – namely visit the famous kasbah Ait Ben Haddou and ride a camel in the Sahara Desert so I booked a three day Merzouga Desert Trek departing from Marrakech.

The tour was primarily spent sitting in a minivan because the distances out to these places are huge. For this reason if you are considering this kind of trip, make sure you do a 3 or 4 day, not just 1 or 2 because you simply won’t get to see anything.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce you have driven over the Atlas mountains, the first main stop on the adventure is the kasbah, Aït Ben Haddou. It is quite a famous kasbah situated alongside a river along the former caravan route between Marrakech and the Sahara.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe kasbah is a UNESCO world heritage listed site. Strangely though, only the exterior is UNESCO protected according to our local guide. The exterior looks very well maintained and is a stunning site to behold. The interior, I found stunning too but in a more rugged way. I believe four families still live within the walls of the kasbah, but most people live in the village across the small river.

The Aït Ben Haddou site has been used in scenes of several movies over the years, including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, The Mummy and more recently in the popular tv series Game of Thrones. While the Aït Ben Haddou site is often used in films, many of the sets are off site in a nearby town called Ouarzazate at the Atlas Studios. We stopped outside the gates for a photo on our way through to the Dades Valley.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe spent the night in a hotel in the Dades Valley, before having a local tour of the area in the morning. Walking through a small village to learn about their culture and way of life. We also met a Berber woman who demonstrated how she makes carpets to sell. After our short visit to the Dades Valley, we made a brief stop at Todre Gorge. I was astounded at how crystal clear the water was!

Then we continued on, in a mad rush, to Merzouga. This is where we saddled up on our camels and went for a two hour ride into the Sahara Desert. While the ride was hampered by cold weather, high winds and some rains; it was still a phenomenal experience. There was a break in the rains as the sun set and it was absolutely gorgeous to see!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After two hours on a camel, the sun having set, we arrived at a Berber campsite in the dunes of the Sahara. We were assigned a tent, and then welcomed to spend time in the communal tent where we shared a traditional moroccan meal and played some games. I thought it was quite amusing, although a little annoying, we were each given a fork and between us there was a bowl of bread, one big dish of rice and one tajine of vegetable and chicken to share. Sitting around the table, we each used a piece of bread as a plate! What a mess we made!

Photo by Jutiphan Mongkolsuthree
Photo by Jutiphan Mongkolsuthree

With our bellies full and our hearts full of good cheer, we all made a circle outside around a fire pit. We clapped, sang and danced as people played on bongo drums. Ending the night flat on our backs staring at the stars in the sky. We were all amazed at how clear the skies were and just how many stars could be seen. We even saw a few shooting stars, though not all of us were quick enough to think of a wish to make.

After some time we each wandered off to our tents, rugged ourselves up in blankets and slept until the 6am wake up call from our Berber guides. We grabbed our things, saddled up and rode our camels 2 hours back to Merzouga. We were much quieter than on the way in the previous day – perhaps it was due to the cold morning, the lack of sleep, the endless agony that comes with riding a camel for so many hours or simply being so awestruck at having such a phenomenal experience. I have to say that for me it was all of the above, but mostly being able to ride a camel in the Sahara Desert watching the golden sun rise and light up the dunes was an experience I will treasure forever.

The tour ended with breakfast in Merzouga and a 10 hour minivan ride back to Marrakech. I spent one last night in the Red City having dinner with my fellow tour mates, before flying back to The Netherlands.

I’ll be seeing you again soon Africa….

Check out all my Merzouga Desert Trek photos on Flickr



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Tangier & Marrakech, Morocco

By the time I got to Tangier and the Marrakech, I was starting to feel like most Moroccan towns were the same. They have their Kasbah and Medina, pretty mosques, interesting markets and so on. Despite this feeling I did best to keep my eyes open to interesting experiences..

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Tangier

Tangier is on the north coast of Morocco. From certain points you can see where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea, and you can see the Strait of Gibraltar. While these are three separate ‘bodies’ of water, I honestly think if you get to the top of Morocco, you have seen all three!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you make it to the kasbah and then ignore the wharf developments,  you get a decent view across the water to Spain. Many people travel from Spain to Morocco or vice versa via the ferries which operate reasonably frequently. I was surprised by how small the distance is between Spain and Morocco! So it is certainly an option I would recommend taking!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWithin the kasbah walls is a super cute cafe called Salon Bleu, being several stories high and having rooftop sofas, it is a brilliant spot to stop for a cuppa and slice of cake and just take in the view of the city and the water.

Our visit to Tangier was only a short one, as we only went there in order to catch an overnight train to Marrakech. So after a half day wandering the streets we were off again to the final destination of the North Morocco Adventure.

Check out all my photos on Tangier on Flickr

Marrakech

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile the town of Chefchaouen is predominantly blue, the city of Marrakech is all red, well red-brown. Supposedly it has earned the nickname the “red city”. The reason for the colour, according to our tour guide, is that the people who settled in the area and built it up as a city came from the desert, the Berbers. As a desert people they created Marrakech to be the colour of the desert so it wouldn’t hurt their eyes. My guess is that it would have been more about what resources they had access to, but everyone likes to hear random stories right?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMarrakech is a very busy and very popular city and was  a bit like all the other cities on steroids. More noise, more colour, more smells and more aggressive touts. The thing that I saw more of, that thoroughly appalled me, was more animal cruelty. Walking through the main square Jemaa El-Fna were many horse and carts, snake charmers and monkeys with metal collars being pulled around by chains who were clearly terrified, hurt and angered by being yanked around by men. This was painful to see, so honestly I walked straight through the square quickly so I didn’t have to witness the cruelty going on. During the day the square isn’t overly exciting, but I heard that I really comes to life at night time and is a great place to eat. With only one day in Marrakech, this wasn’t something I personally experienced.

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I can’t say I saw a great deal of Marrakech, but I generally enjoyed what I saw. I wandered through the medina and souks. Checked out all the colourful things for sale. Some friends tried their hand at bargaining for jewellery. Navigating the narrow alleyways remains fun, you never know what interesting things, sights, smells or street art you will see in your adventures. The Marrakech Museum was worth a visit, the building itself is gorgeous and a rabbit warren of fascinating rooms. Also while it is on the pricey side, the Majorelle Gardens were quite spectacular. I would have liked to visit the palace and the mosque but as I said I had very limited time in Marrakech.

Our tour ended with a visit to a dinner and belly dancing show in some random street in the medina. Which was a fabulous way to end the tour and to say “goodbye and thanks for the fun times” to all the members of the group.

Check out all my Marrakech photos on Flickr

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Chefchaouen, Morocco

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChefchaouen is by far my favourite place in Morocco. It is in the Rif Mountains in the north of Morocco. Our guide told us it was built in 1511 by Berbers, Arabs and Jews. I was told by a random on a bus that the town name means “look at the two peaks”, though I am not confident of this. The name does however relate to the two peaks which some say are shaped like two horns; and I do believe the peaks behind the town are important in the town’s history. In the event of invasion, fires were lit atop mountain peaks to provide signals to nearby towns as a warning.

Chefchaouen is also sometimes referred to as Happy Valley, as there is a large amount of Marijuana grown in the area. I have heard that it is also fairly readily available in town, and is more commonly referred to as kif. For this reason, it is apparently quite a popular place for backpackers to visit, though I must say this certainly wasn’t on my list of things to do.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite other reasons for it being known t the travelling community, Chefchaouen is primarily known for being the blue city (in case you are wondering, no I do not know why everything is painted blue). A huge number of the buildings in the city are painted/whitewashed in various shades of blue, and sometimes purple. Often the tops of building here left as orange, but the walls, doorways and window frames were often beautiful combinations of different shades of blue. Despite my day of arrival being grey, glum and rainy, I throughly enjoyed exploring the narrow alleyways of the city. The following day and explored the same narrow alleyways and more and enjoyed it just as much the second time around. It is a gorgeous place to explore!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn stark contrast to all various shades of blue, the Kasbah in the town center is completely orange. It costs very little to go in and see, but it is also not overly worth it. Nevertheless I found it interesting.

Things to see and do in Chefchaouen include exploring at random, visiting the kasbah, exploring beyond the city wall or enjoying the view from the city wall, and hiking in the mountains (I didn’t go hiking myself).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA word of warning, as with any place in Morocco and in fact many other countries. You will be hassled on the streets to look in stores, to buy products and to eat at specific restaurants. I found this a standard annoyance throughout Morocco, so Chefchaouen was no better or worse. What did bother me however, was the children. They would come up to you and essentially demand money. In one case we were asked by a girl if we had a pen, we produced a pen and she took off with it, we had thought she wanted to write something to show us. There was another case where someone on the tour had an ice cream taken from her hand by a child. Also it was here that boys yelled racist comments and threw stones at a member of our group.

So I love the city of Chefchaouen, it remains my favourite, but please be wary of the children.

View all my Chefchaouen photos on Fickr

 

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Meknes and Fes, Morocco

Meknes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe tour made a short stop in Meknes, where we had a local guide tour us around for a few hours. We visited the Heri Es Souani granary which was built in 700 AC. It is built partially underground, and the smart use of high vaults and water flow systems were fantastic in keeping the grain cool. The granary sounding like something that would be boring to visit, but it was actually quite fascinating, not to mention beautiful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter our visit to the granary we walked around the palace I think (we weren’t allowed to go in or take photos, so I am not sure what the walled and guarded area was that we walked past). We continues on to the medina where we ate camel burgers for lunch. For someone who is a chicken when it comes to food, I did eat one and it was surprisingly delicious!

After lunch we had a short wander of the local markets before it was time to continue on to Fes.

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Check out all my Meknes photos on Flickr.

Fes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn Fes we once again hired a local guide to show us around, starting with a visit to the Royal Palace. Well, the front gates of it, which are absolutely stunning! The Royal Palace is found in the newer part of town, from the 14th century. The palace gates were restored in 1968 and are yet another display of intricate and colourful muslim design work. There were so many beautiful colours and patterns. I loved it. There are many palaces around Morocco where the King and his Queen may reside, as the Queen is originally from Fes they often visit this palace. I was also very interested to learn that the Queen of Morocco is a computer engineer!
(If you didn’t already know, I am an IT teacher with a focus on getting more women interested and involved in Computer Science – I am always excited about women in IT especially someone in an influential role such as a position of royalty, it’s a great example to provide girls!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter visiting the palace gates and having some car trouble we headed up a hill for a view of the city and the medina. We made a short stop at a ceramics factory learning about the ceramics that are made and how the mosaics are created, before heading into the rabbit warren that is the medina. So many winding alleyways all filled with little stalls selling candies, bread, meats, olives, clothing, jewellery and more. It is a real feast for the senses!! (I might add that this isn’t always a good thing!)

Through the medina and out the back we headed to the leather tanneries, much to my disappointment they were undergoing renovation and we weren’t able to see the huge vats of dye’s used to colour the leather hides. We spent the remainder of our time in Fes relaxing and drinking Nos Nos. (The local brew of coffee is crazy strong, but they have a variation of it which is half coffee half milk, called Nos Nos.)

Check out all my Fes photos on Flickr.

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Rabat, Moulay Idriss & Volubilis, Morocco

The North Morocco Adventure tour is actually pretty full on, particularly for the first few days. On our first full day we visited travelled from Casablanca to Rabat, spent a few hours in Rabat then travelled on to Moulay Idriss where we toured the city and spent the night. The following morning out first destination was Volubilis.

Rabat

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARabat is the capital city of Morocco, despite it not being the most well-known for tourism. In our two hours in Rabat, we were given a map marking out a loop of the city to hit three major sites: The Medina, Kasbah and Mosque. While two hours was not actually enough time to make the loop and we had to rush back without really seeing the mosque. The sites were definitely interesting to see.

Check out all my Rabat photos on Flickr.

Moulay Idriss

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMoulay Idriss is a super cute hilltop town overlooking the ancient city of Volubilis. We had a local guide tour us around and tell us about the history of the town as well as some things about the Moroccan culture. The town had so many wonderful narrow, winding alley ways. I wouldn’t have had a hope of finding my own way around the place! After an hour or so walking we found ourselves on the hill opposite the majority of the city, to see the most amazing sunset. It was a such a stunning sight and fantastic way to end a busy day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn regards to homes and doors there are two interesting things to mention. Firstly, it is important that from the outside of ones home you cannot determine the home owners wealth or social status. Secondly, the door to ones home is actually two nested doors. A smaller door within a larger door. Both doors have separate door knockers which make different sounds. The inner, smaller, door is for the family. The outer door is for guests. So if a woman is home alone and hears someone use the door knocker for the larger door, she will not answer. But she may peer through the vent above the door to check who it is. Obviously if someone knocks on the smaller door then she is welcome to invite her family in. I cannot verify if this is truth, but I have been told that the concepts of not displaying wealth and being able to see out but not in, also apply to the way the women dress, with their head and face coverings.

A culture quirk I heard about is in regards to the Hammam. A hammam is a public bath house. Women and men bathe separately. Typically the bath house is open for men from 8am to midday and from midday to 8pm for women. The quirk is that women typically pay 15-20% more to use the hammam than the men. As a woman in favour of gender equality I was surprised and keen to know why. The justification is that women spend longer in the hammam than men because their hair is longer and takes more time to wash, it is also the place where they go to chat and catch up on gossip. This is also the place where a woman’s potential future mother-in-law will check if a woman is suitable for her son.
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Check out all my Moulay Idriss photos on Flickr.

Volubilis

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVolubilis is a 3rd century Roman city on a small hill opposite Moulay Idriss. The site is partly excavated and provides a good insight into the lives of people of the time. It also provides a fantastic showcase of mosaic tile work within the buildings. Considering the good condition they are in, I wonder if they are really the original ones restored; or if the Moroccans view restoration differently to me (I have been to some places in the past where recreating something in the same design as the original is considered to be restoration). Either way, the site is quite small but certainly charming to visit, particularly if you are already in the area.

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Check out all my Volubilis photos on Flickr.

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North Morocco Adventure

Sunset over Moulay Idriss
Sunset over Moulay Idriss

Morocco (in North Africa) is a muslim country, one that has a bit of a reputation for a negative attitude towards women and some general harassment. The majority of people I have spoken to about Morocco thought it was beautiful, but cut their trip short because they were sick of being hassled.

Not one to be scared off visiting beautiful sights and in the hope that I can report more positive things about the people, I booked myself a place on another Intrepid Tour: North Morocco Adventure. So for 9 days, I will be exploring Northern Morocco with a great group of likeminded travellers and a knowledgeable guide.

Stay tuned for stories and pictures of the amazing country!!

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