MESMERISING MARRAKESH

One of my favourite cities in the world.   Such an attack on the senses is Marrakesh with it’s mysterious Medina, the people dressed in their traditional clothing, the wonderful and alluring Djemaa el-Fna where you will find snake charmers, old men selling teeth – yes teeth and many other wondrous things.

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Djemaa el-Fna

Upon our arrival we checked into our riad with it’s colourful Moroccan tiled walls, carpets, lamps and palm trees.   The riads in Marrakesh are a great place to stay and ours was very close to the Medina.

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Our riad in Marrakesh

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Loved the tiles and lanterns

We immediately headed off to the main square and wandered around the many souks looking at the amazing array of trinkets to buy.

The main thoroughfares are Souq Semmarine and Souq el-Kebir, originally these souks were dedicated to leather work however they now sell all manner of things.

Being good natured when bargaining is expected in the souks.   A rough guide is to halve the price of the amount quoted then work your way up.   Also remember that shops are open between 10a.m. and 7p.m. every day except for Friday afternoon.

In the evening Djemaa el-Fna (the main square) comes alive with people from all walks of life.  Here you will see storytellers, palm readers, snake charmers, acrobatics and toe-tapping Gnaoua troupes.

Once the vendors commence cooking the smells are divine and you cannot help but sit down at one of the many stalls and eat the delicious local cuisine.   There are many bars and restaurants all around the square and these are some of the best places to go for a drink and to sit and watch the amazing spectacle below.

The next day we reluctantly left the ancient and exotic Marrakesh and Morocco.   I have to say it is probably the most fascinating country I have ever had the pleasure to visit.

Our tour with Peregrine Adventures was so well organised I can highly recommend them.

MEKNES AND VOLUBILIS

Meknes is a city in northern Morocco.  It’s known for its imperial past, with remnants including Bab Mansour, a huge gate with arches and mosaic tiling.  The gate leads into the former imperial city.   The Mausoleum of Sultan Moulay Ismail, who made the city his capital in the 17th century, has courtyards and fountains.  (Source: Google).

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The old walled section of the city the northern gate, Bab Mansour

The Medina in Meknes is such a vibrant place full of interesting people then onto the souks selling some amazing spices and all varieties of goods.

Another place you must see when in Meknes is the old prison which is now a UNESCO site.  The prison was built under the old city by Sultan Moulay Ismail to jail the Christian sailors that he captured at sea.   There were an estimated 40,000 slaves held here and there are numerous tunnels leading to Volubulis which is about a 45minute drive from Meknes so you can imagine how long the tunnels are.  Very interesting place.

VOLUBILIS

After leaving Meknes we drove on to the ruins of Volubilis.  Volubilis is a partly excavated Roman city in Morocco and commonly considered as the ancient capital of the Roman-Berber kingdom of Mauretania.   It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1997. Wikipedia

We were excited to move onto our next destination Fez.

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AIT BENHADDOU

We left the serenity of our Berber Village and headed towards Ait Benhaddou.   On the way we stopped at Taourirt Kasbah.   Originally built in the 19th century, the Taourirt Kasbah was owned by the el Glaoui clan, a family that had a powerful stronghold of one of Morocco’s most significant southern caravan routes to West Africa. This power and wealth made the clan one of the country’s most influential families. Its most notable member was Thami El Glaoui, also known as the Lord of the Atlas, who was the Pasha of Marakesh between 1912 and 1956.

The tour was fascinating showing us how the domestic wives lived and then the harem upstairs.   There were many rooms some very small and verandahs where the women would sit and watch the goings on in the square below.   “Jewel of the Nile” was filmed around this area and it looked just like a scene from the movie.

Ait Ben Haddou is probably most famous for many of the scenes from the movie Gladiator as well as many other movies.  It is, however a traditional Mud Brick city on the edge of the High Atlas Mountains where people still live today.

It certainly is an impressive site.   We climbed up the hill through the old town up to the ancient granary (agar). The views here are breathtaking.  Our guide told us there are six families still living here and the mud covered walls and narrow laneways made you feel like you were back in the early centuries.

Once down the hill we headed back to the souk but got caught in a sand storm.  Wow it was incredible.  Sand in our eyes couldn’t see, had to find a shop to go into until it settled down.  Certainly needed a shower that night.

Driving towards Marrakesh our most anticipated destination we stopped at a local food market.   What an amazing site this was.

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Next morning we headed off to our final and certainly the most anticipated destination – Marrakesh.

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DADES VALLEY A REFRESHING STOP

Travelling through the Atlas Mountains was wonderful.  We reached the highest point and stopped for photos then down down the winding road to Dades Valley.

It was a 300km drive to the Valley and very hot.  A stop at Toda Gorge was welcomed as we could cool off in the water.

We arrived at our destination which was a beautiful Gite in a Berber Village high up in the valley called Gite d ‘Etape.   Quite a windy road to get there but definitely worth it.

What an amazing place.   It has been owned by the same Berber family for a couple of generations. The view from the terrace was stunning and the rooms were clean and very comfortable.   The meals here were excellent and we dined on the terrace.

After a restful night we headed off on our 10km walk up the valley.   We left the Gite at 9a.m. and back around 2p.m.  It was very hot however there were some lovely shady paths to cool us a bit.

Saaid our guide told us to buy some “sinus” (pencils) for the children.   We all gave them away and it so nice to see them smiling and happy.   I love seeing children who are given so little and are so appreciative.   We also gave away some little koalas that we had brought with us from Australia.

We thoroughly enjoyed our night at Tamaloute.   This area has many fig trees, peach trees, vegetables and a lot of farming such rich countryside and the people are absolutely delightful.   A must visit put it on your list.

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SLEEPING IN THE SAHARA

The Sahara is about 300kms from Midelt and it was very hot around 42 degrees.  Saaid told us we would buy some watermelon and some bread and we would have a picnic.  We thought that sounded lovely and would be sitting under the shade of a tree in one of the many oasis around there.

Not the case!  To our surprise and perhaps horror we stopped at a small roadside shop where the dead sheep were hanging up ready to be sold and we sat at a table in the hot wind with sand blowing all over us!!   Obviously Moroccan picnics are different to Australian ones.

We arrived at our desert auberge at 4p.m. the wind was still blowing and we were hot and tired after a very long day.

Our trip out to the desert was to leave at 6p.m. so we had time for a shower and some cold drinks before heading out to meet our camels.

The wind was still blowing but not as much thankfully so we all wrapped our scarves around our heads and on to the camels.  Quite an impressive caravan we made.

Camel riding is certainly not my forte.   The sand dunes in the Sahara are around 300m and very impressive they seem to go on for miles and miles and miles.

After about an hour and very sore bottoms we arrived at our camp.   Simple but good (mezyen).   We were all exhausted and laid on the mattresses they had on the ground.

We went for a short walk up the dunes and as we were at the well a Nomadic family arrived to collect some water.   They were a family of 4, Mum, Dad, daughter and son.  The little girl was selling some small dolls that her Mother had made of course we had to buy one from her.

These people are amazing and all seemed very happy with their lot in life.   We went back to our campsite and were treated to a beautiful meal and of course mint tea.  As it was hot most of us decided to sleep outside under the stars.  It really was an amazing experience.  Next morning we were up early and ready for our camel ride back to civilisation.   The Sahara and all its sand hills are truly magnificent.

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MIDELT

We travelled from Fez to Midelt approximately 240kms.   It is situated in the high plains between the Middle and High Atlas mountain ranges.  It reaches an elevation of just over 1,500 metres.

This is a farming area as well as a tourist place in winter when it snows.  It was hard to imagine that it gets that cold here.

One of the great things about this Peregrine tour was our guide, Saaid.   He was a Berber and just loved his country.   Up in the mountains we stopped to take some photos and he noticed a Berber tent out on the plains so he spoke to the lady who lives there and she asked all of us in for tea.  She also fried up some eggs which she took right from under the chickens under the bench inside and some bread she had made.  There were 12 of us and we sat on the ground on the rugs she had made by hand.  It always amazes me when I travel how people who have so little always give so much.

The Berber people are nomadic, they set up tents in summer and stay for about 2 months then move to the Sahara.

Arriving in Midelt we settled into our beautiful hotel the Hotel Kasbah Asmaa which was probably the nicest place we had stayed so far.   I love all the tiles and the ornate furniture not to mention the entertainment!

Saaid took us for a walk through the valley to a Berber village.  Once again seeing the kids playing and donkeys carrying all kinds of goods always great to be in local places.

Our next stop was one we were all looking forward to – our overnight stay in the Sahara Desert.

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FEZ – FES EL BALI

There are approximately 1,112,000 people living in Fez often referred to as Morocco’s cultural capital. It’s primarily known for its Fes El Bali walled Medina, with medieval Marinid architecture, vibrant souks and old-world atmosphere. In 1981 it was listed as a world heritage site under the name Medina of Fez.

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The amazing city of Fez

The Medina is home to over 100,000 people and there are around 80,000 shops! The laneways are very narrow, crowded, hot and dirty.   There are many donkeys carrying their loads coming through with their handlers calling “Ballack, Ballack” meaning “get out of the way”.  If you don’t then you must suffer the consequences.

You can easily get lost in one of the many souqs here but thankfully we had a guide and if you are going to Fez I suggest you do too.  Otherwise you WILL get lost and it could take you a very long time to find your way out.  It is such a fascinating place and it remains the world’s largest car-free urban area.

Of course no visit to the Medina is complete without a visit to one of the many many carpet shops.   If you have never experienced buying a carpet in Morocco, Turkey or any other country then I suggest you do yourself a favour and do so.   You are always given mint tea and told how the rugs are made etc.   After a lengthy showing of just about all the carpets in the shop you are of course expected to buy one, which we did!

We also went to the tannery another must see on the list.   This is where they make all varieties of leather goods from the hides of animals.  You are given a sprig of mint when you arrive (we wondered why but soon found out) to hide the smell of the place.

I don’t know how those poor men can work in the 40 degree heat in smelly water which is no doubt toxic and get paid a mere 100DH (A$10) a week.   We don’t know how lucky we are.

After our visit to the tannery we had a lovely lunch in a beautiful old house.  The food was delicious.   These houses are hidden behind little doors and when you walk inside it is just amazing.

Silk is also another product of Morocco and of course there are a lot of these shops where you can very easily be led to buy.

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Lovely silk scarf – we were shown how to tie it to keep the sand and wind out of our face when in the desert

Something that Lee wanted to do here was have a good old fashioned shave with a cut throat razor.   So a hair cut and a shave all for A$5.  He was very brave I thought.

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Having a shave with a cut throat razor!!!

Don’t go home without some saffron and other spices, brass lamps and lights (beautiful), a tajine and of course a carpet.   There are many other amazing things to buy in Fez but unfortunately not all will fit in your luggage.

We also had a day trip to Sefrou a small Berber village on the outskirts of Fez.   It was a lot cooler here as we walked around the Medina and admired the many fresh fruit and vegetables.

Our visit to Fez was complete.   Some may not like the chaos you experience in the medina however we couldn’t help but be charmed by the many alleyways that led to squares with exquisite fountains, beautiful restaurants, streets bursting with aromatic food stands and the many fascinating people who live and work here.  A truly incredible city.

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MAGICAL MOROCCO

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To many travellers Morocco holds an intriguing sense of mystery.   We were no different and I’m pleased to say we were not disappointed.   Lonely Planet describes Morocco as “the gateway to Africa, and a country of dizzying diversity”.

From the westernised city of Casablanca to the old cities of Fez and Marrakesh to the High Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert and many others in between this country is stuck somewhere between old world where horse and cart are still the well used means of transport to and the new where modern day houses and cars line the streets.

We don’t normally do tours when travelling however we had heard good reviews about Moroccon tours with Peregrine Adventures and decided to try a small group tour.  So glad we did we learnt so much and our local guides in each city were so knowledgable and our main guide Saaid was absolutely amazing.   We would visit Casablanca, RabatMeknes, Volubilis, Fez, Midelt, Sahara desert, Todra Gorge, Dades Valley, M’goun Valley, Ait Benhaddou, Ourigane and finish in Marrakesh.
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RABAT – MOROCCO’S CAPITAL

We left Casablanca and drove north along the coast to Rabat (approximately 1.5 hours), the capital of Morocco and its first Imperial city.   It rests along the shores of the Bouregreg River and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s known for landmarks that speak to its Islamic and French-colonial heritage, including the Kasbah of the Udayas. This Berber-era royal fort is surrounded by formal French-designed gardens and overlooks the ocean. The city’s iconic Hassan Tower, a 12th-century minaret, soars above the ruins of a mosque. (Source:  Google).

Our first stop was to visit the palace which was very impressive.   They have 2,000 people living in the grounds and 500 working in the palace.

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The palace an impressive sight

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Having a chat

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Guards outside the palace

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Some of the workers inside the palace

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And the band played on!

Just a short walk from the town are the ruins of the citadel one of the earliest known settlements and now known as the Chellah.

Then on to the Mauseloum and time to explore the lovely walled quarter known as the Kasbah of the Udayas.   The edifice of the Kasbah was built in the 12th century during the reign of the Almohad Caliphatekashbar.  It is painted blue and white and our guide told us the blue keeps the mosquitos away!!!

We were very fortunate that our local guide in Rabat lived in the Kasbah and he invited us in for mint tea.  He told us his family have lived there for 300 years.     It was fascinating to see his home and meet his family.   They made us all very welcome.   One of the things I love about travel is seeing how other people live.

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Lee inside the Kashbar

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Just love the blue and white walls

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And the mysterious laneways

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The doors here are amazing

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The beach at Rabat

We walked through the markets in the Medina and had a delicious dinner at a cafe such an amazing atmosphere.  Make sure you visit Rabat it is full of history and culture.

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CASABLANCA

What do you think of when you hear the word “Casablanca”.    For me it has always conjured up a sense of the exotic and romance.   I guess everyone who has ever seen the famous movie “Casablanca” feels the same however it is not like that at all.  Quite a large city in fact the largest in Morocco around 4.5 million people live here.

Casablanca was our first stop on a 13 day Casablanca tour of Morocco.   We had a couple of days here before starting our tour of Morocco with Peregrine Adventures who I can highly recommend.  Of course we went to the Medina where the locals were shopping for food.   Such an interesting place we loved all the hustle and bustle of the everyday life here.

The food was great especially the tajine with lamb, boiled eggs and prunes very tasty. Not to mention of course the delicious mint tea.  Also visited the famous “Rick’s Cafe” looks just like it did in the movie.

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The food is delicious as is the mint tea

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The famous Rick’s Cafe

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Hard to find but we eventually got there

After a couple of days exploring on our own we met up with our tour leader and the other tour members.   I love the fact that there were only a lucky 13 on our tour.  The first day of our tour was a trip to the Mosque of Hassan II, which dominates the Casablanca skyline.   There seems to be a lot of debate as to whether this Mosque is the second biggest to the 13th biggest in the world so I really am not sure.  Very impressive and right on the water.

 Our next stop would be Rabat.

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