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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