I mentioned I might get the motivation to tell you about my recent travels? Today as quoted from my expert Londoner friend, I am well and truly being an amateur Londoner….. It’s Sunday and it’s raining and I cant think of a thing to do in the rainy weather…. Well, truthfully I can (my expert Londoner friend can think of alot more than me), but I only want to do activities I can do from my bed… I can very comfortably blog from bed and tell you about the sunny places I have been recently….
It’s very Sunny in Morocco, which is only one of the reasons I liked it.. correction LOVED it. Such a diverse and amazing country, which makes it right up my alley. Mountains, beach, desert, culture, sounds, smells, food, amazing people, goats up trees (YES really!) and Moroccan tea… don’t forget the tea.
Have you ever been blessed to have that sad feeling when you have been somewhere, fallen in love with the country, its amazing sights, it’s people and you know you have to get on a plane and leave it the next day without knowing if and when you will be back? Well the night before I left I wanted to throw the biggest wildest 4 year old style tantrum you have ever seen and refuse to leave Morocco. (on a side note, I did have too many ‘Walk me down’ cocktails (recipe for disaster for those of you following at home – vodka/tequila/gin/triple sec/aigre-douce mixte/blue curacao and don’t forget the sprite) with my travelling companions and almost did miss my early morning flight.. thankfully the driver who came to collect me rang the doorbell which woke the whole hotel up and made sure I got there..). But seriously, when I was saying goodbye to my fellow adventurers, I really did want to stamp my feet and say that I was not leaving and you can’t make me. There is a little piece of my heart in Morocco and I will never be the same again.
I am not going to give you a blow by blow run down of my trip, but I will give you some of my highlights. Although I loved every waking moment of my time there, even I cannot be bothered to write it all down for you and make it feel like you are at some kind of slideshow night. No worries here if you want to skim read too, most people know that although I am always talking, there is no rule that you must be listening :)
I will admit, I was a bit nervous about travelling to Morocco on my own. It’s made out to be some kind of scary dangerous place to be as a western woman travelling on her own. But as soon as I arrived, I realized that as long as you were sensible, it is very safe. I did also book a tour. Partly because travelling solo is far less fun than travelling with other adventurers, but also for safety. Intrepid Tours have amazing local guides who will let you know where it is safe to fill up your water bottle and keep away all the snake wielding, silver selling, direction giving tourist hunters; though my ‘get stuffed I am not letting you near me with that thing’ look does tend to keep them at bay as well, sticking close to a local is extra insurance. The Tour I chose was the ‘South Morocco Discovery.
We started off with a group dinner in the Jamaa El Fna Square in Marrakech for dinner at one of the stalls. UNESCO recognized the square as a significant cultural place in 2001. It is a place very full of life and energy. Story tellers, dancers and other performers put on a show full of sounds, colour and huge crowds gather and get involved, it is an amazing place to experience and an excellent introduction into the way of life for Moroccans. I have a video which is not suitable for uploading, but all you can hear is a mixture of beating drums, chatter, motorbikes, horns, horse hooves and many different languages being spoken. If I close my eyes while I listen, I remember standing there and thinking, this place is so full of life, I LOVE IT and I am sure I will love the rest of my 2 weeks here! Intrepid offer a ‘get you off the beaten track and mix with the locals’ kind of experience. This was quite evident on the first morning of our tour when we headed for the beautiful Atlas Mountains and heard that we would need to leave the mini bus here, hike to our guest house and that a mule was to take our overnight luggage up to Aroumd. It was absolutely amazing! Unfortunately the photos don’t show you exactly how amazing it is as Morocco’s famous sunshine took a little holiday itself that day. There are very few things more amazing than being in a traditional guest house, surrounded by stunning mountains, only accessible by foot and not a chance of seeing another tourist. I looked up the name of the guest house just now to give you more details and rather than an address, it has only GPS coordinates. We took another little hike up further into the mountains that afternoon which was equally incredible and on the return journey, our guides took us back ‘the goat track’ that the local shepherds use. It was very tight and being scared of heights, I closed my eyes A LOT. I wanted to close my eyes when we had to cross past a small waterfall with a sheer drop off the side…. I may or may not have squealed a little on that crossing, but I will never forget the experience and stunning views. Aroumd is a place of magnificent scenery and a peaceful place where locals live their day to day life seemingly without a care in the world for the things we worry about. It is a lovely reminder that we create a lot of stress for ourselves with things that seem somewhat trivial when you see how happy and relaxed these people are. We would perceive that they ‘have nothing other than their basic mud walled homes and loving families’… perhaps they really have everything that really matters?
The next highlight for me was the Kasbah of Ben Haddou. A Kasbah is kind of like a Moroccan Castle. Big mud built walls for protection and many families lived together inside. The Kasbah is very grand and has been in many movies and TV shows. Most recently in Game of Thrones. In true Intrepid style, we arrived using the stepping stones over the creek rather than the walking bridge that was only a few hundred meters up the river. I loved it here and there was no difficulty smiling for the photos!
The next major highlight was the overnight camping in the Sahara Desert. This was one of the big reasons why I booked the trip (that and I had some time to kill before I started work in London – a great problem to have!). Unfortunately I was hit with a bit of travellers sickness that morning, so I wasn’t doing as much cartwheeling around the desert as I usually would have been, however I still absolutely loved it and put this on my list of one of the most amazing places I have ever experienced. There was some camel riding to begin with. I hopped up on a camel for the photo, but because I was not feeling so amazing I stayed back and passed out in a room in the middle of nowhere on my own thinking I might need to be put down as I was surely going to die anyway (not dramatic at all ;-). After both my camel riding companions and I survived that, we 4×4’d our way into the desert. I have done some time in four wheel drives in the past, but this was a pretty full on ride by anybody’s standards. These trucks would not have a long life ahead of them. We bumped our heads on the roof every time we went over a bump (which was every few seconds) and were hanging on for dear life for the full 2.5 hours. Despite how fun that was, we were all very excited to have arrived at our nomad camp! Not a soul around other than our group, simply incredible. We hiked up to the top of the Erg Chigaga Dunes – the highest sand dunes around and watched the sunset. To use a very overused cliché, there really are no words or photos which can capture that. You can see sand dunes as far as the eye can see, all golden and orange in the sunset, this is something I will never forget. We all pulled our beds out to sleep under the stars that night, competing with who could see the most shooting stars. This absolutely tops my favourite camp ever – even being sick! We were at least 2.5 hours from the nearest town and a world away from everything.
The night after the desert, we stopped in a fairly standard little village, we were just there to rest and relax. I don’t know if it was because we spent 4 hours four wheel driving back from our desert camp (with no shower facilities) and then another 6 hours in the bus, but the Riad was like heaven! We had a lovely dinner that night, but some of the best laughs I have had in a long time were also shared in the dining room. One of the things I love about travelling with a small group (we had 12 including our guide and driver) is how quickly they become like a little family to you. The inside jokes, banter, the fact that they have seen you tired, sick and un-showered and don’t care. The group we travelled with were amazing and they make the trip equally as special as the sights you see.
Next up was Essouira. I could spend a lot of time here and I do plan on going back. It’s a quirky beachy place which is kind of a mix between Morocco, France, Spain and Greece. It is unusual for me to love a place which is so touristy, but it just has this special relaxed kind of vibe. It’s all about seafood and wandering. There are markets and lovely bars, laneways and interesting doors. It’s also another famous movie filming location.. most recently also a sight for Game of Thrones. It was also the perfect way wash off the desert and to finish off our tour.
Some of the other consistent highlights in Morocco was the food. When we started the tour, our guide told us that we can expect two types of food; ‘Tagine and Couscous’ .. lucky for me, I like both of those and always finished it off with Moroccan tea. The honey is something which was surprisingly amazing also, such a strong flavour, always available on crepes for breakfast. They also love bread and will have it with every meal, or as the meal dipped in olive oil.
They call tea ‘Moroccan whisky’ and they have it pretty much all the time. I loved watching them make the tea, so relaxed and calm, watching the teapot in anticipation of their favourite part of the day, a very lovely daily ritual. It is quite a process to get it just right and it does not taste the same unless you do every single step. You also should pour it with as much height as you can manage (without spilling it all over the table like I did!).
I left Morocco with so many lovely memories and learning’s. The Moroccan people are some of the most beautiful people I have come across. So calm and happy. Their lives are so simple, but yet so full of love. Their daily rituals are all built around family and tradition. In the villages, they do not want for the same materialistic things that we spend our whole lives working for. They just want food to share with their family and friends they keep close and good quality tea… I think that really is what life is all about?