Mesmerizing Morocco – 13 days of adventure and exploration

Mesmerizing Morocco – 13 days of adventure and exploration

Morocco

Mesmerizing Morocco – a 2 week trip

Key words: Ancient history; Roman ruins dating back to 300 AD; Culture; Sahara Desert; Atlas mountains; Todra Gorge; Medinas; Beaches

Researching for warm places to visit in Europe in Dec – Jan, I kept moving south looking for reasonably warm and exciting places when I came across an article on Morocco, a north african country which is just south of Spain. It said that Morocco was a popular destination for european visitors, especially, british and spanish in the winters. As I read more, I became more and more mesmerized by the wide range of excitement the country offered. There was the desert, the Sahara, with 400 feet dunes in Erg Chebbi, where one could take a desert safari on camel back, staying in desert camp with berber nomads. This sounded exciting and got me going. I found that Morocco was not just desert but also had the mighty Atlas mountains with majestic peaks and gorges which held promise for some challenging treks. Nested in the beautiful mountains was the Todra Gorge with its centuries old settlements. Closeby was the UNESCO heritage site of Ait bin Hadou, a Ksar or village many centuries old (around the 17th century). Many popular Hollywood movies such as the Gladiator, Game of Thrones, Mummy, Lawrence of Arabia and many more, have been filmed here. The village is a site to behold, beside a river rising like a hill in the plains with the Atlas mountains in the backdrop. You can see the interlinked mud structures (earthen habitat) and spend hours walking the maze of narrow pathways admiring the ancient relics. From here my attention shifted to the history of Morocco, which brought me to the imperial ancient city of Fes, which served as the capital city of Morocco for many centuries. As I read more about Fes, I got more and more enamored by the ‘medina’ or the ancient walled city founded in the 8th century AD, where people still lived. I decided that I had to experience this culture and discovered the riad hotels. These are houses in the medina which have been converted to hotels providing luxuries for the western tourist, yet maintaining the traditional touch. The medina is a walled city with everything inside, the mosque, the markets or souks, restaurants, schools or madrasas, etc. There is a lot more for history buffs like me such as the ancient roman ruins of Volubilis dating back to the 4th century AD which still have the well preserved columns, arches and the intricate tiled flooring. Marakkech, one of the largest cities in Morocco was also a must see with its many palaces, medina and the famous Jemaa el Fnaa square. I included a day in Rabat as that was our entry / exit point and had some beautiful views from the vantage point at Hassan Tower. The mausoleum of Mohammed V is a must see place too.

I wanted to add the Mediterranean city of Tangiers, the beach city of Essaouira and few more destinations but 12 days is too short a time to do anything else.

It was an experience of a lifetime but I have to warn that to enjoy Morocco as I have detailed, one has to have higher than average fitness as it involves a lot of walking and climbing. The best way to explore a new place is to walk to sites, eat local food, stay in traditional dwellings in the old city, talk to local people, wear local clothes (djellaba in the desert), participate in the local entertainment and shop at local stores for traditional handmade stuff. Morocco is a very safe place for tourists and the people are very friendly. You would see a lot of locals trying to sell you stuff, but if you politely refuse, they would not harass you.

December is a good time to visit with temperatures of 20 Celsius in the day but going down below 10 at night. Enjoy the tajine delicacies and the kebabs with couscous washed down with many cups of the Moroccan mint tea.

Summary of the trip:

Day 1 – Rabat

    • Landed in Rabat 1 pm ;
    • Private taxi to Fes
    • Meknes and Roman ruins of Volubilis on the way

Day 2 – Fes

    • Explore the vast Medina – Fes el bali
    • Madrasa
    • Roman ruins merendes
    • Visit to Tannery; shopping for leather items

Day 3 – Fes

    • Palaces and gardens; city tour in horse drawn carriage
    • Took Supratour bus to Merzouga at 8 pm

Day 4 – Hassi Labien (White Lady), Merzouga

    • Reached Merzouga – Hassi Labien village at 6 am;
    • Freezing cold in Hassi Labien
    • Rested in Hassan’s Marhaba Guest house till 10 am
    • Tour of village and trek on dune; ancient irrigation system
    • 3 pm – started for the desert camp on camels
    • Reached camp at 5.00 pm; Climbed dune to watch sunset
    • Dinner in large tent with the group – couple from Spain, guy from Australia and a Japanese lady settled in Kenya
    • Bon fire with Berber music

Day 5 – in the desert

    • Breakfast in desert camp on the dunes;
    • at 10 started for second desert camp in Oasis
    • sandsurfing, lunch
    • back to Camp 1 for dinner and bonfire
    • joined by a big group of 10 people

Day 6 – Hassi labien – Todra

    • started back from desert camp at 8 am for Marhaba;
    • took private taxi to Todra Gorge at 10.30;
    • Reached Todra around 1 after 3-4 photo stops;
    • 30 – 5 pm – trekked and explored the gorge
    • Explored old medina; mostly abandoned but still has some homes and riad hotels
    • Visited a carpet weaving factory
    • Dinner at Valentines – authentic kebabs and Tajine made by Souad, Abdul’s wife (the owner)

Day 7 – Todra to Ait ben Hadou (literally translated as the community constructed by the tribals, by the sons of Hadou)

    • Taxi at 10 am; reached Bagdad café at 1 pm
    • Beautiful place and a very nice hotel; wonderful hosts Mohammed and Rose
    • Visited the Ksar of Ait ben Hadou, a UNESCO heritage site; a magnificent site!!! Spent almost 3.5 hours… trust me, with all the walking and climbing, you would be looking for a nice lounge chair and a glass of steaming hot mint tea at the end of the 3.5 hours.

Day 8 – Ait bin hadou to Marakkech

    • Taxi at 10 am from Ait ben Haou
    • Very scenic drive that takes you over the Atlas mountains
    • Reached Marakkech around 2 pm
    • Checked into one of the ugliest riad hotels from the outside but a piece of paradise inside – Maison Rouge; there are tall orange trees in the courtyard which were laden with beautiful oranges; very tastefully decorated rooms
    • Explored nearby sites, spent evening at Jemaa el Fnaa

Day 9 – Marakkech

    • Breakfast on the terrace
    • Visited Bahia palace, Yves St Laurent – Marjorelle gardens

Day 10 – Marakkech

    • El badi palace, Saadian tombs and other sites

Day 11 – Marakkech to Rabat by train

    • 4-5 hour train ride, 1st class is affordable and very comfortable
    • Visited the Hassan Tower and Mohammed V mausoleum; Tram ride

Day 12 – Flight from Rabat at 8 am

 

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