Guest Writer - Experience the real Morocco - 11th August 2010
Are you fed up with having to catch two connecting flights, plus two return flights, spending endless hours at airports waiting for connections? Well, how about making the best of the journey time and travelling overland through Morocco instead? It has a variety of landscapes including, mountains, deserts, lush valleys, and rolling hills; and its an opportunity to see the way of life and people from different regions and their customs.
That is what we did this summer - starting with a cheap flight from UK into Marrakesh, followed by a very well organised and guided tour, over the Atlas mountains, skirting the Sahara Desert and up country to Saidia. After a few weeks holiday, we completed the circular tour of Morocco, overland through Fez, Rabat and Casablanca.
Here is a brief outline of the tour, with some photos - I hope it whets your appetite, and can assure you that you will see and experience Morocco and its people at its best. If you want help to plan your own bespoke trip, ask Riad who organised ours ( e/mail = firstname.lastname@example.org ) - he has lots of experience and contacts; or he could organise shorter trips in and around Saidia. Perhaps a one day trip to the local mountain gorge, or a 3 day golfing trip to nearby cities?
We started with an overnight stay in a typical guest house (or riad) in Marrakesh. Just like in the books, the riad was like a magical tardis behind a bland exterior door, with friendly owner and genuine hospitality. The city itself is a kalidascope of colours and activities - particularly in the old square which comes alive at night with hundreds of stalls and artisans, and many more tourists! It is a safe environment in the medina, with its narrow alleyways full of people, donkeys, mopeds - a real shoppers delight.
Then we started our journey (south-east) over the Mid Atlas mountains in a comfortable Toyota 4x4 with driver/guide. The mountains are spectacular with snow capped peaks even in summer, meandering roads, green valleys and great scenery en-route. Donkeys seem to be the normal mode of transport throughout Morocco, especially in the rural areas. Lunchtime found us in Ouarzazate which is a film making centre where dozens of famous films have been made, including Raiders of the Lost Arc series. You can take a guided tour around the film sets. The local "palace" is now a fascinating kasbah. We bought rugs from a Twareg (Sahara nomad) who's set up was in an old converted Synagog. Film makers hire authentic costumes and jewellery from here. The organic pharmacy had medicine and herbs for almost every ailment known to man - if you believed the shopkeeper!
Onwards then to arrive at a very comfortable hotel at the edge of the Sahara in Merzuga in time for an evening meal. We had two nights here and wish we had stayed longer as there is quite a lot to see in the area. This included organised trips out to an oasis, flamingo lake, nomad souk, and a village now occupied by people from Marli. They arrived in Morocco about 40 years ago as travelling musicians, settled in this area and are now part of the community. I think this typifies the multi-cultural and tolerant nature of the country. The buildings are all made of mud and straw and after the infrequent deluges of rain, they simply repair the outside of buildings where necessary. In August the place is full of Moroccan holiday makers even though its about 45 degrees+ too hot. Apparently, they come here to help to cure arthritis... by burying themselves in the desert sand, up to their necks for about 5 minutes each day for a couple of weeks!! That sand was very, very hot on our feet so I for one will not be trying that cure out. Our time here culminated with a camel ride into the desert dunes for a few hours and back to see the sunset over the horizon - spectacular!
The next day we travelled northwards through miles and miles of black desert, through rural villages and regions, seeing herds of camels and goats en-route, then via Oujda to arrive in Saidia in time for an evening meal "chez nous". You can find most things you might want somewhere in the medina and souk in Oujda if you try hard enough, but that kind of shopping takes time and patience, and a willingness to barter.
Our homeward journey took us cross-country westwards and then down the Atlantic coastline. Berkane is a traditional market garden town fairly close to Saidia. People here live a very different lifestyle to us tourist types in Mediterrania Saidia, living mainly off the land, with plenty of seasonal fruit and vegetables of all kinds - and there are organised large scale market garden set ups, including vineyards and orange groves. The pretty area of Taforalt is close by, only about 45 minutes from Saidia - this was another pleasant surprise for us - fresh water springs and river gorges - reminded me of Snowdownia in Wales with beautiful scenery.
The day trip took us through rolling hills and agricultural countryside that was somewhat reminiscent of the Yorkshire Dales, but with olive groves and vineyards. After a photo shoot at the powder blue lake nearby, it was a stop for lunch in Fez then onto Rabat to include a trip to see the Mohamed V mausoleum. This is the capital and political centre of Morocco, with another different feel to the place, with lots of government offices and wide boulevards. That evening we arrived in Casablanca for dinner at a fish restaurant on the harbour and overnight stay in Ibis hotel. OK, not traditional, but Casablanca is absolutely heaving and it served to bring us back to European lifestyle yet again. Casablanca is quite possibly the commercial gateway into all of north and central Africa. The most manic traffic I have experienced anywhere, but somehow a few poor little donkeys still managed to negotiate their way amongst all the cars and lorries.
Next day it was onto Marrakesh in time for lunch in the market square and last minute sight seeing, then onto the airport to catch the flight - back to normality! But what a great holiday experience this was, and well worth time and trouble to travel a little differently and see first hand the regional variations. We recommend it.