One month in Morocco has been marvelous. We have seen so very much, and still there is much to see – so we will return one day. But for now, I am so happy to have experienced this magical and friendly country – especially the past five days as we have traversed the diverse geography from Fes to Marrakesh.
We hired a guide to show us parts of Morocco we
would find difficult to reach on our own – and I am so glad we did. Our fantastic guide Abdul from Your Morocco Tours was amazing(5 days only $250 per person). He safely drove us for five days and was funny, interesting and proud of his country and his heritage.
Have I mentioned how friendly everyone is?
With our friends Steve and Sarah we left Fes on a Saturday morning for the long but beautiful drive. We began to climb into the mountains only a few hours out of Fes. Eventually we made it to the beautiful Ziz Valley. Here we began to see the red rocks and reddish pink buildings I had always imagined when I thought of Morocco. Although the white and blue and green and grey we had seen up to this time was beautiful in its own way – this red color of the desert against the green of
the date palm trees made me feel I was part of a movie set.
Have I mentioned how great all the roads are?
After a long day of driving we arrived in the desert, just in time for a spectacular sunset over the Sahara. It was breathtaking. I didn’t want it to end. Awash in orange from sand to sky it was spectacular.
We then continued a short distance into the dunes to our spectacular hotel called Kasbah Azalay. Stunning. How can this be our hotel when we paid so little for this tour? Not only was it pretty in a very Moroccan way but the service and hospitality was perfect. We enjoyed a lovely tagine for dinner
and a good nights sleep.
A more leisurely day was on hand for Sunday and after breakfast we climbed the dunes and shopped for scarfs in the town of Merzouga. We then enjoyed a visit to the village of Kamila where we sipped mint tea and listened to the authentic Gnaoua music of the region performed by the ancestors of the original Sudanese slaves who were brought here five hundred years ago. Their efforts to preserve their culture and music are commendable and we danced and had a great time with them.
Have I mentioned that this country, more than any other, is where I want to buy things – pottery, rugs, leather? I am restraining myself.
Late in the afternoon we arrived at the staging area for our camel trek into the desert. To be completely accurate it’s actually a dromedary trek. Camels are the beasts with two humps. The animals with one hump are technically dromedaries, but everyone calls them camels so, hey, whatever!
I wasn’t really sure how this was going to go – was it scary? Painful? Smelly? Actually, it was a teeny bit painful – but mostly just fun. The dromedaries were not smelly, they didn’t spit or bite, but once you are sitting up on one, you realize this ain’t no horse. Wow. They lumber along and your leg muscles feel the movement, but honestly the next day it was my arms that were sore, from trying to hold on when the camel goes down a hill, or sits down.
There were ten of us riding and after an hour and half on the camel, including a stop to watch another spectacular Sahara sunset, we arrived at the nomad camp. We were assigned tents with beds and served tea while we waited for another group of 18 to arrive. When they did we all had dinner together (tagine) and then a bonfire and music around the fire. By this time the temperature had plummeted and we put all our clothes on including wool socks and hats and snuggled under the covers for the night.
Have I mentioned there are more stars in the sky in Morocco? Billions.
Wake up at 6am and you immediately feel the pain in your legs (and crotch) and arms. Yikes. But back on the camel we go, even before I get a cup of coffee. Ugh. I was hoping my camel knew the way to the nearest Starbucks, but instead he took us out of camp into the dunes to watch the sunrise. Surreal. And way better than Starbucks.
After the sunrise and a thousand more photos we were back in the saddle and headed back to town, where we were served a nice breakfast (with plenty of coffee) and had a hot shower before we reconnected with our guide Abdul and began day three of our tour.
We drove away from the dunes and into the amazing Moroccan red rock canyons and gorges. A
truly surprising area of Morocco I had never even heard of. The Todgha Gorge was stunning and we enjoyed it late in the afternoon where the 1000 foot walls had sunlight on the tops, but the river was in the shadow of the mountains. We also visited a remarkable fossil museum where we learned about
the 500 million year old ocean fossils found in this area and another place where we learned about the ingenious well and aqueduct system the Berber people built to access and save water from the
Atlas mountains 300 years ago.
Have I mentioned how diverse the geography is? From ocean to desert to mountains to rivers to lakes.
Finally we arrived in the Dades Gorge, another amazing marvel of Mother Nature, where our hotel for the night was perched on a cliff overlooking the valley below. We enjoyed an authentic Moroccan couscous meal and met a nice couple from Seattle and swapped stories before a good nights sleep.
Up and on our way in the morning we drove to see
more ancient Kasbahs perched in the Dades Gorge and throughout the red rock region and stopped to view the geological wonder called Monkey’s Feet. A geology uplift of rock that is unique to this area and impossible to describe. And yes, it did look a bit like the bottom of a monkey’s foot.
Midday we visited one of the best preserved Kasbahs in Morocco, the Amerhidil – built-in the 17th century and in remarkable condition. Given that most of this construction is made from mud and straw bricks, finding well-preserved ones of this age is unusual. We toured the building, ate a delicious lunch of grilled turkey kebab and then headed on our way to our hotel.
This night we stayed in another very beautiful boutique hotel with exceptional customer service. Everywhere we go the people are so kind and helpful and that is the case at Riad Tama. Big rooms, and a beautiful garden and a lovely restaurant where we enjoyed a a French inspired dinner.
Have I mentioned a Dar is a house, a Riad means garden but is often used to refer to a hotel or house with a garden?
Day five- our final day began early at 8:30 with our fabulous guide Abdul as we headed off to the
famous and well-preserved Kasar of Air Ben Haddou where we spent a couple of hours walking with an incredible guide who had been raised in this village. Morocco has a big film industry and this place is one that is often featured in many films including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, and Jewel of the Nile.
Have I mentioned a kasbah is a house of a rich family usually with four towers while a kasar is a fortified village with more than one kasbah?
Our final day continued with another spectacular
drive with surprising scenery and geography over the Tizi Tichka Pass to the famous city of Marrakesh – our final stop of our Morocco adventure. We will be in Marrakesh for three days.
We loved our tour! An inspiring experience in a magical place.
In the future when I think of Morocco I will certainly remember the cities we have visited (Casablanca, Chefchaouen, Tangier, Asilah, Fes and Marrakesh) but I think it will be the rural areas I will remember most fondly. The desert is such a special place to be, and to be able to sleep there and see the stars at night and ride the camels – unforgettable. The gorges and red rocks and Kasbahs of old are like something out of a movie set (and some are) but they are real. And beautiful. And cherished by the wonderful Moroccan people.
Five Days from Fes to Marrakesh. What an experience. What a lucky girl. What a life.