When we signed up for a whistle stop tour of Morocco, none of us envisaged the 1,500 mile, 4 day whirlwind that we got (the itinerary on booking was vague to say the least), however, despite the exceedingly long travel times, our road trip around Morocco offered us an unmissable insight into local life and customs as well as some incredible views.
Some snippets of the best bits from the bus include: huge mountain ranges that honestly could belong in mid west America, a mile wide valley of lush green vegetation flanked by arid desert either side, nomads camping and living off the land making honey from bee boxes, a ski resort (!!!), monkeys, markets with livestock and a huge amount of fruit, date farms, olives and olive oil factories,arabic writing etched into mountains, mosque after mosque, street sellers and farmers and an inordinate amount of royal palaces!
Morocco to the brain is as smelling salts are to the senses, both enlivening and not a little shocking, for example, the bus driver did not bat an eyelid when a tuktuk (a bicycle driven vehicle) came careering across the dual carriage way at a 45 degree angle travelling in the wrong direction!! Morocco, although hectic in so many ways, was also very chilled. We all enjoyed the calming tradition of mint tea and have brought a teapot for the boat so we can continue the peace a shared cup of tea brings – what a lovely legacy.
We also loved the “blue city” of chefchaouan, although Ryan did comment that perhaps if we painted Chichester a pretty colour, tourism would boom! It was here that the girls heard their first call to prayer from the mosque, a truly foreign sound that emits from the religious buildings all over arabic counties 5 times a day to bring worshipers to prayer. Unlike our church bells, it is a singing/ chanting that the girls never did quite get used to!
In Fes we visited a tannery and watched with interest the transformation from hide to handbag and the dyeing process, all a little macabre, starting with the soaking in uric acid (camel pee in the old days) moving methodically on to men standing waist deep trampoling the hides into the dye for weeks on end. We also visited a pottery and mosaic factory were we learnt how all those ornate Moroccan fountains are made, the painstaking work that goes into these is phenomenal. We stayed in elaborately decorated Riads (guesthouses) and ate local tagines couscous and delicious pastels (a Moroccan chicken pasty).
However the ‘piece de resistance’ was the Sahara desert, on this we are all agreed, and a good thing to as we endured an 18 hour round trip to get there (for just one night!). Our Saharan adventure started with the camels… It was with some intrepidation that we climbed on our camels (they are massive animals!). Isla was not quiet about this part of the adventure and her screams were appeased by not only us, the camel’s owners, the tour leaders, the bus drivers, but also by other passing camel tours who gamely shouted from a few yards away , “It’s ok Isla. Don’t worry Isla!!!” Oh dear. The panicked cries subsided pretty quickly once we got plodding and, with sanity restored, the girls set about naming the camels. Isla rode Sam (who now had earache) Sophie sat proudly on Amy, Jocie and I had the very original Alice who did not like to do much of anything without head shaking and loud wailing (very disconcerting) and we all felt for poor old Peter bringing the strain up the rear! All joking aside the camels were very well looked after and happy!
We trekked an hour into the dunes and tried sand boarding – Ryan even stood up, good lad! Another 1\2 hour later we were at the camp, not to complain, but who knew how uncomfortable camel riding is! Even with large hessian sacks covering the humps it took me 2 days and the endurance of a lot of ‘John Wayne’ jokes to be able to walk like a normal person again! On the upside we were all blown away by the stunning evening sunlight on the dunes and the peaceful plodding of the camels, a very surreal moment.
The girls jumped for joy when they saw the beautifully lit tents nestled in the dunes…glamping at it’s finest; running hot water, massive cosy beds (it was chilly) delicious homemade tagine and drums around the campfire all made the experience magical. The cherry on the top was waking early to see the sun’s first peek over the Saharan dunes. We made some memories here that we will never forget.
We found Morocco to be unfaltering friendly and safe – there was never a feeling of threat only welcoming smiles. It was surprisingly affluent in the more built-up areas contrasting greatly with the vast farm and scrub lands in which people had their own, more basic, simple and perhaps enviable affluence. We enjoyed Morocco so much that we made a further stop in Agadir and spent 2 days surfing!
1 word to describe Morocco? Ok 2..
Foreign and happy (Sophie)
Cool and fun ( Jocie)
Ornate and cultural (me)
Dusty and exotic (Isla)
Welcoming and thriving (Ryan)
Yup, that about sums it up, a life affirming, truly memorable part of our adventure. Shukran, Morocco, shukran.