The Road to Morocco

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What could be more exotic, more unusual, more inviting than to travel the road to Morocco like Bachelorette Canada did in 2016? Well, Terry and I found out exactly how exotic, unusual and inviting Morocco can be; we took a week and travelled the road to Morocco ourselves.

It took some planning, from the decision (after watching Bachelorette Canada in October, 2016) to the execution (the last week of November, 2018), but Terry and I saw Morocco up close and personal. Our itinerary (courtesy of On The Go Tours) was to include Marrakech, Ait Ben Haddou, Ouarzazate, Skoura, Merzouga, Erfoud, Ifrane, Fes, Volubilis, Menkes, Rabat, and Casablanca. We would get to explore the Medinas, ride a camel into the desert, marvel at roman ruins, and luxuriate in riads along the way. We added a day in Marrakech to the end of our trip, to explore the city and do a bit of shopping. All-in-all, it was going to be busy, but fun.

But, no trip plan goes unchanged. The first (of several) changes was with our return flights. In late October, the Moroccan government decided to remain on "summer" time, rather than to return to standard time. Because of this, our return flight itinerary changed, extending the time it would take to return to over 24 hours of flying time, and going from Marrakech to Amsterdam to Paris to home. No worries; we got this.

And then, only hours before we were to head to the airport to catch our first flight on the road to Morocco, our flight to Paris was cancelled. But, we got that straightened out quickly; instead of Toronto to Paris to Marrakech, we would fly (hours later) Toronto to Paris to Casablanca to Marrakech. Only 19 hours of flying time; we got this too. And off we went.

We arrived late in the evening in Marrakech, found our ride to our first hotel (the Adam Park Hotel and Spa), and checked in with the tour. Dinner and off to bed for us. The next morning, the real tour began. As most of our little group (12 tourists, including us, our driver Suliman and our guide Lhoucine) were on route from Casablanca, Terry and I were shepparded off to see the beautiful Jardin Majorelle. What a beautiful garden it was; a little slice of heaven within the Medina walls.

When we returned to the hotel, we met the rest of our merry crew, and embarked on a walking tour of Marrakech. Our city guide was knowledgable and interesting, and the sights, sounds and smells of the ancient medina captivated us. We visited the courtyard of the Koutoubia Mosque, walked the quiet gardens of the Bahai Palace, explored the souks that radiated out from Djemma al Fna square, and finally arrived at dinner in a beautiful restaurant in the heart of the medina. A belly dancer gyrated to the exotic sounds of Moroccan musicians, and we had our first tagine and couscous dinner.

The next day, we departed early for Ait Ben Haddou and our riad in Ouarzazate. Terry bought an interesting carving from a roadside vendor in the High Atlas mountains. Our little band of merry men and women viewed snow-capped mountains and deep river valleys as we travelled to our first stop of Ait Ben Haddou. Ait Ben Haddou is an ancient city, a UNESCO world heritage site, constructed of adobe over stone and brick. Originally a caravan stop, it is now used (sometimes) as a movie set. But, it's majestic buildings outshine any movie, any caravan.

Our final destination this day was Dar Amoudou in Ouarzazate; our hotel for the night. Another dinner of tagine and couscous, and off to bed we went.

Lodging in Morocco can be in a western style hotel, but the most interesting stays are in Dars or Riads. These are like our "bed and breakfast" lodgings, but with a bit of a twist. Yes, they are (or were) private houses, and, yes, they offer only the BnB style of lodging, but they are so much more romantic. A dar is like our BnB; the building is (or was) a single-family dwelling, but a riad is more like a mansion. A riad has an open-air atrium, often with a decorative garden and water feature in the centre. From here on in, we stayed at Dars and Riads, and loved it.

The next morning, we breakfasted and got on the road. First stop, Kasbah Amridil in Skoura. The Kasbah was the North African equivalent of an early European castle; a protected fortress meant to safehold the local bigwig. Kasbah Amridil has been restored and maintained, and gave us the first flavours of life in middle-ages Morocco. Next stop was the majestic Todgha Gorge. Up in the mountains, this gorge offered a beautiful, peaceful walk along the rivers edge. Finally, we arrived in Merzouga, and saw Sahara up close. Merzouga is a sort of "frontier" town, literally on the edge of the Sahara, with dunes towering above every building. Here we met and mounted our camels for the hour-long ride out the Berber "desert camp" at Erg Chebbi.

Camels are fun to ride, once you get the rythm (although, many would disagree with me). We made it to Erg Chebbi after dark, and enjoyed another tagine dinner, this time accompanied with Berber music and dance. Off to bed we went, sleeping in tents in the Sahara.

Next morning, we were up before dawn, to ride the camels back to Merzouga. About 45 minutes into the ride, we stopped and witnessed dawn on the Sahara. What a magnificent and majestic sight that was. And, boy were we not in any condition to appreciate it the way it should have been appreciated; camels and cold tents had ensured that most of us had not got enough sleep. But, what an experience!

We got to Merzouga, cleaned up and had breakfast. Then, it was off to Fes by way of Erfoud (where we had time to shop for fossils) and Ifrane (where we viewed the Stone Lion). We stayed at Riad Reda, close to the waterfront in Fes, and had the most wonderful seafood dinner aboard a dhow docked in the port.

In the morning, we took the city tour of Fes, starting at the gates of the Royal Palace, and wending our way through watchtowers, souks, and the Mellah, with stops at ceramic shops, carpet shops, and leather shops that overlooked the ancient tannery of Fes.

Onward we went; the next day we explored the roman ruins at Volubilis and wound up in Riad Dar Alia in Rabat. A city tour of Rabat showed us the Royal Palace, and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, the founder of modern Morocco. We departed Rabat for Casablanca, where we toured the Hassan II Mosque before having lunch and wishing most of our tour family goodbye.

Finally, onward to Marrakech, where another hiccup awaited us. We had booked an additional night in Marrakech, in the riad that the tour uses as the last night lodging. Unbeknownst to us, the tour company changed their booking, meaning that we would have to change riads again, the next morning. After much negotiation, the tour company booked us into Riad Imilchil for the night; the same Riad that we had booked for our additional night stay. All was well, except that we couldn't reconfirm our airport transfer from Riad Imilchil, and would have to wait a day to get that cleared up. Oh well, that's travel for you.

Riad Imilchil was the least attractive lodging we had; reality differed greatly from the pamphlets and website we had consulted before we booked. But, we had a good stay there, and only minor glitches on leaving.

Our final full day, no longer accompanied by the tour friends we had come to know, was one of exploring (tentatively) the narrow passageways and twisting, maze-like alleys that comprise the medina of Marrakech. We successfully navigated from our hotel to Djemma al Fna square and back, and Terry got in some unexpected shopping along the way. Djemma al Fna square was filled to the brim with attractions and distractions; snake charmers, henna artists, food stalls, street vendors, acrobats, musicians, monkeys in diapers, horse & buggy rides, and tourists, lots of tourists. We explored the square, and finally settled on an espresso each at the Cafe de France, where Terry admired her henna and I watched the varying crowd.

Our last day in Morocco was one of frantic activity; we got to the airport (more hiccups, but we overcame them), got our luggage checked in and boarded our first flight. 26 hours and three airports later, we arrived home, tired and happy that we had enjoyed our marvelous adventure on the road to Morocco.

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Our hosts and guides were Lhoucine (our guide) and Suliman (our driver). These two gentlemen expertly and knowledgably guided us from place to place, showing us the very best of Morocco. Thank you, gentlemen, for your kindness, calmness and hospitality.

Our fellow guests were

  • Bea Kessler and Nick Papakentris, two expat Canadians who's energy and passion helped move us into the Morocco mood,
  • Leona Jahas and Ken Norman, two Canadians from Alberta who, despite being well out of their comfort zone, had a great time, and kept us anchored,
  • Cathy Alvisio and Kerry Denman, Ausies both, and the life of the party,
  • Dacre Haddon, a generous and gentle man from South Africa,
  • Astrid Liebrecht-Meyer, an adventurous and inquisitive woman, also from South Africa, and
  • Muzaffer and Amina Ebrahim, a young South African couple obviously deeply in love

Thank you to all, for your companionship, your friendship, and your generosity. It was a wonderful excursion, made even greater by your presence.