A Travellerspoint blog

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Trip Planning and Preparation


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It took us a long time to decide where to go this holiday. I think the fact that we had only 1 week really impacted the decision. When I asked Pete what he wanted he said "sun" and "something different", for me these 2 things would direct me to South East Asia or South America, but with destinations in those areas a minimum of 10 hours flight away, we were limited to North Africa and Southern European Islands. Out of these Morocco seemed the obvious choice for food, culture, architecture and adventure.

It then took me a long time to decide where in Morocco to go... it's a vast country with lots of diversity in both landscapes and culture. In the end it was based on convenience and the price of the flight to Marrakech. We knew we wanted an adventure and travelling-based holiday, but after hours and hours of researching different cities and methods of transportation we decided to just hire a car and wing it.

I got the car via AutoEurope again and it was £94 for a Fiat Punto for the week. I also got the carhireexcess cover for £15 for the week to avoid paying extra fees or a huge excess should anything happen.

And then with everything booked and Chip settled at a friend's home, we set off on our adventure to Morroco!

Posted by Libbytes 04:00 Archived in Morocco Tagged morocco preparation planning car_hire Comments (0)

Arriving in Marrakech

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We arrived in Marrakech on Saturday evening and took a short walk to the arrivals lounge and passport control. We were excited and eager to see the new country and hoped we could get through quickly to make the most of our short holiday.

Unfortunately, Marrakech did not co-operate and we joined the back of a 2.5 hour "queue" of people waiting to get through passport control. The room was bedlam... people pushing through the barriers and rope to direct the queue, fights and people fainting, arguments and the inevitable 'tutting' tourists trying to be British. The windows and counters of the passport control booths looked more like a bar on a Saturday night as travellers pushed up against them waving their passports trying to get served next. The process was incredibly stressful, but actually quite a good initiation for what to expect over the next week.

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We eventually made it through and collected our little Punto, which seemed in incredibly good condition compared to the bumped and bashed cars we saw along the way. The journey to our Riad was eventful to say the least. It started with a 'tap' from a white van who seemed to think we had left more than enough space between us and the car in front and tried to help us out by nudging us forwards... cheers pal... and ended with some overly helpful Marrakeshis who were slightly obsessed with helping us park.

With slightly lighter pockets (obviously someone had to pay for all that helpfulness) we made it into the calming oasis of our Riad; Riad Challa.

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A couple of mint teas later we were back out on the streets trying to find some falafel amongst the chaos of Marrakech Medina...

Although the owner of our Riad had told us that we may struggle to find food and that the city would probably be quiet, we found it to be quite the opposite. At 11pm Marrakech seemed to come alive, with street vendors setting up shops wherever there was space and seemingly doing great business. The square of Jemaa el-Fnaa was also alive with musicians, henna artists, monkeys and snakes charmers. We found some falafel and sat just chilling and absorbing everything.

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People circle to watch the musicians

The following day we spent the whole day exploring the Medina and the souks. We didn't take many pictures as it seemed to be the trend to ask for money if a picture was taken of you and we didn't have any change! We visited the souks, the main mosques and the Saadian tombs. We walked everywhere and stopped occasionally for coffee and people watching.

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In the Kasbah district
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People watching
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Saadian Tombs - impressive carvings (aka 'vivid detail')

We tried to stop for food at a great cafe I had heard about; Roti D'Or, but the queue was down the street(!) so we settled for one of the standard cafes looking out onto the Jemaa El-Fnaa square - it was average.

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That night we decided to venture South from our Riad towards the Medina walls and the Toureg district which is centred around a nice square. The walk down Riad Zitoun Lakdim street was great and we wished we had found this part of the city earlier in the day. We had a few (a lot) of cocktails at Kosybar, which we both really liked. It had a view out over the square and you could even see the storks nesting on the city walls from the balcony.

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View from Kosybar balcony

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After some (too many) shots of Cachaça we stumbled back towards our Riad and on the way into a fantastic little alternative restaurant called Fox Art Food which was run by a group of young Marrakeshi friends. We got chatting to them and ended up staying there a while.

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There is no denying that Marrakech is crazy, it is wildly interesting - there's almost too much going on and too much to see. The people are everywhere, packed into tiny spaces and streets that run between the seemingly endless shops and souks. It's chaos. Whilst we enjoyed our day here, we had hoped for a more relaxing holiday and so the following day we moved on from Marrakech...

Posted by Libbytes 04:00 Archived in Morocco Tagged marrakech falafel jemaa_el-fnaa roti_d'or Comments (0)

Conquering the Atlas Mountains

In the rain, flood, fog, snow, sun...

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Well... at least we tried to leave Marrakech... we had downloaded satnavs for our phones, but even they found navigating through the Medina difficult as they didn't seem to understand the concept of one-way streets. We seem trapped inside the walls of the city and so just drove as close to the wall as possible on a parallel road until we found the nearest exit!

Unfortunately outside of the city the driving didn't seem to improve as Moroccan's seem to have zero patience on the roads and certainly don't stick to the highway code as Pete and I do. Not as we experienced it anyway. We got cut up, tailgated, flashed at, pulled out on, beeped at, shouted at and flagged down by what seemed like every other car on the road! It was daunting at first, but Pete soon got used to it and I learned to divert my attention to the scenery and looking out the window!

It had rained in Marrakech the whole night before and was still raining in the morning when we set off. We figured that Morocco isn't that used to the rain because all the roads had flooded.... quite badly. Had the roads not been busy so we were able to follow someone to know how deep the water was, we may have turned around and waited for the waters to recede.

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The flooded road

The journey from here didn't get much better as the ascent up and over the Atlas Mountains began and we went deeper and deeper into the fog and rain clouds. This road: the N9 aka Tizi N'Tichka was supposed to one of the most beautiful roads in the world, but unfortunately we couldn't see a thing...
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But still, I'd much rather have been in our car than on a tour bus...
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Quite a scary sight, the passengers looked shaken up but luckily uninjured

Once we broke over the peak of the mountains the sky began to open and we saw smaller pockets of blue sky...
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...I think this was when we decided that we should make sure our plans included a return trip back over this mountain pass on a more sunny day.

We arrived at our guesthouse which was still high in the mountains but at least to the south of them. Riad Irocha was a small guesthouse in Tisseldei, a very sleepy village with only a handful of houses. It was lovely and the owner, Ahmed, was very hospitable.
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The clouds finally cleared

We ate some tasty food here and then took a short walk out of the riad down into the village and then to the palmerai (oasis) which was about 5 min walk over the road. The best, and most unusual, part of this village was the geology and rocks. They were incredible as you could see the veins of quartz and metal ores running through them. We dug quite a few bits of quartz out for ourselves which we have on display in our house now. But they are not nearly as striking as how they appeared buried in the rock face.
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The following day the weather was glorious and we finally got a glimpse of what we had missed; the snow-capped atlas mountains now behind us...
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However, we focused on the day ahead as I had planned for us to visit the iconic Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou. A traditional fortress and village built of mud brick and carved into the hillside.

I thought that this might be one of the few places where we would see the traditional mud houses, but as we journeyed from Tisseldei towards it we noted that all the houses we could see were in fact mud/clay houses. They blended into the landscape, clearly made from the mud/clay on which they were built. The only colours we saw to complement this were greens and blues, which only added to the natural charm of the buildings.

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Approaching Ait Ben Haddou - which you can just see in the distance

Ait Ben Haddou was spectacular. The setting was firstly amazing. The barren landscape on it's own is beautiful, and very different to other places we had been before, but seeing the Draa river cut through it bordered by a lush green oasis gave such a stark contrast, we would have been happy just visiting to see that! But just across the river was the traditional kasbah, rising out of the ground and up the hillside, in the natural colours we had identified so far...
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First spot of the kasbah
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Oasis
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Spot the stork's nest!
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The intricate carvings also housed smaller birds!
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We climbed through the old kasbah, which then turned into a thriving village with many shops. You could climb all the way to the top of the hill and from here the 360 view out over the dessert, kasbah, oasis and snow-capped Atlas mountains was breathtaking...
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Playing around with panoramas!

We loved this place and the journey so far inspired us to take ourselves further into the Southern Draa Valley.... However, I had also heard that the Dades river valley through Ouarzazate and Skoura was beautiful, so we took a 1 night detour to Skoura, just east of Ouarzazate.

Posted by Libbytes 04:00 Archived in Morocco Tagged n9 ait_ben_haddou atlas_mountains irocha tizi_n'tichka Comments (0)

Detour along the Dades

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In hindsight, Pete and I wished that we had skipped our detour along the Dades to Skoura and gone straight to the desert at M'Hamid, but that's part of the adventure and I had read that the Dades Gorge and River was home to some of the most spectacular oases and sights.

So we set of from Ait Ben Haddou along the N10 to Skoura. The road took us through Ouarzazate, a large city South of the Atlas mountains which is also home to some of Morocco's largest filming locations and studios. The city is therefore decorated with multiple "movie" sculptures at every roundabout!

Out the other side of Ouarzazate the landscape changed and it did feel like we were suddenly on Mars (I guess because all the TV and films I've ever seen that are 'on Mars' are filmed here!!).
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The drive was not far, so it was not long before we reached our destination; Dar Es Salam in Skoura Oasis. It was a beautifully restored kasbah with intricately carved walls and colourful gardens. Our tea here was also possibly the best Berber food we had on our trip. Just a simple tagine, but perfectly balanced flavours.
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Dar Es Salam
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Our tea

The breakfast in the morning was also delicious, moroccan pancakes and bread, which we enjoyed in the gardens.
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The house had advertised the use of free bikes and since we were in the oasis, we decided to explore the palmerie by bike. We found out almost immediately why the bikes were free when Pete's saddle broke whilst he was pedaling through a river. The result was very wet... :)IMG_1943.jpg
Not a happy wet Pete
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Crossing the streams that snaked around the Palmerie
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Some of the sights of the village

Skoura was a pretty town, and cycling around the oasis and through the village was fun. But as I said, in hindsight, this part of the holiday could have been cut out as we would have much rather stayed an extra night in the desert or elsewhere along the Draa Valley which we preferred.

Posted by Libbytes 04:00 Archived in Morocco Tagged oasis cycling kasbah skoura Comments (0)

Continuing along the Draa

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From Skoura, we headed back towards Ouarzazate and then South along the N9 again following the Draa river valley. This part of the journey really was my favourite I think, the landscape seemed to change around every corner (and there were a lot of corners!).

The road took us through the major town of Agdz where we stopped for a quick lunch before continuing down to Zagora. In Zagora we stayed at Riad Soleil Du Monde, a lovely riad just outside of Zagora. This Riad also had free bikes for rent and so we took the opportunity to cycle around the city before the sun set.
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Residents of the Riad
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Beautiful Riad

The cyling took us along the river and through the backstreets of Zagora enjoying an ice-cream at the main square.
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As the sun began to set we sat on the riverbank and watched as a farmer moved his noisy camels and the sun disappeared behind Zagora mountain.
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After chatting to the owners of the Riad and reading a lot of reviews and blogs, we decided that a trip to the desert would be the most exciting thing to do. The options were either to take a 4x4 from Zagora into the desert, or to drive ourselves to M'Hamid. Always wanting to make our own adventures, we decided to drive ourselves to M'Hamid and from there go quadbiking and perhaps stay overnight in a tent in the desert! A great plan, surely nothing could go wrong...

Posted by Libbytes 04:00 Archived in Morocco Tagged cycling zagora draa Comments (0)

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