Published: July 29th 2012July 14th 2012
I travelled from Toulouse which is known as the Pink City to another city known as the same for its pink coloured brick, Marrakech. Arriving in Marrakech was like a breath of fresh air, well actually it was 38C that day, but nevertheless, the hustle and bustle, the dust, and the sunshine was all an awakening of the senses. I could not wait to sit at the now familiar Solaris Café on Avenue Mohamed V with a Berber Whiskey (mint tea) and watch life go by. It is actually the place where I watched a Euro Cup game between Italy and Germany; I being one out three women in the whole café, and to my great surprise and relief the majority of men watching all cheered when Italy scored.
Initially, I headed out on a 9 day tour of Southern Morocco which started in Marrakech. Our first stop was Aremd, actually pronounced like the English word armed. So needless to say that each time I heard someone say it in Arabic, bells and whistles went off. Aremd is located at an elevation of 1700m in the High Atlas Mountains. We drove to Imlil and from there trekked to our Mountain
Gite where we would stay for the night. The trek was a piece of cake compared to what I’d been used to this past year, a mere 45 minute uphill walk to the village of Aremd (bells and whistles!!). Aremd is a Berber village with a population of 3000. The small mountain village was our base for our three hour hike to the pilgrimage shrine of Sidi Chamarouch. The big mountain which was within our view was Jebe Toubkal. It is the highest mountain at 4 167m in not only Morocco but northern Africa as well. The area is famous for its apples, cherries and walnuts. Unfortunately, we were just a little early for the cherries. After three delicious meals we headed off the next morning for Ait Benhaddou. En route, we stopped in a small village to pick up some items for a picnic lunch which we would be having at a palmary. I bought a baguette for a mere 12 cents! This is when I think and say to myself, “I cannot believe how much we pay for certain food items in the west!” Our picnic was an impromptu stop in a farmer’s field. As we were eating,
the farmer came to see what was going on. When he saw that we were tourists, he simply wished us a good day and to even offered us to help ourselves to some of the fruits growing in his fields. Unbelievable! Would that happen where you live? This spot, a palmary was actually one of the most stunning along my journey. We were among palm trees and the backdrop was the Atlas Mountains. The sky was glorious that day with fluffy white clouds and a breeze that offered relief from the 40C plus temperatures. The picture will tell the thousand words that I am running out of.
Ait Benhaddou is a place that I’d visited in September and was so happy to return to because of its otherworldly beauty. Our journey to reach it was a spectacular drive over the Tizi n’Tichka pass, the highest in Morocco at 2 260m crossing the High Atlas Mountains to Ait Benhaddou the site of a World Heritage Kasbah. We visited the Kasbah and watched the sunset. It was at our hotel, La Rose du Sable (The Desert Rose) that I had the most delicious meal of my stay in Morocco. Just so
We continued journeying onward the next morning. Our destination was somewhere near Zagora, an oasis actually, to a riad with a swimming pool and a palmary all its own. We drove through Ouarzazate and stopped in Amerzou in the palmary too and did a walk-through of the Jewish quarter. Most of the towns people here were very adamant about not having their photo taken and we all, thankfully obliged. After our five hour drive we finally arrived in what most of us in Canada would call a hick town. There truly was nothing there, for tourists anyway or in the form of mild entertainment such as a café. When we crossed the threshold of this riad, we were all left open mouthed and speechless. This riad was absolutely gorgeous and an unexpected pleasure for the senses and the eyes. It was previously owned by obviously a wealthy Dutch man who lived in this riad for over 30 years. His furniture and photos still housed in one of the complexes on the site. When I stepped into this extraordinary place, I remembered that this is why I loved Morocco so much, for its unexpected wonders and beauty. The
history and culture is so rich and fascinating and when you see places such as l’Hotel La Fibule du Draa you can’t help but feeling as if you stepped into a scene of 1001 Arabian Nights. It was glorious and I soaked it all in and took about 100 photos too! That afternoon we also visited what was hidden to the western eye yet another palmary not far from our riad.
Half an hour into our drive the next morning, we were now in the heart of the Sahara, Zagora not far from Timbuktu!! Yes, really. We stopped for a photo op at a famous street sign “Tombouctou (French for Timbuktu) only 52 days by camel”. We were headed for our camel ride and overnight camp in Ouled Driss. We stopped in a Tamegroute village to visit a Koranic library that dates back to the 17th
century that is maintained by the Ennasiriya brotherhood. As a librarian, I found their method of shelving and cataloguing very “different”. It is in this small town that much of Morocco’s pottery comes from and it’s here that I purchased a plate. Not sure if it will make it home in one piece…inshallah.
When we reached Ouled Driss for our lunch break the temperature was 48C. This was the hottest I’d ever been minus the humidex which we at home refer to so naturally nowadays. After lunch, in the dead heat of the afternoon we went for a camel ride. This was my third camel ride and actually the most comfortable. I think this camel was meant for women riders just like there are special bicycle seats for women, I felt like this camel was just the right size for me. A perfect fit! This was not really the highlight; this came afterwards when we boarded our 4X4 and headed into the sand dunes for our three hour drive into the heart of the Sahara and a glorious sunset that was awaiting us. And yes, it was glorious and the sand so hot you had to run so as not to burn your feet but it was all in vain. Most of slept out in the open on the sand dunes under the stars after an incredible tagine served to us after the sunset.
The next morning we had an early departure so as to avoid the high heat of midday. We
drove for five hours through the Anti- Atlas Mountains and the Berber market town of Taroudant. In Taroudant we visited a tannery and saw firsthand how Morocco’s famous artisanal leather goods come to be. Thanks to a fistful of mint leaves the visit was made all the more bearable.
The last stop was the most refreshing, Essaouira. It was a cool 23C. It is a seaside town by the Atlantic which I’d been to before and adored for its laid back atmosphere, cafes, restaurants and artisanal goods. I intentionally visited at this particular time because Essaouira was hosting its 15th Annual Gnawa World Music Festival. There were thousands of people there for the weekend of music and surprisingly enough most were Moroccans. It is here that I once again indulged in some of the freshest seafood I’ve had all year and this time I would be playing the tourist since I was finally able to purchase some of the local crafts which I’d not taken advantage of the first time round because it is where I began my travels and didn’t want to be burdened with “souvenirs”. We spent three days here and on the third day I did
another thing that I’d been afraid to do and up until that day never done. I went horseback riding! Yes, for me it was a big deal. We went just outside the town of Essaouira. My horse, Salam was a white wonder of coolness and calm (just another way of saying that Salam was an old horse) which suited me just fine because he was just as happy as me to trot along at a lovely pace. Off I went on what I considered an adventure. To my wonderful surprise, I quite enjoyed the experience but am sure that I’ve been influenced by the fact that we rode on the beach. There were no other riders except for me, Johan our guide and two other fellow travelers, Chris and Freddie. I’m so glad to have finally done it. It was another first for me and I’m so thankful that I looked my fear and insecurity in the eye and just did it!
There are more photos below