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Published: December 22nd 2006
Moroccans gather around storytellers and comedians, while tourists sit down for dinner at food stalls serving anything from couscous to sheep's head. Henna artists and fortune tellers wait for customers, as orange juice and dried fruit sellers try to get the attention of passers-by. Unknown scents and the snake charmers' unbearable music are in the air. Welcome to the Djemaa El-Fna, the central plaza and 'heart' of Marrakech, at nightfall... Enjoy the hustle and bustle of this circus for as long as you can, for it is unlike anything you've ever seen before. Once you've had enough, retire to your riad for the night, or take a break from Marrakech altogether...
After further visa delays caused me to postpone my departure for Papua New Guinea to early January, I packed my bags and spent 10 days in Morocco. It was the first time that I did some travelling on my own, and while I felt a bit apprehensive about this at first, it all worked out well and I had a great time! When you're on your own, locals and other tourists alike are so much more likely to start chatting to you. And as travelling is for me partly
about meeting new and interesting people, I definitely wouldn't hesitate to go on holiday on my own again! And, it being Morocco, I got plenty of opportunities to practice my French! Marrakech
I spent the majority of my time in Morocco in Marrakech, either exploring the city or taking one of my two daytrips and returning in the evenings (see below). It is a very fun city to be in, although I did find it somewhat daunting when I first arrived. The shopkeepers in the souqs can come across aggressive at first, not taking no for an answer. While it can be fun to get lost in the souqs' narrow streets, I sometimes found myself in parts of town where I (probably unjustifiably so) did not feel comfortable. If only I had taken a compass and bought a good map, I could have probably avoided this. Nonetheless, I very quickly got used to these aspects of Marrakech, and while I might not be the greatest fan of the Djemaa El-Fna, ended up really loving the energy of the city.
Marrakech's monuments make it a very special place. The Ali Ben Youssef Medersa (Quranic school), Musée de Marrakech, Dar
Si Saïd, Saadian Tombs, and Palais of the Bahia all are architectural wonders that I really enjoyed visiting. The Moroccan people that I met were friendly and inviting. The souqs' thousands of shops are great to stroll around for a while, and I had some very interesting conversations with the owners of herbal shops who had cures for anything. Away from the old part of town, rich in tradition, lies the Ville Nouvelle with thoroughly modern shops, more liberal attitudes, and the refreshing Jardin Majorelle.
While in Marrakech, I stayed in Riad Julia, a beautifully restored courtyard house in the Bab Doukkala part of the Medina. With only 7 rooms, it was a haven of peace to return to in the evenings. My room (Hajib) was comfortable, and had heating, which turned out to be rather nice. While temperatures climbed to the mid-20s during the day, it got chilly as soon as the sun went down. Essaouira
After several fun days in Marrakech, I nonetheless felt like a break. I booked a coach ticket to the coastal town of Essaouira, where I ended up spending two nights. With its old defences, fishing port, and whitewashed walls & blue
doors it was all very picturesque. It turned out to be a perfect place to chill. Everybody seemed to be more relaxed than in Marrakech, from the shopkeepers who were not trying to inflate the prices quite as much, to the tourists who didn't look as confused and lost. The town apparently inspired musicians from the Beatles to Jimi Hendrix to compose songs, and nowadays draws many surfers to its white beach and good waves.
I stayed at the very nice Hotel Lalla Mira, supposedly Morocco's first Eco-Hotel, with its great location in the medina. During the day I wondered around the fishing port and the town, drinking countless glasses of mint tea while enjoying the sunshine. At night I had dinner at Franco-Moroccan restaurant La Découverte which was great. Ouarzazate, Aït - Benhaddou, and the High Atlas mountains
The first daytrip I went on with Sahara Expeditions while I was in Marrakech took me some 200km southwest, through the High Atlas mountains, to the Kasbahs of Ouarzazate and Aït - Benhaddou. The drive was a long one - 5 hours one way. It had snowed the day before, and even though the roads had been cleared, progress
was slow. The company in the minibus of a Canadian couple was enjoyable though. As we drove up into the mountains, vegetation became sparse, before we hit the snow. The views of cacti & palm trees in the snow, as well as the mountains were spectacular, but temperatures dropped as we got higher, and we were happy to start our descent again on the other side of the pass. Eventually we arrived in Aït - Benhaddou, a Kasbah used in the filming of Hollywood film Gladiator
as the home town of Proximo. It's quite a sight! Next, we had lunch in Ouarzazate and looked around the Taourirt Kasbah, before we started our journey back. A very enjoyable day in all! Cascades d'Ouzoud
The second daytrip I went on with Sahara Expeditions was to the waterfalls of Ouzoud, 160 km northeast of Marrakech. Once again the company was good, and the three-hour drive flew by. Once we had arrived, we hired a guide to take us for a two-hour walk around the waterfalls. We saw lush olive groves on a fun hike, before getting to the bottom of the valley, where we were rewarded: the falls are some 110 meters
high, sending water from the High Atlas mountains crashing into the valley below. It was a beautiful sight. Apparently the falls are the 2nd highest in Africa, after Victoria Falls. After we had lunch we were picked up for the journey back.
All in all, I had a really good time in Morocco. Having seen only little of the country this time, I would love to return to see the deserts and gorges, as well as cities like Fez and Meknes.
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