In January, taking advantage of cheap air fares, we took off for a tour of Marrakech and Essouira.
We had always heard people talk about Marrakech as an incredible city (colors, sounds, smells, people) and about Essouira as the white city. We looked forward to understanding that magnificent contrast!
We checked what people had to say on travel forums on line and we were inspired by the nomad experience name and contacted Nourdine, who organized a perfect and fun tour in all details. It may have cost slightly more than what we could have got with other organizations, but everything was so well managed, so precise, that it was well worth it (not that any difference could have been much at all). This is a REAL company, among so many improvised, shady tourism organizations, nomadexperience, is fully licensed and legal, and since we’ve heard a few stories of really bad experiences we were relieved to have found a reliable service. We met our guide Nourdine (he speaks 5 languages quite well, well mannered, never out of place) at the Marrakech airport and he took us to our riad just a 5 minute walk from the big pedestrian plaza Jemaa el-Fna, at the heart of the old city. The next morning, after breakfast at the riad, he took us on a long leisurely walk through the many souks (of slippers, ironworkers, basket makers, leather workers, and jewelers). Then we visited the Ben Youssef madrasa, the largest and most beautiful Koran school of the city, right next to the mosque and near Koubba Almoravide and the Marrakech museum, the Bahia palace and the Dar Si-Said palace, the beautiful palace where the brother of the visir used to live. Near these two buildings we went to see the outside of the El-Mansour mosque, with its impressive minaret with turquoise arabesques; then we visited the saadian tombs. After the intense, history rich day we had dinner in the mesmerizing, wild Jamaa el-Fna: small meat skewers, fries, grilled vegetables with music, drums, and an incredible number and variety of people. All along, our guide Nourdine, made sure everything was pleasant and in some situations that was essential so we didn’t get bothered by too many street sellers, snake enchanters, photo takers, tooth sellers and the like. The next day we headed for the Koutoubia minaret (you can see it from all across the city), and then we went to the new part of the city (Gueliz), where the most interesting place was the Jardins Majorelle, a kind of oasis, well cared for, botanical garden with the studio where Jacques Majorelle worked and that Yves Saint Laurent later bought and restored. This is a restful, peaceful place among the heat and bustle, full of cactus, bougainvillea and bamboo and all kinds of plants from around the world, incredibly all in one place. Inside the Jardins Majorelle, there are brightly colored vases, steps, footpaths, and a lot of use of the color called “blue Majorelle”. On the long trip to Essauira, (3 hours) Nourdine played his CDs of a lot of local music, and also African music. So we got to Essaouira, right on the sea. This is definitely a artisty city (a lot of foreign artists have spent time or most of their lives - here). This is the fascinating place where in the sixties many hippy communities settled and that later attracted big names like Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, Cat Stevens, Frank Zappa, Leonard Cohen and even Sting. In particular Jimi Hendrix came to Essouira for the gnaoua, the music brought to Marocco by the black slaves.
The beach is really nice and very very long. When we started the trip back to Marrakech, we stopped along the road about 10 miles from Essaouira in a women’s cooperative when ancient techniques have been passed along, this is where Argan oil is made. We bought some oil and some Argan oil based foods and cosmetics. The coop is an important part of the local economy, sells at good prices and helps the local women increase their social status.
Our trip was too short, but very intense. We went to a number of interesting places, of course many of them were the mandatory stops of any tour in the area, but we always got the inside story and background so we could understand what we were seeing, and get a feel for the Moroccan people.
We still have a lot of things to see in Morocco and we will know who to rely on!