Road Trip 2012 (part 2) – Morocco

After France, Spain and Portugal, my trip in September 2012 took me to Morocco for a week, with my compatriots Vas, Ben and Nath.  We traveled by ferry from Algeciras in Spain and came into port at Tanger-Med.  I thought that I wouldn’t enjoy the ferry rise but in fact it was vice versa, it was incredible, I spent the whole time (as allowed) up on deck with the wind in my face.  It was my first time leaving Europe (and to date my only time, though I seek to remedy that soon) which was very exciting. We sailed past the Rock Of Gibraltar and I managed to catch a glimpse of a couple of dolphins in the wake of the ferry.

From Tanger-Med we drove down to Meknès, where we stayed 2 nights. It was definitely a culture shock, but I enjoyed that. There was very little western influence to be seen, apart from a few French people in the Riad we stayed at I spotted only a handful of other Westerners in the city during our time there. Our Riad was situate in the Medina (the old city) that was fantastic to explore and very easy to get lost in. We ended up separated when we first arrived as it’s near impossible to navigate for a newcomer, eventually we all made it to the Riad though!  The owners of the Riad made us very welcome and we had a whole wing of the building to ourselves. 3 rooms between us and a living area with very comfy sofas! They cooked us dinner each night too. Though I will state now, being a vegetarian in Morocco was hard, couscous and legumes and not a lot else. Appreciated the effort people went to though, Moroccan people are very friendly, I really like them,

The Riad also had a nice roof area. The rooftops of the old city are like a different world. It was fun exploring there, we also visited an old Islamic school in the old town where we spent time walking around on the roof.

Mekness  مكناس
Mekness مكناس – the 4 of us on the roof of our Riad, the Néjjarine Mosque in the background

It was striking how the Mosques call to prayers really echoed around the city.

Another highlight, outside the Medina, is Sahrij Swani which is an artificial lake found in the city that was scenic, lovely to walk around.  Brings it all into perspective though that not far from here there was slums with wild dogs.

Sahrij Swani, Meknes
Sahrij Swani, Meknes

Other cool sites were the huge city gate and the seemingly endless walls around the royal palace there.

There was quite clearly some extreme poverty in the city, which was of course disturbing to see, and reminder of far this world still has to go to improve the life’s of it’s people.

Following Meknes we drove to Marrakesh, where we stayed for 4 nights.

One of the things I remarked about on the road was how many people/goods/animals were on roof racks of cars driving pas us. I’d thought i’d seen it all when a car went past with 2 goats on the roof, only for the next to have an entire family…..

Marrakesh is more of a westernised city, though still very Arabic and Berber.  We stayed in a Riad in the Media (much like Meknes). This Medina felt less packed in than the previous one, but still very narrow streets, lots of people (and cat’s) in a relatively small area.

Nath had to leave after the 1st night, to return to the land of the Swiss.

We explored the city, it has a huge Mosque and a gigantic marketplace, the market square and the covered market are very fun to walk around.  We visited a museum, an old Islamic College and and the Islamic Gardens. The Riad again was very friendly, and we made friends with a couple of other travelers there, who we visited the Gardens with. They were very tranquil, a big change from the dust and hecticness of the rest of the city.  There are some other green areas dotted around the city as well. One of the main things to do in Morocco, which we did plenty of, is drink Moroccan mint tea. I definitely developed a taste for it.

Inside Ben Youssef Madrasa  - Islamic College in Marrakesh
Inside Ben Youssef Madrasa – Islamic College in Marrakesh

On the last full day in Marrakesh we booked a tour guide, who picked us up in his car early. It was a bit of a bizarre day be driven around by him but got to stuff we wouldn’t have otherwise which was great.  We drove through the High Atlas mountains located southeast of the city towards Ouarzazate.

We stopped at several places on the way to look around, included some great views in the mountains, and also a brief glimpse of local life.

A Berber village in the Atlas Mountains
A Berber village in the Atlas Mountains

Then we went out to Aït Benhaddou, which is honestly hard to describe. It’s a fortified city, we sort of parked outside of it and then walked across a bridge into the city, and up the top to this building where we had great views over it. Whilst it’s an historic site there are a few locals living there to, and given you have to walk up the windy streets through the city as you ascend it we did accidentally stray into a couple of peoples homes. They were unfazed though, must happen regularly to them. We also stopped for a camel ride on the side of the road. Obviously it was a tourist trap well worn, but we thought hey, why not, and went for it. Odd experience.

Aït Benhaddou آيت بن حدّو
Aït Benhaddou آيت بن حدّو

After that we headed out to Ouarzazate and a nearby lake, which was on the edge of the desert. Our guide showed us some of the extreme poverty in Ouarzazate (he took us to a residential area and pointed out where they got there water, electricity etc), which again empathized how much this world needs to do for it’s people. It’s a Berber city and he was Berber himself, so I think he just wanted people to understand. The lake was interesting, that edge of civilization feeling. Sure, not quite the edge of the Sahara, but getting that way.

The next day we drove to Casablanca where we had to leave to fly home. I was very sad for this trip to end, across the 4 countries it had been a fantastic experience,


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