Ok, full confession. I’m not in Morocco. I’m “between trips” as they say. Not much on the schedule and an Atlanta trip got canceled by weather. So, I’m at home enjoying winter wonderland in Michigan.
I’d like to share five memorable Moroccan experiences from a trip we took five years ago. The reason: a friend recently asked for some suggestions for planning a trip to Morocco and this got me to thinking about this marvelous country.
Before I get specific about the five recommendations, I need to say that this is one of my all time favorite places to visit. Lots of people asked us about being safe. We felt totally. The people were kind, gentle and very interested in our having a good experience.
It’s a country with extensive coastline, stunning mountains, vast and amazing deserts and a mix of cultures creating a colorful and exotic destination. I would go back.
But, what are the five “must dos” in my book?
1. Visit Fez
This ancient city with it’s Medina (old city) home to more than 700,000 residents was an absolutely outstanding experience. The tiny stalls and apartments all packed together in ancient labyrinth is a World Heritage Site and I can see why. It is life as it once and still is with the addition of mobile phones and thousands of satellite dishes.
Our guide, who grew up in the Medina, says even he gets lost once in a while, it is so confusing. Thousands of stalls and covered markets, people’s homes, places of worship and places to eat jam this area.
What I most appreciated is that only a very few of tiny shops were set up specifically to sell to tourists. These were real people living their daily lives.
Loved the artful displays.
2. Hang out in the Sahara Desert
I loved the Sahara Desert. We rode camels into the sunset, enjoying their loping motion and jerky ups and downs. It’s in all the “do before you die” books and I understand why.
Another highlight was being driven across the desert to our next destination, seeing the wind swirls, small tornado like creations that swooped up the sand and spun it around. We also reveled in watching the small bands of Moroccans making their way on camel, donkey, foot or cart. How much I would have loved to follow them home and learn about day-to-day life in this unforgiving part of the world.
3. Visit the Kasbah Tamadot
In the middle of our journey, when our senses were stretched and pulled every which way from the exotic nature of the trip, we stayed a couple of days at this Moroccan Retreat owned by Sir Richard Branson. In the middle of the Southern Atlas Mountains, it was beautiful, restful and on the posh side.
We relaxed by the pool, listening to the “call to prayer” from nearby villages (once you’ve heard this, you’ll always remember), enjoyed visits from Pickles and Peanut, the resident camels and did some very personal tours to local villages.
Pickles and Peanut
4. Head to the coast to Essaouia
Every one goes to Marrakech, as they should and we enjoyed that. Plenty to see and do. The Souk (market place) was focused on selling to tourists and there was a lot of hoop-la in the square aimed at separating the tourists from their money. Lots of fun, though.
But what we really loved was the daylong trip out of Marrakech to the charming seaside village of Essaouia. It is too small to accept huge cruise ships, not a big tourist destination and totally charming. We loved seeing the influence of the Portuguese in the architecture, the lively fish auction and the huge ramparts where the residents watched for invaders. If I go back to Morocco I’d spend a night here. Maybe more.
Especially interesting to see on the way to Essaouia were the tree-climbing goats. They scamper up the trees to get the Argan nuts only found in this area.
5. Sounds silly but I loved seeing a Donkey Parking lot.
An image I vividly recall from our ten days in Morocco is a donkey parking lot on market day in Erfoud.
The people come from smaller villages and settlements by donkey. The first thing they do is find a donkey parking lot, where for a small fee, their donkeys are watched, fed, watered and cared for while the owners shopped for figs and dates, household supplies, all kinds of produce and in many cases, another donkey or maybe some sheep.
What you may not be able to see in the photo is that metal rings are in the ground arranged in rows. Each donkey is tethered to a ring.
When I saw this I knew I was a long way from home.