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Week 15 started by returning down the gorges – this time me driving and Mel viewing the superb spectacle. Absolutely well worth a trip – spectacular and so pleased we did it twice! We were heading to Ouarzazate for the night, en-route to Marrakesh, as distances in Morocco take a lot longer than in mainland Europe.
Something we didn’t expect from this trip is the feeling of how comfortable we would be by stopping in a random town and wandering round, to a random cafe, and having a nice drink. It really made us feel quite welcome and “at home” – which is something we didn’t expect. Not a single bit of hassle from anyone despite us being the “unique ones” in the town. Saying that, I should have got used to that living in West London!
The rest of the drive to Ouarzazate was also great, but as with everything you can quickly become blasé with too many good things. After stopping off for a drink and a look at some silk scarves and rose smelly things (must be a woman thing) we eventually made camp. The campsite was pretty good, and after tea we ventured into Ouarzazate centre about 3-4km away. Again, I can’t believe how comfortable we felt wandering round main roads and back streets; asking for directions; and simply buying stuff in the street. Our entire preconceptions of being harassed and given grief; being ripped off; and generally feeling uncomfortable were completely wrong. We enjoyed our wanderings and drinks and had a lovely evening.
The next day was a planned route to Marrakesh via the infamous Tiz n’Tichka pass which winds its way through the high atlas mountains. One person in the group formed a break-away from the official route to go via Telounet – a route our TomTom said would take an additional 6 hours as it was unpaved… Being chicken we let them go first and followed thinking that if we saw them coming towards us then it was not passable.
As it was, the road was passable, albeit slow/challenging/narrow/rough in places, but nothing the van couldn’t handle. The reward was superb though, absolute dream oasis appearing in the ravine, with little unmarked villages, people and animals slowly working the land, and views that were out of this world. Somehow Stuart found a guide for a castle in Telounet which on the outside looked a bit naff, but the story and history behind it as well as some of the interior well made the trip worthwhile. The Tiz n’Tichka pass was a rather interesting drive – lorries with cows standing on the roof was a common sight; Fossil sellers on every corner; and hairy hairpin bends especially with lorries taking up the entire road. Nothing too hair-raising though. Once we crossed the high atlas mountains via the Tiz n’Tichka pass, the scenery changed back from dry desert to plush greens clearly indicating we’d left the Sahara behind. The rest of the drive was good but on arrival at Marrakesh we were knackered and ready for bed!!
We spent 2 pretty much full days in Marrakesh which was enough for us. Unlike the other cities we visited, in Marrakesh we felt like a tourist and were treated as such, and felt most sellers in the main areas tried to rip you off. As I found to my peril when on the second day I got conned into buying 3 doughnuts and tried to be charged 25dh (normally 1-2dh each). Ooops – however I only paid 12 and told him that was it. He left with a smile…
The Souks are very busy with motorbikes and scooters flying through and we were surprised we didn’t see any accidents in them. Some genuine souks can be found – we located a nice locals cafe where seated drinks and cakes for 4 were 25dh (£2) – much better than the tourist areas. The main square is very busy and bustling, with snake charmers and all sorts of people and conmen wanting your money – and at night it just gets busier. One evening we had dinner at the Argana restaurant, and apart from a bill confusion for our group (our fault really) – the food was good and very well priced – especially considering the prime seats over the square.
We walked miles, including the new-town which was very rich European and felt worlds apart from the old Marrakesh only a few km away. Convertible Bentleys, posh cars, KFC etc – and locals worlds apart from most of their countrymen – so different and shows a huge gap between have and have-nots.
One downer for the day was that we saw a moped/van accident where the biker came off very badly as, as is normal, he had no helmet or any safety gear, so when he hit the side of the van he took the full impact. We were with Barry, ex-fireman, who dived in when the locals didn’t do anything, with Mel who whilst is more used to fury things was trying to be helpful. With the guy out cold and lots of red stuff where it shouldn’t be, Barry checked him and made sure he was breathing but the locals were quite scary and kept trying to roll him on his back or sit him up. As he was very much unconscious and gurgling blood I tried to get the locals off and leave Barry some space, but in the end the locals dominated and it probably wasn’t the best place for infidels to be. The locals seemed more interested in washing his hands so he’d be clean for Allah, and if he wasn’t sprawled facing Mecca then I’m sure they’d have moved him. With Barry doing all he safely could we had to leave and hope the ambulance got there in time. We saw the ambulance arrive and leave a few minutes later with sirens so hope the guy made it. The lack of local knowledge of basic first aid and care, and their religious over medical priorities was shocking.
Marrakesh is probably a must-see city, however if you only ever do a city break to Marrakesh then you’ve not seen the real Morocco at all.
On leaving Marrakesh we headed to Essaouira on a new and empty motorway with flat sandy and arid plains either side. Great for mile-munching (and essential for our schedule today) but it does take you away from the interesting parts of Morocco. No doubt in a few years no one will stumble on the gems we’ve seen on slow backroads.
Essaouira is a cross between Cornwall, Portugal, and Morocco. The fishing fleet, fresh fish and gulls are very familiar and the streets and ramparts are Portuguese, but there is still a relaxed Moroccan feel to the town. The large sandy beach is superb and is one of the wind/water sport Meccas. The souks are much less pressured than anywhere else and it is safe to browse as you wish without being caught out. The old town is well worth a look around and there are clearly tourist and local areas – the latter selling goats heads again… We had a superb meal out with my parents – probably one of the best restaurant fish I’ve had, and chocolate mousse for desert that was incredibly good – so if you go to Essaouira check out “Le Patio” hidden away in an alley.
On our second day there we continued our exploring and had a final meal out with the group concluding our formal Moroccan tour which was rather pleasant. But from hereon we’re let loose on our own!
On our final day of week 15 we aimed to dawdle up the Atlantic coast and find somewhere for lunch and to spend the night. The cost road was interesting, with loads of farmers ploughing their fields with donkeys or horses, yet they have a satellite dish on their little huts! Quite bizarre. Sadly though the drive didn’t reveal any good locations to stop and we struggled till we got to El-Jadida where we were able to spend the night next to the beach for 20dh (permitted overnight). With bit of kite flying and a little walk around town we opted for an early night set to explore the town in the morning.
Our third week in Morocco has again been very interesting and surpassed expectations, though now I think we’re glad to have a rest from a tour schedule and just see what we find, and I think we’re Moroccan Citied out! Possibly we’ll find somewhere to chill in Morocco, or maybe we’ll run to the more familiar destinations on mainland Europe.