Morocco – Trip Report!

I finally was able to add photos to all 9 of my Morocco updates – woo! I didn’t post a ‘Day 10’ because all that happened was breakfast, finishing packing, hanging out for way too long at the airport (and trying to figure out how to spend the rest of our Dirhams) and then taking a taxi to our Airbnb (which was stocked with snacks and 3 large beers. Hooray!) Oh, I also bought a giant bottle of Amarula, which required me to check my bag from Frankfurt to Detroit. And then I got either the flu or food poisoning halfway through our 9 hour flight back to Detroit. That was awful. But I survived, and am looking forward to heading to Disney in a few days. It never stops!

So anyways, for ease of reading, I’m compiling links to each day’s review. Enjoy!

Day 1   Day 2   Day 3   Day 4   Day 5   Day 6   Day 7   Day 8   Day 9

 

 

Morocco: Day 9

Our entire group would have loved to stay in Essaouira for the rest of our trip (all 28 hours of it,) but unfortunately a driver would be waiting to take us back to Marrakech at 11am. Before we left, I knew I wanted to wander through Essaouira’s port and see the beach once more before starting the journey back to grey Michigan. It was totally a coincidence that we walked through the Medina once more too, as we all figured out the maximum we could spend on souvenirs while 1) having enough money left for lunch and dinner, and 2) not needing to take more money out of the ATM.

Bare feet for the first (and only) time on the trip!

Unfortunately, 11am came rather quickly, and we were on our way back to Hotel Akabar in Marrakech. (Well, it was actually closer to 11:30 because Joe and I decided to walk back from the Medina instead of taking a taxi. Oops.)

First thing we did upon returning to Marrakech? Ordered burgers from the restaurant across the street. 5/6 of us. All of the Tagine and Cous Cous we had been eating over the last 8 days was so yummy – don’t get me wrong, but we were excited for something a bit more Westernized. After a late lunch, we spent some time relaxing in our room (orange this time instead of green,) while Jenna went to the airport to pick up the luggage she’d been surviving without for 8.5 days.

(I gave Joe the egg..)

Once Jenna returned, we went down into the square for the last time, each with a few ‘musts’ to check off before dinner. One of the ‘musts’? Henna in the square! As hokey and touristy as it seemed, we figured we might as well; it couldn’t be that expensive, right?

As soon as we got to the square, we saw a group of older women basically chomping at the bit to get to work on our hands. We figured there was no harm in asking about pricing – but as soon as we approached them we were barraged with requests to take a seat and discuss, rather than giving us a straightforward price. That should have been the first and only hint we needed to walk away and find another group of henna artists. But no, I decided to fulfill their request of sitting down to discuss a design, price, and henna color. Unfortunately instead of trying to discuss the details, the woman took my hand and went to work; with runny, black henna. I didn’t set a price or choose a design, and she was using black henna instead of brown as I requested. Not only were they charging more for the black henna (“it lasts longer!”) but black henna can be really bad for your skin. Cherry on top? She told me my henna would be 350 Dirhams ($35.) I’m pretty sure I straight up laughed in her face. Darn inconsiderate Americans, am I right?

While I haggled on and off with the woman that did my henna, two of the other girls in our group were able to talk the women down to 100 Dirhams for a specific design and brown henna. They paid ahead of time – smart. As they were finishing up, I got 50 Dirhams out of my bag and told the henna woman that she was either taking 50 or I was walking away. I didn’t say she could start, I didn’t get to choose a design, and I sure as heck didn’t want black henna – so I thought it was more than a fair price. They…didn’t agree. Names were called, there was some shouting, but just as I was about to walk away, they reluctantly accepted my 50 Dirhams. (And we avoided that side of the square for the rest of the night.)

Oh – AND they freaking sprinkled glitter all over my hand. I hate glitter.

After stopping at a cafe for some mint tea and doing a bit of last-minute shopping (made much more perilous thanks to the ultra-staining capabilities of the wet henna on my hand/arm,) we had our last group dinner where they served PEPSI! My first and only Pepsi of the trip, and my goodness it tasted delish. We did decide to go with Moroccan food for our last meal – Moroccan soup, with lamb cous cous to share. 10/10 would recommend. And would it really be a Moroccan meal if we didn’t end with mint tea? (Hint: the answer is no.)

Eventually it was time to say goodbye to our guide, get some dessert, and retire to our respective rooms to finish packing up. Goodbyes are weird, but I’m pretty sure Ibrahim used up the ‘goodbye weirdness’ quota for the rest of us – plus I think social media makes things a little less “it was nice hanging out with you for 10 days straight, peace out!”

-okay I’ve been starting at this for way too long trying to figure out a way to end it, but I’m just going to type this instead!-

Morocco: Day 8

I’ve gotta say…it was SO nice to not have to pack up and head to a new city this morning. We still got up fairly early to walk into town for the first of 3 ATM stops (spent way more money in Essaouira than anywhere else…) before Joe and I went our separate ways for the afternoon! Joe went for an hour of quad-biking on the beach, and I went for a 3 hour horseback ride. With Atlas, the most ornery horse I’ve ever ridden. Not that I’ve really ridden that many horses, but Atlas was somethin’ special. He had two speeds, snail’s-pace or fast trot, and he stopped at pretty much every shrub, bush, and tree for a snack. As frustrating as the ride was though, it definitely was something I’ll most likely never experience again, and I’m so glad I did it! Totally worth the zillions of bruises covering the lower half of my body afterwards.

After showering off horse-stank, Ann and I walked back into the city center to meet up with a few other people for a massage. Horseback riding and massages, two things I can say I’ve done in multiple countries (Horses: Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Morocco, US. Massages: Thailand, US, Morocco, Hong Kong (?)) Anyway. We left our hotel with lots of spare time, but still managed to be late. Not that we had service to run Google Maps, but Google Maps wouldn’t have really helped us in the twisty, turny inner-workings of the Medina. We were able to pull up the general location, but at a certain point we just had to hope we’d find the spa, following sporadically placed signage, intermingled with signage for other spas, restaurants, and Riads. It’s much harder to work your way through the Medina when you’re actually looking for something!

Our masseuses spoke about 8 words of English between the 4 of them, so when I was closed in a dark room – minus one multi-colored flashing light – I assumed it was time to get undressed/on the table. Luckily my presumption was correct, and before I knew it, I was being slathered down in a metric ton of oil.

Now, it wasn’t the best massage I’ve had by any stretch of the imagination, and my masseuse seemed to put extra pressure on my newly formed, extra painful bruises, but the 60 minutes flew by, and I was definitely feeling relaxed by the end of it. Well, relaxed, but SO greasy. My sunglasses wouldn’t even stay on my nose. We took a taxi back to our hotel (50 cents a piece) and I took shower number 3 of the day before we all met back up for some evening shopping and dinner!

Shrimp Tagine (not my meal, hah.)

My mission for the night was to haggle the price of a pair of linen pants to under 100 Dirhams ($10,) and after way too much effort, I was successful! 95 Dirhams later, we were off to a rooftop restaurant/bar suggested to us by a shop owner, where we could order drinks such as the Essaouira Sling or the Shouting Orgasm. Lol.

Other purchases of the day: a leather duffel bag for Joe, wooden carved camels for my coworkers, and some pottery.

Morocco: Day 7

Wow. How is our trip already almost over? The first few days seemed to go somewhat slowly, but now I just want time to slow down! Especially now that we’re heading to the coast. After a breakfast of bread (seriously need to go on a carb detox when we get back…) we left Hotel la Tour de Toile, and it wasn’t long before we pulled off to the side of the road to see goats in Argan trees.

A quick overview of Argan: The goats eat the outer fruit, then people collect the inner nut which is cracked open even further. The shells are used for fires, and then the inner nut is either roasted or left as is, and pressed into an oil. The unroasted oil is used in beauty products, and the roasted is for cooking. Boom.

The shepherd requested 10 Dirham for taking photos of their goats, and we continued on to our first coastal stop, Agadir.  We stopped at a lookout point with SUCH amazing views of the ocean; only slightly tainted by the men trying to get you to ride their sad looking camels or shoving a bleating baby goat into your arms. We were all thankful for yesterday’s opportunity to hold a baby goat/get our baby animal fix, because the Agadir Kid was adorable?

We drove through little beach town after little beach town on our way to Essaouira, each full of surfers, surf shops, and small restaurants such as “West Coat fastfood.” The more beach towns we drove through, the more I began to understand why families on House Hunters International do what they do. I want a Moroccan beach apartment now!

By the time we stopped for lunch, the majority of us had quite full bladders. Unfortunately the only toilet they had was Turkish style…and we aren’t that adventurous. And I reeeally wanted to avoid getting pee on my Birks. Ibrahim said we would be stopping in 40 minutes at an Argan Oil shop (per our request,) so we felt comfortable waiting. But then…we all fell asleep and/or Ibrahim said the shop was closed (but I’m pretty sure we just accidentally passed it due to post lunch 4×4 naps.) So, almost 2 hours later, we finally stopped at an Argan oil cooperative with VERY full bladders, passing straight by the woman trying to tell us about the oil to get to the toilets (where thankfully one of the 4 stalls had a western style toilet.) It was rather amusing. We did listen to the schpeal afterwards though, and spent a small fortune buying gifts for people back home.

Everyone agreed that this small cooperative was a much more pleasant experience than the cooperative we were kind of just…dropped into on our first full day in Marrakech. They also fed us bread with Argan oil, Argan oil mixed with honey, and Argan oil mixed with some sort of peanut butter type substance. All delicious.

Not long after we left the Argan cooperative, we arrived in Essaouira, with just enough time to catch the sunset over the beach before doing a bit of shopping and finding somewhere to eat dinner. Essaouira is a bit of a Hippie town; complete with Bob Marley paraphernalia, “happy cookies” being sold on the street, and multiple people rolling joints on the beach. In contrast, the majority of women were still in headscarves, and both of our dinner locations still didn’t sell alcohol.

We were all happy to find somewhere with beer/cocktails at the end of the night before walking along the beach back to our hotel! (We still only stayed out until about 10:30…a group of grandmas!)

Morocco: Day 6

This morning started off with a 5 mile trek out of Tailouine, through olive groves, the Anti Atlas Mountains, and small villages, and across a river that had not totallyyyy dried up. As we were walking through one village, a man invited us into the building they use to produce olive oil (like I said yesterday, very friendly and welcoming) and even let us try some; freshly pressed out of the storage hole in the ground. It definitely didn’t look like the most sanitary operation, but over 24 hours later and we’re all still alive and kickin’ ?


A few hours later we met back up with our 4x4s and started a fairly long drive to Taroudant. There were a lot of un-paved detours on our route, due to heavy rains almost 2 months ago taking out a lot of roads and bridges. I guess that’s a risk you take living in the valley? Also as I’m typing this out, I’m thinking we came across more of the road closures on day 5, but that’s okay. That’s what I get for not keeping up with blog posts I suppose.

We found a spot for lunch after arriving in Taroudant (people call it the Mini Marrakech) – most everyone ordered a “Sheeseburger” (oh, frenglish) – I had a cheese panini. As delicious and fresh as the couscous and Tagines are, it was nice to add a small bit of variety 🙂

After walking through Taroudant’s median, we settled in to people watch at a cafe. I like to count things, so I began counting the number of people that went into the restroom across the street (1 Dirham for a bit of privacy – more if you needed TP.) It only ended up being 4 for the 10 minutes I was watching, in case you were curious.

We popped into a pharmacy before heading out to our hotel for the night – cold medicine for someone in our group ended up being 26 Dirham. $2.60 for a week of DayQuil and NyQuil equivalent. Almost makes me wish I got sick on this trip! But not really. We also saw people crowded around a snake charmer, so watched that for long enough to have to pay a bit of money. So it goes.

Our hotel for the night was basically in the middle of nowhere, but really enjoyable. It’s run by a brother and a sister – he does most of the “front of house” stuff, and she makes all of the food. We were able to go into the kitchen to watch our dinner being made, in between rounds of Uno and BS ? One of my biggest regrets of the trip was forgetting to bring a deck of cards, but luckily Hotel la Tour de Toile had us covered! They also gave us the opportunity to have some wine delivered, and while 2 bottles of wine split between 5 people still went quite quickly, it made our late night rounds of Heads Up a bit more entertaining – especially when our guide tried to play – so I’ll just leave you with that Heads Up video.

IMG_5867

Morocco: Day 5

Waking up at 6am is hard enough on a normal day, but waking up after a night of sleeping in below freezing temperatures was even harder than normal. Even with the promise of a once in a lifetime sunrise, Joe and I were definitely putting off getting out from under the blankets for as long as possible. I imagine it goes without saying that the sunrise was totally worth the 6am wake up and temporary loss of feeling in fingers and toes ??

After a quick breakfast (during which we all passed around the teapot in hopes of gaining feeling back in our fingers,) a few of us decided to try sand boarding before hitting the road (well, hitting the…sand, dirt, and rocks?) by 8am. For some reason no one showered either, I guess icy cold water didn’t seem too appealing ?

As we made our way out of the Sahara, we stopped in the middle of Lake Iriki (dried up for the vast majority of the year,) and at a nomad family’s camp, where I got to hold a baby goat that was born maybe 2 days prior. So cute. It did poop on my Birkenstock AND on my sock, but totally worth it.

IMG_5624

On today’s drive (we did end up making it back out onto a real road eventually,) Ibrahim told us that our driver (who doesn’t speak a lick of English) is having woman troubles; there are two women fighting over him. In Morocco it is legal for a man to have 4 wives, so we suggested he just marry both. Problem solved, right? Wrong. He wants to marry one light and one dark woman. Not two of the same. #MoroccanProblems

Also on today’s drive, Ibrahim planned an entire life for him and Jenna, the Australian in our group. Joe and I are invited to visit, phew.

Before lunch, we stopped at a women’s rug cooperative (that’s the word I was looking for the other day!) with beautiful rugs, pillowcases, and blankets. Joe would have really liked to bring something back, but with the addition of 2 Berber coats, our bags are already over capacity and we have yet to buy anything for any family/friends. Maybe next time ?

Due to the lack of showers, mirrors, and because we were still a bit chilly, everyone but Joe was still wearing headscarves when we arrived in Tailouine for the night. Apparently we were far enough out of the desert for our nomadic wrap to be out of style – local teenage girls were staring and giggling, and we heard a few people say “ohh, Sahara” – it was amusing. And also made us all feel a little awkward, but you’ve just gotta run with it! We joked that we should buy a donkey and a couple of sheep from the local market and walk them down the street for the full effect.

Awkwardness aside, there were also a handful of shop owners that invited our group to dinner (we declined, as we had lamb Tagine waiting for us at the Berber home we were staying at for the night.) Moroccans as a whole are so welcoming and friendly, especially outside of the big cities.

We all ended the night with warm (ish) showers, and Joe and I shared the Kinder Bueno we had purchased a few days prior. There’s hardly any sugar in the Moroccan diet, with plates of fruit being served for dessert almost every night – so a candy bar tasted especially good.

Til tomorrow!

Morocco, Day 4

Okay so tonight’s wifi (pronounced “wee-fee” in Morocco) has only allowed me to add the two photos I downloaded from snapchat, so like before – the rest will be added at a later date 🙂 (Update: everything has been added!!)

Have I already written about the breakfasts in Morocco? Bread, bread, and more bread. And tea/coffee/amazingly fresh OJ. But we’ve definitely all been loading up on delicious, freshly made carbs the last few days.

No difference at Chez Yacob, though we had an amazing view, and a very pretty cat at our feet. We packed up the 4x4s and took off on a 2 hour walk through the palm groves of Tamnougalt. The growing season for almost all crops is finished, but we came across a few families cutting the last bunches of dates off of their trees – snacking on those as we walked. Or more accurately – stumbled. 3 of the 6 of us took a tumble while following Ibrahim through the groves; only on something that resembled a pathway about 20% of the time. Looking at my hand right now, I may unintentionally be bringing some plant life back into the US due to a splinter (?) I got after grabbing into a random plant to prevent myself from falling. Oops.

Our 4x4s met up with us a few towns over, and thus began our journey into the Sahara. (With a stop in the last town before the desert, Zagora, for lunch and Wifi. Of course. ?)


Let me tell you about riding 80km into the Sahara with a full bladder. I actually won’t be saying much more than that about the matter, since I am now in the same situation heading out of the desert, and though I’d’ve thought it impossible, this ride is even bumpier! Darn you, small bladder.

Sidenote: The difference in terrain from the High Atlas Mountains, to the Anti-Atlas, to the beginning of the Sahara to 2 hours into the Sahara is crazy. Two-way paved roads (that are really only one way unless another car is coming) quickly transition to a 1 lane road with two cars playing chicken, and a dark, rocky (volcanic) terrain changed to sand much quicker than you’d expect.

Camels we’re waiting for us upon our arrival at the desert camp, so after dropping off bags and having Ibrahim tie up our scarves, we saddled up to catch the sunset from the top of a dune! I was at the back of the line of camels, and I don’t know what they had for lunch, but I can now say from experience that camel farts are quite unpleasant.

We were all very happy to see a pot of mint tea (a staple in the Moroccan diet) waiting for us upon our return – once the sun began to set the temperature started dropping drastically. We also got a second serving of soup with dinner – the full bowls made good hand warmers.

I should mention at this point that while the majority of my pre-trip research has been on point, there are apparently multiple ‘Erg Chigaga Desert Camps” and we were not in fact staying at the fancy one with fireplaces, hot water bottles to warm the bed, or toilets in each tent. (This also meant I would not be able to ask anyone to draw me a bath. Drat.) There were in fact zero sources of heat anywhere in the camp, so when the local Berbers offered to start a fire, we were all more than ready to move to the heat source.

After cracking open a bottle of wine (we really should have bought more than 2…it goes fast between 5 people!) we were joined around the fire by our guide, drivers, and Berber camp staff who all played music, asked us some riddles, and told stories. Well, only our guide spoke English, so he was doing all the talking; other than a game we played that only required you to say “bzz.” Easy enough ?

At one point a stray/lost/Sahara dog showed up next to me at the fire, and of course I began petting him without a second thought (much to the concern of Ibrahim and most others in our group.) The dog was so friendly though, and 3/4 of him ended up on my lap at one point; he just wanted to stay warm! (Really not exaggerating how cold it was, guys.)

Eventually we ran out of firewood, and as awesome as the sky looked (more stars than I’ve ever seen…and the moon was oriented in a really weird way) – it was time to hit the hay. With SO many layers on. Bra, tshirt, long sleeve shirt #1, long sleeve shirt #2, Patagonia fleece, Berber jacket, head scarf, regular scarf, 2 pairs of leggings, a pair of jeans, and 2 pairs of socks. And 5 heavy blankets on the bed. I’m really not sure how the 5 other girls managed, because I was still cold and had another body for warmth!


We started watching Whiskey Tango Foxtrot before sleeping, and it was super funny! We’ll be finishing that tonight. Aka in 10 minutes. Goodnight!

xx Claire

Day 3

 

Posting from a restaurant with super weak wifi before heading into the Sahara, so photos will be added at a later date! (Update: Photos added!)

Today we left Marrakech for a drive through the Atlas Mountains on our way to the Sahara. 7 hours of driving in a 4×4 with a few stops along the way.

Stop 1: Side of the road cafe with an awesome view and a couple of cute dogs. I am of the mindset to always use the restroom when available, only to find out that you had to pay for toilet paper. I’m cheap and didn’t have to go badly, so instead of going back to the car to get a baby wipe, I pet dogs instead. Mildly regretted this decision later, but life goes on.

Stop 2: We did some off-roading to get to Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah, a Unesco World Heritage site. Also where many movies have been filmed. We crossed the Draa River and walked up to the top; me in socks and Birkenstock sandals, maybe not the best choice. (Though my footwear selection did allow for a a pun I was quite pleased with myself for coming up with; I socked the Kasbah. Lolllll.) We also picked up the 6th member of our group here!

Stop 3: After passing two film studios where things like The Mummy, Game of Thrones, and most recently Grand Tour were filmed, we stopped for lunch in Ouazazarte, complete with fresh bread, stray cats, and begging children (with mothers 10 steps away encouraging them to continue.) After lunch we stopped at one other place in town for snacks, water, and wine to bring into the desert. We got a bottle of red and a bottle of white for 120 Dirham, or $12 USD. We also may or may not have all gotten Berber jackets from the small market across the street at well. It’s colder than we all were expecting, so an extra layer is more than welcome – even if it does make us look like stupid tourists.

Stop 4: Eventually we arrived at Chez Yacob, our Kasbah hotel for the night! While our guide and the Australian in our group went back in to town (she was going on at least 4 days in the same dress and chambray button down,) we drank mint tea and watched the sun set while figuring out what pictures to post to social media (unexpected wifi is pretty exciting.)

We went downstairs for dinner, where unfortunately it wasn’t at all warmer, and then…the Berber band started playing.

Our group is fairly introverted as a whole; meals are about 40% conversation, 60% silence, so a bottle of wine split between 5 people was not nearly enough to get us up and dancing as was the apparent expectation. But sure enough, one by one we all ended up on the dance floor, along with a French couple, some guides, and a local Berber man that just REALLY likes to dance. The table of Russians (?) left just as the music was starting, lucky them?

IMG_4894

As goofy as we felt, and as relieved as we were when the music ended, we had all warmed up (!!) and probably will never have that experience again. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right?
xx Claire (Bia)

Ps. Our guide introduced us by our Moroccan names to another guide after dinner. The other guide said “no no no, no she’s no Labia….Iman! You are Iman!” I much prefer Iman.

Pps. The showers at Chez Yacob were a ceramic lined corner of the bathroom with a faucet at about hip-height on the wall and a shower head hanging from said faucet. After accidentally spraying down the majority of the bathroom while showering before bed, Joe ended up being my shower head holder, and I did the same for him this morning. Ah, marriage.