Sunday, March 3, 2013

Morocco - Overview

The coastal town of Essaouira
Sticking to our original plan of taking a break from the European winter, we decided on a 2 week trip to Morocco. Our timing was perfect as the day before we left Lucca there was 20cm of snow!

Worthy of a 10 dirham tip?
 After flying into Marrakech and taking a coach to the coast, we arrived in Essaouira (es-weera) a small fortified town on the Moroccan west coast. It was just what we needed – blue sky, sunshine and a dose of another culture and cuisine. Essaouira was the perfect city to begin our adventure, being not too big but full of character – we were immediately in love with all things Moroccan.

After our 4 day initiation, we were ready to head to the desert and join our 7 day tour. Organised tours are not our usual mode of travel, however given the day to day dealings of life in Italy we decided on the easy option. Our tour began in Ouarzazate (war-zarzat), known locally as ‘Mollywood’ due to the movie business there. From Ouarzazate we headed south along the Draa Valley; a huge palmeriae of over 4 million trees edged by many fortified villages and on to the oasis town of Zagora. 

The landscape along the route was quite amazing, all rock and rubble with not a scrap of vegetation – If I’d actually been there I’d have guessed we were on Mars!

Melanie on Mars

 Day 2 we continued our journey into the Sahara desert, stopping by a small ceramic producing village and a local library from the 10th century. A strange place for a library however it contained the most stunning handwritten books (all in Arabic and Berber) - truly beautiful. After the formidable tourist tout in the ceramic shop, it was here that our minibus broke down! Thankfully our Berber tourguide "Donnie" (nicknamed due to his likeness to Donnie Osmond) was quick to organize another bus within the hour! So with our new bus we were back on our way to M’Hamid where we commenced our short camel trek (caravan style) into the desert for a night under the stars in a simple Bedouin camp.

Our tourguide 'Donnie'

To our surprise our ‘simple’ camp was not as simple as we’d envisaged. We dined on a 3 course meal in a large and cozy mud brick house. We spent the night in a huge tent complete with a double bed. The only clue that we were in the desert was the overnight temperature – it was FREEZING!!

The Bedouin camp

The following morning we mounted our camels for the return journey. After our 2 hour trek the day before, the return journey was not as comfortable - it’s amazing those bones and muscles you discover you never knew you had!  Thankfully the bus seats were padded...

not so comfortable

From here we headed back to ‘Mollywood’ and out to the well preserved UNESCO site of Kasbah Ait Benhaddou. Another movie location where parts of Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia were filmed. The landscape is really quite stunning: red rocky soil, acacias and eucalypts with a backdrop of an azure blue sky – it could have been central Australia.

Day 4 we headed east to the High Atlas Mountains, the weather remained beautiful but we could see snow in the distance. We left the bus in Animeter as the road was no longer suitable and made a 90 minute walk to a ‘Gite’ (basic Berber accommodation) where we spent the night - our luggage arrived by mules. The following morning we enjoyed a 3 ½ hour walk through the remote villages of this area and up a mountain of 2400m. After a quick lunch back at the Gite we returned to the bus and recommenced our journey onwards to Marrakech.

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