Moroccan Adventures 3: Essaouira by the Sea

We got up reasonably early and made our way to the bus station. We made a quick stop for our usual breakfast at Patisserie des Princes, before continuing on.

The pollution in Marrakech was more obvious since we had been out to the mountains, so we were glad to be heading away again.

At the bus station, we were accosted by a friendly man, who led us through the station to a few ticket desks and then onto the correct bus.

The bus took a while to get going, so we sat there in the hot, loud station, politely decline the various wares we were offered by sellers who kept wandering into the bus. It’s a captive audience, I suppose. It reminded me a bit of the people selling crisps and drinks to those on buses in Samoa – those buses were way cooler though!

The journey was around three hours and horribly hot and uncomfortable.

They did have one stop where one could buy a drink or go to the toilet, but I felt so rough that I didn’t want to move.

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Inside Essaouira’s old town

We arrived and walked through the slightly less nice bit of Essaouira and entered the lovely, cool, old town. The streets there were mostly empty, apart from those with shops, but had a much more relaxed atmosphere than those in Marrakech. We continued on and found our amazing riad. This was the most expensive of our accommodations for this trip – and still only £23 each!

It was called Riad Al Zahara and it was stunning. The room was a few floors up, it was large, it had its own bathroom and a ceiling fan! We also were given free water and chocolates.

It was once we were in the room, that I realised that I still had the room key from when we were in Marrakech! Luckily, we were returning there the next day! Oops!

We explored the terrace – a beautiful area on the roof with great views and a wonderful breeze. It was just stunning up there.

After getting way too excited about the riad and our coastal location, we practically ran out to visit the sea.

It was amazing! Not perhaps as warm as expected, but by no means cold. The waves crashed in around us as we looked down a beach that apparently went on forever. We had a lovely long walk, before heading back, trying to avoid getting sand in our eyes as gusts of wind swept in.

We had nearly got the the edge of the beach when we were stopped by two local boys, both working in tourism. We spoke to them for ages, well, we mainly listened. You know how it is.

Eventually, after carefully avoiding handing out our numbers or hotel name, we “agreed” to meet them at a cafe that evening. We had other plans.

On our way back through the beautiful streets, we stopped for the first, and last, ice cream of the Moroccan tour.

That evening, we found a highly recommended and slighlty odd restaurant to have dinner. It was strange fusion food, which was mainly nice. We especially enjoyed the unusual decor. Recommended for the adventurous!

After dinner we tried to get drink on the terrace of our Riad, but sadly it was closed. In fairness, it was very windy and very dark.

After an incredibly comfortable and not at all hot night’s sleep. We awoke and climbed back up to the terrace for an amazing breakfast!

We loved the terrace so much, we didn’t want to leave, so we came back after checking out and bought drinks!

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Lovely wine

I had the only alcohol either of us had in Morocco in a glass of white wine. Tasty! We had a great chat and admired the incredible view in our sunny, but not overly hot, surroundings.

We both still had some money left, so went out to do some more shopping before we left the beautiful seaside town. We found a lovely quiet market street, with beautiful arched shops set into the town wall. I bought a pretty tagine-shaped tealight holder and Sam bought a few things from the same shop.

The man then offered to show us some wooden products, made out of traditional wood, in the shop next door. We obliged and he showed us some beautifully carved pieces. I was completely in awe of a clever puzzle box that he showed us and so I had to buy it. It was too clever to pass up.

We found a vegetarian place for lunch, which had pretty decent food. I was quite slow eating though, so Sam went to get our bags while I finished up. We began the walk back to the bus station, lamenting the length of time we spent in Essaouira – our favourite place on the trip!

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Lunch in Essaouira

While navigating on my phone as we made our way back, I proved that I could no longer take a holiday without falling over and tripped down a small set of steps. Luckily, there was not much damage.

We reached the bus station in time to board a slightly nicer bus than the one we had taken to Essaouira and began our journey back to the mad, polluted, eye-opening city.

The journey was much nicer, although we of course hit traffic in Marrakech – we found some questionable music on my phone to pass the time though!

We exited the bus and walked back to our riad as the sun set in a spectacular orange show. The walk was reasonably long, so it was dark by the time we got in and slipped our old room key sneakily back onto the table in the foyer and made our way upstairs to our final room in Hotel Aday.

We spent the evening relaxing and packing and drinking freezer-cold drinks that we bought from the hotel. After the cool streets of Essaouira, Marrakech was stifling!

We had to be up early to get back to the airport, so we slept early too and left after a minor kerfuffle with finding someone to open the front door!

We were determined to get the bus to the airport, and even turned away two taxi drivers, but as time went on, we realised that the bus was late, so found one of the drivers and got a taxi for the same price!

We had checked in online, but despite this, we were made to wait and queue for check in, to get some sort of stamp. This was thoroughly annoying, given how we had to pay to check in early online. Hooray for Ryanair.

Eventually we got through the queue, passed passport control and security with minimum fuss and got into duty free.

With our last scraps of dirhams, we went to Starbucks for breakfast. This seemed like a good idea.

I had a cheese crossiant. Which I ate with a plastic fork.

I was very hungry, as usual, so I was eating quite quickly.

I paused briefly about one third of the way in, and noticed that one of the prongs of my fork had snapped off. So I went to pick it out of the remaining food.

It. Wasn’t. There.

Somehow, I had managed to eat so fast, and with so little chewing that I had EATEN A PLASTIC FORK PRONG.

Wow.

Not my finest hour.

After Sam had convinced me that I wouldn’t die, we boarded our plane and flew back home.

Morocco was such an incredible place to visit, with such a different landscape and culture to anything I had previously experienced. This is why I love travel – it broadens your sense of what it means to be a citizen of this planet.

My advice for anyone wanting to visit Morocco in an adventurous way – don’t fall into the trap of staying in Marrakech the whole time. Marrakech is great, but there is so much more to Morocco than that and Sam and I barely scratched the surface!

Going to Morocco and only seeing Marrakech is like going to England and only seeing London – it’s fun, but doesn’t give you a full picture of what the country is like.

Many many thanks to my wonderful German farm buddy, Chris, for recommending Essaouira and Imlil to me – visiting these wonderful places totally made our trip!

Moroccan Adventures 2: The Mountains of Imlil

It was early when we left our accommodation in search of a Grand Taxi to Imlil.

Petit Taxis operate inside of the city and Grand Taxis go between cities.

We struggled to find the place where the taxis depart from, and after asking several people and meandering around, we eventually found the place where they congregate. It is just inside of the Bab Agnaou gate.

We found a Grand Taxi and agreed to pay a reasonably large amount for both of us to go immediately.

The drive started in the mad streets of Marrakesh, which was understandably stressful, as the taxi weaved in and out of the dense traffic, narrowly avoiding pedestrians, scooters and donkeys as it went.

Out on the open road to Imlil, the driving was no less terrifying, with the driver overtaking slower vehicles on the wrong side of the road, with startlingly close oncoming traffic!

It was really fascinating to be out in the plains though. We passed tiny settlements and gazed out over the vast desert. The mountains rose abruptly in the distance, truly scraping the sky. It was hard to believe that they could be as big as they are.

Eventually we reached the Atlas mountains. The roads became twistier, the landscape became a red, rocky world, peppered with small towns. We rounded corners on the wrong side of the road, including blind hairpin bends, but we didn’t even have a near miss with another car.

I watched the journey intermittently on my map app, noting interesting place names and the remaining time to our destination.

I also attempted to take photos out of the window, with limited success.

Eventually, we reached Imlil. The main town was quite busy, with a massive digger-like vehicle blocking the street in the village centre – pounding the remains of a building with a neumatic drill attachment.

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Work being done in the village centre

We we driven up the hill towards our accommodation and dropped, with the vague instructions to follow a path down and it was “round the corner”.

We made our way down the little path, past some houses and over a bridge which crossed a dry riverbed. Presumably this river flowed strongly in the spring, after the snow in the higher mountains melted.

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Just down the steps from our accommodation

The path took us through some knarly trees and past an orchard. Sheep filled the road in front of us, so we passed then and climbed up a hill next to what was likely a waste water run-off.

At the top of some stairs, a woman greeted us and led us into a building that was our accommodation.

We waited for our room to be made ready and chose from two – the room we chose was the fancier of the two, with an ensuite and a double bed. The other room looked a bit dorm-like.

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Beautiful Imlil

We later realised that we had taken a room booked by a German couple. Oops!

We were given tea and snacks by the host, Jamal, which we enjoyed as he introduced us to his family.

After tea, we asked Jamal about walks in the area and he gave us a route that would take us up to the Berber village and give us great views of the mountains and the valley below.

We thanked him and headed out. The walk was hot, but not in the stifling way that Marrakech had been. The air was fresh and clean up in the mountains.

The walk took us up a steep hill, where we were greeted by Ibrahim, a man working for a Berber coop selling local crafts. The Berber people are the original peoples of North Africa.

We browsed the crafts, feeling relaxed in this shopping environment, unlike we had in Marrakech.

The coop was a large room, filled with pottery, carpets, clothing, jewellery and other assorted trinkets.

I took a shine to the carved and polished fossils. The fossils came from the dessert and were the remains of bones and shells of ancient sea creatures, from when the dessert was a sea.

Sam and I chose some to buy and had a little go at haggling. We didn’t feel like we were very good at it, but we also didn’t feel like we had over paid for what we bought.

We had a lovely chat with Ibrahim too, who also offered us tea.

We carried on up the steep hill and met two boys who talked to us a bit and told us some words in the Berber language. They also said there was a beautiful waterfall nearby which we should visit.

We carried on our climb up to the village and eventually reached a level with a gorgeous view.

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Wow.

There we met Abdul, another friendly store owner, who showed us his products – demonstrating a very cool little toy – a box you slide open to reveal a little wooden snake that pops out and hits your finger. He startled Sam with it, which was hilarious.

We bought some freshly pressed orange juice from Abdul and sat for a while gazing out down the valley.

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Fresh orange juice!

We wandered on through the village, admiring the views.

Our route took us round and over another bridge, then along a basic road back towards the place where we were staying.

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Arty shot of Sam and the mountains

We took a turn off down a rugged path that zig-zagged down a scree slope.

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View back to the Berber village

We saw a donkey using the path too, it’s back packed with a heavy load. The donkeys are used to transport both people and goods around various areas of Morocco and they work very hard. Occasionally we saw examples of cruelty, where a donkey was forced to go faster than it sensibly could.

We carried on down the hill and realised that the waterfall we had been told to visit was just below us. We walked along next to the narrow channels that directed the water until we reached the waterfall.

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How beautiful – one of many, many photos

There was a bar next to it and sets of tables and chairs for people who wanted to stay for a few hours. Sam and I took photos happily. Sam also decided to wander into the water, swamping her shoes, to explore and cool her feet!

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Sam after wading through the water

We wandered slowly back through the village to our accommodation, buying some more drinks on the way.

We wanted to eat dinner at the accommodation, but we couldn’t find the family to find out how that worked, so we explored the sunny terrace, which had amazing views and met the cow that lived behind the house.

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The lovely terrace

We decided to walk into the village to find food and after a false start, found a place by accident.

We were walking through the village and were asked to look in a store. Sam replied that we were actually looking for food. The store owner then led us into a restaurant.

Sadly, there wasn’t a vegetarian option there for me, so I decided to eat the chicken tagine. The food was nice and we had a beautiful view of the mountains.

We walked back up the dark hill to our accommodation. The walk was nice and relaxing, apart from the moment where I almost walking into a giant frog-like creature, which turned out to be a Berber Toad. I tried to take a photo, but it was basically impossible as the toad, understandably, wanted to leave very quickly.

We sat in the terrace and enjoyed the view of the stars. It was such an incredible place to sit at night. Imlil’s relative peace and quiet suited us much more than the mad streets of Marrakech, and we slightly wished that we had stayed in Imlil for longer.

Eventually, we headed down to bed. I slept well, apart from getting up to have a quick cold shower at one point because I was too hot – this happened constantly in Marrakech, and although Imlil was colder, it was still pretty warm.

In the morning, we received our included breakfast. We had eggs, tasty bread, butter, jams, nuts and copious tea. It was lovely.

There was a couple there two, from Germany. They were also leaving that day so we decided to get a Grand Taxi with them.

We packed up and ventured out, making our way towards the Grand Taxi station in the village centre.

We didn’t get that far, however.

We met a taxi driver coming the other way, who offered us a taxi at a tourist rate – similar to what Sam and I had paid on the way over. We really wanted to keep costs down, so we refused as we could get a much cheaper local rate in the village.

The taxi man bartered down, but we held our ground, and in the end, he told us that he would call someone he knew who would do it at the price we wanted. Success!

We waited in the heat for a while and exchanged stories with the couple. The taxi arrived and we began our windy journey away from the peace of the mountains back to the rush of the city.

We checked back in to our hotel – a different room this time. After unpacking, we went out in search of souvenirs in the souks.

This took a long long time, because I wanted to find an anklet I had seen with little camels on, which took forever to find. Like a couple of hours.

I didn’t buy it.

It wasn’t as nice as I remembered.

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The camel anklets were too small and not as good quality as I had remembered!

Sam managed to find a few things that she wanted though and we had a good explore of everything that the souks had to offer.

We also came across a man who showed us the dyes they use for cloth. He explained the process, including showing us a very dirty little room that they work in. Some of the colours were stunningly vibrant and some of the pigments even changed colour quite drastically when water was added to them.

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Dyed wools hanging out to dry

After our semi-successful shopping trip, we returned to the hotel for another very hot night before our journey out to Essaouira.

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Dyes being demonstrated

 

 

Moroccan Adventures 1: Meeting Marrakech

On September 10th, after maybe three hours sleep at Sam’s friend’s house, Sam and I hopped in a taxi to Stanstead airport to start our Moroccan Adventure.

We spent the airport time being wearily excited, relaxing in the main seating area until it was time to go to the gate.

As we had checked in online quite late, we ended up in separate seats, at quite different ends of the plane. I sat down and got settled. A man came over to talk to the girl next to me. She started complaining about how she didn’t want to sit alone. I said I didn’t mind switching seats with him as I was alone.

They thanked me and he led me down the plane to his seat.

It was the one next to Sam. What are the chances?

I wanted to sleep on the flight, but it was with Ryanair, so the non-reclining seats made it nearly impossible.

The flight was nearly four hours long and felt slow – I had gotten used to long haul flights, with their comfy seats and in-flight entertainment.

We eventually arrived and made our way across the warm tarmac, into the air conditioned terminal.

The terminal building was very nice, but the queue for passport control was very long and slow. We finally made it out, with shiny new passport stamps, to get my bag which had ended up in the hold because apparently Ryanair would rather pack more people into their planes than make sure everyone could have their cabin bag with them.

We exchanged some money and exited the terminal. It was still early, so the heat wasn’t too stifling, but it was certainly hotter than the UK. We struggled to find the bus stop and eventually agreed to take a taxi into Marrakech.

As we drove into the city, we admired the buildings and trees and excitedly reminded each other that we were in Africa now!

We got to the old centre of Marrakech, the Medina, paid for the taxi and walked to our accommodation.

This is where I want to share about the wonders of maps.me. Maps.me is an app I downloaded that is my travel essential. Forget special travel gadgets, fancy rucksacks or any kind of multi tool: maps.me is my travel saviour.

The app is an offline map app, which allows you to pin locations in sets with different colours and has a route feature for walking or driving. It is excellent, despite not being perfectly functional and you can download whichever areas of the world you want to. Updates are frequent and the app is completely free.

We used maps.me to get us to our accommodation, where we checked in and had a nap.

After the nap, we headed out to find the henna cafe, to have some food and maybe get some henna done too.

We left our Riad and walked in the direction of the main square – Jemaa el-Fnaa.

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Jemaa el-Fnaa

The main square was our least favourite spot in Marrakech. It is super busy and full of people trying to sell you things, often in very forceful ways.

As we crossed the main square, a woman accosted us and offered us henna. We said no and walked on (I had read that it was better to get henna in one of the cafes).

As we walked away, the woman grabbed Sam’s wrist and proceeded to do an incredibly fast, pretty crappy henna design on her hand.

Sam was too stunned at this point to stop her.

The lady finished, then demanded an extortionate amount of money for the design. Sam argued that the amount was ridiculous and handed over a small amount to try to make the woman go away.

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Sam’s squiggly henna

We then ran away.

This is not uncommon in the square – there are also men with monkeys on chains, which is obviously very cruel, who will throw them onto tourists and then demand money for a photo.

Sam and I mainly avoided the square for the remainder of our visit, only skirting the edges when we had to.

We walked on through the busy streets until we found the henna cafe. We climbed the stairs and, after Sam had washed her unwanted henna off, sat down to eat.

The food was lovely and filling, washed down with beautiful Moroccan mint tea. The terrace was high above the noisy street and a wonderfully calm place to sit.

After eating, I paid for a henna design, done quickly and expertly by a little old lady with henna stained hands.

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My henna (the next day, after leaving it on overnight)

We sat there for quite a long time, before heading back out to explore the bustling streets.

We wandered aimlessly, enjoying the unfamiliar sights. We were impressed by a lot of the products – especially the beautiful pottery.

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Inside one of the souks

The streets we ended up on were relatively quiet, although we were surprised to see scooters zipping through the narrow streets of the souks. The main noise came from the store owners, who were trying to get out attention.

The golden rule is not to stand for too long by something you might not want to buy – a woman was literally chased by a stall owner who had placed an item, one that she clearly didn’t want, in a bag for her!

Eventually, we made our way back to our accommodation, where we had a lazy evening as we were still very tired.

The next morning, we grabbed a crossiant from Patisserie des Princes and began our walk to Jardin Majorelle.

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Enroute to Majorelle

The walk was long and hot and through some of the smelliest and busiest streets we had encountered in the Medina. One street was so full of people, bikes, scooters and a van, that we were temporarily trapped between a fish stall and one with live chickens. Lovely.

Jardin Majorelle was so beautiful, with stunning colours on the pots and structures around the garden. The incredibly vibrant blue catches the eye – just gorgeous.

We were enthralled by the carp and the terrapins in the pools of the garden as well as the massive cacti that towered out from the ground.

It was an oasis of calm in a busy city. The Medina is a mad place, teeming with life. Outside the Medina is pretty crazy too, just in a more usual city kind of way – bigger shops, more modern buildings in sandy colours and the fun of Moroccan driving on bigger roads.

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What an incredible place

After the garden we bought some postcards and trudged through the baking streets to find a Carrefour to buy some snacks. We also bought some more drinks as the heat was quite devastating.

It is a shame that one can’t drink Moroccan tap water, because, despite low prices, a lot of your money goes on drinks in such a hot place!

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Old city wall

On the recommendation of a friend, we visited Ensemble Artisnal. It was a bit of a walk from the Carrefour, but we found it quite easily thanks to my map app. It is a market just outside the Medina where locally made craft items are sold at fair prices, without the need to barter – easy for western tourists who aren’t used to the concept!

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The entranceway to Ensemble Artisnal

The products in there were especially nice and the atmosphere much more relaxed than the souks of the Medina.

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I loved the mirrors with the tiny doors

Sam was especially taken with a music shop and spent a long time looking at and playing the instruments.

Eventually we left and made our way across the road to a pretty little park, that had an exhibition about environmental concerns on it – apt in a city so polluted.

We sat in the park, watching the world go by. The fountains in the centre splashed. People walked by.

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In the park

Eventually we made our way back to our hotel. On this day, I had chosen to wear a vest, instead of covering my shoulders. I’m not sure if this was partially why the following street harassment occurred, but it is possible.

We were almost back at the Medina, when suddenly a teenage boy ran past, grabbing my bum on his way.

As I watched him run away, I felt disgust at being treated that way and sadness that we still live in a world where boys are not taught that women aren’t just sexual objects.

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Koutoubia Mosque, the largest mosque in Marrakech

We returned to the hotel, freshened up and went out to dinner at the Henna Art Cafe. This is a different place to the Henna Cafe we visited on the first day. This cafe is much nearer to our accommodation.

We headed in and found a seat on one of the lovely quiet terraces, through a tiny door that even I had to duck to get through.

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The beautiful terrace with the tiny door

The menus were beautiful, on blocks of wood with henna patterns around the edges. We ordered and waited. I had mint tea again – something I became quite addicted to in Morocco and a veggie tagine.

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The beautiful menu

The cutlery were brought to us in a pretty (hopefully unused) slipper. The food was excellent.

We returned to the hotel once more for our second night in Marrakech, with a planned early morning to venture out to the Atlas mountains.