Trip to Marrakesh

Bobet and I fly to Marrakesh in North Africa for her birthday.

Pre-holiday talk and preparation involves the possibility of a day of skiing in the nearby Atlas Mountains and multiple shopping trips for base layers - it later transpires that there isn't enough snow. Although I do buy a pair of walking trousers, as worn by Michael Palin, which I wear for much of the trip.

We begin following just a few hours sleep at 4:00 am with a taxi to Victoria railway station and take the Express train to Gatwick, with an 8:00 am flight to Marrakesh. Thanks to a last minute email the night before, we are meet at the airport by the hotel's taxi driver displaying my name, who we soon discover doesn't speak a word of English. The 45 minute complimentary taxi ride in an old white Mercedes takes us out of town, past a water park, a golf course, a field full of terracotta pots, a dam and finally our hotel, Kasbah Igoudar at the foot of the Atlas Mountains where we are welcomed.

Average day time high temperatures for the time of year are around 20°C, so we are delighted to find a temperature of 30°C when we arrive - temperatures remain in the high 20s all week, however they soon drop when the sun goes down at around 6:00 pm.

Due to lack of sleep we had intended to relax upon arrival, however learning the 200 MAD cost each way (30 GBP total) for the hotel's taxi into Marrakesh, we decide to take the opportunity to share the taxi back to Marrakesh the same afternoon with a young Australian couple. Once in the heart of the old town, we ask the driver our location on a map - which he confirms with another nearby driver. Bobet and I walk into a nearby hotel hoping English is spoken and ask for the locations and directions for the church and a spa. We walk outside and look for something quick to eat and are guided by a local through a hotel lobby into their plush restaurant where we haggle for a one course Moroccan meal whilst constantly conscious of the time. After lunch we discover the spa on the other side of the street where Bobet gets her nails done and I snooze with my iPod. We hadn't left the block when we walk back to the taxi for the hotel and a traditional 3 course Moroccan dinner by an open fire with the young Australians and a couple of French girls, where Bobet later finds her new calling with a bellows.

The day of Bobet's birthday we catch up on some sleep, but soon dress up with Bobet in a new top & altered Levi jeans and me in Levi's with A&F shirt, for an outside lunch of Moroccan chicken & chips. The taxi takes us back into Marrakesh, drops off the young Australians at the airport to leave us to find the Church of Saints Martyrs, the only Catholic Church in the city in a predominately Islamic country. Outside we meet an American architect working locally who introduces us to the priests before a mass held for less than a dozen people. Afterwards we walk back to the main plaza at Gueliz in the new town, where we stumble across a small market and pick up a couple of bronze like camels to mark the occasion. From there the taxi takes us back to the hotel for another traditional Moroccan 3 course dinner with our new friends, where Bobet again shows off her new talent with a bellows.

At lunch time the next day we get a knock on our door and given half an hour to get ready for our inclusive quad bike ride in the Atlas Mountains. We are picked up in a 4x4 and taken to the assembly area which we pass each time we go to and from Marrakesh, with an extra passenger, a tortoise picked up along the way. After a short wait for another couple, we are given a helmet & goggles each, the basic operating instructions to ride a quad bike that each couple will share, and then we're on our way. The route takes us into the hills and mountains, around Lalla Takerkoust lake, through streams and under aqueducts by the dam. After a while Bobet takes a turn at the helm until an unexpected right down the hill on a left turn, but takes the helm again until an extra steep section of the route. I too suffer a near miss while keeping the quad bike perpendicular to a small ravine and turning at the last second to avoid a rock face, all I could hear in my ear was "Weee..." from Bobet behind me, not the word I was thinking! We return to the hotel the way only a 4x4 could, over rough terrain, before relaxing in hammocks and a late lunch by the pool. We decide to get cleaned up and have an early night, but thoughts of cuscus, Muonir's birthday and chatting with our new friends bring us out for dinner.

On Saturday we get up in time for our first Moroccan breakfast by the pool. We start our Ourika Valley day trip, which boosts 7 waterfalls, at 10:00 am when we are picked up in a 4x4 covered in the hotel's livery. The trip involves a 70 km ride past picturesque mountain scenery to Setti Fatma at the end of the Ourika Valley, a village deserted in the winter months due to the cold, where our driver picks up our guide for our trek up the mountain. The trek begins in the village over a small wooden bridge and rugged stepped rocky ground, past small water features where we learn how they use the cold mountain water to cool drinks & fruit, past souvenir stalls where Bobet buys a small ugly face to hang on the wall, on past the crowded 3rd waterfall and on to the more impressive 4th, where we stop for mint tea. Our guide suggests not proceeding as the ground gets slippery and, with the legs of a mountain goat, scales the side of the waterfall to take pictures of the 2 waterfalls above to show us. Despite this we decide to press on, with a slightly easier route behind us, after paying a toll to use a small ladder, we climb using our hands and feet up a rocky cliff face, where Bobet stops 8 feet from the top, turns around and says "This would be a great spot for a photo" to which I shout "Don't stop" as I clung to the face of the rocks, my legs shaking by the time we reached the seated vantage point, where I gingerly perch on a plastic chair next to the edge for photos - at which point my camera decides not to record the occasion. With a few slips and aided by our guide we make it back to the village, where we stop for a relaxing lunch by the river of Moroccan chicken & chips and are serenaded by two locals. All too soon, it's time for our taxi home, but stop for a photo on an unstable looking wire bridge over a high ravine, before arriving back at our hotel for dinner, where we miss the two French girl's conversation.

Sunday sees us going back to church for mass in Gueliz the new part of town, where there is a much bigger congregation of predominantly black African Christians and meet a local Pilipino. We see orange trees in fruit growing freely on the side of the street as we walk back to the main plaza, where we're persuaded to buy another bronze camel, exchange some British money to the local currency and are encouraged to stop for lunch at the Queen Atlantic restaurant. Despite earlier protests, Bobet stops in the nearby shops, tries on a few dresses and buys a jumper. From there we hail a taxi to take us to the old part of town, who picks up another fare on route and finally takes more than the agreed amount.

Once in the Place Jemaa El Fna, the main open air market, we are accosted by a man with very docile looking snakes who try to wrap them around our necks. We also see trained monkeys, a horse & carriage, many food stalls and women offering henna tattoos. We stop for a glass of fresh orange juice for 4 Dh (0.30 GBP). Then we make our way into the Souks, a covered market area like a warren on several floors, where haggling is a way of life, seeing shoes, dresses, hats, pottery, lamp shades on sale - Bobet buys a blue scarf to match her Ugg boots back home. As the time approaches 6:00 we look for a high vantage point to overlook the square and drink mint tea as the sun sets and take photos. After our brief respite, we withdraw some cash before returning to the Souks for spices and key rings. Back in the main square we stop for dinner at one of the many food stalls offering fresh tagine dishes. After dinner I buy a Moroccan candle lantern before finding our hotel's taxi and home.

On our final day the two of us make the most of the complimentary hour long donkey ride which takes us around the estate and through the nearby village at a leisurely pace with plenty of photo opportunities. Once back at the hotel we go to our room to pack before having our last 3 course Moroccan lunch by the pool and a final look around including the restaurant and unfinished spa before checking out.

Before the airport, our driver first takes us to Palm Grove where the two of us take a camel ride in the country side, these are much bigger, slower, more lumbering animals than the earlier donkeys and seems like just a 10 minute ride, but there are plenty of photos for the scrap book. Next it's off to the spice market which we'd missed the day before, where the spices are mounted up in large cones that look made for photos. From there it's back to the airport for home and we realise why the afternoon seemed so quick.


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