When Niki, my ex-partner, now best friend, and I received an invitation to go to Morocco for a friends wedding, we decided to accept and take the opportunity of seeing some of this fascinating country. Driving our Land Rover Discovery, we left home on February 24th to drive from Rome through Italy, France and Spain to Algerciras, from where the fast ferries leave to the North African port of Cueta. The one hour ferry crossing was interesting to say the least, heavy rain dark grey skies and a huge swell made for a rough crossing. Nicole was feeling pretty bad but managed not to be seasick along with most of the other passengers.
From the port at Cueta we drove the short distance to the Moroccan border where we spent an hour sorting out the paperwork to enter the country. Papers in order we set off towards Rabat, the capital of Morocco, where we booked into the “Trois Etoile” hotel in the centre. We parked “Jambo Jipya” our Discovery outside the main entrance where the night guard looked after her for a small fee! 10 Dirhams (1 euro).
Leaving Rabat we made our way to Casablanca where we had arranged to meet with Jamal, our friend who was getting married, his brother and two other friends who had flown to Morocco from San Marino for the wedding, Francesco & Ercole. Our meeting point was the main Mosque, a huge magnificent building. It had taken ten thousand workers five years to build the Mosque, which was completed in 1993 at a cost of 60 million dollars.
After hello’s and welcome’s the six of us made our way to the main Medina through the old door of “Marrakech”. We had a great time looking around the streets full of vendors where Jamal and his brother bartered for us in Arabic.
Jamel told us the wedding had been called off, I think he'd got cold feet! but apparently its quite common in Morocco for weddings to be arranged and then for the groom to change his mind.
After spending the night with Jamals family, Francesco, Ercole, Nicole and I decide to join up and travel together in “JJ” two or three weeks seeing as much of Morocco as we could.
As a foursome we travel to Marrakech where we stay for a couple of nights before crossing the Atlas Mountains heading to Zagora, the second from last most southern town before the Sahara Desert. Traveling south we stop at Aït Benhaddou, a fortified city famous for it's Kasbahs, that has been used in many films and try to imagine what it must have been like in the 17c with the ancient Arabs, dressed in full uniform brandishing their rifles, their headdress’s and kaftans swirling in the wind.
Having booked into a hotel in Zagora we decide over a drink or three that it would be nice to go on a camel trek. We find a guide with the help of the hotel owner and before we knew it we had arranged for a three day trek starting at 5:15 the following morning. Our guides met us at the hotel and together we drove to Mhamid on the edge of the desert where we meet the camels that would come with us. We pack our bags onto the camels together with the food and drink that our guides have brought with them and set off. We all decide to walk at first, but after a couple of hours in the desert heat, Nicole and Ercole who is suffering from an upset stomach decide to ride the camels. Francesco and I continue walking and by lunch time our legs are feeling stiff and tired. Nicole and Ercole are also very stiff! but in different places, riding camels is not that comfortable.
Our three days in the desert went quickly but we all had a great time and enjoyed the company of our two guides, who looked after us very well indeed.
Returning to Mhamid we say goodbye to Ali and Saaid our guides and head off towards El Rachidia, 500 kms away. Once again we cross the Atlas Mountains, this time by a different route, heading northeast. The GPS is still tracking us as we go through numerous little villages, each one with it’s ancient Kasbah, giving the valley below us the name of “Valley of a thousand Kasbahs”. We stop many times to take photos.
After crossing the mountains we stop at a town called Ouarzazate where we find a supermarket to stock up on provisions, including two bottles of red wine called Ksar which is produced in Morocco near to Meknes. Its a very good wine, one we could recommend.
Eventually we arrive in El Rachidia, book into a hotel and all take very long hot showers to wash away the desert dust. Huge kebabs, salad and a glass or two of wine finish our day.
The days passed quickly and we had to make our way northwards. We decided to head for the famous city of Fez, where we stayed for two nights. The Royal Palace is closed to the public but the grounds surrounding it are milling with people. It’s magnificent and we take photo’s of the golden doors, arches and the millions of mosaic pieces covering the walls. That evening we went to the Souk, an amazing place, but as the guide books warn you, there are hundreds of hustlers offering you their “expert advice” a great place to see but not for us a place to linger. The constant attention of the hustlers made us want to leave and find somewhere more relaxing.
Continuing north we came to a town called Taza. Close by are the biggest grottos in North Africa. We decide to go and have a look. When we arrived a young boy came over to see if we wanted to go down into the caves. We all said yes but Nicole was a little apprehensive as she is a little claustrophobic. The young boy said it would cost us 200 Dirhams each to enter, about 2 euros per person, for that we would have a guide and a couple of torches between us. To get to the main entrance we had to climb down over 500 steps, good job we were all pretty fit, when we got to the bottom of the steps the actual entrance to the caves was through a whole in the ground about 2 foot square. Nicole decided not to go any further and we all realized why there was nobody else about! Nicole climbed back up the steps while Francesco, Ercole and I squeezed through the tiny hole in the ground. With the dim light from the torches being the only light underground it was a little difficult to find our footing. Three hours later we reached the exit, covered in mud, soaking wet, tired but elated that we had made our way through to the end. In hindsight we all agreed that with no proper lighting in the caves, only a young boy to guide us and a couple of torches with low batteries it was not the best place to go, but we succeeded. I honestly believe that if these caves were in Europe they would not be allowed to open for public access, they would be considered far to dangerous.
The following day we went our separate ways, Francesco and Ercole had to make their way back to Rabat and their flight home while Nicole and I had to head for Cueta and the ferry back to Spain. We all had a great time in Morocco and both Nicole and I decided that we would return for a longer period in 2003. IN’SHALLAH.