Since I had to be in London for a trade show last November, I made a last minute decision to round up a couple of friends and do a trip extension to Morocco. To be perfectly honest, being the urbanite that I am, I feared that Morocco would equate inconvenience, boring brown dull landscapes and unsavoury touts. Hence, it was with some apprehension that I made the trip. Looking back, I’m glad I made the trip.
Morocco turned out to be a surprisingly more than pleasant experience. The ironic thing is that as a travel planner, I spend much of my time researching and planning for clients’ trips. However, when it comes to my own personal trips, I find myself often times doing a lot less research that I normally would for clients. Since I neglected to do my homework for this trip, we were very fortunate to have with us knowledgeable guides who could tell us everything we wanted or needed to know; just point to anything and they will have an answer or story for you. The guides also provided a sense of security as we navigated through the various sections in the medina and immersed ourselves in the work of the various craftsmen. We visited colourful carpet shops, a tannery, wet markets and several prominent mosques
On hindsight, if I could only pick one of the imperial cities to visit, it would probably be a toss-up between Marrakesh and Fez. I love the Jemaa El Fna night market atmosphere , but I also love the absolutely beautiful panoramic views of Fez, which is the only city that’s built in a valley.
The drive between the cities and towns took my breath away at times. It’s not just ‘brownery’, but the occasional farmland, sheep, snow-capped Atlas Mountain views that made the drive interesting. It helped that we had a rather chatty driver who was more than happy to share local stories. It was Eid Al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) the following week and it is a very important festive date for Moroccans. Moroccans working all over the world will make their yearly home-coming trips back to Morocco to celebrate the festival with their loved ones. Every family must buy a whole live lamb to sacrifice and on the appointed day, after the King slaughters his lamb (telecast live), all families will then slaughter their lamb at the same time. All men (the breadwinners) take pride that their lamb must be the biggest and fattest possible. That pride costs at least S$4,000, if they want the best!
I don’t think the average Moroccan earns lots of money. It is apparent by the number of touts on the streets. You will have to learn how to fend them off – nicely of course. However, my interaction with the Moroccans gave me the impression that they are a very generous people. I see my driver and guides passing loose coins to the less fortunate on various occasions. I guess that also prompted me to buy some ‘useless’ souvenirs on the street. Useless because I know my friends will not appreciate these souvenirs and they add to my luggage weight – but heck, at least I am doing something good to help people right?
The riad accommodation we stayed in were beautiful. I don’t think the experience will be appreciated by all travellers though. Don’t get me wrong, riads are lovely B & Bs and there are some very luxurious ones for those of us who need that extra pampering. If you are a practical traveller, you may like to know that even the most luxurious riads are situated in the old town (think narrow streets, dark alleys), and there is no driveway or foyer so you may need to drag your bags along cobbled streets for a distance before arriving at the riad. If you have issues with climbing stairs, it is better to stick to modern hotels. However, if all these do not deter you, you will be rewarded with a scene such as this (see picture below) and an authentic local stay experience.
Regrettably, due to our short visit, we did not manage to visit many of the smaller towns and the desert region. I suppose a 2nd visit is in order. Perhaps a self-drive itinerary this time?
Check out our 11-day itinerary here.