المملكة المغربية 🇲🇦
The border crossing from Ceuta to the Kingdom of Morocco looked super sketchy. We exchanged our remaining euros for dirhams through some random guy 10 meters away from the border. We got a really great exchange rate 😛
Once we crossed the border, we took a “grand taxi” to Tétouan. It’s an authentic looking Moroccan city with a covered Medina. It’s big enough that you can get lost, so it’s probably better to start here than in Fes. We didn’t see all that much, just ate a good, and suuuper cheap couscous. Being that it was our first couscous in Morocco and that we were both starved, it was one of our best of the whole trip.
The next day, we took a “grand taxi collectif” to Chefchaouen, known as the blue city. The taxi was a shitty 30 year old banged up Mercedes that normally fits 5 people, but we managed to squeeze in an extra 2. Chefchaouen was gorgeous, we did a mini hike and took some beautiful pictures right before sunset.
We took a day bus to Fes, where the driver passed two Swiss RVs that were driving too slow for his taste, on a 1.5 lane mountain road. The scenery was again really beautiful.
Once in Fes, we got to the Medina, then tried to use the GPS to get to our riadh. I say tried because that failed miserably. The oldest almost untouched Medina in the world is in Fes. It’s huge and a labyrinth. We were maybe 50 meters from the door to our accommodation, but we needed to ask for help and walk 5 minutes all around a neighbourhood because the door was on another street, with no direct route. We enjoyed getting lost the next day a lot more than at night with our bags. We saw some markets, plenty of old buildings and storefronts, mosques, Koranic schools, the old city walls, the blue gate, the royal palace, and the Jewish quarter. We visited a tannery, tried on some silk scarves, ate delicious couscous, and found our way back to our riadh! Without any hero this time! We also met a friendly Belgian couple, who we ate dinner with on our first night, at some Dutch restaurant in the new part of town.
We then took the train to Rabat (the capital, and more importantly, where I used to live!). There, we visited the Kasbah, the Medina, and I went back to my old schools, the old Canadian embassy, and our old after school patisserie 😊 it was nice to see the old haunts again, but it was clear that time had passed and times had changed 😅 In Rabat, we also visited the Chellah, the mausoleum and the Hassan tower.
After a brief nostalgic tour of Rabat, we took the train again to Casablanca. We only checked out the outside of the Grande Mosquée (which as it’s name implies, is humongous) and jaywalked across the highway. No big deal 🤪
We took yet another train to Marrakech. We booked a hostel right next to Jamma El Fna, which turned out to be absolutely horrible. The square is busy but we both found that Marrakech was too touristy. We walked around the Medina (yet another 🤣), visited a beautiful shop with wrought iron lamps, and other very impressive pieces of furniture. We also visited the jardin Ménara, with the large square lake. We took a taxi to go to the jardin Majorelle, and ended up sharing a taxi. There was an older lady inside already, but there are 3 spots in the taxi, and it’s not full until those spaces are taken. Supposedly this lady didn’t want to pay for a shared taxi, and got into a screaming match with the driver. After 5 minutes of yelling, the driver had refused to give her her luggage back from the trunk, he let up after another 5 minute scene, and drove us in a bad mood to our destination 😆. The jardin Majorelle, which was bought and renovated by YSL, was very pretty. It has a blue villa with some amazing gardens.
We then rented an automatic Fiat 500 from a sketchy airport car dealer. We signed a contract, paid in cash, took a video of the car, and drove off.
After filling up, we drove to Imlil, the village in the Atlas where you can hike the Toubkal in two days. Unfortunately, neither of us had the gear nor did we know if we’d have enough time with the car. Toubkal will be for a future trip. The views on the drive up were amazing though.
Our next destination was in the Atlas Mountains: Ait-Ben-Haddou. The road, as you can imagine, was gorgeous. We saw barren landscapes, lush green valleys, and small villages. After driving a little bit too far, and backtracking 🤪 Ait-Ben-Haddou is a unesco world heritage site showcasing a traditional ksar from southern Morocco made from dried mud. We visited just before sunset, making our way to the top to catch the last half hour of sunlight and take in the view. There’s a small admission fee, and a guy who could barely speak French gave us maybe 4 facts, then expected a nice big tourist tip (our answer was definitely no). We entered a house where they had filmed part of Gladiator in a basement Berber cave, and were told that many many movies had been filmed at Ait-Ben-Haddou, and tv shows like Game of Thrones!
The next day, we drove through Ouarzazate, to the Gorges du Dadès, the Tinghir valley and the Gorges du Todra. I’ll let the pictures fill you in on the beautiful rock formations and lush valleys. And one hell of a sunset.
Next up on our itinerary was Merzouga for a desert camel safari. The road was pretty damn flat, with a view of the sand dunes from far away. We booked a hostel, stayed the night, and booked our safari for the following day. Before the safari, we went for an off-road drive in our little Fiat 500. It was, let’s just say, a little nerve racking at times. We headed to a lake where camels and flamingoes chill. As the lake had partially dried up, we walked on the lakebed and took some fun pictures 😊
The desert safari was actually somewhat of a letdown. We rode camels through the sand dunes to our camp, which we believed was to be traditional Berber. Unfortunately there were tire tracks everywhere, as there are quad excursions in the desert. And our Berber tent turned out to be a classic tent from Decathlon and a ton of blankets to stay warm. That night, we both tried sandboarding on the dunes. It’s quite hard without any bindings and it doesn’t slide nearly as much as on snow… surprisingly so. We still had fun, filmed it all, and witnessed the sun set behind the dunes, and the moon rise shortly thereafter on the other horizon. It was splendid. The best part of the overnight safari was the food. It was the BEST tajine we ate in our lives. And we were treated to some kind of meteor shower as we ate. It was magical. We woke up the next day to watch the sun rise, and headed back to our hostel for breakfast.
So… the next day, having seen the quad tracks, I figured why not. Let’s take part. We drove up to 40kmh up and down the dunes. It didn’t feel fast enough, but it was definitely worth it!
We needed to hand the car back in a couple of days and so we decided to try taking the Tizi n’Test pass. The road was long, but we witnessed some spectacular views on our two day drive getting there. From lush valleys, to barren landscapes, with the Atlas Mountains looming on the horizon. It definitely felt like untouched Africa, and it was absolutely stunning to witness. Sometimes the road was partially (or almost completely) covered in sand. We even saw signs on the road to watch out for camels, which we did see idly strolling on the road!
When we finally made it to the beginning of the Tizi n’Test pass, we were worried as our weather apps either said it was cloudy (and therefore dangerous) or clear. We decided to go for it, risk it and if it was too dangerous, then turn around and take the long road back to Marrakesh.
The pass was very impressive and Sandrine let me drive most of it even though she absolutely loves mountain driving. I did my best to drive quickly, using it as a splendid opportunity to improve my reckless mountain driving skills, and gear shifting (the car had those automatic gear levers) which proved to be handy as the car didn’t know when to change gears properly. I ended up sort of racing another car for an hour or more through the pass, keeping up behind them, as they drove very fast and could use their brake lights as indicators as warning of incoming cars and bends. It was exhilarating but exhausting.
We spent the night in Marrakesh, witnessing another great sunset, and hired a car to drive us almost two hours to the Essaouira airport where we were flying out of: one night in Belgium, to then fly off to Istanbul!
Oh, and I should mention that every time we found a shop selling sweatshirts, I asked Sandrine if she minded if I take a look to see if I could replace my lost Roots one. She never did mind, and was super patient the entire time, even when I wasn’t. In the end, I couldn’t find a nice sweatshirt in the entire country. Stay tuned for updates 😆
As you may have guessed, Morocco has a special place in my heart. The food, the people, the landscapes, the culture, the vibe and the nostalgia… It may not be for everyone, there may be nicer places, but I still love it for what it is. Till next time!