When i started looking for holiday options for the Easter weekend, I was hoping to book a relaxing, lazy getaway to a beach or a lake or a mountain. Nothing to disturb me while i wake up late. Being able to eat and drink when and where i want to. Not having to worry about being late for something.
What i booked instead was a trip to Morocco. And because i’ve never travelled to Africa before, i chose to do it with a group of strangers and a local tour guide. The tour started with us arriving at Marrakech from London on the evening of 28th March. Driving from Marrakech to Dades gorge the next day. Driving to Todgha gorge the next morning, and arriving at Merzouga, camping in the Sahara desert. Driving from Merzouga to Ouarzazate the next day. Finally, driving from Ouarzazate to Marrakech where we spent two nights.
Because we stayed at each place only for a night, each morning involved waking up, having breakfast, showering, changing and packing. Way too much work for a lazy holiday!
The hurried mornings and constant driving especially through winding roads made me a bit weary. But despite all that, I quite enjoyed my African adventure. Morocco is a beautiful and culturally rich country that is very proud of its heritage.
Our flight from Gatwick, London to Marrakech took about 4 hours.
This is us outside the Marrakech airport just before boarding our ride to the hotel.
Dinner that night was at a nice rooftop place where i had my first taste of the famous Moroccan tagine. I ordered lamb tagine that night and we all realised for the very first time that there wasn’t going to be any alcohol served with any of our dinners in Morocco. Although its quite warm and sunny in the mornings (around 24 degrees), it does get a little nippy at night this time of the year.
Our drive the next morning started from Marrakech towards the Dades gorge. Along the way, we stopped at cafes and various picturesque places to admire the beautiful landscapes.
This is my first glimpse of a small Berber village. Berbers are an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa. The first thing you notice about Moroccan buildings is the red clay.
Along the drive, you can also see the majestic Atlas mountains in the background.
We drove through the never ending Tizi n’ Tichka pass before stopping for lunch.
After lunch, we walked to the UNESCO world heritage site of Ait Benhaddou, which is a fortified village along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech.
Within the Kasbah (fort), you’ll find lots of merchants selling their goods.
The view from the top of the Kasbah is pretty awe inspiring! It looks like a sand castle!
A picture of us at the top of the Kasbah.
We then drove through the incredible Dandes gorge. I kept my eyes shut through most of the winding roads but every time i opened my eyes, I saw some unbelievable landscaping.
We stayed the night at a rustic hotel called La Gazelle du Dades right next to a gurgling stream. We were entertained during dinner by some Moroccan drumming, which to my dissatisfaction went on till 1am.
The next morning, we started our drive towards Merzouga. On the way, we stopped to take pictures of the slithering Tizi n’ Tichka pass.
We stopped a couple of times to take pictures of interesting rock formations.
Spotted another Berber village along the way to Todgha gorge.
We finally arrive at the Todgha gorge around lunch time. Its as beautiful as they said it would be.
Being a popular tourist site, you’ll also find many merchants selling their merchandise alongside the gorge.
We stop for lunch at a close-by restaurant and finally drive towards the Sahara sand dunes.
When we arrive at Merzouga, we take a detour and drive off the main road towards the sand dunes where the camels await us. I’m sure its not something they look forward to at all.
This is the spectacular Sahara desert.
And these are our unwilling camel rides.
Getting on the camel is a bit tricky. You can sense they don’t want you sitting on them. Surprise! You have to hold onto dear life once they are up on their fours. I managed to take a few pictures with one hand though.
The desert is incredibly dry but also very calm and serene. It stretches for miles and miles and you can imagine how someone could get lost here. There were no words needed to be said. Its one of those experiences where you just want to be quiet so you can fill your senses with everything that surrounds you. The shadows cast by the camels. The sand drifting under the camel’s hooves. The waves in the sand. The sun setting behind the dunes. The moon rising above the desert sky. The rhythmic movement of the camels. It was all so therapeutic and hauntingly beautiful.
We stopped in between for the camels to rest and for us to take pictures.
After an hour on the camel, we could finally see a few campsites from a distance.
We stayed the night in a very pretty decent tent with a proper toilet and beds with duvets. And for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, we were able order a bottle of red wine to be shared among 8 people! After dinner, we sat under the stars listening to traditional Berber drumming and dancing.
The next morning, we woke up to a beautiful sunrise around quarter to 7.
We finished our breakfast and headed back to Merzouaga for our quad bike rides in the desert.
I’ve never ridden a quad bike before. So i was a bit wary, especially with a pillion rider. But once i got used to the steering, I felt like batman in his bat mobile.
After an hour on the quad bikes, we started our journey towards Ouarzazate. On the way, we stopped for a few pictures of streams and lava hills.
We stayed in an old but functional hotel in Ouarzazate where we were once again entertained by traditional musicians who sang and danced passionately with all the guests.
The next morning, we were taken to Taourirt Kasbah.
Within the kasbah were uniquely shaped and sized rooms with interesting stairwells, doors and windows decorated with plaster work, paintings and mosaics.
We then started our drive towards Marrakech. We reached our hotel just in time for dinner. We went to a rooftop place called Zwin Zwin cafe. By now our guide had learned that half of us were alcoholics, so he only took us to restaurants that served alcohol. It was only after our first bottle of wine that we realised we were missing a person. Our guide eventually found him and we all went back to our hotel after downing four bottles of wine.
The next morning was slightly overcast. We were given a tour of a couple of famous mosques in Marrakech.
The Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech.
After the mosques, we were taken to the beautiful Bahia palace.
Inside the entrance are a set of beautiful gardens with rooms opening onto lovely courtyards.
The architecture is a combination of intricate wooden carving, colourful mosaic tiling and ornate decorated ceilings.
After spending a significant amount of time in awe of the lovely Bahia palace, we headed towards the world renowned UNESCO world heritage site of Jemaa el Fna Square. Its a large public square where you’ll find small merchants, hawkers, entertainers, snake charmers, chained monkeys, horse carriages, donkey carts among other things.
Through the square, we made our way to the world famous souks of Marrakech. You must keep aside some significant amount of time if you’d like to see it all. As a tourist, I always try and buy a few local artefacts to help the local economy.
Spices and oils.
Spices and dried fruits.
I also spotted quite a few stray cats in Marrakech. This one was probably bargaining for a cup of milk in exchange for a fur ball?
We were done with all the shopping by 6pm and headed back to the hotel to shower and change for our last dinner in Marrakech.
Our last meal in Marrakech was at a very traditional Moroccan restaurant where i had my favourite lamb tagine again. We were entertained by traditional musicians, singing and dancing. Also thrown in were a a couple of belly dancers!
The next morning, we checked out, left our luggage with the reception and headed out to find Majorelle garden. The queue to get into the gardens can be pretty long. It took us an hour to get in. Its advised to start early in the day when they open to avoid long queues.
My roommate and I bought the tickets to the garden and the Berber museum together. It only cost us 100 dirhams. We’re not allowed to take pictures inside the museum but it was quite an exquisite display of Berber garments, jewellery, carpentry, weapons, tools and utensils.
The garden was a splendid display of cacti, bamboo, coconut palms and bougainvilleas among other plants.
The property has a villa which was the residence of the French artist Jacques Majorelle. It was later bought and restored by the famous fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent. The special shade of bold cobalt blue is named after him, Majorelle Blue.
The garden also has interesting fish ponds and lotus ponds.
Found a few baby turtles learning how to swim.
We walked back to the hotel after a brief lunch stop of grilled meat. Lounged on the sun beds on the hotel terrace for about 30 mins before we head back to the murky skies of London. I’m definitely coming back for more Africa!
More pics on flickr. Flickr album
One last picture before we all return to our mundane routines back in the UK.