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Trip Report Morocco Trip Report Dec. 22 to Dec. 29th 2012 Family of 7 in 7 days

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Trip write up for Morocco
My family and I have just returned from a trip around Spain and Morocco for three weeks. I wanted to submit a trip report about the Morocco portion. We were seven in all my four boys and our oldest son’s girlfriend ages (21, 20, 19, 16 and 12). We arranged our trip through Fes Excursions with Abdel Youssef. I have to admit that after reading both Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet’s Thorntree posts I was worried that I would have problems once we arrived because of all the warnings about internet scamming. However everything was as advertised. The details are that we paid 2200 Euros for a driver to pick us up in Tanger and take us around Morocco for six days, arrange hotel accommodations, a camel trek, and tours in Fez and Marrakech, and purchase train tickets back to Tanger. Because of the travel posts and answers to my inquiries, I requested payment to be made in three installments in Morocco and not the normal prepayment deposit. The outline of our trip is as follows: Dec. 22nd Tanger to Chefchaouen to Fez, Dec. 23rd Fez tour, Dec. 24th Fez to Merzouga to Sahara Camel Trek (sunset, sand boarding), Dec. 25th Merzouga to Todra gorge to Ouarzazate, Dec. 26th Ourazazate to Ait Ben Haddous to Marrakech, Dec. 27th Marrakech tour, Dec. 28th Marrakech free day and overnight train to Tanger at 21:00, Dec. 29th Ferry back to Tarifa. This trip certainly is not for everyone and was indeed a lot of driving but we wanted to go to Fez, camel trek and see Marrakech and so were willing to drive, against all the advice given in the posts. Breakfast was included every day and dinner in the dessert and at the Ouarazazate hotel. All the accommodations were at beautiful Riads and the breakfasts and dinners were better than we expected. Our driver was Aziz, spoke English well, had a minivan that seated 8 comfortably and was at the port outside customs waiting for us with a sign.
Aziz’s took us to Chefchaouen for the day and then onto Fez on Dec. 22nd after an early morning ferry with FRS from Tarifa that I had booked online. Chefchaouen was as lovely as all the images online and in guide books. We hired a local tour guide for 100 MAD or $12 which wasn’t necessary but was the “right” thing to do. He gave an hour tour of the medina, washing stations, and old city. We had the most wonderful meal of the whole trip at Darcom Restaurant. The set three course meal was 100 MAD so it wasn’t inexpensive but it was fabulous, authentic, and a lot of food. In particular we loved the tangines and the pastillo de poulet and it was enough food that we were still not hungry at dinner time so had a small meal of sandwiches when we got to our riad in Fez. We did go to a blanket store (Machkour Mohamed and through a very nice Riad, Dar Yazid. We came to realize that visiting the friends stores are always part of a guide’s business or a riad’s manager to point you towards their friends business. We were not pressured to buy though and the demonstration of the art was appreciated at the blanket store. The drive to Chefchaouen was about 2 hours and chefchaouen to Fez 4 hours. We stayed at Riad Khouloud Fes, Guest House Maiison d’Hotes and Restaurant. The rooms were luxuriant and breakfast was great: egg, fried bread, French bread Moroccan style, honey, marmalades, and coffee or tea. The courtyard had the fountain and sofas you eventually come to expect and the welcome sweet tea. There was a roof top terrace where the meals were served. We arrived after dark so Aziz’s recommend not going out.
Our second day our tour guide Tommi arrived and we set out for the medina. Fez was everything I had read about and more. The medina shops were off a maze of alleys. Tommi showed us the different areas of the market including the dying pits for the leather, the carpet stores, the wedding furniture, the fish and snail markets, the bath houses, wood workers, weavers, the fabric ally, the jewelry lane all with amusing stories. Here in Fez some of the stores were a little more pushy the leather and the rug stores in particular. You got to try your hand at weaving on the big looms but then there was a sales pitch that was difficult to leave but we did especially when the price was one semester of tuition for one of the boys. Everything was indeed much more expensive here than elsewhere in Morocco. There is a local price for many things and a tourist price. Many items are handmade and lovely and it was difficult to haggle especially since many of the local population seems to be struggling to live. In Fez mostly we just observed and didn’t buy anything. The boys were taken by the djellabas that the men wear over their clothes reminiscent of Star Wars outfits on the bear like creatures. We went to one store to try on traditional clothes and buy some. They wanted close to $100 per djellabas that were obtain in Merzouga for $24 with the scarf for your head and to cover your mouth. Even though I am sure some would say the quality was different, etc. it wasn’t it was the same djellabas. We didn’t price in Marrakech but I would almost guess that they were less there. Aziz negotiated for the djellabas in the stores in Merzouga which pretty much confirmed the local versus tourist price. Anyways, Fez was exactly as the tour guides stated a glimpse of past, the Medina really being the best part of the tour. We did go to the King’s palace and to an overlook and some other places but really the Medina was the best, much better than Marrakech’s in terms of authenticity, Marrakech was much less expensive for purchases. Throughout the day Tommi was entertaining and filled in the history, religion, and politics. The only downside was the restaurant that he selected was very expensive at $24 a plate and not nearly as good as the day before. It was good though just not as amazing as the day before. Name was Restaurant Dar Hatim, the food was generous with a tasty tangine and a first course of 10 different small bowls of different salads to sample which made the experience worth while. Again the late lunch made eating dinner later impossible so we had a small meal later to counter the mid-day splurge.
December 24th we got up early and left by 6:30am to make the dessert by sunset. We saw so many different landscapes along the way that the hours went quickly (snow, Berber herders, pine forests, to mountains and high desert). We arrived in Merzouga around 3pm, shopped for the djellabas and scarfs then went onto the Kasbah Hotel Palais Dunes. Here we stored our suitcases in a room and repacked for the camel trek after the welcome tea and a bowl of peanuts. The camels we in two groups lead by two men in the traditional blue djellabas of the area. Words really just can’t express how fabulous the ride out to the Berber camp was with the shadows of the camels on the sand or the dunes taking on contours due to the angle of the sun. We stopped for the actual sunset. Our party of seven was joined on the ride by a young couple from Japan. Later at the camp site itself there was another couple from India and two families with younger children from Morocco. We each had our own tent, cots with lots of blankets, and all the comforts of home including two outhouses, a dining tent, a fire pit, and solar lighting. We arrived prior to true darkness and after the welcome tea the kids all played tag. The sand boarding was a lead that wasn’t realized. At the hotel they said that yes you could sand board when you got to the camp. However when you got there, there was only one board and the binding was broken. My boys were disappointed about this and I suspect that the camel company knew the situation and was not taking care of the broken board. The rest of the program was fabulous. There was a very nice family style tangine and couscous plates with a fruit for dessert. Afterwards there was a fire with Berber drumming and singing that was excellent. I really was not expecting something as entertaining and different as the drumming and singing was. When it was over one of the entertainers asked riddles, then we went for a walk in the dunes, before going to bed. It was cold but it was magical. The trek and camping was indeed the highlight of the trip along with the medina in Fes. Not so great was getting up and on the camel first thing in the morning. The ride of 1.5h had left us very sore the next morning and I would have almost preferred walking back. We got back took showers and had another great breakfast of the typical fried bread, Moroccan bread, but also a honey cake, olives, fig jam and orange honey. Full and tired we drove to Todra Gorge sleeping most of the way there. The landscape was high dessert with mountains in the distance. Our rears were sore so the drive seemed longer. Todra Gorge was nice but not what we were expecting. The part with the sheer rocks and the river is a very small portion and the walking trails take you into a mountainous area that is not nearly as scenic just arid. We returned to the car and drove to Ourazazate. We all were tired of driving but were still thrilling about the trek. The hotel in Ourazazate was the Ourazazate Hotel which was clean, dinner was generous and delicious as earlier meals. It was included in the tour. For lunch we had stopped at a regular restaurant that Aziz’s said was clean and safe. We had the same meal of tangine chicken or beef for about $24 for the seven of us. Really not much to say about Ourazazate since it was an overnight stopping place. We saw the exterior of the palace/fortress used in a movie set.
Dec. 26th: After breakfast we hit the road early again. Slept the first part until we got to Ait Ben Haddous in the morning. The boys changed into their djellabas and spent the morning trying to blend into the background and attack each other in the wonderful backdrop of Ait Ben Haddous. I had thought that a movie set would be boring or commercialized like in the US but it was really excellent to walk around the little winding paths to the top where there was a small house. This UNESCO site was both itself lovely as well as the surrounding canyons and oasis. On the drive from Fes to Merzouga we had seen a stunning oasis with trees with yellow leaves setting off the greens of the palm trees this was of equal beauty. After a quick stop for drinks we purchased bread and sandwhich supplies to eat in the car and headed off for Marrakech. After a few more hours in the car we were all sick of the van but all agreed that the camel trek was still worth it. The drive from Fes to the desert was faster than getting to Marrakech which was painful. If not for Ait Ben Haddous it would be better to just drive the whole way than to stop in Ourazazate. Arrived in Marrakech to find there had been a hiccup in our hotel but we wound up at Lyon Real by far the nicest of the riads we had stayed at. Our rooms were spectacular and directly on the square. We went out to the Djamaa El Fna square and the spectacle or zoo engulfs you. The square was so beyond what you expect. Yes there are snake charmers, monkeys on chains, men dressed like women doing belly dances, everywhere there are henna ladies and performers, it is overwhelming. Within 5 minutes of being on the square one child had a snake wrapped around his neck another a monkey on his head. Everyone is asking for money with or without a photo, the mass of humanity takes time to acclimate to. We went back to the hotel, got a recommendation from the manager that was once again his friend and overpriced. We left and went to a restaurant on the road which was fine then went to the square again. On second glance it not quite as overwhelming but it still takes your breath away. The fruit and nut stands are great though.
Dec. 27th: Aziz’s gave us a general tour of Marrakech and dropped us at Yves St. Laurent’s Jardin Majorelle which was an expensive entry ticket but did have amazing zero-landscaping gardens. Afterwards we requested not to have a tour but to be dropped off at the Medina to follow our guide books recommended path. Aziz gave me our train tickets and I gave him the finally installment of payment. We spent the day wandering the medina, had a lovely lunch on a terrace that was our second best meal-unfortunately I didn’t grab a card nor do I have the name of the terrace we watched the sunset from at a very chic bar with spectacular views of the city. We ate dinner in the square at stand 117. The stand was very entertaining getting us first to select them with songs then keeping us there to attract others with free tea. The food was excellent and in particular we loved the eggplant dishes, meat and vegetable brochettes, and couscous. No one got sick so we went back the next night as well. By then the square’s madness was background music, the prices are so inexpensive, and the food really was good.
Dec. 28th we shopped, haggled and bought all the knock offs the children wanted. The fake Barcelona soccer jersey for $10, the Argine oil and scarfs for relatives, spices for tangine and a tangine pot for cooking on the stove, wooden boxes, soccer balls, snakes etc. It was all fun for the boys. Then we went back got our suitcase, the manager called a taxi for us to take us to the train station ($12). We arrived, played a round of cards at McDonalds then boarded the train at 9pm. Our couchettes were nice, the track was straight so we all slept well arriving in Tanger at 7am. Another taxi to the Ferry ($6), I managed to change our 10am ferry for a 8:30 ferry and boarded for Tarifa.
Great trip, wish the road from Merzouga to Marrakech was shorter but wouldn’t have changed much except perhaps only two days in Marrakech with an extra day in Granada or Barcelona. The tour of Marrakech could have been our shopping day. In review then Fes Excursions did come through for us exactly as the itinerary was set up. The hotels were not the ones initially selected but were actually better. The tickets for the train we had not specified couchettes so we paid an extra $100 but really for approximately $3900 for all meals, accommodations, transportation including the train and couchettes and guides and tips it was a great bargain for our family of seven for seven days and seven nights. The people of Morocco were very friendly and at no point on the trip did we worry about our safety when we were out and about. We had no problems with our ATM cards or our credit cards, which was a relief since our ATM cards had been “fished” on a trip to Antigua. Sure it would have been great to have more time but we got to do what we really wanted to do plus have two weeks in Spain so a great three week family vacation.

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