Jul 16, 2012, 1:59 PM
Here is a trip report that I posted on Trip Advisor. I don't usually post on Fodors, but read this forum all the time and thought there may be some interest.
I spent a lot of time reading these boards prior to booking my trip to Morocco and wanted to report back. I booked the trip with Around Morcco Tours. I fould them on this site. Before booking I pm'd other guests to make sure all the great reviews were true. I got nothing but great feedback. Now that I am back I can tell you that they are as good as all the reviews and even better. The trip was flawless. Lahcen answered all of my emails promptly and worked with me at every turn to create a great trip. I am hard to impress and have traveled extensively. Around Morocco Tours was an 11 out of 10!
Our guide was Nour and I can't imagine having taken the trip without him. He was great - smart, kind, funny and spoke great English. He showed us a side of Morcco that I never could have discovered on my own. He suggested some changes to our plan when we arrived and he was right on the money. It was because of Nour that we were able to meet and converse with so many locals. I thought no one could beat the Irish for hospitality, but I was wrong - the Moroccans, at every turn, were warm, funny and tried to ply us with tea and every food imaginable all in exchange for a laugh and good conversation.
Here is the run down - we liked Marrakech the best. We spent time in the city with our guide, alone and I also ventured out on my own without my husband and had a great time. Not once did we encounter anyone who was less than friendly. I always made a point to make eye contact with anyone asking anything of me and to say "la" with a smile. This worked everytime. On a few occassions I would engage in a little conversation and never felt pressured to buy or do anything. I am a confident person and exchanged many laughs with the merchants, but never with any hard feelings. This was universal throughout Morocco. On one of our guided tours we stopped at a carpet shop. Before the tea came out I told the merchant that I was not going to buy a carpet (I already had done some reseach and planned to buy something pretty specific out near the desert). I told him that I loved looking at carpets, but did not want to take up time that could be spent on customers who may be a better bet. He smilled gave me the tea, showed me the carpets, gave me his card and told me to come back if I wished or to tell my friends about him.
My husband and I spent the evening in the square sans guide and engaged with all the food sellers. They were funny and nice and we had a great time going through the options. Based on our conversations we picked one for the next night (as we wanted to bring our guide to negotiate with the horse guys). The food was great and the sellers were nice. We were even given tea for free later in the evening (I think maybe to have people sitting at the table - but it truly was free - none-the-less). My husband and I engaged in conversation with some of the children in the Medina. They never asked us for money (I am not sure why, but maybe we looked like we were not about to give out any and we were not lost) and told us how much they loved America. I was waiting for the pitch as we were not with a guide - it never came.
I did let our guide negotiate for the horse ride. I told him I was ok with up to 200 MAD for an hour. We got the ride for 150 MAD and it was a bit over an hour. This did require walking away from the two lead horse men with the third willing to take the job.
We stayed at Riad Dar One based on the reviews on this site. It was the only Riad I picked as I let Lahcen select the rest. His picks were great and so was Dar One. The owner is very responsive and his Moroccan staff are warm and wonderful. The Riad is beautiful and the rooftop terrace a lovely oasis in a very busy city.
We then went to Essaouira for two days. The Gnowa music festival was on for the weekend and the town was festive and alive with music, drums and folk dancing. It was a great time. Most of our two days in this city was without a guide. It was laid back and fun. My husband and I passed the same shop keeper several times a day in the Medina. I would always say hi to him as he sat on his chair outside of his stall. We never went in his shop. On the second night walking back to our hotel he invited us into his shop for tea. He had a man there from Mali and another guy who also spoke English. They asked us to sit and trade travel stories. We stayed for about 45 minutes and had a great time engaging with the three of them. No one asked us to buy anything or to even look. It really was just about the conversation.
I think the hotel was called something like the Mouina (Lahcen switched at the last minute to a room with a sea view for us - he was like that the whole time adding tweaks and surprises throughout the trip to our delight. It was spectacular room windows opening over the crashing Atlantic surf).
Leaving Essaouira our guide took us through the Tizi Ntichka Pass, Dades Gorge and Todra Gorge (over two days). We stopped for pictures whenever I wanted. We stopped to eat when we wanted and we were always provided bottled water. Nour was always getting us presents and treats which made the trip so much more fun. I really cannot express just how wonderful our time with him was.
We did a couple of hours of off-roading through the hills and rural villages. It was really a treat to see everyday life going on around us. We did draw quite a bit of attention, but always in a good way. I must admit that I did give candy to some of the children. I can see the arguments on why this may not be a good thing. It felt right at the times that I did it (which was not always). I did bring school supplies, toys and shirts which were given to the appropriate adults in rural areas to give the children who needed them.
We stopped at one village (on my request - it was not a planned stop) so that I could see the well - we were approached by some kids in the village who invited us for cous-cous (it was a Friday). Sadly, we could not stay, but it was so nice to be asked. Our guide helped us to talk with them for a bit. We were pretty far off the beaten track so I can't say where we were, but it was near an enclave of Ksars where most of the women were wearing Bedouin coverings.
We stayed at the Hotel Xalucadades and Riad Dar Chamaa for these two nights. They rooms were wonderful with the staff being warm and charming.
On to Merzouga and the camel trek with a night in a Bedouin tent (almost). Around Morcco Tours uses a great camel man named Ahmed. He is kind and has lived in the desert his whole life. It was fun to trade stories with him for an evening. We had quite and adventure - the camel ride was near two hours and then we saw the camp. It was beautiful and we had it all to ourselves. The dinner tent was decorated and comfortable and the toilet tent was immaculate with western flush toilets and the whole nine yards. Ahmed cooked us a wonderful dinner and we spent the night under the stars. Ahmed made up our proper beds (off the ground and all) in the tent. However, it was hot in the tent so we decided to lay on mats outside under the stars - awesome. As a bonus we got a sandstorm - this would normally not be good, but it was only for two hours while we were in camp. So we waited it out in the tents and got to experience the fury of the wind and sand in near blackout conditions. I think that I am still finding sand from that storm. This night was so memorable and really a highlight of the trip. The next day we went back to Merzouga, showered at Lahcen's house (he lives in Merzouga) and set off for another day of adventure organized by Nour.
He treated us to a berber pizza. Others on these boards have raved about this and they are not wrong. It was one of the best things my husband and I ever ate. At my request, Nour took us to the donkey market and sheep market in a nearby town. The souk was in that day and we got to wander among only locals shopping for food. At the spice part of the souk I inquired about some cumin. Next thing I know, Nour has gotten me some wonderful spices that I am now enjoying at home. The spice man gave us many samples and we had fun trying new things. He also poured us some tea with some herbs in it that was wonderful.
Our Riad in Merzouga was Riad Nezha. This Riad was more basic than the others, but the staff was great and the food was good as well. We had a great experience sitting on the front steps of this Riad as a little girl (about 5 years old) who we later learned was named Fatimah came to sit with us. She did not ask us for anything and she only wanted to sit near us for as long as she could. I spoke to her in English because she spoke no French and she would shake her head yes to everything I said. We finally had to go in for dinner and it was very sad to leave her. While we were sitting there and older woman walked by with a child about six. I think it may have been her grand-daughter. She approached me and spoke some French. She wanted to sell me her bracelets to which I smiled and said "la." She kept whispering to the child who eventually took the clue, stuck out her hand and aked me for one MAD. I said "la" several times to the woman. I also said "madame no she is your daughter, your daughter" in very bad French with a strict tone and disapproving look. The woman moved on - it was the only time in Morcco that I was ever asked for money not in the context of offering goods for sale.
Next on to Fez via the Ziz Valley and the cedar forest monkeys. The scenery was spectacular. The monkeys were fun.
I forgot to add this part when we were going through the gorges - I stopped to take a photo of a berber cemetary (unplanned stop). A man nearby who was standing at his car approached my guide and they had a conversation. They shook hands and the man moved off after saying hello to us. Once in the car I asked my guide about the conversation. Nour told me that the man's car had broken down and he needed a ride to his village about 15 minutes up the road in the direction we were going. He told the man he could not take him because he was carrying tourists. I told Nour that it was kind of him to think of us but that it was very hot and we were happy to give the man a ride if it was ok with Nour. In exchange for this kindness he asked us into his house for tea. So off we went with no notice to his family. It was a lovely house with a great rooftop terrace and garden. Here is what they offerred to us: tea, water, milk, cookies, cake, crepes, butter, apricots, dates, some green leafy veg - he then asked us if we would like to stay for lunch (we declined, but were shocked that any food was left in the house). A great experience that never could have happened, but for the help of our guide.
We also stopped for tea with some nomads who lived in a cave. I have learned that I do not want to live in a cave. It was educational and enlightening.
On to Fes - we did a lot of shopping in this city and planned it that way. The city guide seemed focused on shopping. This was great for us as we had provided the guide with a list of some of the things we wanted to buy. We stayed at the Riad Yacout and it was breathtaking in its beauty. The staff were warm and welcoming, but not quite as on top of things as at the other Riads. This did not effect our stay at all, but for those of you reading this for guidance some French is going to be a lot more helpful here than English.
While we were in the Medina a man who lived there heard our accents. He approached our guide and told him that his family home was just being opened for a party that night in honor of his grandson. The home, which the guide knew about, was very old, and a work of art. It was decribed as a "palace." The guide was very anxious to see what lay behind the wall. I saw the man approach the guide - speaking English - so I knew this was a real opportunity. So in we went - WOW . It was spectacular and went up three levels with a rooftop terrace. It had huge carved wooden doors, painted ceilings and a massive amount of intricate tile work. It clearly was a treasure and something to see. The man was the brother of a well known female writer from Fez (I think her first name is Fatimah and she has some expertise in sociology). After the tour, the gentleman apologized to us for not having any tea (can you imagine) and invited us back to the party at 10:00 that night. Oh how I wanted to go - but, neither my husband, nor I had anything to wear and the man had already been so kind. It was a real treat to see this "palace" and one more example of the hospitality we experienced. Again, without the guide, I am not sure this would have happened.
Our trip was winding down and Nour had a few more wonderful surprises left for us. One was a very special dinner that allowed us a glimpse into a real Moroccan family and how they live and the hospitality they show to guests (us). It was a really special night and I will leave the details of it private as I know it was not a part of the tour.
I know this report has been long. I hope it has been helpful, but these were only the highlights. Around Morcco Tours is a really wonderful agency. The highlight of the trip - without a doubt - was our guide Nour. I will never forget him and the time we spent learning about Morcco from him. There can be no better ambassador for this wonderful country.
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Jul 16, 2012, 1:59 PM