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Trip Report Trip Report: Two Weeks in Morocco

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We had an ambitious itinerary: Casablanca -> Rabat -> Chefchaouen -> Fez (side trips to Mekenes and Volubilis) -> Erg Chebbi -> Todra & Dades Gorges -> Marrakech -> Essaouira -> Casablanca. I would repeat or recommend most of this whirlwind journey, but only to those prepared for long days of driving. In the end, the only change I'd make personally would be one fewer days in Marrakech and several days longer in the High Atlas.

Highlights:
- Old Medina in Fez. Spent two days wandering the "streets" of the medieval city. It is huge, ancient, exotic, friendly, gentle, odiferous, labyrinthine, and genuine. If it weren't for the modern products (think Nike) being sold in the souks, it would be easy to imagine this city exactly the same a thousand years ago.

- Erg Chebbi by moonlight. Serendipity on our side, we inadvertently arrived in Merzouga at sunset and watched the dunes go from khaki to rust to star-backed silhouettes. The nearly-full moon would be an obstacle to star gazing later, but please imagine the beauty of the desert landscape, the utter tranquility (and relative coolness) of the night, and the syncopated plodding of the camels. The three of us (I, my wife, and the camel guide) were the only humans in the desert.

- Walking in the High Atlas. There appear to be no corners of the mountains or desert that the Berber nomads have not explored and cultivated. The high altitude (10,000ft / 3000m) was delightfully cool. The peaks are older and not as jagged as the Alps, but any mountain lover would appreciate their grandeur. Next trip, I would love to spend more time exploring, perhaps staying with the nomads, perhaps visit in the winter when there is snow.

I will stop there for risk of my “highlights” turning into a litany of everything we did and saw. Every bit of Morocco is spectacular: food, music, people, mountains, desert, ocean…

Disappointment: Jemaa el-Fna, Marrakech. The medina isn’t as interesting as Fez, and the town isn’t as cosmopolitan as Rabat. This souk at night was the only place in the entire two weeks where I felt targeted as an ATM. It never felt dangerous or dodgy, but it was absolutely impossible to enjoy due to the incessant pushy vendors, like trying to enjoy an afternoon by a lake while the mosquitos are swarming.

Plug for Mark Willenbrock (www.madaboutmorocco.com). We hired Mark to be our guide-interpreter-driver-fixer for the entire two weeks, and it was an excellent decision. Mark is a British ex-pat who has made Fez his home. His home is, in fact, a lovely riad (technicaly a dar) and his beautiful, Berber wife is a spectacular cook. He is fluent in French and Moroccan Arabic, and his English is passable. Our itinerary would not have been possible without (or rather it would have been miserable) without Mark’s air-conditioned 4x4, which saw something like 3000km on our journey alone. His business contacts, knowledge of the mountains and desert, and expertise in selecting inexpensive 5-star riads were incomparable assets. My suggestion (and one I hope to follow myself next time): arrive in Morocco with a sense of adventure, but without an itinerary, and let Mark take it from there. But insist on going hiking in the High Atlas with Mohammad (he’ll know who you mean).

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