Morocco: A Journey to the West

Old Nov 28th, 2021, 02:03 PM
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tripplanner,
This brings back yet more memories! We also stopped twice after leaving the desert on the way to Marrakech. Todra Gorge was, indeed, lovely, though we didn't even try to do any hiking! It sounds like you had quite an adventure!

And what stands out from your description and my memories of this is the very dramatic changes in scenery. In fact, Morocco struck us both as a place with such an incredible diversity in landscape, and it's incredible how much one can see in such a short time and relatively short distances.

And I had to smile at the memory of our stop in Rissani, as our wonderful guide, Salem, was from there and we were fortunate to visit his family home, later stopping in the market there. Did you want to buy a sheep? Park your goat? All can be done in Rissani!
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Old Nov 28th, 2021, 10:46 PM
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@progol, the diversity of landscapes in such short distances in some ways reminds me of New Zealand; it’s compact but packs a punch. I’m glad My report is bringing back good memories of your trip for you; it’s one of the reasons why I enjoy reading and writing reports. We passed by the animal market in Rissani yesterday; still alive and well.
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Old Nov 29th, 2021, 02:28 AM
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Tripplanner001- I just read Morocco has closed its borders and canceled inbound and outbound flights for two weeks? Yikes hope that’s wrong. Hope all works out for the rest of your trip

ETA the information I read about suspending outbound flights was in the NYT but I don’t see direct reference to it elsewhere. There are some targeted outbound bans (I.e. France) so maybe it was sloppy editing. Sorry if I jumped the gun but leaving this comment here in case your return flight is via another country.

Last edited by Elizabeth_S; Nov 29th, 2021 at 02:33 AM.
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Old Nov 29th, 2021, 03:39 AM
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@Elizabeth_S, thank you for sharing the information and the alert, and for your concern; it is definitely appreciated. I learned the news from my driver this morning. We are still gathering information but in the meantime continue to carry on and enjoy what we have planned. We’re mentally prepared to find alternative transport and / or stay a week or so longer than anticipated. On the ground, everything is normal here. Fingers crossed our return won’t be too stressful.
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Old Nov 29th, 2021, 05:29 AM
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Originally Posted by tripplanner001 View Post
@Elizabeth_S, thank you for sharing the information and the alert, and for your concern; it is definitely appreciated. I learned the news from my driver this morning. We are still gathering information but in the meantime continue to carry on and enjoy what we have planned. We’re mentally prepared to find alternative transport and / or stay a week or so longer than anticipated. On the ground, everything is normal here. Fingers crossed our return won’t be too stressful.
Not much else you can do other than enjoy yourselves! Looking forward to hearing about Marrakesh !
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Old Nov 29th, 2021, 05:36 AM
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Good luck with the return but do continue to enjoy the rest of your trip!

Wishing you the best for smooth travels.
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Old Nov 29th, 2021, 01:24 PM
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@Elizabeth_S and @progol, thank you for your well wishes and encouragement.

Surprises, Both Good and Bad

After an early morning breakfast, we were on the road again. Destination: Skoura. We wound our way out of Todra Gorge and enjoyed the spectacular scenery. Along the way, our driver informed us that the national carrier, Royal Air Maroc, suspended all inbound and outbound flights for the next two weeks, one week later than our planned trip home. I did a few Internet searches on the phone and began reading to collect more information on the extent of the cancellations and closures. Were all flights cancelled and the airports closed or it is just the flights operated by Royal Air Maroc? What outbound flights remained to carry foreigners out of the country? What other options existed? We took stock of our options and continued to enjoy our journey. Traveling during COVID-19, we expect a few bumps. We do appreciate that our problems are of a first-world and privileged nature.

Anyway, back to the program. Leaving Todra Gorge, we soon drove through the bustling town of Tinghir and through the passage between the High Atlas and the Anti-Atlas. In about two hours’ time, we arrived in the Dades Valley. We stopped at a few viewpoints along the way to take in magnificent views before entering the gorge itself. Compared to Todra, the cliff walls of Dades are less high and imposing but impressive nonetheless. There is more greenery, as the river at the bottom of the gorge was flowing. We also saw more traditional style homes and kasbahs along the way. We took advantage of the warm, sunny weather for a hike up the gorge roadside and enjoyed cups of mint tea at the top.

From there we wound out of the valley again and onwards through the Rose Valley and the principal town of Kelaa M’Gouna. Leaving the valley it is more flat desert land with mountains on either side of the road. Another 30 minutes and we’ve arrived in Skoura. We enjoyed lunch at a nearby cafe. Afterwards we visited Kasbah Amridil, a 17th century residence of a local chief. Having never visited a kasbah before, this was definitely awe-inspiring. For an hour, we forgot about everything else that is going on in the world and took it all in.

We checked into our hotel shortly before four, L’Ma Lodge, set in the middle of a pretty garden with the oasis of Skoura and enjoyed a slow afternoon.

While relaxing at our hotel, we received word that our flight from Casablanca to New York is officially cancelled. Right now it looks like there are no flights in and out of the country. We’ve registered with the U.S. Embassy and should be receiving updates. A fellow traveler mentioned speaking with the U.S. Consulate and that repatriation flights may be organized. Still playing it cool, at least for now.
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Old Nov 29th, 2021, 02:30 PM
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It’s good to hear from you tripplanner! I’m enjoying your continued travels and through “The Valley of 1000 Kasbahs”: because it really does seem like there are that many! I do remember the Kasbah Amridil, and it is indeed a wonderful place.

I’ve been thinking of you all day and have been looking at Trip Advisor - if you haven’t already looked, there are a few threads relating to the current situation and recommendations for how to manage it. Contacting the US embassy was one of them. I think they are also on Twitter.

I’m glad you are still enjoying your trip and hope that returning home is not too fraught, though it does seem like there are a few hoops to jump through first!
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Old Nov 29th, 2021, 11:46 PM
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@progol, thank you! I really appreciate it. I am keeping a close eye on several outlets for ongoing updates, including TripAdvisor. Right now I am looking at options out through Paris and through Doha, as those lanes remain open. I understand there are a few additional options in the next several days well.
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Old Nov 30th, 2021, 01:44 AM
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Great trip report. Glad you are having a good time.
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Old Nov 30th, 2021, 03:34 AM
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tripplanner,
I’m glad you’re finding different options for departure. Continue to enjoy your travels and making the best of this adventure!
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Old Nov 30th, 2021, 12:17 PM
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@TimCullis, thank you. And a special thank you for the help you provided us as we were planning our trip.

@progol, thank you. As of now we have new confirmed tickets going from Casablanca to Paris on Air France on Monday. We still need to arrange flights from Paris home but those appear to be plentiful. We understand things may still change between now and Monday, so we have our fingers crossed, are continuing to monitor developments, and carrying on with our travels.

Twists and Turns

We left Skoura this morning en route to Ouarzazate, home to Morocco’s movie industry. We drove through what looked like a very modern city with newish buildings. Our destination, just outside of the city center, is Atlas Film Studios. A lot of local movies and Hollywood blockbusters are filmed on site, given it’s predictable sunny weather and access to cheap labor. It was fun to wander among some of the familiar props. Our favorites were the ones of ancient Egypt. Some of the reproductions look rather real. What gave it away were the brighter colors and the cartoonish features of the faces.

From Ouarzazate we continue along the Valley of One Thousand Kasbahs, admiring the changing colors of the landscape. The deeper reds around Skoura gave way to a softer red and brown. About half an hour later, we arrived at the ksar (village) of Ait Ben Haddou (ait denotes a Berber kasbah and oulad an Arab one) from the 14th century and also the largest. We crossed the dry riverbed from the new village to the old village. Touring with a guide, we went inside his home near the entrance to the ksar and then made our way up and around the fortified village. It reminded us of some of the small towns in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. The views at the top of the village below, the new town on the other side of the river, and the snow-capped Atlas are incredible.

From Ait Ben Haddou we wound our way through the valleys and mountains towards Marrakesh. Snaking around bend after bend through the Ounila Valley, we pass by many Berber villages, including some carved into the sides of the cliffs. Reminds me of some of the Native American dwellings found in Colorado and New Mexico. The colored cliffs resemble what we’ve seen in the Peruvian Andes. Continuing past Telouat, it was more twisting and turning through the Tizi n’Tishka Pass, with the snow-capped mountains looking before us. We stopped for lunch and continued on towards Imlil. About an hour from Marrakesh, we made the turn towards the Ourika Valley and onwards to Imlil. The road flattened as we drove towards Marrakesh. We climbed again after we passed through the Ourika Valley. As we approached our hotel, Kasbah du Toubkal, overlooking Morocco’s highest peak of the same name, the snow-capped Atlas including Mount Toubkal itself came closer and closer into view. We arrived at roughly 5:30 in the evening, the end of yet another long day’s journey...or so we thought.

Staff from the hotel met us at our vehicle. We bid reluctant goodbyes to Hassan, our driver-turned-friend, hoping to see him again. Our luggage was transferred to a donkey. To reach our hotel is a 10-minute hike from the center of the village of Imlil. Not sure 10 minutes by who’s calculation as it took us more like 30. Perhaps it was partly due to our tiredness from the long drive.

Walking through the village of Imlil, a couple of us remarked how much it resembled the town of Aguas Calientes, below Machu Picchu. Arriving at the hotel at long last and shown to our room, we were jaw-dropped by the panoramic views of the mountains around us including Toubkal in its full glory. It was worth the trip here!

In the course of the day, we booked new flights from Casablanca to Paris on Air France for Monday. Hassan helped us with PCR test arrangements and transport from our hotel to the airport. We understand things may still change but we are keeping up-to-date on developments while not letting the stress impact the continued enjoyment of our trip.

To my friends here, I want to add a word of thanks. I am grateful that I’ve had the chance to get to know you over the years and even met some of you over the years. I truly feel your encouragement and well wishes; it means a lot to me.

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Old Nov 30th, 2021, 01:36 PM
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I’m so glad you’ve got an alternative plan set up! That’s great news! And I’m sure you’ll have no problem finding flights from Paris to the US.

I’m glad you got to Ait Ben Haddou. I loved it, too, and the views were superb. Your trip to Imlil sounds amazing, especially with the snow-capped mountains.

I love that you’re still thoroughly enjoying your trip, even with the constant changes in where and how one can travel!
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Old Nov 30th, 2021, 02:18 PM
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I remember sitting in the natural hot springs of Aguas Calientes sipping an ince-cold beer after three days on the Inca trail.

Ait, by the way is a tribal prefix, much like the Mac in Scottish clans, it means people of. Here's the tribal map of the Ait Atta confederation,
Morocco: A Journey to the West-ait-atta.jpg

Glad you found a good exit.
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Old Nov 30th, 2021, 11:46 PM
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@progol, thank you. I can say that we are fortunate in our circumstances in that we are travelling with our nearest and dearest and that a couple of us are able to work remotely for a period if needed while the others are retired, so we don't have a need to return "immediately". And we, as I'm sure you and others, are prepared for some level of possible pandemic-era disruptions so we were not totally surprised or disoriented. This combination of factors has allowed us to go with the flow and enjoy the time we have more than we may otherwise.

@TimCullis, thank you. Appreciate the additional information you've provided.
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Old Dec 1st, 2021, 09:31 AM
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A Day in the Mountains

We awoke this morning to clear blue skies and snow-capped mountain peaks all around us. Sure, it's bone-chilling cold at the start of the day, but not something a few layers of clothing cannot mitigate. The scenery is incredible. From the peaks to the valleys and the last hurrah of fall foliage, we are treated to 360-degree views. It's hard to believe we're in Morocco right now, especially since we associate it with desert, palm trees, warmth, etc. More like the Andes, the Alps, or the Himalayas. We're so happy we found this place and looked forward to a day of playing in the mountains.

Fortified with coffee and food, we set out for a half-day hike around the villages leading to Mount Toubkal. Along the way are stunning mountains and picturesque villages dropping down from the hillside. We could well be in the French or Italian countryside. More a wander than a hike, it was a very relaxing a joyful walk, Sound of Music style. We spent the better part of the afternoon enjoying a lazy lunch on our hotel's terrace and the gorgeous surroundings.


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Old Dec 1st, 2021, 11:09 AM
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Sounds heavenly, tripplanner!
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Old Dec 2nd, 2021, 10:20 AM
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Originally Posted by progol View Post
Sounds heavenly, tripplanner!
+1 - and hope the return trip stays firm! (although being trapped there doesn't sound so bad)
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Old Dec 2nd, 2021, 10:45 PM
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@progol, Imlil was almost like heaven. It was so different from the rest of Morocco and the pace is so much more relaxed that we really had the opportunity to enjoy and chill for a couple of days.

@Elizabeth_S, thank you. Fingers still crossed that everything will be somewhat smooth. We're aware that France tightened its testing requirements and so did the U.S., so we are adjusting as we go.

The Red City

We bid goodbye to a very mellow but attentive staff at Kasbah du Toubkal (They tried very hard to keep us happy and comfortable, and excelled. We know that they did their best to hide their sadness and anxiety as we were their last guests for nobody knows how long. Throughout this trip, we’re reminded of the impact that this pandemic is having on people from all walks of life and the implications that it will have on an entire generation of people.) this morning for our trip to Marrakesh, about an hour and a half drive away. We arrived at our hotel in Marrakesh, Riad Si Said (an Angsana property we booked through Accor), at ten. A small, boutique property, the rooms are exquisite. We are amazed by the size of the rooms and the incredible colors, the ornate architectural details, and the unique Moroccan furniture and decorations.

While we could just stay in our rooms and admire the interesting nooks and crannies all day, the Red City of Marrakesh and its medina beckoned for us to explore. We began our explorations at what most consider the heart of the medina, Jemaa al Fna Square. We were impressed by the sheer size of the place. There were vendors everywhere, mostly selling fresh fruit juice. On the outer edges were vendors hawking everything from argan oil to plants to tourist knickknacks. There were people out and about, a mix of tourists and locals, but not the crowds one would otherwise expect. From Jemaa al Fna Square, we hopped over to Koutoubia Mosque and its adjacent gardens. Not extensive, but the gardens offered a pleasant stroll and relaxation. From there we returned to Jemaa al Fna Square and explored some of the souks of the medina. We also walked by Ben Youssef Mosque and Madersa. The mosque is closed to non-Muslims as are mosques throughout Morocco with the exception of Hassan II in Casablanca. The madersa was under restoration. Discounting lunch, we walked around for about five hours, providing us with a good overview of the old city center.

Walking the streets, lanes, and alleyways of Marrakesh, we cannot help but compare it to our experiences in Fez. By and large, at least for now, we are finding Fez to be the more enjoyable of the two. The lanes and alleyways of Marrakesh are largely wider than those in Fez. The larger passageways mean room for motor vehicles in some areas but motorbikes everywhere. There is a constant flow of motorbike traffic throughout the medina of Marrakesh. This contributes to a more noisy and chaotic situation than what we found in Fez, which to us felt more interesting, unique, appealing, and tranquil. We were also irritated by the number of hasslers on the streets and their persistence. While none were aggressive or overly pushy, hasslers presented themselves everywhere we went and larger numbers of them needed more than a simply "no" for an answer. I don't know if this is due to their higher numbers in Marrakesh or the lack of tourists to prey on, as the number of visitors are noticeably fewer after the flight restrictions were announced earlier in the week. The inability to look at where we were in peace and enjoy what was before us detracted from the experience.

While our experience is less than what we had hoped for, much of it melted away at Pepe Nero, where we enjoyed an excellent Italian dinner in a riad not too far from our hotel. The setting was that of a traditional riad although the touches are more modern than traditional. It was comfortable to enjoy the food and the company after what was a rather long day.

We have three more days scheduled in Marrakesh. I'm hoping the experiences improve as we grow more accustomed to the city.
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Old Dec 3rd, 2021, 07:07 AM
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After reading your comments, I checked my own TR and I see that I had also commented on the aggressiveness in Marrakech. And while we also found Fes to have a fair amount of hustling, at least in the Medina, Fes feels, to me, the epitome of what I expected from Morocco. This is simply an impression, mind you, but Marrakech feels much more caught between an old world and the new. The Medina in Fes felt very old world.

If you are finding Marrakech too overwhelming and want to take a day away, we really did enjoy Essaouira a lot. I know it’s a long day trip so we did squeeze in a night, and enjoyed the relaxed coastal town a lot.

I’m sure you know which sights to see in Marrakech - the Saadian tombs are absolutely the most beautiful, I think, of all the sights we saw in Marrakech. But some of the other places are also worth a stop: the Palais Bahia, Dar el Bacha (fabulous), Le Jardin Secret, the Maison de La Photographie (excellent), La Jardin Majorelle (outside the Medina).

Enjoy the rest of your trip! When it becomes overwhelming, enjoy your Riad and have some mint tea for me!

Last edited by progol; Dec 3rd, 2021 at 07:26 AM.
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