Morocco: Kids, Camels, Marrakech and More

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Sep 3rd, 2012, 04:31 PM
  #1
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Morocco: Kids, Camels, Marrakech and More

Morocco: Kids, Camels, Marrakech and More

Anniversary #25: My husband drew up a Golden Ticket for our family. You might remember the Golden Ticket hidden in a chocolate bar in Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Charlie wins an opportunity to tour a magic place. We selected Morocco as our magic place. Not much chocolate there, but the sand and sunsets were golden and there was enough that was exotic, delightful, delicious, and fantastic to suit any child or adult.

Here’s what we started with:
* Two adults: Good-natured, receptive, willing to make tracks
* Two Girls: Willing to try new foods, make new friends, able to read quietly on long drives. The girls are 11 and 13.
* Light Luggage: Just duffels and backpacks
* A budget: one income, teacher’s salary
* Limited time and interest for researching things to death
* Rather wet-behind-the ears: We don’t have any frequent flier miles. None.

Fortunately, we started our journey by reading an excellent account of a trip to Morocco written by Christine Rayner, who should probably by recognized by King Mohamed VI for service to the country. There’s not much to add to her excellent and thorough overview, except some observations we can humbly offer based on our own itinerary and our experiences of traveling during Ramadan and traveling with children.

Our itinerary was as follows:
Day 1: Casablanca, Meknes, Volubilis, Fez
Day 2: Fez
Day 3: Fez, Azrou, Ifran, Ziz Valley, Merzouga
Day 4: Merzouga and Camel trek, overnight in desert
Day 5: Merzouga, Todra Gorges
Day 6: Dades Gorges, Rose Valley
Day 7: Tizi N’tichka Pass, Imlil
Day 8: Marrakech
Day 9: Marrakech, Casablanca
Whew.

Nine days is a whirlwind magic carpet ride through the country. We covered a lot of ground and were definitely not able to do any area the justice it deserved. We traded longer travel days and shorter stays for the wide variety of things we could see.

Our magic carpet looked a lot like a 4x4 Land Rover and the magic behind it was definitely our awesome guide Mohamed, who immediately taught our daughters how to say “awesome” in his native Berber, as well as in Arabic. We got a lot of opportunities to practice. Mohamed was a great match for our family. He is a young, intelligent, mature individual who was a lot of fun, played a great variety of Arabic and Berber music on the CD player, and was an excellent ambassador for his country. He doted on our daughters and bought them small gifts: hats, fruit, fig jam, which was unquestionably above and beyond what we could have ever hoped for. More importantly, he was knowledgeable about everything we could think of to ask, and I’m sure we tested him. Most importantly, we felt secure and safe.

Since we were traveling with children, we thought it was important that most of our plans were dialed in and that we were traveling with a reputable outfit. When we arrived in Morocco and realized how navigable it is (even for folks like us who do not speak French or Arabic), we thought it might have been okay to go it alone. What we lack in experience, we sometimes try to compensate for with independence and a can-do approach. However, I am SO glad we decided to use a guide and driver, and I would highly recommend Mohamed who works with a company called Around Morocco. Absolutely trustworthy and dependable!

We were able to focus our new experiences and enjoy traveling without undue concern for logistics or constantly checking a guidebook. Also, there was more depth and breadth to our travels. Mohamed paid a lot of attention to details, such as calling ahead to the guesthouses to make sure everything was in order and helping with money exchanges even in rural areas. In some areas, we were the only tourists around.

We found most things do not have posted prices, so having Mohamed drive and make arrangements for our lodgings and some activities helped us with our budgeting. We did not intend to shop very much, but, naturally, we ended up getting some things. We felt the most pressure to purchase things in Fez. In retrospect, I would not have bought anything there but would have waited until later in the trip. Everything we saw in Fez was available elsewhere, and we were more knowledgeable a few days into the trip.

We knew there was a bargaining game that happens when making purchases, and I’m pretty sure we did not get good deals on some things. However, we did not set out to drive the hardest bargain we could. Our advice might be to buy things you like at a price you think is truly fair from vendors that you like. We didn’t mind paying a little extra to some folks—the average daily income in Morocco is less than $8 a day, and even on a budget, we could support a lot of venders. There is no need to feel hassled by individuals trying to sell things. Smiling “la shukran”—“no thank you” worked pretty well. Sometimes you had to say it a couple times.

When we visited workshops such as women’s cooperatives, we were offered hospitality and a tour, and there is some expectation of a purchase being made. We felt okay about doing this in most cases, with small items. We really enjoyed the times we could turn a business transaction into a conversation. This usually happened with impromptu stops. We traveled with a few photos of where we live, how we work, and pictures of the girls with their farm animals, which was a great connecting point. We all learned enough Berber and Arabic to say “hello” and “thank you” and a few pleasantries, which also helped us engage with people. Almost all the shopkeepers offered a small gift to the children. The girls really enjoyed the apothecaries where they were able to buy some pretty neat things, such as eucalyptus crystals, for very few dirham.

We brought some small gifts from home (small jars of apple butter from our farm, hair ribbons, gum, and stickers for kids and tin whistles for musically inclined) so we were able to reciprocate sometimes. This was really appreciated and made for some nice encounters. My husband and our older daughter play tin whistle, so we sometimes offered a tune. My younger daughter showed her drawings and ended up collecting Arabic signatures and small drawings from many people she met. I wish we had brought more things to share. I think kids would have loved colored sidewalk chalk. (We were not approached by kids asking for things and tried to be sensitive about how we shared what we had brought.)

One other thing…tipping is important, and we decided funds might be better spent on tips than on trinkets.

In spite of some long car rides, I can’t think of anything we would have wanted to give up. We found the landscape to be so different from the deciduous greens near our home that we were very happy to soak up all the scenery we could. We took a lot of breaks and some of the most enjoyable hours on the trip were the leg-stretchers we took along the roadsides, scrambling over rocks, running in the black desert near Merzouga, or stopping to feed apples to the Barbary apes.

The girls did fine with the longer days of travel. We live in a rural area and are used to long drives. They traveled unplugged—no electronic diversions--and Mohamed engaged all of us in conversation and kept some great Arab and Berber music going. The talking, joking, and sharing tales of families and cultures was a really important part of our trip, and we tried to be good ambassadors for our country.

We stayed in Riads and guesthouses, which are a spendier option than hotels or hostels but which was a special treat for our family since we usual camp or low-budget it. (Riad El Yacout in Fez was a favorite.) The quiet, tiled rooms, beautiful accommodations, excellent service and deep, cool swimming pools were uniquely Moroccan and an unexpected pleasure at the end of each exciting day. The girls were delighted with the exotic splendor, and we could see the calming influence the peaceful courtyards had. I’d recommend this for families looking for a truer Moroccan experience.


The highpoints of the itinerary were Fez, Marrakech, Imlil, and, the Erg Chebbi dunes where we spent the night in the desert. In August. In temperatures over 100°. You never forget a camel ride into the Sahara. It was so worth it.

Imlil was unique because we had to hike about a mile to get to our lodgings. We stayed at Kasbah du Toubkal, a restored Kasbah (military fortress), and there was no car access to it or the neighboring Berber villages. We loaded our bags onto a donkey and set off through the small town and up the shady winding dirt trail. We did some hiking there that evening and the following morning, and the call to prayers reverberated off all the hillsides from all the small community mosques. Truly holy, no matter your faith.

Speaking of faith, we traveled during Ramadan. We weren’t sure exactly how this might go, but it ended up being a very meaningful part of our experience, and I’m really glad we were able to witness something so integral to the Moroccan culture. The faithful were fasting and abstaining from drinking any kind of beverage from sunrise to sunset for the month of Ramadan. The pace was slower and we heard that some shops were closed (although we didn’t notice this). As tourists and non-Muslims, there was no expectation for us to forgo anything. Although 99% Islamic, Morocco is a very tolerant country. We tried to be sensitive to the culture by being discrete about eating and drinking in a few situations, but most of the time, it was business as usual.

Food was plentiful and excellent. We tried everything, were sensible but not fanatic about food safety, and had no trouble. Orange juice, fresh figs, and mint tea top the list. And tajines. And chicken pastillas. And this little flat fried bread…! The food in the souks was appealing, although shopping there is a little dizzying. “Break fast” during Ramadan was around 7:30 every evening and the food stalls and outdoor cafes became abuzz.

Witnessing the discipline of faithful Muslims during Ramadan was inspiring. We learned about the five pillars of their faith and recognized the common good in people around the world.

Our magical trip to Morocco was most golden in that respect. 1000 welcomes and 1000 thanks to our dear guide Mohamed, his professional and good uncle Lahcen of Around Morocco Tours, and the people of Morocco.
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Sep 3rd, 2012, 05:49 PM
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Thank you so much for your post. We are traveling in December and wanted to do a very similar itinerary starting from Fez with our four boys ages 21-12. Unfortunately we have only 7days and 6 nights. could the camel trek from Merzouga to the tent have been the same night that you arrived in Merzouga? And could one of the nights either Rose Valley or Imil been removed. I am trying to figure out how to compress two nights of you itinerary or is just impossible. Thanks boysrus
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Sep 4th, 2012, 03:46 AM
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What a great perspective on Morocco. I loved how you took photo's of where you are from. This is a great connecting point, and conversation starter. Also I admire you that you travelled during Ramadan. I think your daughters would have learned a lot from this holiday.
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Sep 4th, 2012, 03:54 AM
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I think your boys would love the camel trek. To us, it was worth the long drive to make it happen. We dropped off our luggage in Merzouga in the afternoon and spent the night in the desert--this was on the same day. Our guide made arrangements for us to keep it at the Riad Nezha where we could also shower when we got back. The Riad Nezha also has a pool which was nice. We had a good breakfast there the next morning when we got back from the desert. We watched the sunrise, hiked around the amazing dunes, and rolled out early.

I think the Rose Valley time could be compressed. I'm not sure about the driving times from Merzouga to Imil or to Marrakech because we made a lot of stops. It's a fair amount of driving through some vast areas and over the Atlas Mountains, though. We really liked Imlil because of the hiking opportunities and remoteness.

Our guide service did a great job figuring out how to make everything mesh. We ended up having to compress our original itinerary by one day, and I was glad to have their help picking out what to see and do. With a short stay, it will definitely be a fly-by.
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Sep 10th, 2012, 12:28 AM
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Great TR!

I would say however that could I "do over" I would buy MOST things in Fez. There is a government run cooperative for those who like fixed prices, where the prices were great as was the selection. (and a little gentle suggestion about buying more than one got a little lowering of price...).

Yeah, I'm sure I got ripped off... but if it's less than I would pay at home, or something that I could never get at home, so what...

but people pleeeeease tip and tip well. The drivers and the hotel receptionists make about 250 Euros a MONTH,and rent is not all that cheap.

I so loved Merzouga, where I stayed at a hotel literally on the desert, that I stayed two extra days. I rose each morning at 5 to watch the sun rise over the Sahara and sat there for hours watching the desert come alive. I only wish that I had taken a several day camel trip instead of a shorter one, but I had hurt my leg quite badly and was afraid I might not make it. (Just remember to relax into the movement of the camel, not fight against it lol) Do everyone a favor though -- if you're going camel riding with kids either take a trip on your own, or with other parents... unless your kids are well behaved enough not to disturb the quiet.

I stayed in each city on my own, and hired a driver for a week of hops. I was lucky enough to travel with a company and a driver that let me change my itinerary as we went -- so we could stop at a souk along the way, stop at a restored kasbah that wasn't on the map, and leave the "crazy monkeys" quickly behind when they came screaming at us. (My guide swore he'd never seen them do that before...)

Which reminds me... I would definitely check your vaccinations. I was glad to have renewed my measles vaccine when I sat next to a woman with an infant who clearly had either measles or German measles one day. And I wish I had gotten the rabies as there were so many stray animals around.

Morocco was indeed a golden ticket trip, and I came home knowing that if I never travelled again -- dayanu -- it would have been enough. Whenever I start to let day to day life get me down, I think of the sun rising over the Sahara and cannot help but smile.

I really do intend to write my own TR, but most of the most important bits are actually here in this short response.

Enjoy your magic carpet ride!

TF
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Sep 14th, 2012, 01:19 AM
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Hello...thank yo uso much for sharing! I am looking for a driver/guide for my 2 weeks trip to Morocco in Octobe. Do you have the contact details of your guide Mohamed? Many thanks in advance.
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Sep 14th, 2012, 07:35 AM
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Join Date: Apr 2012
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Hi Catherine,
according to your request asking for Mohammed details, can be found at the company this travellers hired, so try to contact the company through their website mentioned above Around Morocco Tours : www.aroundmorocco.com
so request them to hire Mohamed for your journey in Morocco.
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