Morroco Magic

Oct 1st, 2018, 04:37 PM
  #1  
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Join Date: Oct 2011
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Morroco Magic

Hi Everyone, I want to thank all of you who helped me with all the questions and details for my recent trip to Morocco. I appreciate and value everyone’s time and effort!

The trip was fabulous, as those of you who have been there, knew it would be! I’m not going to go into detail about all the historic sights we saw, as you can read about them in any number of travel guide books. I do want to tell you what places we visited and any helpful hints about the country in general. If anyone wants more specific details, I’ll be happy to share.

We did our our trip on our own. I planned it and we drove more than 1,500 miles in a rental car. We
did take 2 different types of buses, one train and quite a few taxis.

We started our trip in Marrakesh. Flew Delta/Air France from Chicago with a few short layovers. It’s hard to get flights directly to Marrakesh. We loved the city. Like everyone says, it’s noisy and crazy and extremely busy. I think that’s what makes it so much fun. It’s quite diverse as well. You can go to beautiful peaceful gardens or jump into the fray of the narrow streets and busy souks.

You do have to be bold when it comes to bargaining. Hone your skills at home on friends or family. I found that sticking to my original price offer always brought the cost down drastically. When they say “Give me your best offer” just repeat the number you started with. They’ll keep coming down and asking you to come up. Eventually you give them a bit more and they will take it. Be kind and tell them that you appreciate the quality of “the piece”, and that you don’t want to cheat them, but unfortunately it’s all you can afford. I usually got what I wanted for between 50 to 70 percent off the original asking price. They expect the bargaining. It’s part of the culture. Sometimes you have no idea where to start your offer or really know the value of what you’re trying to buy, so just throw something out and they’ll throw something back and so it begins

Staying in a riad is a treat. They are calm and peaceful, even in the middle of the Medina. Your hosts can help you with everything. They can get you a guide, help you plan your own itinerary, recommend sights, restaurants and the best places to shop. They also serve amazing meals, though the cost won’t be as inexpensive as “street food”.

We stayed at Riad Les Clos des Arts. It was in the Médina, a couple blocks from the Bahia Palace. We stayed in the Turquoise Room which was beautiful. The staff was excellent, the one dinner we had there was amazing, it was an easy walk to everywhere. I highly recommend it

From Marrakesh we took the [email protected] bus to Essaouira. We payed a few extra dollars for the comfort bus. It was still very inexpensive. Buy your tickets as early as you can as the busses fill up fast. You can’t buy them outside the country, so you need to do it when you get there. Our riad sent a taxi to purchase them for us so that we didn’t spend our short and valuable time running back and forth to the bus station. Another reason to love this riad.

The bus bus ride was about 3 hours with one rest stop along the way. Very comfortable seats with large windows so you can enjoy the scenery.

Essaouira is a beautiful oceanfront town with an active port and smaller Médina. You can see the daily catch on the pier and then walk across the road to the eating tents, where they’ll vie for your business by showing you their fresh catches. You pick what you want and they cook it and serve it to you right there. Remember, you can bargain for those prices as well because they are intensely competitive for your business. One day and night in this small city is enough unless you want to spend time at the beach, which looked clean and inviting.

Our small hotel there arranged to have a car dropped off for us. They use island services. They were prompt in the morning, dropping off a Dacia Logan which was a very dependable small car. This company also picked the car up for us in Fes where we left it in a car park and they came to our riad to collect the keys. That saved quite a headache of trying to find the car rental return. There is a charge for a one way rental but we felt it was worth the cost. For 8 days the price was about $350. Gas was $4 a gallon.

When it comes to taking taxis, that is another bargaining arena. Most taxis will start high, as they don’t use meters. Negotiate the price and come to an agreement before you get into the car. In Marrakesh we were told that we should never pay more than 5 dirham at the most.

Before I take you to our next stop I want to say that all of this information is from my perspective and my opinion. Others may differ in their thoughts and views of similar events.

Our next stop was Imlil, a gorgeous area in the high Atlas Mountains. The drive there was beautiful. Lots of winding mountain roads and gorgeous valleys. Driving in Morocco isn’t easy for a couple of reasons. The speed limits go up and down without a lot of warning. There are police everywhere doing radar who will not hesitate to pull you over for going 1 or 2 miles over the limit. We were pulled over twice in the 8 days. Once we were let go, the other fined on the spot and asked for the cash. Draw your own conclusions. Also, most of the roads are 2 lanes, one in each direction. There are a lot of trucks and slow moving cars. Passing others is a constant, but tricky on all the mountain switchbacks. The last issue seems to be that when it rains a lot of roads get washed out, filled with debris or sand, depending which part of the country you’re in. That being said, we really enjoyed driving on our own and being able to stop for pictures, food or a rest.

I’m going to stop here for now but will be back to share with you the wonders of the Toubkal National Park and the area of Imlil. I hope that some of this information will help those who are planning their exotic Morocco adventure.
soods is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2018, 02:58 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Mar 2015
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Like your report! I'm planning a trip right now and trying to fit Essouria into our very short trip. Also deciding between time in Atlas mountains (Ilmil area) vs desert.

Flying in and out of Casablanca has made it a bit trickier but those were the prices that worked.
sfmasterG is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2018, 10:27 AM
  #3  
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Hi sfmasterG. I thought I posted a reply to you but I don’t see it. Maybe you’ll get two?
Anyway, we were there for 16 days and felt like we needed a few more days at some of our stops. So it’s really about priorities. After going to the desert I can definitely say that it’s an experience you’re not likely to find in many places! If you’re a hiking enthusiast, Imlil might be more exciting...for the hiking, as there’s not much else to do there and the town is tiny. Essaouira is pretty but if you don’t want to spend beach time or do water sports, then in my opinion, I’d take a pass. 3 hours to and from Marrakesh May use up too much of your limited time.
soods is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2018, 04:10 PM
  #4  
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So before I continue on with Imlil, I wanted to talk about clothes. I always stress when it comes to packing, but this time I was really worried. Everything I read and everyone I talked to told me, respect their culture. No shorts, short dresses, or sleeveless tops for women. Long pants and loose fitting shirts for men. I’m all about respect, but I knew this time of year we were going to be experiencing hot temps, in the 90’s. So I threw in a pair of shorts for my husband and myself, but mostly stuck to the dress code...no sleeveless and nothing short. And guess what...we were just about the only ones “respecting the culture”. From one city to the next, all the women had on short sundresses, shorts and tank tops. And you can bet my husband wore and washed his shorts endlessly. So apparently anything goes when it comes to Moroccan attire.

Now on on to Imlil...We really enjoyed the drive. Along the way at scenic stops where one would take pictures, local men were selling beautifully colored Geodes. I’ve seen the geodes on line for crazy prices up to $40. We paid between $1 to 1.50 for each. Of course a little good nature bargaining took place and a lot of Kodak moments!

Imlil consists of a very small 2 block town. The main attractions are the huge mountains and gorgeous villages nestled in them at different elevations. There are a variety of hikes one can take from short and fairly level to straight up to the top. Most of the guest houses, hostels, etc are also at different elevations. We chose the Atlas Prestige Guest House. Just picked it from reading reviews. As it turned out, it was an excellent choice for us. I do have to admit, that the hike up to our home away from home was intense. We called them when we reached the town. They had someone come meet us and show us where to park. They brought their donkey to load up our luggage and up we went. Now I was scared, if the walk to our guest house took my breath away, (both figuratively and literally!), how were we going to survive the guided 7 hour hike our host arranged for us?!
we also realized that we couldn’t have dinner in the small town even if we wanted to. There was no paved pathway up, and no lights to guide us. Fortunately for us, the meals, both breakfast and dinner, were outstanding. Served by candle and lamplight at night, dinner felt like an event not to be missed.

Our very young (his 20’s to our 60’s) guide showed up to collect us at 9:00 am, with picnic lunch packed, walking sticks and bottles of water. Away we went. Our plan was to cut the time down and take it easy..his plan was different. We made it up to 6,800 feet and it was the most amazing challenge and rewarding experience. Of course we moved slower than our mountain goat of a guide, but he was patient and took breaks whenever we begged. We had our fabulous lunch in the most amazing setting, us and the towering mountains. Not a soul around or any sound. Just us! We did hike to and around the small villages, saw Shepard’s and their flocks, and local residents. We made it about 5 1/2 hours. With the heat and our inexperience we felt that we did a great job. Our mountain goat may beg to differ. That night at dinner, everyone regaled each other with their days experiences and adventures. Most of the others were half our age or less, and they all seemed very proud of us! It’s a laid back guest house, with more than adequate amenities and the nicest people. But if you’re looking for fancy and a variety of activities, this wouldn’t be the place for you.

Leaving Imlil our next few stops we’re Skoura, the gorges and the desert. Stay tuned,
soods is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2018, 03:28 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Mar 2015
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Just booked the last two rooms for our dates at Atlas Prestige Guesthouse! I think it's the perfect solution for us. I was just reading about it on tripadvisor when I saw your posting. So it felt like serendipity.
sfmasterG is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2018, 05:56 AM
  #6  
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I’m so happy for you. I really think you’ll enjoy your time there! If you want a hiking guide you can arrange it before hand or when you arrive. They’re really accommodating.
soods is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2018, 03:08 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Oct 2004
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What a fantastic trip report! I am SO looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip. I am so impressed with your sense of adventure and fearlessness. It is such a beautiful, magical country. Thanks so much for sharing.

Laurie
blackmons is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2018, 03:57 PM
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Leaving Imlil, we’re looking forward to our next couple of day and the drive through the mountain passes and “road of a thousand kasbahs”. We were not disappointed, but again, give yourselves more time than what google maps may say. You’ll really enjoy the mountain scenery and seeing the kasbahs as you go, stirs your imagination of days in the past.

Our ur next stop was at Les Jardins in Skoura. It’s a little tricky to find because it’s way back off the main road and is mostly a rocky path than road. They have it well marked with colored arrows. Even if you think this can’t be the way, just keep going. Once you arrive you’ll feel like you’re in a garden oasis and the accommodations are gorgeous. The decor is truly authentic and beautiful. There are a couple of terraces with lounging futons, chairs, tables, cabanas and more. There’s a nice swimming pool, hammocks and lounging areas undercover if you need the shade. The food is fabulous and the staff is charming. This is a rest stop. There’s no activities other than a guided walk through the Palmieries. We were unable to do that as it rained shortly after we arrived and everything becomes quite muddy. You really don’t want to leave the property by car because of the road to and from (unless you’re driving a 4x4 and don’t mind the adventure). Most people say they wished they had booked more than one night. For us it was enough, as we like to be a little more on the go. We might have even skipped this stop if the drive from Imlil to the Todra Gorge was a bit shorter. We’d been going pretty fast from the beginning and I thought my husband could use a break. So this stop depends on what you’re looking for, but you won’t retgret it either way.

In in the morning the owner was kind enough to lead us out and make tracks with her truck for us to follow. The rain can really play havoc with the path. And we were off fo the Dades Gorge. We were spending that night at the Todra Gorge, so this was just a drive to see it, not to hike or stay. Of course it was magnificent as everything so far. We pulled off along the way at a small guest house that caught my eye. It was a little family run place. They made and served us lunch in a glass enclosed patio (all the windows opened) that offered amazing views and cool breezes. The food was good too! There are a lot os small places along the road in and out, so a rest stop or meal is no problem.

We we were off on a lovely kasbah lined drive to the Todra Gorge. Winding your way into the gorge, you’ll pass through small villages. Keep going, and then before your eyes you’ll encounter the stunning beauty that is the gorge. Towering rock formations, palm tress heavy with fruit, and water running through it all. A breathtaking moment. And then when you think you’ve seen it all, keep going and as you turn a bend in thread, there sits Auberge Le Festival. A stone kasbah like creation built into the rocks, home for the night. Surrounded by mountains, viewed from its terraces, there’s no place else you’d rather be in that moment. There are three different types of rooms available. Cave rooms built into the mountain, tower rooms of stone (with small balconies and windows giving views of the mountains surrounding you), and rooms in the main building. Having stayed in a cave room in Turkey, we opted for the tower room. Both are great choices. The tower rooms are small, but the views and being in the middle of all this beauty Is expansive. Donkeys and chickens roam the grounds and there are flowering gardens as well. Dinner and breakfast is included in the price. They welcome you with tea and snacks served on the terrace, while you watch the mountains change color as the sun sets. Amazing! Dinner is served either inside or out, as you choose. Candlelight, good food and excellent service. The owner Addi, who is charming and speaks perfect English, stopped by our table to chat. One thing led to another, and the next thing we know he is playing his lutar and singing Berber folk songs accompanied by an elder family member. A private concert, how wonderful! When it got chilly we went into the main room (reception, lounge and indoor dining). And found other guests there as well. When one of the young men, who had been taking great care of us asked if we were going to bed, I asked what the alternative was . He replied “Music”. He and the other workers brought out their drums and entertained everyone. Addi joined in, as well a woman from the kitchen with her tambourine. They sang songs, and we danced. It was a wonderfull, once in a life time experience for us, but I suspect a common one for the Auberge. Everyone seemed to have a great time, and this memory is one of the best souvenirs that we could take home. Sadly in the morning after breakfast we had to leave. There are wonderful hiking trails and guides that can be arranged by the Auberge, but the desert and our camels were waiting for us.
soods is offline  
Oct 6th, 2018, 08:48 PM
  #9  
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The trip to the desert was fairly uneventful. With a couple stops for pictures, the drive took a little over 4 hours. Our destination was Kasbah Mohayut, recommended by fodors guide book and many fodorites. We decided to go on the camels into the sand dunes the first night, then stay at the kasbah the second night. The kasbah itself was very nice. Lots of sitting areas indoors and out. There’s an area upstairs where you can watch the camels and riders leave and return. There’s a swimming pool and relaxing pool area. The price included both breakfast and dinner. They have a few different packages depending on what you’re looking for. We felt it was very reasonably priced for what we got.

Since we we had extra time, we went into Merzouga for a late lunch. There’s one main restaurant that was recommend. We had pizza (a nice break from tangines) served of course with a variety of appetaizers refereed to as a Moroccan salad. Then we drove in the other direction and stopped in a little place to buy scarves for our camel ride. I had forgotten to pack them. I would recommend something to cover your hair, if not your face as well, because if there’s a strong breeze the sand can become a nuisance.

At 5:00 they rounded our small group of 7 up. Helped wrap our scarves “Moroccan” style. We walked to the waiting camels. I was a little nervous about getting on the camel and it standing up. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. But the guide was very kind and reassuring. Once we were all mounted up and a had a few minutes for photo ops, away we went. All the camels were tied together, and led by our guide who walked up front. The pace was slow and not too uncomfortable, at least compared to what I expected. Going down the dunes was a little rougher than going up, but all in all not a bad ride. About halfway to the camp we stopped and dismounted for a little stretch and photos of the changing light over the dunes. By this time all of us were overwhelmed by the quiet and beauty of where we found ourselves. It really was amazing, Dozens of pictures later, back up and onward. Not too much longer and we reached our camp nestled at the bottom of a soaring dune, surrounded by nothing but sand and sky. Luckily is what a cloudless evening with very light breezes. After being assigned our tents and dropping off our backpacks, we all headed up the nearest dune. The sand was very soft and silky feeling. We left our shoes behind as it was easier to walk and climb barefoot. Still, it wasn’t easy, hard on leg muscles and lungs. Some made it to the top. We collapsed about 1/2 way up. We sat there in the sand as the sun went down. No noise, no stress, amazing! We all went down to the outdoor area and sat around on the low comfortable cushions and had tea and cookies. We enjoyed getting to know each other, all from different countries, different ages, yet sharing this magical experience. With lamps lit and stars above, we were served a wonderful dinner of Moroccan appetizers, tangines and bread, and probably more that I can’t remember. Next came the music and the dancing. All of the men working at the camp brought out their instruments. We had so much fun dancing under the stars, trying our hard at the instruments and even singing anthems from our individual countries. Not wanting the night to end and enjoying the cool evening breezes, we all decided to sleep outside. We grabbed our blankets and pillows from our tents, we eached grabbed a couch and settled in for more... in this once in a lifetime expiernce. At 6:30 they woke us to see the sunrise. Some climbed to the top of the dunes to getter a birds eye view. Then back on our camel and back to reality.

I want to mention that that you don’t need to bring much with you for this event. Though our tents had showers, no one used them. A toothbrush and paste, medication, maybe a hairbrush or hat and outer wear depending on the weather. You don’t require much to enjoy the best nature has to offer!

when we returned to the kasbah, we were served a huge buffet breakfast which we ate outside and together. The last time we’d be with our newfound friends.

My my husband and I had a short rest after breakfast, a shower and then met with Hassan, a great guide associated with the kasbah. He took us out four about four hours and showed us people and places we won’t soon forget.

Our first stop was to vusit a family of nomads. We were so fortunate, as the mother invited us into her hut. She showed us the bedroom where 10 family members slept. The little space where she worked on the sheep’s wool to make carpets and a roof for their outdoor tent, and probably much more. She served us bread and tea and we sat with all the family members who were there at the time. She took us out to see her chicken coop and the hut that is the kitchen. The guide translated and we had an active conversation. The allowed us to take pictures with them, which they were excited to see on the camera. We felt very honored that they let us into their home and lives, as we understand is not always the case.

Hassan took us to a small community restaurant, where no one spoke English, burncooked some of the best Moroccan food we had so far. After lunch he took us to see his community, the irrigation system and the plots of land that each family farmed for their fruits and vegetables. We asked lots of questions along the way which he answered and explained in detail. He took us to see a lake with flamingos and some other local sights. We ended with a visit to the Nomad Depot. A large building with rooms filled with rugs, textiles, jewelry, and crafts. Everything in the depot was made by a member of the Berber community. Buying your souvenirs at this location keeps the money in the community and helps the people support their families.

We spent an educational, enjoyable, and really interesting afternoon in the desert area. We had candle light dinner that night in the kasbahs garden, then early to bed to rest up for the long drive to Fes.
soods is offline  
Oct 7th, 2018, 03:36 AM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Mar 2015
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So gorgeous! What a wonderful trip. In my research I'm realizing our trip to Morocco is way to short and your trip report gives me ideas for the next visit. Can't wait.
sfmasterG is offline  
Oct 7th, 2018, 04:48 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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I’m so enjoying your report. We were in Morocco a few months ago, and I love that you did the trip on your own! It sounds delightful!

We had a wonderful time, too, but we hired an agent and driver as I wanted to cover a fair amount of territory, and didn’t want to be hassled with driving in and out of cities. If we had more time, I would’ve been more inclined to make it a DIY trip, like you did. It sounds like you did a great job!
progol is online now  
Oct 7th, 2018, 05:50 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 446
What a magical experience! It's interesting because I think the dunes must be constantly changing shape. I had read about what a difficult climb it was to the top, but when we were there it was very easy. We also stayed at Mohayut, but I wonder if we stayed at a different campsite as I don't remember there being outside couches and we ate dinner in a tent. Maybe that explains why our dunes weren't as high. How fantastic to sleep outside! And how lucky to be able to spend time with a nomadic family. I loved the camel ride, but I do remember giving off an involuntary little shriek when he stood up. Thanks so much for sharing all these wonderful details. Can't wait to hear more.
blackmons is offline  
Oct 7th, 2018, 01:06 PM
  #13  
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Hi sfmasterG, No matter how long your trip is, it’s always too short! I feel like we missed some things I think we would have enjoyed as well. Whatever you have planned, it will be fabulous, and I can’t wait to read your trip report too.
soods is offline  
Oct 7th, 2018, 01:11 PM
  #14  
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Hi progol, thanks for reading my report and I’m glad you’re enjoying it. We usually self drive on all of our trips, and when I suggested a driver in the planning stages, my husband refused to hear of it. He says he really enjoys the driving and the freedom it allows. This was a big one though and we were pretty tired by time we dropped the car in Fes. Probably should have kept it longer as you’ll read as I finish the story.
soods is offline  
Oct 7th, 2018, 01:29 PM
  #15  
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Hi blackmons, Thanks for sticking with me! Mohayut does have more than one campsite. I didn’t find this out until later. We had signed up for a basic tent with no showers, communal bathroom, etc. but apparently there was a large group of 15 that came together. They took them out to that camp and upgraded ours. We were all socked at how nice our camp was, but most never found out why. Our guide told us when we went out the next day. There are probably more than just the 2 camps but I don’t know for sure. I do know that only half of us made it to the very top. Our camp was also closer than we expected, not more than an hour out. If you climbed up high enough you could actually see the kasbah off in the distance. But that was plenty far for me. Though I loved the experience, I don’t think camels are my favorite mode of transportation

The visit with the nomad family will will always stay with me. How proud the mother was of her home, how generous to share with us, and how simple a life can be and still be good. The closeness of family, working together, and survival is what they’re all about. Makes you think about all of our excesses, expectations and so on. I’m so grateful for the life I’m able to live, but I have to admit, this experience brought on some feelings of some guilt. I left the girls some nail polish and gave the mom some money, but it seemed so minimal in the scheme of things!
soods is offline  
Oct 7th, 2018, 04:08 PM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Oct 2004
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So well put. The mind-expanding, life-changing gifts we receive when we travel.
blackmons is offline  
Oct 7th, 2018, 06:27 PM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
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We were in Morocco for a month in Apri/May. Like you we did 3/4 of it on our own and enjoyed the freedom it allowed. I thought the desert was magical. It's a time I will always remember.
yestravel is offline  
Oct 10th, 2018, 06:50 PM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Mar 2015
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I had to come back here to add, after my comments about too short, that I found an extra day! I had mapped out our itinerary but realize I had skipped a day. Literally I found a night! It means one of the 1 night stops I had will be a 2 nighter. Let's hope I can settle the hotel.

We'll be going from Marrakech to Essouria - trying to decide if we do bus instead of private transfer just for a change of pace.
sfmasterG is offline  
Oct 13th, 2018, 02:28 PM
  #19  
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Hi sfmasterG, so happy for you that you found an extra day! We really didn’t mind the bus ride to Essaouira. The comfort bus was really nice and a fraction of the price of a private transfer. As long as the timing works for you, I’d say take the bus!! Save the money for a meal, activity, souvenir or to give to someone “in need”.
soods is offline  
Oct 15th, 2018, 12:18 AM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Mar 2012
Posts: 143
Nice reports, thanks for taking the time to write them.

Your 'geodes' by the way were made in someone's kitchen (grin). But you are not the first. In 1974 I was on honeymoon in Morocco and bought a fabulous section of an amethyst geode. When we got home I washed it and the purple dye came off leaving basic quartz.
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