Three Weeks in Morocco - Sept/Oct 2019

Oct 30th, 2019, 02:27 PM
  #1  
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Three Weeks in Morocco - Sept/Oct 2019

Long time lurker in this thread but previous poster in other places.
Background
We were celebrating our thirty year anniversary and double nickel birthdays. DH had a six week sabbatical so we planned three weeks in Morocco, one week with family in Comporta, Portugal and a final week in the Azores. I enjoy research and planning as much as the journey so we do not typically use travel agents or organized tours. There were a few necessary exceptions on this trip, and per usual, were the least successful parts of the program. DH wanted to be active, so we knew we were going to include hiking in the Atlas and trekking in the Sahara.
Packing
For six weeks of travel, we each travelled with a Timbuk2 duffle and a daypack with hydration insert and extra water bottles. We knew that given our hiking and trekking plans, hard sided luggage or even wheeled luggage would not be the best choice. Definitely the right call. We had plenty of clothes. All hotels had laundry, some included in the room rate. Because we were hiking, we travelled with foldable hiking poles, head lamps, a very small first aid kit and plenty of gel shots/energy bars. Uniqlo stuff sack down vest and Nau stuff sack raincoat proved useful. We also had enough nice clothing for our high end hotels. I am a complete evangelist for packing cubes (eBags) and my favorite walking sandals from Avarcas. The only thing I left home that I would normally take are a pair of heels. I did not miss them
Flights
We flew non-stop from Chicago to Lisbon on TAP in Business. They have new planes and their business class is now all lie flat seats, so we arrived in Lisbon rested. We had a long layover, so we re-checked our bags on the TAP flight from Lisbon to Fes and took the metro downtown for a few hours to stretch our legs. Very easy. We have been to Lisbon before, so we had no agenda. The flight to Fes arrives at 3:30 or 4pm. On the return, we were again on TAP, from Marrakech to Lisbon and the Azores Airlines from Lisbon to Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, a week in the Azores and then non-stop from Azores to Boston. Azores (and TAP) include free layovers, so it is a really inexpensive way to add on to your trip.

Itinerary - The Short Version
4 nights in Fes
1 night near Imlil (Atlas Mountains)
2 nights hiking/hostels in the Atlas - including sunrise summit of Mount Toubkal
2 night Kasbah Tamadot - Richard Branson property - rest and recover
2 nights Skoura/Dades area at Dar Ahlam - more about this in the detailed portion
4 nights Erg Chigaga (2 nights trekking and 2 nights luxury tented camp
4 nights Marrakech
3 nights Essaouira

It was a very relaxed pace for a few reasons == a) we had the time, b) the distances to some places are so long that we did not want to arrive in the late afternoon and then turn around and get back in a vehicle, as many folks find they need do when traveling to the Sahara or the Atlas, and c) we were excited and then disappointed about a planned flight from Zagora to Marrakech that drove part of the itinerary because it only operated 1x per week only to have the flight cancelled. Lesson learned on flights that seem "too good to be true."

The only change I would really make to the above itinerary would be to "finish the circuit" by shortening Erg Chigaga, spending one night in Taroudant and then going to Essaouira and ending in Marrakech. Yes, we did miss Rabat and Chefchoeun but neither were really ever "in" our itinerary.
Will provide a detailed itinerary with hotels, restaurants and activities and pictures in the next days.






bolderite is offline  
Oct 31st, 2019, 06:30 AM
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bolderite...can't wait for the details!!! Need to help make our decisions about this trip.
barefootbeach is offline  
Oct 31st, 2019, 08:03 AM
  #3  
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Apparently I cannot post my next installment with URLS until I have five posts, so forgive these next few filler posts.
bolderite is offline  
Oct 31st, 2019, 08:54 AM
  #4  
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A few more travel tips --
  • Bone up on your French. I was so busy planning that I completely spaced on the fact that French is the second most prominent language behind Arabic. Most shopkeepers and drivers speak passable English, but it would have helped to have dusted off my French. My mind kept going to Spanish which is decidedly not helpful.
  • Maps.me -- You absolutely must download the map.me app and the Morocco maps. Once downloaded, you can use them completely off-line for step by step walking instructions. It has the most remote alleys, streets, etc. Google maps was completely useless and only takes you on major streets and thoroughfares, turning what should be a ten minute walk to a restaurant into a 30 minute hide and seek. We saw lots of frustrated tourists who then fell prey to the local cons-- "here I will show you" or "you are going the wrong way" or "that way is closed" -- these young men, mostly, and young boys, are not out to rob or harm you but they are looking for a gratuity and they are lying to you. Probably the only annoying part of our time in the medinas in Fes and Marrakech, but a polite now thank you should suffice. I cannot rave about this app more.
  • OK, a little gross, but essential -- a package of flushable wipes and some sandwich bags for packing out your trash. You will thank me later when you don't have change for a bathroom attendant or you are hiking or in the desert without facilities or with facilities that are so primitive that the plein air approach is a better option.
  • A few protein bars or gel shots. Super handy for hiking, long car or train rides.
bolderite is offline  
Oct 31st, 2019, 10:09 AM
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All great suggestions...thanks!
barefootbeach is offline  
Oct 31st, 2019, 03:08 PM
  #6  
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Day 1 Fes https://riad-laaroussa.com/grey-suite/
We chose their city package which included pick up at the airport, dinner, a ½ day guided tour of the medina, a car and driver to take us to Volubilis and Fes and a driver to the train station. I don't usually do packages, but this was a real value and nice to have the first few days on auto-pilot while we got our feet. The Riad was lovingly restored by Fred and his wife Cathy who live behind the Riad with their children and Fred's mom.
Everything in Morocco is in the interior, so don't be concerned as you walk down non-descript alleys and streets, passing simple wooden doors set in cement walls. Behind every door is an oasis of gardens, tiles, fountains and beauty. Such as it was when we arrived at Riad Laaroussa. The interior courtyard is stunning. There is a beautiful rooftop pool and terraces everywhere. Our room was huge (all the rooms were) and up a steep and private set of stairs. Staff was excellent and made you feel right at home. We would highly, highly recommend. We arrived in time for a lovely swim in the late afternoon sun, followed by dinner on the roof with the other guests. We were always asked if we needed a vegetarian option everywhere we stayed. We enjoyed the local Morrocan wines, particularly the rose and pinot gris. Well fed and with good conversation with the other guests, we went to bed looking forward to our adventures

Day 2 Fes - The Medina
Breakfast is massive -- Moroccan breads, pastries and fruit, followed by eggs and more pastries. This would become the routine at each hotel -- breakfast is a two or three course affair, so pace yourselves. Moroccan mint tea (aka Berber whiskey) is your new friend -- I like it unsweetened as the sweetened version is really, really sweet. Coffee is not a strong suit, so opt for espresso or an Americano or cafe lungo, instead. We met our guide, a teacher at one of the madrassas and basically the mayor of the medina -- he knew everyone! Yes, he did take us to his "leather shop" and his" argan producer" and his "rug guy" but we told hime we were not here to shop and those stops were brief and focused more of the production. We did not feel pressured to buy and it was a small inconvenience given his knowledge of the medina and ability to get us into the interiors of some of the mosques that are not open to non-muslims. We visited the tannery and all of the different parts of the medina -- food, poultry, spices, etc. It was a big morning/afternoon. We relaxed at the pool and in the courtyard. Dinner was at Cafe Fes which has changed owners or chefs and was disappointing. The setting is beautiful for a drink but the food was quite un-inspired. We spoke to Fred the next day and he said he had recently heard complaints from other guests, so it goes off the list.
Day 3 - Volubilis and Meknes
We met our driver (not a guide) who took us to Volubilis. We thought we would spend an hour, we spent almost three. The ruins are so well preserved and the mosaics both original and restored were fascinating. We just really loved our time here. So much so that by the time we got to Meknes, we were a little hangry and cranky. I made the mistake of listening to DH who did not want to go to the garden and stables etc but to see the medina which compared to Fes and what was coming in Marrakech was just hot and crowded. We did go to the grainery and the prison briefly but we were tired and hot. You have to go to Meknes as part of the loop from Fes, but I would either opt for a visit to a vineyard and a nice lunch or staying out of the medina in Meknes and visiting the other sites. The other slight annoyance in Meknes was that each site had its own entrance fee. So, it is obviously a personal preference but for us Meknes was missable but Volubulis was exceptional. We had dinner at https://ruinedgarden.com/ which we highly recommend. Make reservation in advance to sit outside and order the lamb in advance as they run out. No alcohol here and I am not sure if you can BYO, we did not ask.
Day 4 Fes- The extra day
Do you need 4 days in Fes? Absolutely not. Was it nice to have an extra relaxed day to visit the white city and the synagogue and mellah, the gardens and the palace grounds, wander the medina one last time on our own and have some pool time. Yes, yes and yes. Dinner was at Nur, a modern, tasting menu with very beautiful plating and detail. Nur is not for everyone, so please do your research, but we love modern dining and riffs on classic dishes. This is not your classic tagine and stews. We really enjoyed our meal and it was an elegant end to our time in Fes.

Next up, hiking the Atlas mountains . .

Day 5 - Travel Day

We needed to get to Marrakech in order to travel to Imlil and the start of our Atlas Mountain hiking. After looking at various options — train to Tangier and overnight train, mid-week flights on certain days, car and driver, we decided that an ealry morning train to Marrakech (but not express!) was the best option. A 9am train would get us to Marrakech at 3, in time to meet our driver and get to our guest house near Imlil. We emailed our Riad a week or so before our arrival and they sent someone to get us train tickets befcause you still cannot buy them online on the ONCF website without a Moroccan credit card. We decided on first class, which simply meant that there were only 6 people to a car and not 8. It is decidedly a no frills train experience. We read, watched movies and ate our snacks. Our driver met us and we drove about 45 minutes to Ourikas and Dar Tafantant https://www.dartafantant.com/. This was a nice, new guesthouse but it is still experiencing growing pains and we can’t really endorse. On arrival we were shown a room which was not the one I had booked. We found the manager and were shown to the room I had booked which had a nice terrace. The problem was that although it was 4pm, it had not been made up from the previous occupants and the staff thought it would just be easier to put us in a different room. Not my problem, I said, and we headed off to the pool, which was nice but had no towels. The hospitality was lacking even though the grounds are quite lovely. Also it is far from the main road so our driver was not all that happy dropping us off and picking us up the next morning. I would suggest staying in Asni or Ourika if you are starting a trek based in Imlil.

Day 6 - Yay Hiking

So, one of the goals for the trip was to summit Mount Toubkal, which is the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco topping out at 14,000 ft (4,268 meters). We live at 7,200 feet in Colorado and do alot of hiking, so we really were not worried about the altitutude and had been told it was not too technical. True and true. Alot of hikers leave from Imlil, hike to the Toubkal Refuge Base Camp — about 6 or 7 hours — and summit the next morning and either spend a second night at the refuge or head all the way back to Imlil in one long day. This did not sound appealing to us as we wanted at least two or three days of hiking in addition to the summit. I researched a bunch of sites and tours and the prices varied dramatically even though the lodging in the area is pretty fixed — small refuges, the Toubkal base camp hostel and camping are your only options. In the end, we went with a local company and found the most amazing guide in Ibrahim. He grew up in Imlil and knows everyone. Over the next three days we becamse fast friends and shared so much about family, culture and the Atlas mountains. He is starting his own guiding company and we do not have enought adjectives with which to endorse him. https://berber-magic-tours.com/about/ or Ibrahim on Whats App +212 653-274190.
Today was a pretty big day of altitude gain and hiking — From Imlil (1740m) we set off with Ibrahim, Hassan our cook, and our mule (I forget his name) up a valley and over the M’zik Pass (2450m). We continue to climb through summer pastures, past waterfalls to arrive at the Lepiney refuge after 6 hours walking. Here we spend the night. Of course, this day included two fully cooked meals, and lots of Berber tea. The refuge was cleand and tidy and we had it to ourselves. It is very rustic but next to a beautiful waterfall and very well kept. If it had been full — max 10 or 12, it would have been pretty cramped sleeping in the shared loft space but we were luck and were the only guests aside from a Moroccan couple who were camping outside.

Day 7 - Another Big Day

We are up early and after a full breakfast, we set off. Today we climb up to the Aguelzim Pass (3560m) before descending gradually to the Toubkal Refuge (3207m) where we spend the night in the refuge. Teachable Moment Alert — There are only three options at the Toubkal Base Camp for literally hundreds upon hundreds of hikers who are planning to summit Toubkal — camping (it looked like you could actually rent tents), hostel accomodations in various shapes and sizes, including a few private rooms at the Mouflon Lodge and dormitory style lodging at the Neltner, the older lodge. Guides prefer Neltner because of the alrge kitchen facilities and sleeping areas for the guides and muleteers, but, it is in one word DISGUSTING. Like, trainspotting disgusting, like raw sewage smell permeating our shared dormitory room with 22 new friends disgusting. If you are trekking in the summer or have enough layers, talk to your guides about the camping option. Even the nicer, newer accomodations at Mouflon are extremely rustic. There was no way were were going to shower in Neltner and basically we walked to Mouflon to use the bathrooms there whenever possible. A group of Dutch who had been hiking for several days and staying at modest gites and refuges was appalled. The girls from Manchester looked ready to vomit. The good news for us is that we were getting up at 3:30am to summit at sunsrise and then heading back to Imlil all on one, long, 15 mile day! If you are going to summit Toubkal make sure that you understand the accomodation options and whether camping is a possibility. Pay whatever modest upcharge there is to stay at Mouflon and try and book early enough for a double or quad room.

Day 8 - To Infinity and Beyond


We managed a few hours sleep and woke around 3:30. The smell from the bathrooms was so bad, I could not eat breakfast inside. We set off at 4. It is about three hours to the summit, so over 3,000 elevation gain in just about 2.5 miles — that’s a pretty steep ascent. It was beautiful as the only thing you could see was a string of headlamps walking ahead of us and behind us — It was very cold as we climbed, just about 0 celsius. It was good to have gel shots with us as I definetely needed a caffeine bost about halfway up. Ibrahim was amazing, super encouraging when I almost decided that just shy of the summit was good enough as it looked like a narrow knife edge stretch when in reality the trail looped around to the summit and was not a direct climb. We watched the sunrise and high-fived all around before starting the descent. . . now in the daylight, I could see what we had climbed and was thankful we had done the ascent in the dark. There is some scree (Ibrahim, as promised, held my hand) and some trickier parts due to ice, but again, nothing technical and folks of all shapes and sizes were making it to the top. We stopped back at the refuge to collect our bags, and our mule and Hassan and started down the trail to Imlil. It is not too exciting compared with the other days of hiking and we were very glad we had not taken the direct Imlil to Toubkal route up. We stopped for lunch, stripping down to shorts and Ts from our winter/summit attire and rested as Hassan went in search of our mule who had wandered off. We reached Imlil around 3pm and grabbed a taxi to our reward — Kasbah Tamadot - Richard Branson’s luxury hotel, down the road.

Day 9 - Rest and Relaxation Kasbah Tamadot - https://www.virginlimitededition.com...madot/about-us

A well planned and well deserved splurge. I can honestly say that I don’t think many people will go from the Toubkal hostel sharing a dorm room with twenty odd strangers, to the highest peak in Morocco to the lap of luxury in the span of 24 hours. The rest of the clientele was more well heeled, but we clean up nicely and were eager to chuck all of our stinky and smelly gear into the laundry - regardless of cost. The hotel is as opulent as the pictures demonstrate and the staff to guest ration was ridiculous. The food was excellent and the pool and spa sublime. Today was pool, massage, nap, repeat. Heaven
bolderite is offline  
Nov 1st, 2019, 03:48 PM
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Day 10 - Off to Skoura


We had arranged with Tangier Taxi https://www.tangiertaxi.com/ for a car and driver to take us on the 5/6 hour drive to Skoura as we had one more luxury stop before heading into the Sahara at M’Hamid and the sand dunes of Erg Chigaga. Tangier Taxi may be a little more expansive than some of the other car hires, but they had very good reviews, were extremely responsive and as it turned out provided a very comfortable Mercedes SUV with wifi and and excellent driver. I think for these long drives, it is really worth it to do your research and ensure that you are going to get a comfortable vehicle with proper air conditioning — that is used — many of the drivers in Morocco simply will not turn on the air conditioning until you insist on it. This is a long day of mountain driving but we also stopped at Ait Ben Haddou and for lunch. We did not have time to visit either of the movie studios and a little part of me regrets that! We arrived at Dar Ahlam http://www.darahlam.com/gb/our-houses/dar-ahlam.html which really is unlike any place we have ever stayed in over 30 years of travel. Dar Ahlam is a Kasbah in Skoura that has been restored at the highest quality. It is on an inclusive basis so meals and excursions and drinks are included. There is no dining room. Rather — each couple ,or group of guest for those travelling together, takes their meals in a different part of the Kasbah. You may find that your breakfast is set up by the pool, lunch on the roof, dinner in the garden. Your table and the surrounding areas are lovingly decorated and nothing is too much trouble. Simply exploring all of the public areas of the Kasbah took us a few hours and the grounds are simply exquisite.

Day 11 - Dade and Valley Of Roses
We could have easily whiled away our only full day enjoying the grounds, but with excursions included in the price and wanting to explore the Dades Gorge, we settled on an itinerary for the next day that would take us through the Valley of Roses, a little off-roading adventure and into the Dades Gorge. We set off with a driver and guide and a picnic lunch. We stopped for a hike and our guide explained alot about the red Kasbahs that are all around this area — made from the indigenous soils and built to simply slowly deteriorate back into the earth. We also learned more about the rose production, argan and also the figs, dates and olives that are so prevalent. Next up was a little off-roading adventure, a picnic lunch that could have fed at least 6 other guests and then exploring into the Dades Gorge itself. It was a very full day and a little more driving than we had anticipated or wanted since we were in for another long day in the car to get to M’hamid the next day. Another fairy tale dinner in the garden before we were off to the Sahara, where things got a little more interesting than expected.
bolderite is offline  
Nov 1st, 2019, 05:31 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2012
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Excellent report. I'm enjoying the details and textures of the places you visited and the experiences you had. Appreciate your tips too.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2019, 09:49 AM
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When you said "exploring the Dades Gorge itself", were you able to get out and walk a bit or was it strictly by car? Did you get to explore Air Ben Haddou and did you think it was worth a stop? Looking forward to your next installment.
barefootbeach is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2019, 10:42 AM
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Congrats on the anniversary and the BD's!
I am happy to hear TAP provided good service.
Following your TR. .
jacketwatch is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2019, 01:31 PM
  #11  
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Day 12 - Things Do Not Go As Planned in the Desert Desert

We wanted to explore a less trafficked part of the Sahara so we chose the longer and more remote Erg Chigaga over heading to Merzouga and Erg Chebbi. I did a fair amount of research and we decided on a newly opened luxury desert camp — https://www.thebeldicollection.com/nubia-luxury-camp/ At the time of our trip, they also had the option to add camel trekking and desert camping in addition to the luxury camp experience so we decided that we would extend our stay in the desert. Originally it would be one night of trekking/desert camping and two nights at the luxury camp and we oriented the trip around a new Air Maroc flight from Zagora — about three hours from the desert — to Marrakech, which would have cut off 6/7 hours of driving back to Marrakech. Unfortunately about a month before our departure, Air Maroc cancelled the flight, which put all of our carefully arranged plans into a bit of a spin. We re-arranged our dates both before and after the desert portion of the trip but were left with one last decision — drive from M’hamid to Essaouira with an overnight stop or add another night of trekking in the desert and take the long drive back to Marrakech — we opted for the latter — which turned out to be a mistake for an unanticipated reason — the desert trekking portion of the trip — arranged by the camp, was an unmitigated, and almost dangerous, disaster.

We were picked up by our driver in a dusty, dirty 4 wheel drive with air conditioning that barely worked, for our 6 hour drive to M’hamid — not the luxury that we had been promised or were paying for based on the company’s website. The car smelled of cigarette smoke and the driver was non-communicative. We were deposited in M’hamid at a hotel to have some lunch and meet our guides. Again, there was no communication and it was very hot. This is the end of September and the beginning of the tourist season. We knew it would be hot but thanks to global warming everywhere, it was unseasonably so, at about 104 F. We met our guide who immediately questioned our interest in walking the first day and also asked if we had sleeping bags — warning signs should have gone off — this was supposed to be luxury desert camping according to the website — our tent would be set up in the desert, we would eat under the stars, we would ride camels in the wild. . etc. etc. We had a guide, a cook, an assistant and two pack camels and a smaller camel in training — there was no saddle is sight for riding, but we had faith in what we had been promised. We walked for a few hours and it was very beautiful and interesting. We learned about the fossils and the dry river beds and the temperature cooled down. We stopped for the evening and our guide put out some filthy, thin mattresses and a table cloth, so that we could relax, enjoy some mint tea, while they set up a very large Berber tent, built a fire and began to prepare dinner. We rested and relaxed and read and then had dinner. I asked when we would be moving our bags into the tent for the evening. The guide replied that the tent was for cooking and not for sleeping — it was too hot to sleep in the tent, we would sleep outside! He proceeded to drag the thin mattress pads to a nearby dune, grabbed a sandy sheet and some blankets and made our “bed” for the night. He pointed to our duffle bags and stated that they would make good pillows and bid us good night. Now, again, we are not shy travelers, but this was insane. There are scorpions and other animals in the desert and we were completely alone and unprotected. This was not what we had bargained for in the least. We added some layers and went to sleep. It got into the low 50s at night. We woke at dawn to see the sunrise and determined that we only had one more night and we would simply make the best of things . . but things got worse.

Day 13 - Our Guide goes AWOL

We woke early as did the cook and his assistant but our guide had other plans. His alarm went off around 8 and we did not leave until 9. This is a problem of course because you are missing the coolest part of the morning in which to hike. Again, the desert was beautiful and interesting in the different aspects of the sand dunes, dry river bed. We stopped at a local well and were excited that we were really trekking in the Sahara. We stopped for lunch and experienced an unpleasant sand-storm that delayed our afternoon departure. We broke camp around 3 and proceeded on. After about an hour or so, we saw a group of white tents in the distance. Our guide mumbled something about needing to see someone in that camp and literally walked off! We were left with the cook and his assistant and the camels. The guys spoke no English and seemed as bewildered as we were. It is not that they were not pleasant individuals -- they just were not guides, and had no idea what to do. We walked for another 90 minutes until they decided on our Acacia tree and camp for the evening. It was starting to get dusky and, no guide. The cook was now running up and down a nearby dune with a Bic lighter trying to signal to the wayward guide where we had camped. Meanwhile, the assistant is trying to gather firewood in the dark — neither of them had torches of any kind! Frustrated and feeling sorry for them and ourselves, we offered them our headlamps which they gratefully accepted. Now, they started to make dinner and climb the dune to signal for the guide. At about 8 pm he returned. He refused to explain where he had been. Again, we were angry but there was no use in demonstrating this — we needed to get to the desert camp the next day and we would deal with everything once we were safely at camp. They did not bother to raise the tent or even attempt to make our bed. We simply did it ourselves and told the guide that we wanted to leave early int he morning and get to the camp as soon as possible. He told us it would be a four hour hike. FIne we said. We are not stopping and we are going to get up and go at first light.

Day 14 - Water, Who Needs Water in the Desert.

Again, we woke up early and our guide did not. His alarm went off at about 8 or 8:30. We were packed and ready to go. We did not want to wait for a big breakfast, we just wanted to go. We had filled our packs and water bottles and had about three liters of water each. Yalla, we said. OK, he said, The cook and the assistant would pack up camp and catch up to us. We met other travelers from Germany == although they were only two, they had 4 camels, one that was saddled, nice new equipment and sleeping mats and seemed to be having an enjoyable experience. We continued walking and saw Erg Chigaga in the distance, along with a string of Berber camps (that looked like what our camp looked like in the website pictures). It was about four hours. It was hot. I was out of water. We told the guide this and asked how much further (and were those tents our camp). No those were not our camp and maybe 45 minutes more. We told him again that we needed water. There are some cars in this part of the desert because many folks drive in to camp, so its not like we were in danger, but the next car that came by, he flagged down to get himself cigarettes and no water. This happened one more time before I had finally had it. Dizzy and now dehydrated, I told DH that we had to get a car and drive the rest of the way. I knew he would be super disappointed to drive into camp and pushed on another 15 minutes before we realized that the camp was not going to magically appear. We insisted on flagging down the next vehicle and piled into a maintenance truck that was heading toward the camp anyway. And we started to drive . . and drive. Clearly, it would have been another hour or more of walking. DH held my hand and squeezed it — we had made the right decision and he was no longer concerned about not having completed the hike. This guy had put us in serious danger. Meanwhile, the camels never did “find us” or catch up to us with the water, our bags etc. I was furious. We entered the camp and I went to strip down and shower. The guide now realized that things were not well and so he kept asking if things were OK and what we needed — we finally had to tell the camp manager that the guide needed to leave the camp and not speak to us. I immediately got on the camp wifi and emailed the owner of the company in London to explain what had happened. Although it was a Saturday, to her credit, she did respond very quickly. They had not used this guide (!) and she would investigate. The camels and our clothes did not arrive until almost 4 hours later.

Day 15 - Erg Chigaga

The camp itself is beautiful. There are only 8 tents, they have showers and toilets and proper bedding. The camp is remote and you are surrounded by the most incredible dunes. We had the place to ourselves and walked, relaxed, and had a great day. That evening, we took a camel ride at dusk to Erg Chigaga and the camp manager had set up a table, blankets, pillows and we had cocktails at the top of the dune before we rode our camels back to camp for our final dinner by the fire complete with Berber music. I absolutely would not have missed the experience, I think that two nights in the desert, is necessary, particularly if you are going all the way to Erg Chigaga, given how far you drive to get there and we may have enjoyed one night of wild camping with a proper guide, proper equipment and a camel to ride. We came away with a great story to tell but clearly most people would have simply freaked out at the treatment that we received. In the end, the company did make things right financially and has decided not to offer overnight trekking from town. Only day hiking from the camp. I would say do even more homework if you are going to do trekking, ask more questions about the experience level of the guides and trust your instincts if something does not feel right. We really ignored our spidey senses in part because of the price of this portion of the trip and the fancy website. In reality, our trekking in the Atlas which was with a local company with a very basic website was far and away superior to this experience in every way.
One other thing to note which surprised us about Morocco was the lack of charter and General Aviation options. It is not that they are expensive, they are simply non-existent. Unlike Kenya and Tanzania and countries in South America where there is both charter service and private GA, the idea of taking a plane to the desert or to cross some of the mountain ranges in Morocco is simply not available. There is alot of ground to cover when traveling in Morocco and almost all of it is done via car. As we were driving out of the desert for our 8 hour drive to Marrakech, passing miles and miles of desert where you could easily land a plane, we wondered to ourselves if we had missed out on the possibility of simply flying to Erg Chigaga. When we got to Marrakech, we discussed it with our hotel manager who agreed that it was just not a thing in Morocco -- yet.
bolderite is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2019, 01:35 PM
  #12  
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Posts: 17
Originally Posted by barefootbeach View Post
When you said "exploring the Dades Gorge itself", were you able to get out and walk a bit or was it strictly by car? Did you get to explore Air Ben Haddou and did you think it was worth a stop? Looking forward to your next installment.
Ait Ben Haddou is definitely worth exploring. And, no, there really isn't much "hiking" in the Dades Gorge itself. We did get out and take a short walk but I think if one is going to hike in this area, you have to go further to Todra Gorge. As it was, I think that we would have shortened this day out from Skoura and skipped the small hike we did in the Valley of the Roses (it was the wrong time of year for any actual rose viewing) and relaxed more at the hotel or even gone to the movie studios for a change of pace.
bolderite is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2019, 05:48 PM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 2,346
How awful. Glad you made it through safely. Hope you had more good than bad on this trip.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2019, 05:35 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 1,448
What a nightmare! Glad you survived with just a story! We’re skipping the desert experience because of the long drives involved. You’re right.,,if there were camp small planes that would make it an easier option.
barefootbeach is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2019, 06:23 AM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,379
Following along - we were at a camp in Erg Chigaga in March (different one). What a nightmare you experienced! But admire your fortitude!
Elizabeth_S is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2019, 07:43 AM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 9,687
And I thought an Uber being late was bad!
Wow. I am happy you are ok.
What an adventure.
jacketwatch is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2019, 11:17 AM
  #17  
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Join Date: Oct 2019
Posts: 17
Day 16 - Marrakech

It is about a nine hour drive from the desert camp to Marrakech. Again, the car and driver booked through the camp were not all that inspiring but this car was clean, the air conditioning worked well and we were on our way. We missed the professionalism of the car and driver we had booked with Tangier Taxi. He had communicated with our pick up hotel and drop off destination throughout our drive, was great about letting us know about the sites and vistas we were seeing on the drive, etc. We drove mostly in silence from the desert, stopped where the driver had planned and really did not see much of anything special despite the fact that friends who had been in this area earlier in the year had stopped at a small town with an important library, at the summit of the pass and for a delicious lunch. We were definitely frustrated with our experience overall with this travel company, but still, we had accomplished so much and we were really enjoying Morocco and our time together. We arrived in Marrakech in the later afternoon to the Almaha Palace Home - Luxury hotel | Morocco | Almaha Marrakech, near the Bahia Palace and the old mellah. We had hoped to book four nights together at L’Hotel but due to our change in plans, that was not possible, so we opted to pick another hotel in a different part of the city. It was not a problem to move after two nights and the Almaha arranged for our transportation since it was included in the price of the hotel, along with a welcome drink, free laundry and two thirty minute massages. Again, our room was enormous and the hotel, very non-descript from the outside, was absolutely stunning on the inside with a beautiful courtyard, rooftop gardens and a small pool. We showered and went for a stroll in the evening. Here again, I will stress maps.me — our hotel was on a very small side-street that would have been near impossible to remember how to find. We dropped a pin and put in directions to the Jema El Finaa, the biq square, and off we went with “our lady” by our side == or in my husband’s pocket. Again, this is all off-line, si not using any data!!
I would say that there are probably two things that give Marrakech a bad reputation and both are easily avoided == the first is the incessant offers to guide you places and/or tell you that you are going the wrong way and second is the hawking that goes on in the square and in the souks to eat here, look at my shop, step this way etc. The best advice is to simply laugh off these entreaties and not be upset by them or confrontational. We are not shoppers and had no interest in eating at the communal restaurants at the square, so we simply strolled and smiled and observed and people-watched. While it is unfortunate that these (mostly) young men are allowed to engage in this practice and perhaps the police should be more vigilant, we never felt unsafe and I certainly would not view this as a reason to not visit the beautiful country. The country is so compelling in its history and architecture, the people are warm and friendly and it is a fascinating part of the world with which we did not have previous experience. We learned so much about the Berber and Islamic cultures and artistry during our three weeks.

Day 17 - Marrakech Sight Seeing

Another elaborate breakfast of beautiful Moroccan pastries, breads and fruits. We visited the Bahia Palace, Le Jardin Secret — an absolute must — and the Photography Museum. In order to get to most places, you have to go through the souks, so it is a great way to be exposed to them even if you are not looking to make purchases. The maps.me kept taking us the same way, so we decided to "fool" her by getting lost in the souks so that she would re-direct us and find new ways of going. The Bahia Palace is being restored so you actually get to see the artisans at work and the before and after of the tile work and the frescoed ceilings as they are hand re-touched and repaired. It was like a free artisanal demonstration included with the price of your ticket to to the Palace. Le Jardin Secret https://lejardinsecretmarrakech.com/en/ is an absolute jewel of a garden and Riad/Museum. Highly, Highly recommend. It was carefully brought back to life by an Italian couple and their team and the entire restoration process is carefully documented in photos and short videos. The gardens themselves are beautiful and a lovely respite from the chaos of the markets. Not to be confused, we went to Le Jardin https://lejardinmarrakech.com/ for a late lunch. Delicious food in a lovely quiet garden setting. The clientele was a combination of local business owners who did not seem to mind that it also has appeared in many guidebooks so also has a fair share of tourists. We did not have a reservation but they found us a table. I would suggest that a reservation is probably essential in the high season. We went back to the hotel for our afternoon massages and to relax by the pool. We did venture out again to explore the mosques and our neighborhood. Dinner was at the hotel.

Day 18 - Marrakech

We packed and left our luggage in the lobby while we decided to finish up the last sites on “this side” of town. We went to the Jewish Cemetery — fascinating and quite large — and the synagogue and also checked out the grounds of the Beldi Palace. Then it was time for our taxi to take us over to L’Hotel — probably a 30 minute walk -- but since our luggage was being transported, we decided at the last minute to simply go in a taxi with it and arrive together! I was looking forward to this hotel, a new property from a UK Hotelier and it did not disappoint. https://www.l-hotelmarrakech.com/. With only five rooms, each room is almost an entire floor and has its own terrace, in addition to the terraces and beautiful sitting areas throughout. We told Luca the hotel manager that we planned to visit the Majorelle Gardens and the Yves St. Laurent museum the next day and he strongly suggested that we allow them to send someone our to purchase our tickets to avoid the lines. For a 2 euro fee per ticket — it was a wise decision as the lines the next day were massive. We had lunch at Terrasse Des Epices on the roof of the souk cherifia, a little modern oasis — there are several scattered around the more traditional souks - in the medina. The food was excellent, modern twists on classic pastillas, tangias and other Moroccan specialties — no tagines or couscous today! I don't have notes for the other mosques and sites that we explored. It was just a lot of wandering and relaxing.

Day 19 - Majorelle Gardens, YSL Museum and Gueliz

It was about a 30 minute walk from our hotel to the Majorelle Garden and the YSL Museum. Both were stunning and crowded. We were so happy that we had received our tickets in advance and could just walk right in. The gardens were full of folks trying to get that exact insta-worthy pose, but there is plenty of space for all, particularly if you venture further into the gardens. There is a Berber museum on the grounds that you should not miss. It is included in the ticket price and a small gem of a museum chock full with display cases of items both everyday and ceremonial from the berber culture. We enjoyed it very much. The YSL museum is absolutely stunning in its design and display of his clothing and the history of the fashion house. We decided to walk through the modern city of Gueliz on our way back to the hotel. I had the names of a few restaurants jotted down, but we were not too hungry and nothing really appealed. I would not go out of my way to see the Gueliz area unless you are going to the Majorelle/YSL. We did walk through more beautiful gardens and passed the Royal Mansour and La Mamounia hotels on our way back to medina for lunch at Nomad https://nomadmarrakech.com/ which I did not realize was owned by the same folks as Les Terasse. Another excellent lunch, but no alcohol here. We went to the Koutoubia, and did some more walking near our hotel which has some more modern shops, before heading back to the hotel. Because of a slight issue with our room’s air-conditioning, the hotel had offered us dinner at the hotel. We went for a drink at Maison Arabe nearby, but the rooftop was closed and the only other bar was in a smoky basement. This hotel receives all sorts of rave reviews, but it looked dark and shabby to us. We wound up having a drink at a lovely little spot https://lecomptoirdupacha.fr/ which also had live music. When we arrived for dinner back at the hotel, the table next to us was enjoying several bottles of wine. Confused because we knew that the hotel did not serve alcohol, we learned that it was totally OK to BYO, which I suppose we could have figured out, but it would have been nice if they had told us on check in. Sensing our disappointment, they offered to run out and get us wine for dinner and then came up with an even better idea — they had already purchased wine for a guest arriving the next day. . They would “lend” us one or two of his bottles and replace it in the morning. Problem solved! We had an excellent meal and toasted our last night in Marrakech. Before the night was over, we also went on line and purchased our bus tickets for Essaoiria. Again, because transport was included with our stay, we simply told the hotel to arrange a taxi to the bus station instead of the airport.

Next up, the last days in Morocco by the sea.
bolderite is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2019, 04:42 PM
  #18  
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Join Date: Oct 2019
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Day 20 - On to Essaouira

So again, do you need three full days in Marrakech? Probably not, but we enjoyed the relaxed pace of our trip and having the bonus day. We decided that we would take the Supratour bus at roughly $8 pp to get to our last stop in Morocco, the seaside town of Essaouira (some with recognize as Astapor from Season 3 of the Game of Thrones). The bus takes three hours with one brief rest stop at the halfway mark. There are assigned seats, bag check under the bus for large items and it was fully air-conditioned. We had told Gareth, the owner of Riad Maya that we were taking the noon bus and arriving at 3 and he had someone at the station with a cart to walk us to the riad. Riad Dar Maya. The Riad is small and close to the sea wall. There is all manner and range of lodging options in the area. We thought about some of the places with pools and grounds outside of town, but we decided that we wanted to be within the walls of the olds city. It was lovely and we would recommend it for a moderately priced place to stay. Essaouira is a small, manageable coastal city with its own souks, and plenty of restaurants and beach bars. We were staying three nights here — again, two would be just fine and even an overnight would be easy as the bus is so convenient and cheap. We basically walked from one end of town to the other on the first day! One should be warned that it is a very cool and windy town — a very pleasant change from the rest of the country. We had an early dinner of calamari and prawns at La Tara and some gelato as we strolled the ramparts at looked at some ceramics. It was the start of the winding down of our trip and it was really nice not to have really any sightseeing to do.

Day 21 - Beach Day

We spent most of the day walking the beach which stretches for miles and miles. You could spend hours watching the kitesurfers, surfers and windsailers or take a lesson yourself. There were camel rides on offer as well as 4x4s. Beach shacks and nicer restuarants line part of the area. We walked back along the boardwalk and entered the city through a different gate to explore the more “upscale part of town" where the shops are more boutique-y and there are several cooking schools. We had planned to do a cooking class in each of the cities we stayed in but just never seemed to get around to it and Essaouria was no different. We did stop in to make dinner reservations at La Table at the Hotel Mogador as we had read it was THE nicest place in town to eat. Luckily, they had a table for the next evening. As we walked back we passed another place on my list — Umia — we sent them a text and secured a reservation for that evening. We had lunch at a lovely and tiny restaurant, the Loft, which has a funky 50s vibe, a few asian/fusion touches to the traditional mezzo and amazing chocolate mousse and creme brûlée for dessert. It probably shouldn’t all work but it all does. I finally spotted some pottery that did not look like it was mass produced and decided on some gifts to bring back. We had a beer at Mare which overlooks the battery and the cannons on the sea wall. Our dinner at Umia was simply lovely. It is owned and run by a french woman and her husband(?) — a tiny room by the sea-wall with only 6/8 tables — our meal was delicious fresh fish and a risotto. https://www.facebook.com/Umiarestaurantessaouira.

Day 22 - Last Day

We had seen the town so we decided that we would explore outside the walls. There is a cheese-maker and restaurant called The Fromagerie about fifteen minutes out of town so we decided to give that a try. We could have also gone down the coast to Sidi Khouri or one of the other smaller towns, or cone to a local vineyard and argan peoducer. There are many options for a short day trip. There are very inexpensive taxis at every gate of the city but the dar owner convinced us that it can sometimes be hard to find a way back from your destination. I don’t really know how true that is but we were a day away from the end of the trip, so decided that we would just let him arrange a car. We drove out to the restaurant and had a lovely afternoon with a nice Belgian/American couple. Dinner that night was at the aforementioned La Table — white linens, fine dining, music — A beautiful room and a delicious meal. In a completely small world coincidence, a couple came in and sat at the table next to us who looked vaguely familiar. As soon as he spoke to his wife, it clicked. — they were a couple from Canada who almost a week earlier they had been sitting next to us at our roadside lunch stop driving back from the desert to Marrakech. We compared notes and travel stories and toasted the small world of travel -- of all the gin joints in Essaouira . . . At La Table Menu we shared a tiger prawn that was the size of a small Maine Lobster as well razor clams, oysters from Oulidia up the coast and a delicious lemon tart for dessert. Splurge worthy for our last night of the trip!

Day 23 - On to Portugal

Since we were going to the airport in Marrkech, we had decided to use a driver for the trip back and not bother with the bus and then a taxi from the bus station. Given how easy the bus is and the fact that the bus station in Marrakech is about 15 minutes from the airport, this was probably completely unnecessary. However, Gareth at Dar Maya had arranged a very nice car and driver and we were able to stop along the way to take pictures of the goats in the trees and stop at an argan production site. We reached the airport with plenty of time before our TAP flight to Lisbon to meet up with the family.


Final Thoughts

There are always things you would do differently, but all in all, even with the weird desert experience, the trip went without a hitch. All the transportation worked, we had the right clothes and gear, the hotels and restaurants were all wonderful, we had a great mix of cultural sights and physical activity and most important of all we encountered nothing but kindness as we experienced a country with a rich and beautiful culture and warm and proud people.
bolderite is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2019, 05:47 PM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 2,346
Great on you for taking the good with the bad and making the most of your trip. Hope the memories of the positive are what sticks with you. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us and for helping me think about what to do and not to do.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Nov 4th, 2019, 06:22 AM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 1,448
Bolderite, thanks so much for taking the time to write this comprehensive trip report. It’s been invaluable to me in my planning. In Marrakech, which area did you prefer staying in? I’ve been thinking of eliminating Fes from our trip and concentrating on Marrakech and the south to eliminate the long journey. Do you think I’ll still absorb enough of the Medina experience with just that? I hope you also write up the Azores. How wonderful you figured out how to combine those in one trip. I’m thinking about adding the Madeira Islands to ours...keeping Morocco to about two weeks.
barefootbeach is offline  

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