Trip Report ~ Marrakech ~ Part two

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Feb 24th, 2004, 07:58 AM
  #1
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Trip Report ~ Marrakech ~ Part two

Here is the second part of my report.

Next morning we got a petit taxi out to the airport to pick up our hire car. I had pre-booked a deal with Europcar through an Internet broker/consolidator http://www.onairportcarhire.com/
I have used these guys a couple of time now, including hiring in the United States, and they are VERY good on price, plus efficient service. I don?t know whether they will deal with clients from outside the UK, can?t see why not, but insurance issues become very complex with car rental. Anyway I wanted something mid to large size to command a little respect on the mad Moroccan roads; they got me a Mercedes C class which fitted the bill nicely, and I only paid £238 for the week with all the insurance top ups included. Believe me, when I saw the car I was glad I had the insurance! It was a beautiful Mercedes and only 9 months old, but boy did it have some cosmetic damage! Take a tip, go round the car VERY carefully with the guy from the hire company and make him write down an inventory of the dinks. It will save a lot of haggling when you return it!
The Mercedes proved a great investment; even in central Marrakech traffic we seemed to get cut a little extra slack. On many occasions the traffic cops stopped the traffic for us at junction, and twice we were waved through roadside checks with a salute no less! Plus the parking attendants ALWAYS found us a spot, yes they expected a tip, but 5 Dirhams ($0:50c) goes a long way in Morocco.
In at the deep end, we set off back to Marrakech. I have driven many many thousands of miles on the wrong (right hand) side of the road so its not usually an issue, but this was different! The rhythm is totally different, slower but more intense, plus ZERO lane discipline. It just doesn?t exist! Add a six speed stick shift (again, wrong hand) and you can see it was stimulating! Gradually I got the feel as we circuited the city and got our bearings, eventually I started to enjoy it. Now the big moment, into the Medina and back to Maison Arabe. Made it at the second try and the old gardien gives me a toothless grin as he ushers me into a parking spot. Every day after that it got easier.

Should you drive yourself in Morocco? Close call. The cities are not really as bad as they first appear. The very fact that there is no traffic discipline is actually in your favour; everyone EXPECTS everyone else to do bad things. In a week I accidentally ran three red lights and two stop signs in heavy traffic. (Not as dumb as it seems, there is only ever one light or sign per junction and they are set at head height, if there is a truck or bus on the inside lane you just don?t see the sign!) Never did this come even close to causing an accident; so many people run the lights everyone is looking out for it! I would honestly say that the average Joe from USA would have less trouble driving in Morocco than in Central London. You are used to driving on the right and you will get a lot more tolerance when you do something dumb than you will from London cabbies!
Price wise there is not much in it. You can hire a Grand Taxi for exclusive use for between 6oo and 1,000 dirhams per day according to destination, plus a tip to the driver. A hire car is only a little less, plus gas is $1 per LITRE (i.e. cheap to us Brits!!) You may get a great driver who speaks English as well; you may get a silent maniac. If you like to be taken round the sights, have a driver. If you like to be self-guided, rent a car.

From Marrakech we took the following day trips, except for the first one they are all quite full days;

South, through Tameslought to the Cavagnac Dam and Lalla Takerkoust. An easy drive through pretty countryside, more of a half day really, there is a restaurant called La Relais du Lac with a terrace overlooking the lake, which would make a great lunch spot. (We are not lunch people)

Due West to Essaouira. Again a fairly easy drive through gently undulating countryside. This is a major road and carries a bit of traffic until the Agadir turnoff, then it is a lot quieter. The drive itself is not that attractive, but the road is good and you can easily maintain 120Kph.
Essaouira is gorgeous, originally a walled city and fishing port it is a great place to stroll around. There is a thriving ex-pat art scene with lots of interesting galleries to view. The ancient Souk is also worth a visit, and for those who find the Souk in Marrakech a bit daunting the traders are a lot more laid back.
The high spot is LUNCH. The only time we ate that meal during our trip, and also the finest meal of our trip. Eat at one of the stalls on the quay. Pick out your fish or shellfish live; have it cooked over charcoal in front of you; eat it with a fabulous simple salad of super ripe plum tomatoes and onions and chunks of fresh baguette from the local boulangerie; wash it down with water, or take your own wine. My wife and I were greedy, we had a platter of crab and shrimp followed by the finest grilled sardines I have ever eaten. Total, including tip to the grill cook 100 dirham each. ($10)

South, via Asni to the Tin Mal Mosque and on to the pass over the Tizi?n?Test pass. Despite being a well-travelled route this road becomes single lane with dirt passing lanes not far out of Marrakech. You are now skirting round, and gradually up, Jebel Toubkal, at 13,664 feet the highest mountain in North Africa. The scenery is stunning and you pass through several interesting Berber villages, enquire before setting off if you want to catch their market days. Ourigane has a lunch stop at La Roseraie Hotel.
The Tin Mal mosque is one of the oldest in the World and one of only two in Morocco open to non-Moslems. It was partly derelict, and is now being sympathetically restored. Despite being little more than a shell it has a powerful atmosphere. Drive on to the pass for more mountain scenery, or turn back if it is getting late, you dont want to be driving the mountain in the dark! Don?t be misled by the maps, it is impossible to come back via Oukaimeden without a four-wheel drive. I know, we tried it!

South east, to Oukaimeden and the valley of Setti Fatma. The road is excellent as far as Dar-Caid-Ouriki, then its back to single track plus passing lane. Near the top the hairpins and sheer drops are not for those with fear of heights! Oukaimeden is a ski resort, nearly at the top of Jebel Toubkal. There isn?t much there except a pretty picnic spot by the side of a lake. Back to the crossroads at Dar-Caid-Ouriki and take the other fork to Setti Fatma; there is a restaurant for lunch a few Km up this road called Auberge de Ramuntcho. Carry on to the little hamlet of Setti Fatma, there are seven waterfalls above the village, the first is a stroll, the rest are a hike! Again return the way you came.

West, to the UNESCO listed site at Ait-Ben-Haddou. The Ksar at Ait-Ben-Haddou is a long drive for a day trip, but the scenery is stunning all the way, you get to experience the beginning of the dessert proper, and your destination is one of those unique spots you will always remember. Fill up with gas when you leave Marrakech, and take drinking water. There are several little cafes at the entrance to the Ksar, we had coffee at one, but I wouldn?t be tempted to eat there.
If your plans include a trip into the dessert with one of the outfitters in Ourzazate go on to overnight there instead of returning to Marrakech.

There is also a popular trip Northeast from Marrakech, to the cascades at d?Ouzoud, but we didn?t get there.

Part three to come, Pirate
greybeard is offline  
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Feb 24th, 2004, 11:29 AM
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Join Date: Jan 2003
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Greybeard, just a suggestion but I recommend posting this second installment (and further ones) as a reply to your own original thread.

The reason I suggest this is because the posts will get separated from each other by time and by posting them all in one thread, the report stays cohesive for posterity.

Also means you can answer any questions right there on that original thread.

Purely a suggestion though, I'm not a site-policer or anything!!

Kavey is offline  
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