Morocco was my choice for a destination on this family world adventure….so I get to write the BLOG!
We arrived after a short flight to Marrakech from Paris. Air France treated us well, fed us, watered us and gave the kids games even!
We have only packed carry-on bags for our trip – but many planes are overbooked and require you to check your carry-on at the gate. Oh well….after we finally make it through security our bags are there. Rich and I had a game plan when we landed. We were going to not rush out of the airport and into a taxi. We had to get our bearings, get MAD money from the ATM then head outside and figure out how to get to the main centre of the old city, the Medina. We knew from George and Marie-Helene that we wouldn’t be able to drive all the way in…but a taxi could take us to a gate close to the Riad.
The first part went well…..the second part……um….not so great. We totally got scammed by the taxi —and had to pay WAY TOO MUCH at the gate to get our bags out. We were overwhelmed with chaos and men trying to take our stuff in their carts. “No, No, NO THANK YOU” became the mantra of Marrakech. I had the address of the Riad N10 on my phone…and trying to keep my belongings and my kids close and still get out the phone to try to get a GPS signal to try to find our way….sheer nonsense! They could smell NEW TOURIST and LOST. Alleyway after alleyway rolling our suitcases, grasping our children out of the way of bikes, scooters, carts and SO many people and trying to get used to the noise and the smells. Culture shock just doesn’t sum it up for Wilson and Lauchlyn. Despite me saying ‘NO’ and ‘I don’t have money to pay you’ a man walked in front of us 10m and led us to the Riad. It was disconcerting when Rich and I made a mental note (because how the heck are we ever going to find our way BACK here?!!) that we turn right at what appears to be a bombed out house – a huge pile of rubble. Well about 2 hours after landing on African soil – phew – a lady who speaks no English or French lets us in to the Riad. The man who “kindly” gave us direction wouldn’t leave without $…so an American dollar for him….ARGH! The Riad though – quiet, peaceful, clean, welcoming. We found our way to our room. The rooms have very colourful bedding but are dark. We had air-conditioning to Rich’s delight, wifi and were right next to the terrace seating where breakfast was served. A great find Marie Helene…THANK YOU. It wasn’t until later on that evening that we discovered Lulu and my water bottles were missing –must have fallen out of the side of our packs in the overpriced taxi….ENJOY them taxi man!
That evening and the next day were spent in Marrakech. Rich enjoyed the sheer chaos of the market…the rest of us…not so much. The NOISE with the music of the snake charmers, the dancers, the monkey entertainers, the horns of cars and scooters and motorcycles warning pedestrians they were about to become road kill, and the yelling!!! ‘Hi my friend’ ‘Over here my friend’ ‘Buy something nice in my store my friend’ ‘eat here my friend’ ‘remember me my friend?’ and so on and so on…..well….at least we have a lot of friends in Marrakech 🙂 Lauchlyn especially hated the souk (market). We did dress appropriately (covering our shoulders etc) which led to being really overheated in the tightly packed streets. We managed to eat in the market the first night dinner —but a big fat ‘No’ was our collectively answer when Rich asked if we wanted to eat there again the second night. Lauchlyn also isn’t finding foods she likes the taste of….which leads to tired, hungry, hot and irritable Lauchlyn! (we don’t usually see her much…but she is here in Marrakech ladies and gentlemen!) Lulu said to me “Mom, I love you…but WHY did you have to pick Morocco!”
Rich -in his infinite wisdom- also decided that it would be a fun time to learn how to geocache….in the MEDINA in MARRAKECH…WHAT?! . Oh ya! He tells the kids about the fun “scavenger hunting” that they can do and they think —cool Dad! Well, they did have fun finding the first geocache…but the many alleys, the heat, the smells, the noise, the fact I was annoyed with Rich having his nose stuck in his phone looking at the compass! to find his way which led to many wrong turns, dead ends and ‘my friend I can help you’ offers from our many Marrakech friends! . The man who owned the slipper store where the geocache was was very gracious and kind…but also wanted to sell Rich and Wilson some new slippers….thank goodness…Rich didn’t have enough money! BUT…that led to trying to find an ATM in the Medina that was safe and that could actually give us $. OMG! I had had enough of Marrakech!
To my delight….we left Marrakech the next morning. Mohammed, the taxi driver our next Riad had set up actually showed up, knocked on the Riad’s door, had someone to take our bags to his Toyota 4×4 truck parked in the Medina and he tipped the guy. Things are looking up! Mohammed was a very nice Berber man from the desert. He has a few men who work driving “taxi” across south Morocco. He drives fast, windows down (I don’t know if the a/c doesn’t work or he just doesn’t find the 35deg heat with the noonday sun beating down on you HOT! –all the while wearing jeans!) and speaks very reasonable English and French. We learn a lot from him as he is our driver over the next three long driving days. It is Africa though, so as expected, we stop at a few local shops for clothing, lunch, snack and some touristy spots (fossil store, site of old wells, etc). A few dihram later we politely thank the man who tours us around and hop back in the car. The coca-cola is cold (much to Lulu’s delight) and the food is cheap. We are mostly happy to be on the road. The fact that three of four of us get car sick does lead to a few seating changes (sun, hot, can’t see out the front etc)….but we get places mostly in one piece! (Rich all the while fully enjoying writing his blogs and making small talk in many different languages with Mohammed …from the back seat!)
Our next stop is the Todra gorge. We stayed in a fabulous spot -Dar Ayour. The owner remembered George and Marie Helene and was very accommodating.
They set up a guide for our hike in the gorge the next day. Nordeen was 27 years old and grew up in the local village. He works for Dar Ayour. He was very kind, patient with the us walking slowly (and Rich taking pictures) and spoke English and French very well.
He brought us to visit a Nomad family on the mountain where we had tea. We enjoyed playing soccer with the three young children who were there with their grandfather. They have lived on the mountain for 10 years…moving up from the village….Why? oh Why? does anyone decide to be a Nomad? I don’t know!
We managed a 10km hike into the gorge and UP and DOWN the mountain. The kids did great. (mental note – bring more water and more bribe snacks on next hike!) . We were hot and tired and the COLD pool at Dar Ayour was a welcome treat.
At 5pm we were taken next door to look at carpets. Rich had decided he wanted a Moroccan carpet to compliment the Turkish ones we bought on our last worldly adventure. The kids loved the experience…ok…the first 30min of the experience…..with the men unrolling carpet after carpet all over the floor for us to feel, walk on and hear about who made them from what animal wool etc…. Then came the deciding and the bartering. Rich wanted one carpet for the hallway…which turned into maybe two carpets…or ??? Anyway – then the price…. 30000 dihram. NO WAY! So – math lesson begins….Canadian dollars to Moroccan dihram = 7:1. So…the next one hour is spent with a calculator, a measuring tape, conversion tables of imperial to metric and MAD to CAD…..and the kids begging to know when they could try on a scarf which hung tantalizingly them above the mound of carpets….and me pleading with Rich to remember we don’t NEED a carpet (let alone 2 or 3) and we then have to pay to ship whatever he buys home! One and a half hours – one carpet (for 10000 dihram..Rich wants everyone to know this was down from the original price of 22000 dihram AND it is camel hair AND it tells a story AND we all like it!) and 4 scarfs (thrown in for free…..hmmmm…did we overpay for our camel carpet?!..)….
we are back at Dar Ayour for dinner. Very good food and great friendly service. Lulu and I had asked for henna – and Wilson got in on the action too -after dinner. Thank you to the kind Berber woman who came to our room and painted our hands.
Mohammed showed up right on time the next morning and we are off to the real desert….to Erg Chebbi the 20km of sand dunes. It is HOT but at least this windows down, white knuckle drive is on flat straight road. There are mirages on the road and the sand. We see groups of goats, sheep, cows and then camels – wandering the arid landscape and being herded by the nomads. Overloaded and off kilter trucks pass us on the narrow roads going much too quickly. People pile out of overfull busses and carts. We drive through a few little villages and some bigger towns. One of the towns was having a festival of water today which meant all of the children big and small were running around with buckets of water and throwing them on each other and passing cars. Windows up everyone!
Mohammed took us off roading for about 20min the “back way” to our hotel in Merzouga. Lulu = not so happy, Wilson = SO so happy, Rich = busy filming the experience, me= glad I didn’t have to pee!
Mohayut is a 3 star hotel in the dessert. Our room was large and clean and the air conditioning worked. The pool was sandy but not as cold as Dar Ayour and a refreshing place to chill with a snack after we unloaded our things. Mohammed would be back in 3 days. We were heading out on our camel adventure! Dinner and breakfast were included in our $200 CAD/night stay and was served on the terrace. It was really tasty (even Lulu ate some chicken and veggies). We asked a lot of questions about the camel experience and packed our small packs with the essentials –off to bed on a comfy bed – expecting to sleep nomad style on blankets outdoors for the next two.
After breakfast (finally some decent coffee and fantastic fresh squeezed OJ and fresh African bread) we meet Hussein and our camels. We are introduced to them by their car names (Ferrari, Porshe, Lambourghini and McLaren) but quickly Lulu and Wilson are renaming them. Hussein is kind and always smiling. He has a great laugh and speaks many languages. He has been guiding in the desert for 5 years now and during busy tourist season goes walking with camels every day. He says he knows every dune in this desert and never gets lost. We feel safe and comfortable with him. We have all the Sahara garb on, have applied lots of SPF 90 sunscreen and we are ready for our adventure.
Hussein teaches us how to get on the camel (who is looking not so scary sitting down with legs folded underneath). It is still quite a height to “throw your leg up and over” but doable. Then “HOLD ON TIGHT and lean back”. The camel lurches forward quickly then back just as quickly and the UP and up and Ahhhhh you are standing. (Rich will add the video I am sure!) And standing TALL I should add – about 8-10 feet in the air. Some of the camels automatically stand up as soon as someone sits on their backs, so you have to be ready right away. My camel – he needed MUCH coaxing every time….so I had time to prepare myself!
Into the dunes on our one hump dromodons (I will always call them camels though). Lulu rode the light coloured and smallest camel who she named Alex. He is four and just learning the ropes. He started out as Elly but then we found out he was a he….so Alex it was. He was well behaved and let Lulu pat him and feed him.
Wilson was on Freedom. Wilson decided Freedom was a good name because he felt that the wide Sahara desert dunes made him feel free and happy. Freedom was a midsized camel and about 7 years old. He too was very well behaved and Wilson enjoyed talking with him and loving him.
Rich was on the ‘big daddy’ who was clearly the one in charge. He was often leading the line of our camels and if challenged (by my camel) he would grunt and gnaw his teeth to show his dominance! The kids named his Eisenhower – after a large strong man in a book that we are listening to called 39 Clues. Eisenhower and Rich got along fine. Rich tried many different sitting positions for comfort and even rode in aero position (not sure that is necessary….b/c although windy sometimes in the desert…we are NOT moving quickly on these beasts).
My camel was black and seemed not so keen to get going, but then keen to nudge into Rich’s leg and Eisenhower’s butt whenever the opportunity arose. I called her Sheeba, but then again we found out she was a he….so Hussein helped me rename him Sheebani – which means old in Berber….a very fitting name. Sheebani and I got along ok. He dragged me up the side of dunes and kept me safe coming down the soft sand of other.
I wouldn’t necessarily call camel riding SMOOTH…but I am sure we were cooler than Hussein who was walking in the hot sand. The light breeze welcomed us when we climbed to the top of a dune and our turban/scarves saved us from the beating sun and wind and sand. We had water on the front of our camels that we could reach and we did get off from time to time to walk – which felt GREAT. Two hours into the desert was enough for the first ride and we were happy to settle into our first camp. Even happier to see some cushions under shade to lounge on our room with 4 beds AND a flush toilet and running water in the bathroom….WHAT?! This is glamp cameling in the desert! YES! It was a scorcher 35+deg and the sand was SO hot to walk on. We passed a few hours eating – wow they served us SO much food and it was SO tasty; shooing flies from us and our food – a constant game/problem…..but hey – we are in Africa; drinking COLD coco-cola and ice water (thank you generators and ATV that brought cold stuff!); doing Math ala Rich –who smoothed the shady sand flat with the snowboard and wrote out math questions for the kids….they had to show their work and get the right answer to earn points for ‘sand soccer’; sand soccer – earning more points and doing more math depending on which sand ring level they kicked the ball to; phys-ed including sand soccer and dancing….oh and running across the hot sand to the carpets that surrounded our room and the washrooms; music lessons including rapping, singing and bongo drums playing; and english including story telling and anagrams. We were hot but we were happy and it was really quite glorious to spend time just the four of us with no technology, no noise, no obligations!
Hussein got us ready around 6pm to head out to the desert for sand surfing and sunset. Wow…..my inner thighs remember camel riding already…OUCH! Tomorrow is going to be interesting 🙂 . The sunset was behind clouds but still quite pretty and the temperature fell quite quickly. It didn’t cool down as much as we expected but a warm 28 was better than a scorching 35+. We rode the camels and the children sang some songs back to the camp where about 20 others had come to watch sunset and eat dinner with us. They will watch sunrise and head back to Merzouga in the morning while we head further into the desert. Dinner was excellent, some more dancing in the cool night sand and then off to bed (with a pee in a flush toilet and brushing our teeth at a sink!)…and Rich wearing not enough clothing and sleeping with the door open!
Sunrise was very special – so quiet out there, I enjoyed my yoga stretches (needed after camel riding) and some gratitudes….my happy moments…..very very special. The kids found Rich and I sitting on one of the tall dunes and enjoyed watching the colours change over the dunes.
We bid farewell to the others who would have breakfast back at the hotel and we had a lovely dune-top breakfast for four. Hot coffee, warm milk, tea, bread, fruit, yogurt, dates, and then came fried eggs! Yum.
Pack our bags and off on the camels. Hussein had to go back to the hotel but left us in the very capable and kind hands of his younger brother Barok and a friend Ali. They too were always smiling and interested in talking with the kids. They taught us Berber words – hajham (jh is a rolled r sound) = camel, saha = thank you, salam = hello. We sang songs, told stories about Star Wars (they don’t know much about these movies) and traded the lead camels (so Freedom and Alex could lead….Sheebani isn’t allowed to lead….he would fight with Eisenhower!) and got off to walk on the steep sections —THANK GOD. Stepping off the side of a soft dune with a huge camel is scary. Their big feet sink into the sand and you lurch side to side, forward and back….’lean back and hold on’ the guides say…Lulu starts humming which calms her (Oh Come All Ye Faithful of all songs :)….and my inner thighs scream for a break! Walking was good.
We made it to our midday pit stop for lunch and a lie down. It wasn’t as fancy as our first stop and we were glad to know we would be moving on from here for dinner and sleep. We were to use the ‘bush toilet’ if we needed to pee….which meant finding a small clump of tumbleweed grass and squatting…now I am not opposed to squatting….however trying to pee at a slow enough rate to not splash pee all over your legs is tough….because the sand is hard and doesn’t absorb your pee straight away. Lulu and I had some giggles and traded holding each other’s camel pants with the low crotch out of the way! We met some nice Korean young people who rode in for the day and taught them to play the card game Golf. We ate a great lunch again – this time a Berber tajine with beef meatballs and the eggplant/zucchini/onion/pepper mix under an omlette…..so so good…seconds for Rich and I at least.
At 6pm again we were off walking up the very tallest sand dune to watch the sunset. Holy workout! Rich, Lauchlyn and I zigzaged back and forth across the dune. Wilson and Ali walked straight up the side with the snowboard…CRAZY. Barok went to get our camels and bring them around the other side. When we stop, the guides tie one of the camels front legs up to ensure they don’t walk too far. The wind was blowing up on the dune and the sunset was PERFECT. All the way under the horizon…..great pictures, great time sand surfing (standing and sitting on it), great socializing with the others……a beautiful moment to remember. We had 45min to go once we met up with our camels at the bottom of the dunes….so Rich and Barok hopped on the sand board and rode down the steepest slope….and the kids and Ali and I jumped, slid and ran down the steep slope….AAAAHHHHHHHHH …happy screaming….but SAND EVERYWHERE!
The ride to our second camp under the moonlight was another highlight….seriously…..so peaceful and the shadows and shapes were gorgeous. Also a storm was brewing in the mountains and it seemed the magnificent lightning show was just for us. AMAZING!
We rode into camp number two bare feet, tired and hungry. Camp 2 was ‘luxury’ as per Barok….and he wasn’t wrong. We had a family suite! 4 beds and a toilet and a sink and a SHOWER! in our tent. Happiness. We ate a great dinner, had quick showers to get the sand off and then learned a few Berber dance moves and some bongo songs with the guides. To bed…a very comfy bed….a very fitful sleep!
Sunrise and departure came early ….but by 7am we were on the dunes watching a very colourful sunrise and preparing to head back to the hotel. Alex got to lead and for a while the kids and their camels walked with Ali and Rich and I with Barok….it was so nice to see Wilson and Lulu really really happy – singing, chatting, loving life.
Mohayut was a great hotel. Breakfast buffet when we returned, a room to shower and change in …AND they did our laundry for us while we were out on the camels. Highly recommended. Thank you again Marie Helene! Mohammed came to get us ….and off in the hot truck we go again. Today is Sept 23rd….our 18th Anniversary! We are so happy to celebrate with the kids on our worldly adventure…..we are SO blessed! The ride takes about 8 hours…with a few snack stops. Lulu is getting car sick, Wilson is feeling sick and actually IS sick at the lunch restaurant…and Rich doesn’t feel much better than that…… Happy day! I am the last one standing. We get to our hotel Dar Daif in Ouzazarte and it looks really beautiful and has a nice clean pool…..oh well…it is raining…it is cool (about 23deg) and noone is feeling well. Early to bed – some bread and rice for the kids (the Moroccan people really are very very kind and willing to accommodate anything) and Rich and I had our anniversary supper under candlelight just the two of us on our terrace. A night to remember no matter what!
Hopefully all will be feeling better in the morning. We travel back to Marrakech (outside the Medina) and then train to Cassablanca…to catch our next flight to meet Karen in Tanzania…….and so it goes……
Addendum: Wilson is feeling better….Rich is WAY worse and Lulu just as bad…..Hussein became our driver from Ouzazarte back to Marrakech….I have WAY more grey hair…and took to praying —to God or Ala or whomever would keep us safe….it worked. Here are some pics of the crazy windy, narrow, bumpy road that our driver drove at least double the speed limit (until the police checks) while talking, texting and dictating (about Instagram —the only English’y’ word I could recognize) on his two phones…..OMG!
An overnight stay in Marrakech at LePrintemps by Blue Sea. Rich stayed close to the hotel and the bathroom. Lulu took a nap. Wilson and I ran around finding laundry (no coin laundry here …so $100 in drycleaning…but sickness and camels = must do laundry), finding an ATM that would actually give us $$ and go to post office to ship a carpet to Canada and buy train tickets for tomorrow. Post office closed for today – come back in am. Post office opens at 8am, laundry ready at 9am and catch a 10:20 train to Casablanca…what could go wrong? Well, Wilson and I decided McDonalds fries and McFlurry are necessary reward for the sweaty running around!
Well….the post was open but I needed my passport AND they only take cash….the laundry was ready….Rich and Lulu are still sleeping and feel rotten, Wilson is too hot to run around with me despite it only being 9am….So…..drop off Wilson and the laundry at hotel and plead with him and the sickies to try to have everything packed by the time I am back…RUN the streets of Marrakech to find an ATM that accepts the Canadian bank card..RUN to the Post office…Pay the nice english speaking man who helped me….Wait for the “system” to work again –that’s all the english the girl behind the counter could say is ‘system down’…..wipe my sweat, check my watch, text the sickies, repeat…. 9:40 system working, post office paid (only 545 dirham to send back!), ….and I AM OFF AGAIN….sweaty white woman, gripping her purse, trying to keep a scarf tied around her shoulders, NOT wearing a sports bra……..Geez….I wish I had the addiction to selfies that my husband has 🙂
10:10….arrived at the Gare de Marrakech…platform found, train there, car and seats found (good to buy first class!)…and just seated when the train starts to roll. Everyone hot and noone very happy!
…hopefully the airconditioning kicks in …and our bellies get better! Casablanca here we come….and then Tanzania tomorrow.