20 June 2007

2-17 June 2007 - Morocco

I arrived in Casablanca a day earlier than the 2-week Exodus trip and met up with the two people I was travelling with – Anne and Sera. We hit the markets in Casablanca and found that it wasn’t as cheap as we thought. And as for haggling…let’s just say to get a good bargain you started at half the price given, and work up slightly from there. On the Sunday we met the rest of the people we were going to be travelling with – 10 Americans (very nice ones as well), 5 Brits, 3 Aussies and 2 Kiwis.

The ages were from 24 up to 60, with about half male and half female. Our local guide Larcen was lovely and as he spoke Berber, French, English, Arabic, some Portuguese, Italian and little bits of other languages, we knew we would be in good hands. What amazed me was that 95% of the population here are Berbers (indigenous) with 5% Arab and nearly everyone in Morocco speaks French. If only I could remember my school-French!

We were in Morocco just before its hottest time…so we were bathed in temps around 30 degrees+ most days, though in the Sahara it was about 45 degrees! They didn’t seem to have aircon working properly in most of the places we were staying so there were some very restless nights and meant we were ready to get out of bed when the sun rose every morning (well...a slight exaggeration)! Because of the season, there weren’t a lot of other tourists about so in some places, especially the Atlas mountains and Sahara desert, we had the place to ourselves.

As for the sights in Morocco here are my favs:
  • Walking through the medina (market place) in Fes – massive area with lots of side alleys and we were told to stay close as getting lost was a surety! It is in fact the largest medina in the world. It is confusing, immense, noisy, smelly, hot and intense – an amazing experience!
  • Hassan II mosque in Casablanca – the third largest mosque in North Africa. Absolutely stunning.
  • Volubilis – the largest and best preserved Roman ruins in Morocco. The mosaics are amazing and very well preserved.
  • Staying at Merzouga (Sahara desert) where we climbed the Erg Chebbi dunes for sunrise. The dunes are a staging post for the Paris-Dakar Rally. We also had a 2hr camel ride into the desert where we spent the night under the stars at a Bedouin camp. (One of the guys got stung by a scorpion here…not a poisonous one, but he was in a lot of pain most of the night).
  • Todra Gorge in the Atlas mountains – awe-inspiring with thousand-foot high vertical walls. We went for a 5 hour walk from 1600m to 2000m (very hot, but not as hard as you might imagine). There is a massive contrast to the barrenness of the mountains and then coming down to Todra gorge where it is basically an oasis…green with lots of date palms and wheat fields. Their irrigation system is simple, but very effective and everyone has access to the water.
  • Spending 2 nights at a gite – local and basic accommodation in the High Atlas mountains. A great time to unwind and a highlight was going for a walk around the fields and watching people harvesting them. Girls were hauling loads of wheat and grass up hills and were a lot fitter than I am! In fact harvest time is the best time to come here for.

Everyone in the group got on amazingly well, and it has to be one of the best groups of people I’ve travelled with. I would definitely recommend this trip if you don’t have much time and want to see it all. Otherwise Morocco would be easy to travel around independently. Got to say though, two thirds of the group came down with a dodgy stomach during the trip….no one is quite sure what it was as it was like a domino effect - ie went from one person to the next over a course of about 5 days. Luckily I escaped the worst of it!

Morocco is so diverse in regards to landscape, people and history! The food is very tasty, though, it usually consisted of only 3 choices…cous cous, tagine, and omelette….for lunch and dinner!Once we got to the main cities like Casablanca and Marrakesh, there was more on the menu, but not much! And as for alcohol...barely saw any of it. Remember that nearly the whole population is Muslim.....

I really enjoyed my time here and would definitely come back to Casablanca for a long-weekend of shopping, and a week of hiking in the Atlas mountains.

19 June 2007

2-17 June 2007 - Photos from Morocco

Door knockers to the King's palace!

A good ole gossip!

Amazing tile work

How to keep the neighbours out!

Couple strolling through Casablanca

Hustle and bustle of a medina (market place) at Meknes

Hassan II mosque in Casablanca

Standing guard outside the tomb of a Moroccan king

The sprawling medina of Fes