Morocco, Part Wahid (1)

After Madrid, I headed off to Morocco for two weeks. In something of an itinerary-less road trip, we started in Marrakesh, drove south of the Atlas Mountains to Ourzazate, then drove alllll the way south to a place called M’Hamid in the Sahara, went north-west to Taroudant, proceeded to the beach at Essaouira, and then returned to Marrakesh for a few days. In Marrakesh, we stayed at Riad Amazigh (also known as Equity Point Hostel – Marrakesh), which is a riad-turned-hostel and is the nicest “hostel” that I’ve ever seen. It even has a pool! I highly recommend it if you’re in Marrakesh and looking for reasonably-priced riad accommodations. Many of the newer, more posh hotels are located outside of the Medina (the old town), but I personally prefer to stay within the Medina. Perhaps it’s the city girl in me talking, but I like to emerge from my lodgings right into the hustle and bustle of the souks, if I can.

The rooftops of Marrakesh looking out towards the Koutoubia Mosque

The bulk of the time that I spent in Marrakesh was at the end of the trip, and since I was just there in the summer of 2009, I didn’t feel an overwhleming need to revisit all of the tourist sites. Rather, I was content to wander the maze of souks and just look at all of the goods for sale, which, after months in Poland, seemed so much more exotic. The centre of Marrakesh is the Djemaa el Fna, the main square, which is surrounded by [generally touristy and mediocre] cafes, from where you can observe the happenings in the square. I’ve sampled a few of them, and I think I prefer Cafe Argana, which does a lovely vegetable couscous. During the day, the Djemaa is full of orange juice vendors (insist they fresh-squeeze it!), as well as carts selling dates, figs, nuts, and other dried fruits (which can be found at much lower prices in the derbs, or streets, which lead off of the square into the souks), snake charmers, and women who will attack you and try to paint you with henna.

Djemaa el Fna from Cafe Argana

However, in the evening, a number of food stalls, which serve an assortment of Moroccan foodstuffs, are erected right in the middle of the square. They more or less have similar menus and prices, but my particular favourite is #12, and my favourite food items are the pastilla (basically chicken pie in phyllo, or made with pigeon if you’re more adventurous or have a vendetta against pigeons) and harira (Moroccan soup – vegetarian friendly!). The environment is definitely something that should be experienced if you’re in Morocco, but make sure you have the energy to repel street rats (Aladdin joke) trying to sell you tissues and food stall vendors trying to lure you in. The best approach is to know where you’re headed ahead of time and make a beeline for it.

Grilled eggplant, harira, olives, and harissa (Moroccan chili sauce)

From Marrakesh, we proceed south through the Atlas Mountains, which is an absolutely beautiful (if slightly terrifying) drive. At this time of year, the passes are clear, but there is still snow in some of the higher peaks. The contrast between the snowy peaks and the desert below is breathtakingly beautiful, and I couldn’t resist getting out to make a snow angel.

Cacti and snow-capped peaks

We spent the night in Ourzazate, which is best known as being the home of a film studio where desert-themed movies like Gladiator have been filmed. Ourzazate is a nice place to walk around, and the inhabitants were, in my opinion, some of the nicest in Morocco because they simply did not harass the tourists. Anyway, even better than the remnants of the sets themselves is a visit to the casbah of Ait Benhaddou (also a film site of Gladiator), which has some stunning views of the surrounding areas.

The fortified city of Ait Benhaddou

After Ourzazate, we drove into the Sahara for more adventures. See Post #2 for those details.

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