If you keep driving south in Morocco, eventually you run into the Sahara. And if you drive to the very end of the road in the Sahara, you end up in a town called M’hamid, near the Algerian border, where the road literally runs into the desert and ends there. It’s a relatively remote (although one of the Berbers referred to it as “the city”!) but extremely beautiful area.
We stayed in a place called Hotel Kasbah Sahara Services – a slightly ridiculous name, but the setting was lovely, and it was incredibly cheap. It was probably the best hotel deal of the trip, in fact. As an added bonus, they also had a restaurant with delicious food, which was nice because M’hamid doesn’t have a whole lot to offer in terms of nourishment.
From M’hamid, we headed back north, stopping twice along the way. The first place was a sort of random “too-tired-to-drive-anymore-today” hotel, which was very nice but completely remote. The second stop, where we split into girls and boys and went our separate ways for a few days was called Taroudannt. Supposedly, Taroudannt is like Marrakesh was 30 years ago. If this is true, then I must say, I prefer modern Marrakesh. After about 7pm, all the women disappear off the street, and as three women travelling without male companions, there was some significant harassment (the nastiest we encountered, in fact).
After a night in Taroudannt, we decided to minimise our stay there and set off in the direction of Essaouira via Agadir in a shared grand taxi. The concept of a grand taxi is most definitely not one that you’d find in Europe or the US – basically, you turn up at wherever the grand taxis (which are intercity, as opposed to the petit taxis, which only travel within cities) depart from, say where you want to go, and wait for the taxi to fill up with other people headed in the same direction. If you can get a full taxi, it’s actually quite inexpensive, but there’s a catch – they pack passengers in like sardines. Seriously. Four across the back, and three in the front (including the driver). We changed grand taxis in Agadir, and this time, we decided that after spending a week crammed into the back seat of a tiny car, then an hour crammed into the grand taxi going to Agadir, we would get our own grand taxi for just the three of us to Essaouira.
Essaouira reminded me a bit of the Greek isles rather than the rest of Morocco – the buildings were all blue and white, and the people were extremely laid back. We also found a lovely hotel here called Riad Inna, notable for having what was possibly the nicest bathroom of the trip (always important). The weather was absolutely gorgeous, although not quite warm enough for me to venture into the sea, but the water was lovely for wading.
While we were in Essaouira, the Moroccans had their “Day of Rage” on 20 February, during which they held protests calling for constitutional reform. Unlike in Egypt or Libya, these protests were relatively minor, particularly in Essaouira, which is not a major city. We coincidentally witnessed the protesters marching through the souk.
After Essaouira, it was back to Marrakesh for a few days, and then home to Krakow.
Travelling in the desert, as well as the few days we spent in Essaouira following that, were my favourite parts of the trip. In both places, the people were generally less aggressive towards tourists than in Marrakesh, where one is constantly harassed by vendors or street urchins looking for baksheesh. Perhaps it’s not fair to include M’hamid in this comparison, since we spent a total of about 5 minutes in the town itself, but there is a definite shift in attitude towards laid-back outside of the major tourist areas, which I think require a certain fortitude and immunity to people screaming at you in order to be enjoyed.