The Moroccan Sensory Layer Cake. Trip report – DAY TWO!

For day one trip report, visit here.

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4 Day 3 Night Private Tour

We had lots of reservations about travelling in Morocco – many of which were eased by reading the extensive and reassuring information provided on Trip Advisor forums. It was a daunting prospect, being two female travellers, having to spend 4 days with someone we’d never met before, in a country that was alien to us. I didn’t sleep very well the night before – thinking what have I let ourselves in for?!

It only took a few moments in the presence of our driver, for my worries to be dispelled. As had been arranged, we were met at our Riad at 8:30am. Mohammed, our driver for the next 4 days, introduced himself and immediately demonstrated his polite, gentlemanly manner as he carried our bags up the cobbled streets of the medina. His impeccable manners and charm were endearing characteristics, present for the entire trip. The vehicle (Pajero) was new, clean, comfortable and well maintained.
Mohammed ensured we felt at ease and was very attentive – frequently checking that everything was ok – and giving us space to take in the sights, at the right moments and providing us information as required. When we were taken to ‘prime’ tourists spots, such as the Argan Oil co-operative, Rissani Market or the Labyrinthe Du Sud, in Ouarzazate, Mohammed gave us a pep talk briefing beforehand, explaining that we should not feel obliged to buy and use the opportunity to get lots of photos. This helped us to relax and enjoy these experiences without feeling pressured. He always hovered at a respectful distance and intervened if he felt it appropriate or necessary.
Day ONE of tour:
Today’s journey would take us from Marrakech, across the High Atlas Mountains, ending the day at Ouarzazate. As we drove out of Marrakech, the looming, snow-capped mountains seemed such a contradiction to the dry, arid flat plains stretched out before us. However, it didn’t take long for the terrain to become more rugged and undulating.

Atlas Mountains

Atlas Mountains

Obviously familiar with this route, within a few miles our guide pulled over to provide an opportunity for us to get some photos. Within seconds of us leaving the vehicle I hear the sound of a creaky bicycle pull up behind us (seemingly out of thin air). Immediately the rider begins his well-versed sales patter “Mineral”, “Amethyst” “photo?”. His ‘merchandise’ was three vibrant (more than likely fake) minerals. As fascinating and as dazzling as they were, I rolled off my standard “Non! Merci”. We quickly learned that we could expect to encounter these sellers any time we stopped… no matter how remote or isolated the spot! During one photo stop, my daughter was busy snapping away at the impressive view, when she turned round and was eye to eye with an outstretched hand containing a pair of lizards…. followed by “You take photo?”. I wish I could have captured her expression at that moment! Needless to say she was back in the car like a shot!

Tizi Ntichka

Tizi Ntichka

After a few hours traversing the winding roads, which snake up the sides of the mountains, we passed the highest point (Tizi Ntichka) – blink and you’ll miss it!

Our driver briefly pulled over to allow for an ‘out of the window shot’! We then dropped down off the main road and our guide explained we were heading towards Telouat Kasbah. Traversing the narrow, rugged roads on this part of the journey, left me feeling somewhat ‘sea-sick’!!

Telouat Kasbah

Telouat Kasbah

Telouat Kasbah

Telouat Kasbah

Telouat Kasbah

Telouat Kasbah

Telouat Kasbah was the only place where we needed to pay to visit (20 MAD). We were fortunate to have the place to ourselves. Mohammed explained the history of Kasbahs in Morocco, and guided us through this now unoccupied and largely dilapidated building. The downstairs area (where the poorer people would have resided) crumbling and in a state of disrepair, was dull and uninspiring and doesn’t prepare you for what’s in store upstairs! Floor to ceiling bright zelije tiles, ornate cornices, ironwork window grates and beautiful hand decorated panels on the doors. A photographer’s dream.

Our next destination was Ait Ben Haddou, where Mohammed explained we would break for 90 minutes, for lunch – “and just relax” he reassured us! The restaurant was clearly a regular haunt for organised trips – with numerous 4×4’s and coaches lined up outside. We now realise that lunch breaks were always taken at restaurants that seemed to cater for tours like ours – I wonder if the guides get a discount? They generally offered a limited set menu costing 100 dirhams (£7 approx) – this you needed to pay for (however breakfast & dinner were included in our tour price).
It was pleasantly warm so we chose to eat upstairs on the roof terrace – with a fabulous view of the famous Ksar – Ait Ben Haddou.

Ait Ben Haddou

Ait Ben Haddou

It’s a good job we’d been given those 90 minutes to relax, and a hearty dinner (Moroccans certainly don’t hold back on portion sizes) – as the walk up to, and through, the Ksar involved ascending countless stairs! Nevertheless, it was a beautiful example of traditional Moroccan architecture and I particularly enjoyed walking through the many alleyways that were lined with shops – their vivid scarves, pictures and pottery illuminating our way. Simply charming. I took some of my favourite photos along there.

 

Ait Ben Haddou

Ait Ben Haddou

Ait Ben Haddou

Ait Ben Haddou

Ait Ben Haddou

Ait Ben Haddou

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We travelled on to Ouarzazate – Mohammed drove us past the film studios. He offered us the opportunity to visit them, but explained there wasn’t much to see. So trusting his opinion, we declined!

The final stop of the day was the Labyrinthe Du Sud – an Aladdin’s cave with two rooms full of antiques, proudly displayed against striking indigo walls and a vast pillared room, stacked with multicolour rugs and carpets. Mohammed left us in the capable hands of an animated and enchanting man, adorned in indigo blue traditional berber robes and headdress. We were guided through a whole host of artefacts, enraptured by their fascinating and eclectic history, before being led into the brightly lit carpet bazaar! I knew this was where they were going to get into serious sales pitch mode as the mint tea made an appearance! We took a seat, accepted the tea and braced ourselves for the sales pitch! I was quite happy to sit back and enjoy the ride as I knew I only had 200 MAD on me…. I doubt that would have even got me a carpet tile! Berber man and his faithful assistant set about a well choreographed routine, producing intricately made rugs and passionately illustrated each design for us… “these diamonds represent the Milky Way”, “this chevron show shooting stars” “pyramids for sahara desert” ,“this rug fold into suitcase to go on mule”, “this is family rug for marriage”. After being presented with about 15 rugs – getting progressively smaller, the anticipated sales pitch made it’s appearance. 1500 MAD for the smallest one… I took out my 200 MAD and conceded, “I don’t think this will buy anything here?”! Not surprisingly, we were soon redirected to a room containing jewellery and smaller artefacts where we leisurely snapped a few photos before returning to Mohammed outside.
My daughter and I now fondly remember this encounter and chuckle when we see a rug – as it provides an opportunity to try our best to creatively interpret the designs! It doesn’t quite have the same resonance on a brown two-tone IKEA rug though!

Just a 5 minute journey down the road and we arrived at our hotel, Riad Bouchedor. The grand building seemed very out of place amongst the incomplete and under construction buildings surrounding it. The staff were courteous and attentive at all times. The room was probably the best we experienced during the entire trip. Dinner was a fixed menu – and the food just seemed to keep coming (7 courses??). For some unknown reason my phone wouldn’t connect to the WiFi (although my daughters would) – as a result there then ensued about 45 minutes and seven Moroccans trying to get it connected for me…. I really wasn’t that fussed about having WiFi, but I was flattered and appreciated their relentless determination!

The Moroccan Sensory Layer Cake. Trip report – DAY ONE!

Curious to see more of the world, I decided to book my first ever holiday outside of Europe, bringing my 16-year-old daughter along for the ride too. Fortunately she is better travelled than me – having already visited Swaziland last year with her school. After much research and reading of the Trip Advisor forums I opted for Morocco as my destination of choice. My friends told me I was ‘brave’, ‘mad’ and that I should cover up (head to toe). ‘Stay safe’ were their parting words! Clearly these are people who have not truly experienced Morocco.
[THE FLIGHT – ARRIVAL]
Our early morning journey to Morocco began with us having the pleasure (!) of being seated next to a gentleman on the plane who was afflicted with verbal diarrhoea! He deemed it appropriate to tell me his life story, and then continued the one-way conversation by delighting in talking me through mobile phone photos of his dog, Porsche engine, family and 12 beheaded men (as you do)! He also relentlessly tried to get me to join him in drinking his recent purchase of duty free whisky (an absolute bargain apparently)…why am I such a ‘nutter magnet’?! He explained how his last trip to Marrakech had involved 8 men, a villa, 32 litres of spirits and the nightclubs. This time he was bringing his wife back for a similar experience! Lucky lady (?!) Needless to say, his itinerary was clearly very different to ours!

From the minute we stepped off the plane, we were experiencing the sensory layer cake that is the hustle and bustle of daily life in Marrakech. The heat enveloped itself around us. Despite it being mid February, it was pleasantly warm – comparable to a good English summers day. All around the airport, Moroccans were busying themselves (in a way only Moroccans can…often this seems to involve not much, apart from sitting/standing around and chatting)! We could hear the distant throng of a busy city – mopeds, cars, horses hooves, braying donkeys and the general buzz of animated chatter.
On a practical note, when you first arrive at the airport you are required to complete an embarkation card before passing through the passport control, so it definitely pays to have a pen in your hand luggage. Like a good boy scout, my daughter and I were prepared for this. You will need your passport number and hotel/Riad details to complete the form, so make sure these are to hand too.

We made arrangements with the Riad to provide a hotel transfer at a cost of 15 Euros. This meant a smiling Moroccan gentleman, holding a sign with our Riad’s name on it, greeted us in the arrivals lounge. For a fleeting moment we felt important! He whisked our cases from us and guided us towards his taxi, exchanging conversation in broken English and we had our first opportunity to practice our scant French linguistic skills! We trekked across the car park through lines of tired looking beige colour Mercedes (I bet they have many a tale to tell) – but fortunately 15 Euros buys you a little more luxury and our journey would be in a clean, modern people carrier. This was our first taste of Moroccan travel and roads…and suffices to say – anything goes! There seems no limit to how many people you can cram on a moped, or any regulation regarding wearing helmets. Mum on the front wears a flimsy plastic one, small child clinging on behind – no need (hold tight and hope for the best)! Cars, cyclists, motorcyclists, donkeys and pedestrians all seem to have a knack of weaving around each other without causing a collision! With my inexperience and lack of confidence as a driver, I was definitely best placed in the passenger seat! After a hair raising and eye-opening, 10 minute journey we arrived at an arched gateway in the ‘orange-red clay and chalk walls of the ‘red city’ (medina). Here a young Moroccan ‘Ali’ who was our host at the Riad Inaka, met us and guided us down the cobbled streets to the tucked away building.

[ACCOMMODATION – RIAD]

Riad Inaka is nestled amongst several buildings within the narrow passageways and Derb (streets) of the Medina (old town). We’re glad our host, Ali, came to meet us from the taxi, as the black, fortified, door only sported a small, shiny, discreet, brass plaque with the Riad’s name. The red clay, non-descript and unassuming exterior of the building gave no clue as to what lay inside. Once through the door we entered into a traditionally decorated courtyard.

Riad Inaka Courtyard

Riad Inaka Courtyard

The floor was tiled with soft blue and red patterned tiles that extended up and around the base of a central fountain.

Riad Inaka Courtyard fountain

Riad Inaka Courtyard fountain

The space was furnished with a mixture of traditional and modern furniture and had many plants dotted in between. Above us was a sliding roof, which was half open, allowing the midday sunshine to warm the space.

Riad Inaka Courtyard

Riad Inaka Courtyard

 

We were invited by Ali to take a seat, where we were then presented with our first exposure to the infamous mint tea – A small decorated silver teapot and two mini patterned glasses, neatly seated on a silver tray. Being a newbie to this territory, I was not yet familiar with the etiquette to tea pouring and I clumsily went to pour the tea – as Ali arrived back with a selection of Moroccan pastries (cookies). He chuckled, and rescued me from my uncouth moment! It would seem there’s definitely a knack to this tea pouring business – none of this ‘instant cuppa’ we are accustomed to in the UK! The teapot is poured from high, and the first poured glass is returned to the pot. I had read that the tea is very sweet, often with copious amounts of sugar added. This one wasn’t! I guess they were trying to cater for the western palette! It turns out I do prefer it sweeter!

After 10 or 15 minutes to enjoy our beverage we were shown to our room. It was situated on the upper floor, which overlooked the courtyard below. The bijou size of the room allowed for two single beds, with just enough space to get between them. There was a compact curtained wardrobe and to the right an ensuite with sink, toilet and shower. Ali showed us how to operate the air conditioning – setting it at 30 degrees for us (!), then left us to unpack. The room was simple, well presented and met our needs. For the price we paid (about £25 a night) I was delighted with the standard.

Riad Inaka bedroom

Riad Inaka bedroom

Like many of the buildings in the Medina, the Riad has a roof terrace. We took the opportunity to take in the panorama of the distant snow-capped Atlas Mountains, looming above the tightly packed rooftops of the cramped Medina.

Riad Inaka roof Terrace

Riad Inaka roof Terrace

Breakfast was substantial (compared to what I would usually eat)! Every meal in Morocco seems to be accompanied by bread – breakfast was no exception, although rather than the customary round Moroccan bread, we were treated to French baguette. We had a choice of tea or Coffee. We chose coffee for our early morning caffeine jumpstart, plus we were also given freshly squeezed orange juice. The main breakfast was pancakes or potato scones.

Jumping ahead a little here, but it seems appropriate to include this now as I am describing our Riad experience… Having read the Riad reviews, and then met Ali, we wrongly assumed that he was someone who’s word was reliable. We discovered this was naively misplaced, after we returned to the Riad from our four-day desert trip. Whilst we sat and enjoyed a welcoming mint tea he enquired as to the cost of our desert trip. I told him the price (350 EUROS each) and he looked shocked and told us that it was too expensive. I had done extensive online research, and the price was the cheapest of all the quote requests I’d made for our itinerary (about seven quotes altogether). I know that you can go on group trips for significantly less, but we made a conscious choice to pay the extra, and have a private tour. I thought nothing of this conversation, and just assumed Ali was not fully aware of the full package we had benefited from (and also the fact that to Moroccans, this is a lot of money). The next morning we decided we wanted to visit the Ensemble Artisanal. According to our Trip advisor app it was 2 miles away. Having only spent a brief amount of time in Marrakech on our first day, we thought we’d take a taxi there and then walk back (via Djemaa El-Fna). After breakfast we asked Ali if he could arrange a taxi for us. He quickly replied with “I can do private taxi for 300 Dirham”. I knew straightaway that this was extortionately high. My daughter quickly tapped it in her currency converter app and it was £20! Ali, still hoping for a sale, explained, “Taxi will wait for you and bring you back”. I let him know that it was too expensive and that we wanted to walk back. He replied (with what I have now concluded is a facetious response), “I know. It’s too expensive”. He was clearly having a sly dig at our discussion from last night regarding the cost of our desert trip. He then walked us out towards the main street to get a taxi. On the way we met a local man who seemed to ask Ali if we wanted a taxi. After a stream of exchanges between them in Arabic – it was offered to us at 70 MAD (just under £5). We opted for this just to get where we wanted! With hindsight (and discovering it was NOT 2 miles away) I also believe this was too expensive! I’ll write more about this part of our trip, later!

[TIME TO EXPLORE]

After settling into our room, we decided we would make the most of our half-day in Marrakech, as in the morning we would head off on our four-day tour. We were beginning to feel hungry so we decided to find somewhere to eat, therefore Jemaa El Fna seemed like the obvious port of call.
We asked Ali for directions, but by the time we had followed the first two instructions we had forgotten the rest, so we employed the use of the Trip Advisor City Guides app. Thanks to the app (which you can use offline) we effortlessly navigated the streets… when I say effortlessly, I am simply referring to the sense of direction. There is nothing ‘effortless’ about walking along or across these lively streets! You will find yourself zig-zagging around food stalls, parked vehicles, ambling pedestrians, stray cats, rubbish, parked donkeys – whilst also dodging the approaching mopeds, cars, donkeys, men pulling carts and cyclists. Crossing the road is a rousing experience, which I can only liken to playing ‘chicken’ as a child! Very rarely will a car stop to let you cross the road (even at marked crossing points). We quickly learned to shadow the locals as they crossed the road – closely following their path between the moving vehicles. By the end of our stay we were able to cross like a local too!

As we strolled down Rue Bani Marine, approaching Jemaa El Fna, all of our senses were being invaded and tantalised. The exotic aromas filled the air, and the sounds of drums and snake charmer flutes become louder and more hypnotic. Brightly coloured Caleches (horse drawn carriages) were lined up ready to whisk tourists off around the city.
I had read about the atmosphere (and the pit falls) of the square so we tentatively circumvented the perimeter. We saw leashed, performing monkeys wearing nappies, not something that interests us, Henna ladies perched on plastic stools – accosting anyone that walked within arms reach. Men in fringed hats and multicolour costumes, clang brass cups together, asking “Take photo?”. Teeth sellers sit with their best gnashers, dentures and braces proudly for sale on their table. We quickly bypassed charmed snakes (no thank you) and wide stepped the rows of orange juice sellers who relentlessly called out “Ay, Ay, Ay”. Crowds gathered around acrobats, story tellers and musicians as they performed in whatever space they could find.
Behind the sellers on the central square we discovered the labyrinths of souks (markets). Whilst browsing the vibrant, enthralling and colourful souks we were called ‘skinny girls’, ‘fish and chips’, ‘sexy ladies’, ‘Asda Price’, ‘nice eyes’ as well as being asked to buy some unknown item which included 10,000 free camels and a Ferrari! “Everything is free to today ladies”. “It’s free to look”. I quickly developed a quite tuneful ‘Non! Merci’, accompanied by a cheeky smile – much to the amusement of the traders!

We’d only arrived in this vibrant city about 2 hours ago, but already we felt we had experienced more than our brains could accommodate. We decided it was time to do what Moroccans do so well, and stop for a sit down, a tea, something to eat and recharge! We chose a quiet, shaded restaurant on the far edge of the square. We thought this would allow us chance to digest the experience and avoid the sellers. However no place is free from traders (even high in the mountains as I will detail later)- cigarette and souvenir sellers were free to meander around the outside seating areas of the restaurant! My daughter opted for the safe option and chose pizza, whilst I was feeling braver and chose beef & vegetable tagine, accompanied by mint tea (this time with sugar).

Beef and vegetable Tagine

Beef and vegetable Tagine

With hindsight, the food was average, but as newcomers to the culinary delights of Morocco, it seemed like a taste sensation!

Now feeling recharged and primed to put my haggling to the test, we revisited the stalls in the souks. I proudly carried out my first barter purchase…for some shampoo (we forgot to pack ours). Afterwards, I calculated I had probably paid way too much! But it was genuine quality shampoo you see! “Handmade in the mountains by Berber women with their bare hand…Not factory shampoo”!!

We returned to the Riad taking an alternative route back to amble around the Minaret de la Koutoubia and the park behind it.

Minaret de la Koutoubia

Minaret de la Koutoubia

We had a couple hours breather, sat on the Riad roof terrace, drinking mint tea, and made use of the free WiFi.

That evening we ate on the third floor of the Café De France. We hadn’t chosen this restaurant for its food…but simply so that we could enjoy the panoramic view across Jemaa El Fna. The food was a limited choice, from a set menu (100 MAD – approx. £7). Salad for starter (which we didn’t eat as we read it can cause a dicky tummy). Chicken Cous Cous for main, followed by seasonal fruit (mandarins) for dessert. Drinks were approx 15 MAD (£1) each.

The sun slowly set on the horizon, creating a beautiful silhouette skyline. The lights of the stalls illuminated the hustle and bustle that raged on below us. A perfect end, to an exhilarating first day.

Djemaa El-Fna at sunset

Djemaa El-Fna at sunset

Some of our shabby chic upcycled furniture

Here are a few examples of items of furniture myself, and my daughter have upcycled:

 

Shabby chic upcycle with Annie Sloan paint

Shabby chic upcycle with Annie Sloan paint

 

Ki-Lo Comission beforehand

And here’s what they looked like before!

 

Shabby chic upcycle with ANnie Sloan Chalk Paint

Shabby chic upcycle with ANnie Sloan Chalk Paint

Shabby chic upcycle with ANnie Sloan Chalk Paint

Shabby chic upcycle with ANnie Sloan Chalk Paint

Shabby chic upcycle with ANnie Sloan Chalk Paint

Shabby chic upcycle with ANnie Sloan Chalk Paint

Shabby chic upcycle with ANnie Sloan Chalk Paint

Shabby chic upcycle with ANnie Sloan Chalk Paint

Stop and Think. Northam Burrows

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“••• { THINK ABOUT IT } ••• @photo_lola taking time out in the beautiful surroundings of Northam Burrows”
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Out of this world – Northam Burrows

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“••• { ANOTHER PLANET ? } ••• The sun setting over Northam Burrows and it looks like its from another world!”
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Pebble Ridge – Northam Burrows

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“••• { PEBBLE RIDGE } ••• My daughter @photo_lola on the pebble ridge at Northam Burrows”
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Freedom – Northam Burrows

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“••• { FREEDOM } ••• My daughter ( @photo_lola ) enjoy the space and quietness of Northam Burrows”
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Picking up the daisies – Northam Burrows

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“••• { DOWN TIME } ••• Closing daisies on Northam Burrows”
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Perspective – Northam Burrows

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“• [ NORTHAM BURROWS ] • It’s all about the perspective”
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Little Person – Northam Burrows

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“• [ NORTHAM BURROWS ] • Little person”
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