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Majestic Morocco – Part 2

And so to Marrakech, the exotic and apparently romantic city….not so sure about that, however, it’s probably a case of each to their own.

It was my second time in Marrakech so may be why the charm has somewhat worn off….it’s still got the beautiful architecture, amazing food and haunting call to prayer going on but the aggressiveness of some of the locals and the sheer amount of hassle one encounters does somehow put a damper on it!

So ‘Team Upgrade’ and I get off the train in Marrakech and are met by our private taxi manned by two brothers who take us to our Riad for 3 nights. This is a personal bucket list item for me and Nicole, to stay in a Riad in Marrakech. We picked a reasonably priced one in the elite suburbs of the city, so although a 30 minute walk to the Djemaa El Fna square, we were far enough away from the hustle and bustle for it to be peaceful…well apart from our own neighbourhood mosque. When the call to prayer rang out at 6am it sounded like the guy was at the end of the bed with a megaphone!

The initial riad turned out to not have working WiFi so the owner said she would move us into another riad once it had been cleaned, so we dumped our bags and headed out into Marrakech for a wander around the Medina outskirts. We happened across the metalworking area where guys were cutting and grinding metal in the streets leading to molten hot sparks flying into the road and path of oncoming vehicles and pedestrians.

We navigated our way to an excellent Italian restaurant called I Limoni for a late lunch. We sat in their courtyard garden admiring the towering lemon trees and tranquil setting, you could barely notice the hustle and bustle of the outside street.

By the time we had finished our leisurely late lunch and wandered back to the riad it was time to move to the other riad which was fully equipped with hot water and WiFi. We all settled in, did washing and crashed out in our respective ensuite bedrooms…no less!

The next day was a combination of lazy morning doing jobs such as more washing and sorting bags out then we headed into the Medina and wandered about for the rest of the day taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Marrakech.

In the afternoon we headed to the Jewish Cemetery and the lovely Saadian Tombs, the Saadian tombs are from the 16th century.

The following day saw ‘Team Upgrade’ split up to do their own things….Michelle headed off for a hammam spa treatment and then lunch with Alli from the group (who had now arrived in Marrakech), Nicola had arrange to meet Grant (her husband) and some of the other group members for a lazy rooftop cafe day and Nicole and I headed on foot (55 min walk) to the Jardin Majorelle. The Jardin is a little piece of blue paradise in the north of Marrakech, it belonged to Yves St Laurent in the 80s and 90s and he lived there with his partner. They tended the gardens and created this artistic gem for themselves and the general public after his death.

Nicole enjoying the calm…..

We spent a couple of hours mooching about the flora and fauna, enjoying the peace before we headed off for a well deserved lunch. Our chosen lunch spot was a small restaurant called Amal which is a not for profit women’s empowerment project which offers training, employment and ultimately social acceptance for women shunned by society either by divorce, domestic abuse, trafficking, drug abuse or disability. The staff were an absolute delight as was the food, a definite must do when coming to Marrakech.

After our lunch we grabbed a taxi back to Djamal El Fna square and headed through the throng of the Medina to the Bahia Palace. The palace is a stunning site with amazing architecture and decor from the 19th century.

After the palace Nicole and I headed back to the Djemaa El Fna square to chill on a rooftop terrace where we feasted in mint tea, Coke Zero and ice cream!!

At 6,30pm we met a few of the group and proceeded into the square’s infamous nighttime food market, it’s a bit of a rip off to be honest and fraught with pitfalls such as dodgy street food, aggressive sales techniques and excessive smoke but it’s well worth a visit if you haven’t been…it’s something you just have to do once really.

We wandered through the smoke and salesmen looking for a stall that had lots of people at it and decent looking meat and veg. We stumbled across stall 22 that had the most joyous staff who burst into song as we approached…the song was a Shakira number from the World Cup in South Africa a few years ago but still it was nice to be appreciated!!!

We proceeded to order a mixed grill for everyone, couscous and bread and wait for the copious amounts of food to arrive before the inflated bill arrives! Still it was a fun night with some of the group, good food and no one got ill unlike some of the others on the truck who, after trying the famous sheeps head and brains, got ill!

The Friday saw us having to check out of the riad and head to the campsite to be reunited with the truck and the group. Michelle, Nicola and Grant (who had joined team upgrade the night before) headed off in the morning whilst Nicole and I headed out for an early lunch back at I Limoni for Nicole’s birthday the following day. Had an amazing steak back under the lemon trees before having to head back out into the dusty, busy maze of the Medina and get back to the riad to check out.

We grabbed a taxi to the campsite and pitched our neglected tent which was still wet from Fez 5 days before! We spent the rest of the afternoon chilling out round the pool at the campsite before I knocked up a decent Jambalaya with Nicole, Michelle and Nicola for cook group.

Saturday we were all up early to head to the lazy, beach town of Essaouira. It was a long drive which ended in our truck pulling up at the desired campsite to find it wouldn’t take the truck. So a fair few of us leapt off and proceeded to sort upgrades in town as the truck headed 18km out of town to a campsite. We wanted to stay in town and be local so we grabbed a beautiful riad called Chez Aziza which was really central and run by a lovely lady, Aziza! Hence the name!

She couldn’t have been more welcoming….lovely room, lovely house, amazingly clean, big bathroom, copious amounts of Italian coffee,mint tea and home cooked breakfasts and dinners.

Grant and Nicola upgraded to Chez Aziza with us which was lovely.

The four of us headed to a local restaurant for amazing food for Nicole’s actual birthday and then Young Brian (who had also upgraded) met us as well.

After dinner we headed to a local bar showing the New Zealand v Ireland rugby match and had a quick drink with ‘ Team Upgrade’, Young Brian and Richard and Rhona…the upgrade team is expanding!

Sunday saw us all pile down to the Port to marvel at the walls, waves, boats and birds. The weather started off mixed with fierce waves and rain out at sea but ended up clearing up and leaving us with lovely blue sky and sunshine.

Team Upgrade members above – Young Brian (we have another Brian in the group who is somewhat older…hence the Young!), Nicola and Grant.

The afternoon we dodged the rain showers and mooched about the souks, the others eating local pastries and all of us drinking mint tea whilst people watching. We also found the creepiest doll and a new Goat dish……

That night the bad weather set in with thunderstorms and torrential rain so Aziza made us a delightful home cooked meal of pickles, courgettes, peppers, bread, eggs, vegetables, rice and a beef tahini with more vegetables followed by a huge fruit platter! Immense meal and one of my favourites so far. Made with absolute love by a lovely woman.

Monday was our last day in Essaouira and we spent it mooching about, repacking for the desert bush camps that were next, blogging, downloading tv programmes and eating steak and Roquefort sauce in a posh hotel & restaurant on top of the ramparts.

We all had an early night as the following morning was an early start to grab a taxi to the campsite where the group were staying so that we could head off early to the desert and the Western Sahara which is a disputed territory currently claimed by Morocco.

3 nights of bush camping coming up…..great!

The following morning we woke early to a power cut so we all had to frantically get ready in the dark before emerging into the flooded, dark and rainy streets of Essaouira to track down our taxi to take us to camp. After hanging around in the dark getting soaked we finally met the taxi and after some diversions around flooded streets and rainy off-roading we regrouped and leapt on the big orange truck ready for the desert and the next couple of countries (if you count Western Sahara as a country in its own right!).

Stayed tuned for the next edition of my escapades which will cover Western Sahara and the very sandy and relatively unknown Mauritania.


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