For a Muslim country there was enough alcohol for our 15 travellers from South Africa. In the Sahara desert one thinks everything is very dry but I had a shower in the grand Berber tent the evening we stayed there! They shod their horses with rubber but, while observing a guy doing his own horse, I saw that he gave it sugar lumps. So, for me, Morocco really is a country of contrasts.
The trip started in ultra-modern Casablanca. First we stayed in Rabat, next to the blue Atlantic Ocean, where we visited the mausoleum of Mohammed V. Here the Spanish influence can clearly be discerned. I can remember Meknes and then on to Fez, the oldest of Morocco’s Imperial cities and the holiest in the Islamic world after Mecca and Medina. October is the high season for visitors and I felt claustrophobic amongst the many visitors to the 2000-year-old Medina (the old city) because the alleyways are quite narrow. The stench of the leather tannery will stay with me for a long time – they gave us fresh mint to blot out the stench from below! There were mules laden with goods, blind alleys and the smell of exotic spices. For me it seemed that, in Morocco, everything was made in the traditional way, hence it took a long time to make: the leather, the pottery, the fabrics and the carpets.
And a woman works hard there! Women make the beautiful carpets and weave the lovely fabrics. I am sure glad I was not born in Morocco!
After Fez we changed our money in the Swiss/French town of Ifrane, a very neat ski resort in the middle range of the Atlas Mountains. Then into the Sahara Desert – my real reason for doing this trip. We rode our camels into the lovely and very quiet desert at sunset – sometimes we could only hear the swish-swish of our camels’ feet (we were each on a dromedary camel, the one with only one hump) in the soft sand. That night we had a true Moroccan feast in the Berber camp. We slept in real grand Berber tents with every convenience imaginable! We were up early to see the sunrise over Algeria from atop our camels. The next day we drove through more harsh and desolate country to overnight in the Sultan Dades hotel in Boumanle du Dades.
The very new hotel was on the top of a hill in this town and our bus could not get us there due to the narrow roads, so we had to walk about 10 minutes uphill. But it was really worth it because it was a very comfortable and modern hotel and even had a small pool where I could do a few lengths in the morning.
The next day we crossed the High Atlas Mountains before we came to the shopper’s paradise in Marrakech, the so-called Red City. What a big and bustling town this was! I recall sleeping in the big bed in the hotel Ksar Anika with the sounds of horse hoofs on the cobblestones outside my second-floor window. On the red square I saw snake charmers playing their flutes and lots of carts pulled by pairs of horses in festive regalia. I went into the ancient souk (shopping area) with a couple from our group as I was too scared to go in there without a male companion. I bought (after the usual haggling with the Arab trader) a leather belt for my brother-in-law and a Marrakech T-shirt for myself.
From busy Marrakech we drove seawards to the west and ended up in Essaouira, the White City. Essaouira is known for its good seafood as well as its silverware. The Riad Hotel in the old city, where we stayed for two nights, had no pool, so I had to get up early to walk along the seafront in the morning before breakfast. I saw that there was even an international triathlon on the Sunday morning but it started at ten so I could not watch the fit athletes.
Then back to cosmopolitan Casablanca along the sea road to the north. I saw that there was still lots of space on the west coast of Morocco; we stopped for lunch at a luxury seaside resort where I drank much too much rosé wine with a fellow traveller! That evening we dined in Casablanca at the famous Rick’s café – which played the well-known movie with Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart in its bar. Apparently the café is owned by a rich American woman and the film was shot in France and not in Casablanca as we all thought.
The last day we were allowed inside the big, impressive mosque – the Hassan II Mosque – which cost, according to our female guide, about 800 million US dollars to build. We had to take off our shoes as a sign of respect. The men are allowed at the bottom and the women can sit at the top. They must, however, be separated. Marble is everywhere and the chandeliers awesome.
Dependable Turkish Airlines brought us back to flat, familiar, Table Mountain and beautiful Cape Town. I was glad I could see Morocco but equally glad that I don’t live there. The ride on the camels in the Sahara was my highlight. I am glad I went this year because I could still experience the silence of the desert. There were already many Chinese tourists around on the dunes during the sunrise and, in the years to come, one might not experience the silence and the vastness of the Sahara Desert as our group could.
© Dr Sibis Mouton
Jan Hough. 2018. Itinerary of Club Travel, Tyger Valley Centre – Morocco Jewel of the Maghreb.