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Our Royal Visit to Marrakech

King Muhammed VI was waiting to meet us

No…we didn’t meet the King of Morocco.

Actually what I am referring to is the treatment Shawna and I received during the time we spent in the country’s “Red City”, Marrakech.

The starting point for most Sahara Desert tours and near the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, Marrakech was to be the place where we would spend the rest of our time before heading a few hours north for the Casablanca Half Marathon.

We arrived into the city a day or two later than planned while we were waiting for our Mauritanian Visas in Rabat. Unfortunately this meant that we were unable to get tickets to the African Cup Qualifying match between Morocco and Tanzania. I had been hoping it might be possible to check this out for a while, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

However that doesn’t mean we missed out on the festivities.Saturday night (the night before the game), Shawna and I went down to the Medina to see what was taking place.

Piles of Morrocon soccer shirts for sale

Holy madness!!! The streets were JAMMED with locals and tourists alike. Moroccan hats, flags, shirts, banners, and balloons were all for sale for an appropriate number of dirhams. The bodies were squashed together, and it was more of a shuffle than a walk down the main street of the Medina. It was unlike any other Medina we had experienced before, and to be honest it was just a bit too hairy in comparison to what we had prepared for. We were both foolishly carrying our small bags, and Shawna was nearly the victim of our first pickpocketing!

Quite the start to the crazy city of Marrakech. And although it is sometimes a little tougher to find alcohol here, we ended our night at the famous Grand Hotel Tazi where we were able to settle down with a drink before heading back.

Okay, so maybe that doesn’t exactly give you the vision of royal treatment…however, it’s all about to change. Shawna had found a mother-son duo online. Although they were living in Marrakech, they were actually from New Zealand. And most importantly for us….they had a room to rent!!

We took an instant liking to Kathy and Anthony, and after looking at our potential new place, we knew we were there to stay for at least a week. In fact it was nearly two weeks before we jumped on the train and headed for Casablanca… it was incredible to have a “home” as opposed to a hostel while we embraced Marrakech.

Us with Anthony, Kathy and another houseguest, Camilla

The best part about living with locals is that you get to see things that you otherwise never would if you were travelling through staying at a hostel. Kathy and Anthony have a tour company which organizes Sahara trips, as well as an exporting business here in Marrakech, so they had their fair share of connections within the city and surrounding area.

Here are a few of the highlights of our time in Marrakesh:

Touring the Souks

We spent time with Kathy and Anthony, touring the souks (markets), that most tourists simply don’t get to see. Incredible Moroccan doors, lanterns, furniture, carpets, tables, fountains…. you name it, they sold it. Also incredible was watching the amount of work which the artisans put into the pieces which they were making.

Ourika Valley

Just 40 minutes outside of Marrakech, we toured a women’s cooperative where they produced Amlou (think runny peanut butter made from almonds – or for a better description see Shawna’s post on Morrocan foods) and sold Argan Oil.

While in the valley we also hiked towards the cascades, a small waterfall feeding the Ourika river. The hike wasn’t terribly strenuous but all the same we rewarded ourselves with a tajine lunch alongside the river.

One of dozens of riverside cafe

Stopping for lunch

My favourite part of the day was at the end, where we visited a local Berber family who Kathy and Anthony knew. We were warmly welcomed into there home for tea, met the donkey and the sheep who also lived inside the house, and toured their humble but beautiful home.

Drinking tea with a Berber family

Baaaaad news for this fella who was kept inside the house awaiting his fate

Golf

I love golfing. I am respectably below average in terms of skill level, but I love it all the same. I haven’t picked up my clubs for over a year (it’s an expensive game, so no golf while we were saving for our trip!), but here I decided to spoil myself and headed out for 9-holes at the Atlas Golf Club. The course was beautiful, and I basically had it to myself! However golf in Morocco isn’t cheap either….9 holes cost me almost $75!!!

Happy Gilmore!

Djemmaa el Fna

Listed in our Rough Guide as “the world’s most amazing city square”, we spent a lot of time here, in the center of the Marrakech medina. We did a little shopping, a lot of walking, and an incredible amount of time telling henna artists, shoe sellers, and food stall operators that we weren’t interested in there product! A night, when the square really came alive, we would enjoy spending time on a nearby restaurant terrace watching the anarchy from above!

The Djemma el Fna from above

But be careful when roaming around….the lady below asked Shawna for her hand to ink a small henna design. Shawna said no, but the lady basically just grabbed it and started with her craft. She was extremely friendly, welcoming us to Morocco, saying we were her Morrocan friends. Of course we were “a tad” suspicious, asking how much she wanted for the art.

She said, “you pay what you want”…and then 30 seconds later, the artwork complete, demanded 250 dirhams (just over $30 CDN). We ended settling on 50 dirhams, but a lesson learned.

Shawna and the friendliest henna artist in Marrakech...until it was time to pay

Other Random Thoughts of Marrakech

  • Marrakech is a city of massive proportions! Outside of the medina, there existed a world like no other we had seen in Morocco. Huge hotels, nightclubs, and property developments. This is a city on the move!
  • Taxi drivers get a bad rap worldwide, but many of them deserved this in Marrakech. For a metered run back to Anthony and Kathy’s place, we knew the fare was 25-30 dirhams. However more often than not, drivers would simply refuse to use a meter, and so you had to negotiate a price before hand. One guy actually suggested 150 dirhams for this 8 minute drive….ahhh, you gotta love them.
  • Again, an incredible thanks to Anthony and Kathy who made our time in Marrakech extremely special. Not only did we have an amazing place to stay, as well as built-in tour guides and taxi drivers, but we also made two great friends – Thanks guys!

After Marrakech, Shawna and I jumped on a train and headed for Casablanca for the Half Marathon (and by now you all know how that turned out!), before commencing with the journey south, slowly making our way to Ghana!!

If the insanity of Morocco ever gets to you, there is never a shisha pipe too far away!

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3 Responses to “Our Royal Visit to Marrakech”

  1. Stephanie Weiss November 9, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    Glad to see you smiling more in pictures, Skott!

    So Regina has a Hooka lounge…with shisha pipes….

    I have been to the Hooka lounge once but curious as to where shisha originated from and really, what is the point? (I smoked a flavored puck….is that the main purpose…?)

    BTW…winter has arrived…snow covered Regina….

  2. kathy November 9, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    thanks for the nice words but let me tell you that it was a pleasure meeting you 2 and you are welcome anytime and of course lets not forget floyd safe travels guys and shawna great run in Dar el baida (casablanca) well done Girls rule

    take care
    kiwis in maroc

    • Skott and Shawna November 10, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

      Inshallah, we will meet again Kathy!!! Heck, maybe even business partners, right? Floyd will be thrilled to meet you! And yes, Skott concedes it as well…..girls do indeed rule!!!! :)

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