If you have been following along with my travels, you are probably thinking, “that Liam, he is the master of surprise, he took his friend on a lovely trip to Norway and they had the experience of a lifetime”. What you probably don’t realize is that it was a retaliation. We are in a war of who can out-do the other with the best surprise holidays and all I can say is – game on. But first let me tell you about how this all started.
You see, we’re both fairly low key when it comes to possessions – I don’t have expensive handbags or jewellery. I like a good book, but am happy to read on a kindle. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate these things and would love to have them, however, most of our funds are spent on travelling. Which makes it pretty much impossible to buy a really cool gift for each others birthday and Christmas. We started by taking each other for nice meals out – you can tell that I loves me a good meal. But then last year, I had the genius idea of giving Liam a surprise trip. He was given minimal details, but was given a choice of two. One that involved a lot of travel for a few days, or one that involved less travel for the same amount of time. Both were places and experiences that I knew he wanted, and both were within a certain budget.
So in November of last year, Liam made it to the departure gate at Gatwick, before a very helpful (seriously lady did you have to?) woman stood at the top of a queue of people screaming out ‘Marrakesh, Marrakesh!!!!!’ and the gig was up. He was excited and we took a selfie in the departure lounge to start our holiday.
We arrived in the heat of day, I had arranged a pick up with our riad (riads are local hotels) and they whisked us off to the edge of the Medina. A few tips here – I would recommend getting your cash before you fly out. Normally, I think that you can get a better deal on the exchange rate from local cash machines, but these are few and far between in Morocco, so get yourself sorted before you leave. Speaking of getting yourself sorted, don’t forget to book your vaccines in advance – find more information at Pharmavaccs.co.uk. Also, take luggage, and make sure most of it is empty when you get on the plane, as you will be hard pressed to leave the Medina empty handed. I’d also recommend that if you’re travelling alone or feel unsure of how to visit the best sights in Morocco, to book a tour guide. These are easily found, such as Morocco Guided Tours, and you get to take in the full beauty and experience of Morocco this way.
The Medina is largely pedestrianised, except for motorcycles that the locals use, but most people will be on foot. Our riad was what my Moroccan dreams were made of. The floor was covered in beautiful mosaic tiles, and the ceilings were vaulted and arched. I was in love. We checked in, which involved a silver pot of mint tea to welcome us, and we decided to head out for a wander and some lunch.
The Medina is a buzzing and vibrant place. We headed to a square and devoured a traditional lunch of Moroccan lamb tagine, which was full of dates and deliciousness. We were later to learn that dates are also known as “Moroccan Viagra”, but we will get to that soon. As we wandered through the alleys and connected squares, the scent of spices was heavy in the air, there were stalls selling beautiful jewellery, stunning hand painted plates, and lots of leather goods. There was even a stall that had geckos. I held one briefly as Liam bartered us some spices.
A note on this – before we headed to Morocco, I had heard a number of horror stories about how women were harassed, how the men often made rude gestures or suggestions to them. I was pleased that I had my so-called safety husband with me on this trip. However, this was not my experience in Morocco. I was treated with the same respect that you would expect in any country. However, I also was respectful of the fact that this is a very religious country and kept my shoulders covered at all times and avoided low necklines. The one thing that did stand out, was that when it came to negotiating, Liam often ended up with a better price than I did. So I relaxed and let Liam do all the work!
That night we had a delicious early dinner in the riad, we were tired from travelling, but also we had an early start the next morning. We were heading on a two night trip to the Sahara. A huge tip on this one – I found trips online for £400 each and thought “oh this one I will sort when I get there”. We ended up booking the trip through the reception at the riad and it cost us each £90. That is two nights accommodation, tours, camel ride in the dessert and being driven to and from the Sahara. I would hugely recommend that you book this tour in country and through your riad, instead of online in advance.
So off we went! We picked up our group and headed up the Atlas Mountains. They are stunning. The view is beautiful and the landscape is so varied – green trees and rusty ground, it was quite a contrast. We drove to the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou which, as well as being a UNESCO world heritage site, will also be familiar to anyone who has watched Gladiator or more recently Game of Thrones. This city is made traditionally with clay bricks and after a season of rain, which does not happen often here, but when it does it needs rebuilding. Whilst there are concerns that the filming in this location could damage it, the people here tell us that they are often extras on the set, and that the increase in tourism helps them to sell their wares. After wandering through the streets and climbing to the highest point to see the view, we headed off to lunch, which is tagine and salad, and then we were off again.
It’s a long drive to the Sahara – we spent the day stopping for refreshments or photo breaks, but mainly driving. We arrived in a tiny village for dinner, where we were able to buy alcohol, which is a bit of a novelty in a largely dry country and we survey our room for the night. Although it’s November, the days are warm, but the nights are really, really cold. I would advise taking a warm jacket and lots of layers. We took a short walk through the town after dinner of tagine and were through it in five minutes. The sky is huge here, with so many stars as there are limited lights from houses and businesses. Randomly there is a shop open that is selling Korean cosmetics, and I remember Brittany telling me about cosmetics made from snail drool – so I picked her up some sunscreen.
The next day, we stopped off a nomadic village. A large percentage of the population in rural Morocco is nomadic. They spend the majority of their time in the mountains with a variety of herd animals, such as sheep, llamas or even horses. This village is stunning. They have a ready water source, so they are able to farm and whilst showing us around, our guide tells us about how the Government has been helping nomadic communities to secure living accommodations during the winters, as well as helping them to sell their wares to tourists by giving them discounts on internet connections so that they can accept card payments.
My favourite part of this tour was when we were shown how the stunning carpets are made. I got a chance to try ‘carding’ the wool and the lovely lady who was showing me, said that I’m good at it – well I am a kiwi after all and we know sheep. The carpets are stunning. They are intricately designed and hours and hours of work has gone into them. I felt guilty asking Liam to negotiate on a price for one, as they were so lovely, but this is customary.
This is almost a sport, Liam negotiated for a while and the men stopped to ask me how much I want the rug and will I allow my husband to spend the money. I laughingly tell them that my husband deals with the money and we both walk away with a small rug made by student. As we left there were smiles all around, that my husband has made me happy with a rug and that they have gotten a good price. The feminist in me struggles with this, but this is the custom here and I am a guest in their land.
As we leave, I start to get excited, we are off to the Sahara for the night. We arrived on the edge of the desert as the sun was just beginning to set. Our scarves are fashioned into headgear, which can go across our faces should the wind get up, and we are allocated our camels. It’s fair to say, that I am not comfy on the camel, but soon enough I am distracted by the scenery.
Honestly, I cannot describe the colours of the desert, it is not simply just beige sand, it’s the many different colours of the sky and of sand as the sun sets. My guide was very attentive – asking me often if I am ok. We arrived at the Bedouin settlement in the twilight. The tents were brightly coloured and we are shown where we are sleeping.
It’s cold, so I put on more clothes, and then we head for dinner in the mess tent. More tagine and lots of chat, before we head out into the pitch black to sit around a fire and hear a traditional concert with drums and singing. It’s quite surreal to be under a million stars, warmed by a fire, sitting next to one of my favourite people in the world, listening to music that I don’t understand, but can follow.
Liam climbs the dunes and I decide to sit that out. As I’m speaking with one of the guides, I ask him, “what is the light over there, behind the dunes?” He tells me that it’s the moon rising. And soon enough, it does. I watch it crest the dune and light up the desert like it’s daylight. Which makes it challenging to find a spot to go to the bathroom!
After a chilly night sleeping, we got up on the camels again, this time to watch the sunrise. We are back at the edge of the desert before I am really awake, and given some breakfast before we head out for a long day driving back to Marrakesh.
It’s a long day and most of us sleep it away. Arriving back in Marrakesh we headed to Riad Farhan. I have never been so happy to have a hot shower and lie down for ten minutes before dinner. The service here is excellent. We were welcomed with mint tea and shown to our beautiful room. Liam and I headed out for dinner and treated ourselves to something other than tagine. It was a warmish night and we were excited to be staying in the Medina again.
The next day after a yummy brekky, we headed out to do the last of our shopping before going home. I come away with plates, spices, lanterns and glasses. Whilst Liam is negotiating for plates, the call to prayer begins. The shop owners let us go up to the roof where we can hear the calls from all over the city. We were standing in the middle of a crowded market place, in the sun, listening to this haunting call and I have to pinch myself to believe all that has happened in the last few days.
As a final treat, we decided to have a hamam before getting on the plane. The riad has organized this for us and off we go. It started with a scrub – if you are shy (like me), and are worried about having a stranger scrub your naked body, don’t be. It’s one of the most lovely experiences – I felt like I have lost a layer of skin and so refreshed and pampered. To top it off, the experience ends with a full body massage, I was in relaxed heaven. I floated back to our hotel, where we picked up our bags and headed to the airport.
I was so sad to be leaving, I have loved our trip and all of the stunning experiences that we have had. Liam has been surprised and is already thinking about how he can top me – which you can read about here. I encourage you all to get to Morocco and once there to go with the flow. Sure you might not know the name of the village that you are staying in, but that is part of the charm, part of the adventure.
Photos by Nicola Whyte