From the road to Ourzazate, we reached Marrakesh by day around 5PM and made a quick tour of the city by bus before reaching our hotel, Le Meredien N’Fis. This 5 star resort made up for our lackluster hotel in Ourzazate, and we were rewarded with a pleasant 3 night stay in the red city of Marrakesh. We finally had the time to relax, recover, and be in one place for a while. This blog is about Marrakesh by day, and the next one will be Marrakesh by night. We quickly drove by the main square (Jmaa al Fna) and the Koutoubia Tower, which would be a landmark for our wanderings throughout Marrakesh over the next few days. When we arrived at the Le Meridien, we were ready to relax – and that’s exactly what we did in Marrakesh by day. I messaged Aunt Leslie to see what she recommended we do and whether she had a guide she recommended (after the fabulous recommendation of Khlafa in Fez), and she voiced the wise warning of Marrakesh being a tourist trap. We took that to hard and didn’t try to do too much, focusing on rest and exploring at our own….
The highlight of the morning our of Ourzazate and into Marrakesh was the fortified ksar on the hill Ait Ben Haddou, also a UNESCO world heritage site. But first, we made two stops – one at the Kasbah of Taourirt and another quick stop at Atlas Studios, where many movies have been filmed. Here is the Taourirt Kasbah. It was in remarkably good condition and we took a 30 minute guided tour with a local guide, exploring all of its nooks and crannies. It was built in the 19th century and with the help of UNESCO was restored. Many of the mosaic work and original decoration was still in tact. At the end of the tour, we bought a few small pieces of watercolor paintings from an artist renting space in the kasbah gift shop. They were desert pieces of the Sahara and the Kasbah. After the kasbah, we continued on to Ait Ben Haddou. We had a quick stop at Atlas Studios, the movie studio used for sets in many of the famous Hollywood movies. Fernando, part of the Mexican family we were traveling with, was a film-maker living in Los Angeles and had arranged a private tour for his….
After our adventure in the Sahara, we had a long day of travel ahead through valleys and canyons of the Atlas mountains and in to the city of Ourzazate. We took the Tinjdad Road (the north route) towards Tinghir and had a few stops along the way. We stopped for a bathroom break, tea, and a Panoramic view in Tinghir (Oualkim). It was a beautiful valley oasis nestled within the Atlas Mountains. However, we did not spend any significant time there and quickly continued on our way to Ourzazate. We got to drive through the Todgha canyons, which rise up 800 feet as sheer cliffs, just outside of Tinghir. We stopped for lunch briefly at a tourists restaurant which had probably the worst food we had tasted yet – only Moroccon food, extremely bland, and out of most items. We asked for Coke Zero and they were out. Then, the waiter walked away fro our table and didn’t take half of our orders (we were sitting with the Mexican family today). We had to get up and ask M’hamed to have him come back – only to get our food way too late to even eat it properly. I had….
We had our Sahara engagement today with camels, sand, sun, and Berber (Amazigh) but the day actually turned out to be much different. I woke up with a massive ear ache in my left year after sleeping with ear plugs due to the paper thin walls at our otherwise luxury Sahara lodge (see more about it here). My cold had also gotten worse, as it had started to move beyond just my throat and had impacted my sleep. I was not a happy camper and was seriously considering bailing on the Sahara engagement that day. Brendan tried really hard to convince me to tough it out, in a kind of harsh and non-empathetic way (I assumed because he had habitual ear, nose, and throat issues and he thought I was being a sissy). I mustered up the strength to at least join the Gate 1 group on the basic Erfoud city tour in the morning, and was leaning towards opting out of the optional but already pre-paid Sahara engagement (camels, desert) etc in the afternoon. Brendan went to breakfast alone and came back with a ton of energy and again sternly urged me to go with him because he wouldn’t….
Today was a big day on the road as we made it from Fez, to the mountains, and in to the desert as we spent most of the day driving to the Sahara. We began around 830AM from the Marriott and first stopped in the mid-Atlas mountain town Ifrin as we began driving to the Sahara. The scenery quickly changed from desert to forests of Oak, Cedar, and Sycamore as we made it in to the picturesque French-alp style village for a quick stop. We took a walk through the sycamore trees and saw beautiful parks outside of the Royal Palace. Here’s Brendan by a random formal lion statue! After a 20 minute stop and our short walk, we continued driving to the Sahara. We spent most of the day until lunch in and out of consciousness as our Atlas Rider bus wound it’s way over the mountains. Forests eventually gave way to high desert plateaus as we stopped for lunch at a rest stop in Midelt. It was nothing to write about, save a good place to stop mid-way driving to the Sahara – oh, and Brendan got to try camel kebabs, which he enjoyed. At this point of the….