Our first day in Morocco was set to an odd tone from our early morning cab nightmare in Rome, leaving me both emotionally and physically exhausted. (I was running on 3 hours of sleep.) Still, the show must go on. Our flight was 20 minutes longer than estimated, and the border control was another hour on top of that, which expended the delay-time allotted by our booked tour guide. With the plan to meet at our riad (hotel) at 11am, we arrived at about 11:15, and had not yet been able to get onto any functioning wifi to contact him.
First our innkeeper, at Riad Lalla Aicha, offered us to sit and have tea. Then, when I mentioned we had a guide coming, he said that he’d already come and been told that no one was checking in. He said nothing else, and walked away. So, I’m both confused and a bit frustrated at this point. He returned and asked if we have a reservation. This is when I realized that he clearly was not expecting us, but fortunately did have our (prepaid) room available. I suppose bad-on-them for not updating their reservations (another group came after us with reservations and were only half-accommodated since there were no more rooms); in their defense, though, there’s no place else in the world that you may find a hotel that serves you tea before asking if you’re staying.
Yusef met us back at the riad as soon as my emails made it through, and kindly offered to give us 30 minutes to settle and freshen up before heading out for our tour. He also was okay with us cutting our tour from full to half-day since we’d be getting such a late start. This was a great start to a great tour of the souks and a few beautiful buildings! He offered a wealth of cultural knowledge as well as recommendations. More than once he took us into little cubbies that we would certainly not find on our own (or think to go into), such as one neighborhood oven, where the women will bring dough for the day to hand off for baking. He suggested that when we buy from the souks that we come in with an offer half theirs and accept nothing more than ¾ price. Though, some of our friends have had luck bartering with ¼ price offers and settling around ½.
After our tour ended, we followed the seemingly extraordinarily simple directions to get back to the spice market square near to our riad (a 5-7minute walk), where we’d find Yousef’s restaurant recommendation: Nomad. A bit overpriced, underserviced and cold, I was not overly impressed. The food was good, but no better than most other meals we’ve had since, in less populated areas of Morocco. On the way to the restaurant, however, we got roped into following a kid who said he’d show us where to go, and that we were going the wrong way. I still think he just walked us in a circle, but it’s easy to get lost in the Medina, where all the crowded roads wind past a million similar looking shops. I offered him a USD, knowing our tour guide said if not MAD (dirham) then USD is the best to use when shopping, since both USD and Euro are taken at 1-10 in the shops. The kid acted like he couldn’t do anything with USD, and that the banks won’t take it. After him suggesting he take us to a currency converter to get money for him I was rather annoyed, and annoyed since I knew he’d led us around a longer way than necessary at the very least. I offered him money again, saying I was leaving, and he didn’t take it, so I left.
A similarly predictable situation occurred upon our initial arrival to the Medina, where our airport transfer van dropped us with a man with a cart, and said he’d take us to our riad. I clarified (having read about this on tripdadvisor), that the mad wouldn’t want more money than what we were paying for the van. Once the driver dodged the question, and the second time he replied in an offended tone that he was getting the guy for us, not us getting the guy, so we will not have to pay for anything more. I then watched him give the man some money, and still, when we arrived the riad he dropped the bags off and said “pay me.” I responded that the other man already had and he politely said “okay” with a smile, and left.
Anyway, leaving Nomad, we asked directions back to our very nearby riad that we’d still not become capable of locating, and were told by two people to ask the security guard since they did not know (with me showing them a map with a dot where it was, and having figured out where we were…really, it’s that complicated that neither we nor they could figure out directions even with a map). Finally, the security guy appears, “ah, okay,” he says, “go out here, turn left then right into the square, go to the end and turn right, then it’ll be either the first left or right, I’m not sure.” Like damn, the guy who knows doesn’t even know. How the hell are we supposed to be able to do this? Anyway we come upon the first right, and it looks very vaguely familiar insofar as it’s one of the only empty little streets that break off from the main walk. We come upon a door that should’ve looked more familiar than it did. I was only sure it was in fact our riad because the number on the door was 4, and I’d recently written the accommodation address on my debarkation form.
Still running on 3 hours of sleep, I made it an early night, falling asleep as the evening’s many calls to prayer echoed through the Medina.
The next morning our 8am pickup time turned into a 730 pickup time at the main square. We started off the wrong way, and so our innkeeper guided us the right direction. When we arrived the driver had left (if he’d actually been there before), but was back to pick us up a bit after 8. From there we gathered the rest of our crew of 5 and headed for the mountains! Day one was full of amazing and varied scenery. From mountains to rivers, ancient villages to uninhabited deserts, we saw it all and then some. The day was a bit chilly, but we made it through with coat-blankets and quick photo stops. Eventually, we ended up at our riad for the night, which was way more than I could’ve expected. It sat upon a hillside looking out over a river, and had colored lanterns lining the floor-to-ceiling stone walkway. Each of our rooms had more beds than we needed multifold. Dinner was on par with the rest of our meals, and came with a show of berber music at the end. Breakfast the next morning was later than we’d planed after a night of stargazing on our terrace. It was full of bread options and jellies, honey and almond butter for dipping, along with fruit. We set out on day two of the tour, filled with beautiful scenery, a bit of shopping and a lesson in Moroccan carpets. It ended with a sunset camel ride into the Sahara desert.
Our desert camp was well outfitted, and was about as close to glamping as I’ll ever get. There was a “restaurant” tent with a few tables, where we were served some amazing Tagine. That was probably my best meal in Morocco, and it was prepared in the damn desert! Each of our tents, again, were overequipped for our sleeping needs. Our bathroom had toilets and a sink (but the water came from buckets). Still the setup was quite nice, and far better than I’d anticipated. I was prepared do as the camels do-do. Speaking of, camel poop is plentiful along the route, and could easily be used as the Berber’s Hansel and Gretel trail between the camel-parking-pen (at a hotel) and the campsite.
After dinner we sat by the little campfire and listened to some Berber drumming, and then did some stargazing. The stars were amazing, the sunrise was underwhelming (at the least the last bit that we caught, though we were told we hadn’t missed anything). Though I didn’t try it for fear of poop, I heard that rolling down the dunes was quite a liberating experience. My mom is still getting sand out of her ears.
The camel ride back was around 8, and we enjoyed a shower and a buffet at the hotel where the camels live. We ate on the top terrace, and watched as our camels got their breakfast too.
Now we sit on the long 10hour drive back to Marrakech, having made a quick stop at the fossil shop to learn about the collection and production process, and get a few quick souvenirs. I got my quoted price down by half, and our fellow traveler cut down his by even more. Of all the stops so far, Morocco is most certainly the most difficult to restrain from buying. The deals are good, but not better than Poland; perhaps I am just getting weak at this point in the trip. The craftsmanship and detail of everything from rugs to sandals is really impressive here, though, moreso than I’ve seen other places. If you’re looking for unique finds, you’ll find them here!