Magical Morocco

Camel train Sahara Desert, Morocco

Although it was something of a whirlwind trip – stopping off at more than 10 towns and villages during a two week visit – a recent trip to Morocco was absolutely fantastic.

There’s something utterly beguiling about sleeping under the stars in the Sahara Desert and boy, is it cold at night!  Sleeping is perhaps an overly ambitious description of the experience, because when you are sharing a section of sand with another 10 bodies, all at similar odds between sleep and wakefulness, it’s hard to get any meaningful shut eye.  That’s without factoring in the camels wandering around the camp and the spectacle of being under an inky midnight blue sky, showered with brilliant stars. A bit surreal, but definitely not to be missed.

Between visits to the major cities of Casablanca, Fes and Marrakech, we had chance to get somewhat off the beaten track and visit some remote villages in the Atlas Mountains, where the daily life of local people is still influenced by long standing traditions.  There was stunning scenery, bracing air and brisk exercise to be enjoyed (apart from the handfulSkala Du Port, Essaouira of people who cheated and hoofed it up on a mule that is) as we hiked up to Armd village for the night.  Traders had set up little stalls with Berber goods for sale and after some hard bartering, I found myself in possession of a rather fetching hand knitted woollen beanie hat.  It came in useful, as the mountains gave us another breath sucking insight into quite how cold Morocco gets in some places.

In Essaouira, we had the lCafe Des Epices. Marrakechuxury of two days to potter around the town, to enjoy the active bustle of the fishing port and chill out at pavement cafes in the Medina, where we sipped the most glorious freshly squeezed orange juice – definitely the best we’d ever tasted.  Another highlight here was a visit to the local Hammam, but that’s another story…

As we neared the end of the trip, we set off for Marrakech, stopping en route to watch the famous goats of the Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz region, which nimbly climb trees to eat the fruits of the Argan tree.  Quite an astonishing sight.

Marrakech was everything we’d hoped for. Vibrant and hectic, full of curious smells and sounds and with a souk worth getting lost in for a couple of hours.  In Djemaa El-Fna Square we watched agog as colourful characters entertained the masses with acrobats, magic, storytelling and dance, whilst nearby stalls served steaming bowls of food scooped from bubbling vats.  Courage failed us though and we didn’t tuck in, but headed instead to the Earth Cafe Marrakech, where we sank gratefully into their comfy cushions to enjoy some superb vegetarian food.

Our trip was arranged through G Adventures which made it possible to see so many fascinating aspects of the country in a limited amount of time.  Our travelling companions were delightful – there was a staggering 65 year age span between the youngest, at 19, to the oldest, who at 84 was an inspiration to all of us.

It’s a joy to know that life really is what you make of it, whatever age you are.

December 1st, 2009 | Comments Off on Magical Morocco

Top 5 places to stay

Whether it’s five star luxury in a hotel or free camping in the wild, holiday accommodation is a big part of the travel experience and it can make or break a trip. I’ve been lucky enough to stay in a wide range of different places over the years, experiencing the extremes of luxury, to the most rudimentary hostel imaginable and I’m developing a list of favourite places, starting with my present top five.

 

Number 1 – The Okavango Delta – bush camping 

Okavango Elephants

Forget fancy hotel and lodges – for me, bush camping is the only way to stay when visiting the awesome Okavango Delta in Botswana. Travelling in quietly by Mokoro canoe reveals wildlife watching opportunities that simply wouldn’t be possible in a 4×4 or plane, giving anyone who is willing to get back to basics a real chance to be at one with nature for a few days.

There is something quite spectacular about camping in the wild and hearing lions roar and hyenas call in the early hours of the morning – scary but overwhelmingly exciting at the same time.  Added to this, few things can top the sight of elephants coming to drink at the river, just feet away from camp.

With no loo, shower or any other creature comforts it it takes guts to give it a go, but our guide was a wealth of information about the local wildlife and habitat, making it a privilege and pleasure to be there.  Using guides from the villages helps to sustain local communities, protecting traditional lifestyles and supporting conservation work.

If you don’t unpack unless you’ve checked out room service and the mini bar, it’s probably not for you, but it’s out of this world if you have a spirit of adventure.

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May 20th, 2009 | Comments Off on Top 5 places to stay

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