Since our return friends have been asking how our trip was. This time the hubby and I have different versions of the same experience. I expected the country to be more exotic than it really was, while for him it was. Morocco reminded me of India so much in some places that it was hard to remember it wasn’t. What really stood out in our trip for me was the friendliness and hospitality if the Moroccan people. They would go out of their way to help a tourist even though the only common language they had were gestures and basic introductory salutations.
Another absolutely stunning revelation for us was the reach of Bollywood, especially of icons Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan, to even the most rural of kasbahs. As soon as we would roll down car windows (at police checkpoints) or step out of the car (at roadside handicraft set-ups), we would be greeted with an enthusiastic “Indian??!” A nod of our heads and chants of “Namaste!! Shah Rukh Khan!!” accompanied by million-watt smiles would envelop us in a guileless display of affection from strangers. It seemed to be a common feeling in Morocco that “India and Morocco…brothers!” Fine by me. 🙂
For reference, here is a tourist map of the country. Our initial driving loop was going to be: Marrakesh –> Todra Gorge area (Ouarzazate) –> Erfoud (Saharan desert area) –> Fes (including the ruins of Volubilis) –> Chefchouen (about 100km north of Fes; not shown) –> Marrakesh (for flight back).
Day 1: Marrakesh
Marrakesh is traditionally a city of stories, of fantastic tales woven around its famous Jemaa-al-fna, the old-town square where vendors, showmen, gawkers, tourists, hangers-about, apprentices, basically people from all around the city gather every sundown to conduct business, meet friends, eat out. Lined with numerous eating places — from shoddy food stalls to sit-down restaurants, the Jemaa is a great place to people watch. With kids in tow though we didn’t do much of that, but an evening at the square is a good introduction to the chaos of Morocco.
The next day our whole itinerary flipped on its head. Ouarzazate, nestled in the High Atlas mountains, was our next destination. This is the area where many of the adventure movie series such as Indiana Jones, The Mummy, etc. were shot so we were really excited to visit some of those studios. It was not to be. Due to torrential seasonal rains all roads out of Marrakesh to the mountains were closed. We literally reversed our route — now we were going to drive clockwise so that Ouarzazate would be at the end of our trip to give the roads time to recover. Little did we know that it wasn’t to be. More on that below.
Day 2: Rabat
Since Rabat was only a stopover on our way to Fes, we didn’t tour the city at all. Rabat is the financial as well as political capital of Morocco — and it shows. Lined with wide avenues, high-rise offices, trendy street restaurants, Rabat is as different from old-town Marrakesh as blonde from brunette. One discovery: taxis in Morocco can only legally seat 3 passengers so if you’re a party of 4 or over, two taxis it is. No concessions are made for kids.
Day 3: Chefchaouen
The blue city. Pictured in many Tourism Morocco brochures as well as promotional videos. A pretty little town nestled among the hills, Chefchaouen is about 3-hours drive away from its bigger cousin, Fes. Its medina is more manageable, less crowded, its labyrinthine passageways made charming by the blue paint on walls and doors.
Walking through its pedestrian-only passages is like walking through a time machine; it could be any century, any moment you could imagine making way for a royal procession or a busy merchant from eons ago. Yellowed walls and peeling paint interspersed with men smoking hookahs in their traditional jelabaa dress add to the ambiance. Duck into any of the small souvenir shops or art galleries lining the narrow streets for unbeatable deals on leather goods, wood carvings or traditional Moroccan clothes. The cobbled streets open into a town square with eateries and a centuries-old kasbah renovated as a tourist attraction.
Day 4: Volubilis
The Roman ruins of Volubilis were one of the hits with our kids. They got a chance to be amateur paleontologists and fossil hunters at this almost-forgotten site. Although a UNESCO World Heritage site, these ruins aren’t as well known as some others — indeed they looked as if there was still much left to discover here.
Both boys grabbed sticks to pry out pieces of “prehistoric pottery”** from the fertile, loose-mud ground and “crystals”** left about by dynasties past. Papa became the default curator “judging” the authenticity of these discovered artifacts.