Morocco, Marrakech & Ouzoud Falls – 2018

As a certain family member was celebrating a big birthday (yes Mum this means you!) we decided to treat her to a weekend away and after some deliberation, we decided on Marrakech; none of us had been there before and Nigel had never been to Africa so we decided to go for it.  Easyjet flies directly from Gatwick to Marrakech and so we booked some reasonable flights, found a Riad on Booking.com and off we went on a 3-night break!

 

Setting off on our early morning flight we arrived at Marrakech Menara Airport at 11.30am and it certainly was hot! we decided not to go in the peak of summer due to the temperatures but thought it would be bearable at pre-summer – it was still in the high 20’s when we arrived! We had no dirhams upon arrival due to the fact you cannot buy it outside of the country but we were able to find a cashpoint within the airport and we had also grabbed some duty-free vodka en route as we were aware alcohol was not easily available in Morocco especially considering we were visiting during Ramadam.

Unfortunately, our plane was slightly delayed on the way out and when we arrived we couldn’t locate the transfer we had pre-arranged.  After some deliberation, we decided to risk a taxi.  There were plenty outside we were just very wary of being ripped off based on reviews and our past experiences!  We had our bags taken off us very quickly and informed that it would cost 300 dirhams to get us to the Riad we were staying at which sounded a lot but we weren’t sure.  However, we had no other options so off we went!

 

We had booked to stay at Riad Lamya which was based in Medina but on the outskirts; reviews of the hustle and bustle of Marrakech had made us decide not to stay in the dead centre and we felt this would be a good compromise; near enough to everything but in a quieter area.  The Riad that we had picked also had great reviews and looked stunning so we were quite excited about our stay.  The taxi couldn’t get directly to the Riad so dropped us a little way up one of the alleys and left – leaving us a little confused as to where to go.  We were approached by some men who offered directions but again hearing how people will lead you places and demand money we were sceptical.  Eventually, we found the Riad and were greeted with a nice welcome drink of mint tea.

 

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The Riad was lovely and just as described on the site if not slightly smaller than expected.  After settling in and enjoying our mint tea we decided to head out to look around and look for some food.  From stepping out it was clear exactly how easy it would be to get lost here!  We headed further into the centre of the Medina and we started being approached by people offering directions, trying to sell us bits and offering taxis.  Interestingly despite the fact there were three of us only Nigel was targetted by the people selling, and mum and I were left alone!  It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that misogyny is so ingrained in the culture there, that if a man is in the party it must be he who makes all the family decisions about both how much, and how the money is spent. Big mistake! I did, however, see lone females having the same issues, so they do try to sell to females, but only if they’re alone.

 

We stopped and had a well-earned drink at a cafe on the side of the street and then continued walking towards the centre to the souks.  This was a crazy and mind-blowing experience with an array of colours, fragrances and sounds.  A word of warning though you do need to be prepared to be hassled, hounded if you stop and look and learn how to say no!  All in all, however, it is good fun if you get into the spirit of it.  Unfortunately due to how busy it was and the fact you have to be careful with pickpockets and phones we didn’t get the pictures we would have liked but it was definitely an experience.  We stopped for some food at Cafe des Epices overlooking a fruit and vegetable market in Derb Rahba Lakdima before heading back through the Souks.  We managed to find a taxi after much deliberation being charged 100 dirhams to take us back.

Tired after such a long day we decided to chill out on the roof terrace of our Riad for the evening with some snacks and to open the vodka we brought with us.  We watched the sunset over the medina which was really lovely and chilled on the roof terrace and stayed for the rest of the evening before heading off to bed.

 

The next day we decided to go for a spot of sightseeing.   After a lovely breakfast, we spoke with our host Fatima who informed us that we had indeed been ripped off and that we should only pay 30 dirhams max for a taxi around the medina.  Lesson learnt! We were also able to book a massage for the afternoon and a day trip for the next day through the property which was really helpful.  The ever helpful Fatima took us to the rooftop and pointed the way to Jardin Majorelle. 10-15 minutes later we were at the 2½ acre botanical garden which is designed in a cubist style.  We decided to head there for a bit of peace from the madness that is the medina and it was only a short distance away.

When arriving at the garden we did have to queue in the sun for a while but we were not disappointed when we finally got in.  We were advised to get there for 10am but we were slightly later at 11am.  It cost 70 dirham’s each to enter (approx £5) which by local prices was quite expensive.

 

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The garden really was a lovely oasis in amongst the craziness and we were really glad we visited.  We stopped at a cafe on the corner just outside for a drink and a spot of lunch which was really pleasant before we headed back to the riad for an afternoon chill before heading for our hammam.

 

Fatima managed to book us in for a hammam later that afternoon and also prebooked us a taxi to get there.   None of us was quite sure exactly what to expect; whilst Nigel and I had had a Turkish bath before (which was quite an experience) we weren’t sure if this would be similar.  First off, however, we did have to get there.  We found the taxi and sure enough, he tried to overcharge us and got quite indignant when we refused to pay the 70 he was demanding.  Eventually, we settled at 45 and discovered he hadn’t even dropped us at the right spa! A Google map later and lots of hounding from potential guides and we finally made it to the location – Heritage Spa.

The spa itself was really friendly and cosy, although not cheap! the hammam itself was 290 dirhams (approx £23) and an hours massage 450 dirhams (approx £36).  The hammam if you have never had one is quite an experience.  Males are given paper boxer shorts and females are provided with a paper strip on a bit of elastic which doesn’t cover much!  We were scrubbed, covered in a clay mask and hosed down in a steam room which really was something else; I resembled something like a slippery beached whale! The experience was different and not one I would be keen to repeat but on a plus my skin felt good! Next was an hour massage which was so lovely Nigel fell asleep zzzzz…. with a sample of soap matching the oil we chose for the massage we headed back to the Riad chilled out and a bit dozy.

We decided in the evening to head to the Jemaa El-Fna famous night market; we saw several signs for it the day before and lots of ‘guides’ wanting to show us the way but felt we needed to see it before we left.  Weirdly the streets were silent when we got a taxi there which was eerie but it was due to the fact it was nearly time for everyone to eat because of Ramadan and this was the only time we would see the roads and streets so quiet.

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The market has snake charmers and people with monkeys, but we had done our research and knew it was best to avoid the hassle these people can be when they try to charge you. We had read stories of people’s phones and cameras being “confiscated” after refusing to pay for taking a picture of a snake or a monkey. We entered the square and made our way to a rooftop restaurant overlooking the market and had lovely Lamb and Chicken Tagines and Cous Cous.  What we didnt quite expect was the fact we were right next to a Minaret and the speakers which certainly woke us up if we weren’t already!  The food was really nice and set us up for the hustle and bustle that was the market.

 

Whilst it was easy to see how overwhelming the market could be we had the attitude of ‘go with it’…be polite and firm but have a laugh and this worked well.  Laugh and they’ll laugh with you, show any anger and you should expect much the same in return. We wandered around the copious stalls and managed to buy all our souvenirs at reasonable prices with a little bit of haggling.

At one point we got rushed by a load of security guards and a massive crowd of people with someone famous rushing by and it wasn’t until afterwards we realised it was Roberto Carlos, the famous Brazillian footballer who was there to promote Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 FIFA Football World Cup. They lost the bid a few days later, and the tournament was awarded to a joint bid from The USA, Canada and Mexico.

Trying to find our way back out of Jemaa El-Fnaa was no mean feat and we did end up getting slightly lost and walking through more of a local’s market until we finally found a taxi which took us back to the riad.  One tip is to use google maps when in a taxi to determine if the taxi is taking you on a wild goose chase; our taxi took 40 minutes which was ridiculous but by his own admission the taxi driver took completely the wrong turning and didn’t try to charge more.  We headed off to bed as we had to be up early for our pre-arranged day trip.

We had an earlier breakfast at 8am before heading off on our day trip to Ouzoud Falls.  We booked this through the Riad and it cost approximately £30 each including pick up. Due to the fact the minibus couldn’t get down the roads to the Riad we were escorted to a pickup point and off we went.  It was a long drive of 3.5 hours with a short stop on the way and we took a few pictures on the way including an amusing sign.

 

I had done some prior research and was a little concerned about exactly how much walking would be involved in this trip and despite our questions, this was never really clarified.  Ouzoud did look lovely and we were keen to see more scenery outside of the bustle of Marrakech and therefore decided to risk it and see what it involved.  We arrived and were introduced to a guy who would be our guide for our time there if we paid him 250 dirhams (approximately £20).  As we were just dropped off we had no idea where we were going so agreed to the tour guide.

Looking down over the falls was really quite impressive; we were warned there would be a downhill walk but we would make some stops on the way… oh and we may encounter some monkeys!!!

 

Off we headed grateful for our guide who helped Mum and I was also grateful to Nigel here as it was really quite painful for me and a little slow going.  We stopped off to see a Berber House where some of the local community lived and where Argan Oil products were available for sale.  I had heard some stories about how Argan oil was extracted which didn’t sound too pleasant (obtained from goat droppings after they had climbed and grazed on the fruit of the Argan tree…ewwww) however I was reassured to see that this traditional method is not commonplace but more modernly extracted by hand and by roasting.

 

Further down the track we encountered the rather playful Barbary Macaques in their natural habitat.  Here you have to be wary of people putting feed in your hands and having monkeys jumping on you as happened to Nigel! unlike the hungry and more aggressive monkeys we encountered in Cambodia these fellas were more playful.

 

We carried on the trail further down and stopped for a quick drink with a lower down view of the falls.  The drink was very welcome and the view was lovely but the toilets are not to be recommended here; better to wait until a little further down.  With drinks at 1 euro it was quite a bargain especially for the seat and the view.

 

The final part was just a short distance further and when we arrived we were informed we had two choices; to either walk across a very precarious looking bridge to cross the river or to get on a floating raft for a short trip across and towards the bottom of the waterfalls.  We decided on the raft for which we were warned we may get wet!

 

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It cost 20 dirhams each to cross on the boat but it was safe and a fun experience and yes we did get a little wet but it was worth it to feel the power of the falls up close.  Nigel not happy enough to just go near the falls decided he wanted to actually swim under them.  On went the swim shorts and off he went!

 

Next was the rather unpleasant surprise of the tour; heading back up for lunch.  We had a table booked at a restaurant at an agreed 100 dirhams (approximately £8ish slightly expensive but appeared to be the standard at all restaurants here) and we were greeted by copious flights of stairs which was a little bit of a problem.  Slow and steady won the race, however, we were slightly late for our lunch when we arrived as it took such a long time to get up there. We had a big drink and our lunch which was chicken skewers and chips and watermelon before heading back to our minibus for the trip back to Marrakech.

We had a brief stop on the way back when the driver decided he wanted to pick something up for his dinner at a local market.

 

We really enjoyed the trip and somewhere away from manic Marrakech. That was despite the climbing so if you come here please make sure you wear trainers or shoes with good grip and a thick sole.  We were aware that our Guide had probably ripped us off somewhat however he most certainly earnt his money helping Mum get back up the stairs and carrying her bag when required! At the top, he informed us it was about 600 odd steps back up no wonder we were hurting and a little tired!

That evening we had arranged to have a traditional Moroccan meal at the Riad prepared by Fatima.  This cost 15 euros each and was arranged for 8pm so that Fatima and her family could eat first.  We had an amazing meal with so much food we could hardly move! We had soup,  lamb and chicken Tagine, sweet couscous, and different desserts.  They had also ensured they got diet coke in especially for us to have with our meal which was very kind.  It was an amazing meal and despite the fact we really are not foodies we certainly could get used to food in Morocco.  With full stomachs and pretty exhausted by the day’s trip we headed to bed very contented.

The next day it was time to go home; we had an early flight and so had to get up and get collected for our airport transfer at 7.30am.  Fatima had kindly prepared us a small breakfast before we left and we made our way back to the airport and caught our Easy Jet plane home which left on time just before 10am.  We had a lovely time despite the busyness of Marrakech which could get too much at times but as long as you didn’t let the constant hassling you faced get to you it really is a vibrant place to visit.  We were sad to be going home as you can see in our final picture.

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