Thursday, 21 July 2022
Marrakesh, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco
Courgette flowers
(Amsouzert, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

After COVID had effectively kept us in Europe for the past two years we were keen to go somewhere a bit further afield. However whilst most countries were back to normal the flights were not. We had originally wanted to go to Thailand, but at 1500 GBP return the tickets were at least double their normal level, and this was typical of most destinations. So we started looking closer to home and settled on Morocco. A quick look through the guide books confirmed that, whilst Marrakesh would be baking hot, the Atlas mountains were a great place to go hiking in the summer. Anna broke up on Wednesday, so we hopped on a Thursday afternoon flight and touched down around 1900 local time.

We had booked a Riad, a small hotel with an internal courtyard, in Bab Doukkala. Very nicely they picked us up from the airport. It was too late to go out exploring, and we were tired, so we had arranged to have dinner in the hotel. They made us a chicken tagine, we tucked into that and then collapsed into bed.

Friday, 22 July 2022
Imlil, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco
Riad alleyway
(Marrakesh, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

The next morning after breakfast we went out to get some cash for the mountains. Stepping outside of the heavy ornate wooden door of the Riad we were struck by a wall of heat. A typical Riad layout has all the windows facing inwards to a central courtyard. This in turn is kept cool by plants and fountains. The end result is that it is several degrees cooler inside versus out. Just outside our Riad was the Bab Doukkala mosque and from there we found a main road which took us to an area of cash points. This turned out to be relatively straight forwards, the only shock was we needed about 7,000 dirham (550 GBP) and the largest note is 200. So we ended up walking around with a huge wedge of cash.

After that errand we were free to explore the Medina until 1400 when our driver would pick us up. We had two days at the end of the holiday set aside for Marrakesh so we had saved our haggling for then. This morning we would just frustrate the stall holders by just looking. We had lunch at Nomad, a very western cafe with balconies overlooking the heart of the Medina and water misters. We were half melting by the time we got back to the hotel, where we found our driver. We picked up our bags and headed for the coolness of the mountains.

View from Hotel
(Imlil, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

The road to Imlil climbs up slowly to Asni at 1150m and about here the view starts to improve. You pass the Richard Branson owned Kasbah Tamadot and keep on following a river up a terracotta valley. Eventually you emerge at Imlil 1800m up, at a cross road of valleys. It is surrounded by trees and at around 25-30C is wonderfully cool. We left the bustling town centre and climbed one of the valleys, then changed cars to traverse back across a mountain road to out hotel which was halfway up a mountainside overlooking the town centre. We dumped our bags in our room and soaked in the view of the valleys enjoying the afternoon sun.

At this point it is worth recounting the story of how we found our guide. I had looked in a guide book and found the Bureau de Guides Imlil to be recommended and a substantial discount to all the trekking companies with flashier websites. So I had emailed them and then two days later, having not gotten a reply, had called them. At this point someone picked up the phone and asked me to switch to WhatsApp. I got talking to him and we started to agree details and he told me to transfer 200 EUR to a PayPal account. Just after I hung up the phone I got a reply to my email. I swapped emails with Rashid who claimed to be the director of the bureau and was insistent WhatsApp man was not legit. We agreed details and he too wanted me to transfer some money. I decided that the person on email was probably the more trustworthy, we transferred money and his driver had picked us up in Marrakesh.

The next step was a leap of faith however. Rashid had met us at the hotel and wanted us to pay him in advance for the trek. Whilst this seemed perfectly reasonable, a money transfer was apparently not an option. So we were now sitting around drinking mint tea handing over the great wedge of cash in an envelope. We thought the chance that the guide did not turn up the day after next was slim but it was still a worry. After he left we walked about 20 minutes down to the centre of town for dinner. We initially opted for a multi-level cafe overlooking the entire village. We sat down and waited for what seemed like an hour with no sight of a waiter. One did come but by then we were so annoyed we left and found this great cafe with tables by the side of a river where we had a nice tagine for dinner. We then had to climb all the way back up the mountain to the hotel in the dark which was interesting.

Saturday, 23 July 2022
Imlil, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco
Walking to Tizi n'Mzik
(Imlil, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

I woke to the sound of the call to prayer. Where the hotel was situated we could see up all four valleys and each of them had its own mosque with competing muezzins. I had a bit of a snooze after this and then we had a glorious breakfast on the hotel's terrace, with 360 degree views all round. Although the rooms were in need of a bit of love and attention, we will always remember the location of our hotel in Imlil.

View of Tizi n'Tamatert
(Tizi n'Mzik, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

After breakfast we set off for a walk, our guide has said to follow the road behind our hotel towards the national park. We set-off and soon found ourselves in Aroumd , a small village perched on the valley that leads up to Toubkal. We dipped down into the valley to find an abandoned bridge and switched back towards Imlil. After a while we found the start of the path up to Tizi n'Mzik, a 2489m pass to the west of Imlil. We set off up it in the hope that the ascent would get us in better shape for the six days ahead.

It was a great walk, the start was through shaded scrub where we soon ran into a flock of goats. The kids scattered in front of us bleating and running across the slopes aimlessly. Then it was a steeper ascent past a series of terraces where we met some campers. After a couple of hours we reached the top and were amazed to be greeted by a man making freshly pressed orange juice in a hut on the saddle of Tizi n'Mzik. Whilst this was to prove a nearly universal feature of Moroccan passes this was the first time for us so we gleefully ordered a couple of orange juices and sat down to enjoy the view. From the top we could see all the way up the opposite valley to Tizi n'Tamatert, the pass we would be ascending the day after. We could also see down the valley behind us into the Tamasoult valley. This is an alternative extra leg to the Toubkal circuit but we had decided not to do it so we could enjoy more of the non-camping part of the holiday.

Orange Juice Stall
(Tizi n'Mzik, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

We then set off down the hill, back the way we came. At the mouth of the valley instead of heading back up to Around we carried on down into Imlil to explore. We walked around for a while in the centre and then once again settled down in our cafe by the side of the river for a kebab. The cafe was incredibly busy, it appeared to be the destination for a lot of day trippers from Marrakesh looking for an escape from the baking temperatures. A lot of them were clearly not dressed for walking and just enjoying being out, seeing people and being seen. Slowly our feet recovered and late afternoon we reluctantly set off up the hill to the hotel. It was not a trivial route, we had to first find a small village off a road, then follow a track along a contour before cutting through a forest. It took roughly half an hour, and by the time we got there we were well and truly done for the day!

That evening, after a small nap, we had dinner out on the hotel terrace. Another great tagine, this time watching the sun disappear behind the mountains opposite the hotel.

Sunday, 24 July 2022
Tacchedirt, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco
Breakfast at hotel
(Imlil, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

We had agreed with the guide to start early. We had a last breakfast on the terrace whilst looking up at a donkey and handler above us, who turned out to be most of the remainder of our party, having come around the corner from Aroumd. When the guide arrived we loaded our suitcases onto the donkey and eventually set off down the road. We then left our cases at a guest house in Tamatert, apparently owned by Rashid, and there picked up our supplies and equipment. Setting off from the guesthouse we slowly climbed our way up the valley through a forest of pine trees. At the top of the Tizi n'Tamatert we encountered another orange juice stand which we could not fully enjoy. Despite all the shenanigans back in Marrakesh we had not bought quite enough money up into the mountains with us and for some reason we were also in charge of buying our own water. So no orange juice this time, but we had a good rest.

Hiking up to Tizi n'Tamatert
(Tacchedirt, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

From the pass it was a long drawn out slog up the Tacchedirt valley. This second half of the first day is the only section of the Toubkal circuit on tarmac. We would crest one hill in the hope we were there, only to find the road snaking its way yet further. It was relatively sunny but cool enough to not feel totally baked on the road. After one corner our guide pointed out a small white patch in the distance that was apparently our camp site. Slowly but surely we got closer, until we found ourselves at a scrappy patch of gravel just next to the road. We stopped to rest, have some tea and put up the tent. After our feet had recovered we set off on foot towards Tacchedirt to enjoy the afternoon sun. We did not get all the way to the village but found a turn in the road where we sat down and watched the sun head towards the horizon and the plains near Marrakesh.

Tea at Camp
(Tacchedirt, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

As we approached the camp we could hear the voice of some Brits. Whilst we had been enjoying the afternoon two Welshmen and an English guy had arrived in the camp. We introduced ourselves and sat down and got chatting about walking, our new neighbours being quite keen on walking holidays. They entertained us all through dinner and into darkness. After dinner we needed to procure some water and for some reason we had not bought our water filter with us. Fortunately one of the Welshmen had one with him so we borrowed it and went down to the stream next to the camp site in the dark. However whilst we were there it started raining. We had to run back to the tent and take shelter.

The rain lashed furiously at the tent and we cowered inside. We started to regret not bringing our own tent as the velcro attaching the outer shell to the fly started to let in a trickle of water. We struggled to get to sleep but eventually it stopped raining and then we dozed off.

View down valley to the coast
(Tacchedirt, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

Monday, 25 July 2022
Azib Likemt, Souss Massa, Morocco
View of Tacchedirt
(Azib Likemt, Souss Massa, Morocco)

We slept okay but the Welsh fared worse with their tent leaking all night. We had breakfast and then packed up the camp. We were to head uphill to Tizi n'Likemt which at 3550m was the second highest pass of the trek but probably the largest ascent. The trail up started just opposite the camp and was a relentless ascent of an exposed scree slope. The other Brits were walking a different paces, so although we started earlier the English guy overtook us halfway up. The Welsh did not overtake us and we only met them again at the saddle. The various donkeys and handlers progressed entirely independently, sometimes taking entirely different tracks. It was quite amusing to look out over the scree slope to see the two parties scattered over the place.

Hiking up to Tizi n'Likemt
(Azib Likemt, Souss Massa, Morocco)

The top of the pass was a bit distressing. A local man had been tracking us all the way up and I had thought he was a member of the other party. However it became at the apparent that he was walking us up just to try and sell us chocolate and soft drinks. It was very cold at the top and it struck me how desperate yet resourceful he was, however we did not buy anything. It was so windy and cold we could not stop for long so we started off down the other side very quickly. This turned out to be a beautiful descent down a dramatic ravine. As with all steep descents it was fairly brutal on the knees as well as fairly exposed.

Hiking up to Tizi n'Likemt
(Azib Likemt, Souss Massa, Morocco)

Towards the bottom we arrived at a small village Azib Likemt, which we understood was only populated in summer when people came to take their animals to pasture. The guides set the tent up and served us some lunch which we ate by the side of the small stream which wound its way down the valley. There were quite a lot of cows on the valley floor and we were quite worried about how clean the camp site would be. The British guys set off after lunch, they were on a more aggressive trek so were going further up the valley. The next day we saw where they probably camped; it was a lot nicer but it was not clear exactly how official it was.

Campsite by the stream
(Azib Likemt, Souss Massa, Morocco)

That afternoon we mainly relaxed by the side of the stream. I went for a short scramble behind the village to take some pictures but there was really nowhere to go. After the sun disappeared behind the mountains some boys gathered to play football. Another trekking group had arrived, and sadly both sets of guides had pitched our tents in the only field in the village which also doubled up as the football pitch. So the boys could not have much of a game. As the evening wore on amazingly another group of male walkers arrived, this time Moroccans. It appeared that camping is a popular summer holiday in Morocco and the guys set up a temporary prayer area on the now inundated field. In the last light of the afternoon we had our dinner, again by the side of the stream, then crawled into our tent.

We were safely tucked up in our sleeping bags when we heard a bit of commotion outside. Poking my head outside I saw that a couple of boys had tethered a horse just next to the tent. It was quite disconcerting as the beast was massive and could easily trample our tent or trip over the guide ropes. Fortunately it turned out either they had only stopped for a while (or the guides had a quiet word with them) as they soon disappeared. We slept quite well.

Tuesday, 26 July 2022
Amsouzert, Souss Massa, Morocco
(Azib Likemt, Souss Massa, Morocco)

We woke up just before sun rise and had breakfast, again by the river. We helped the guide pack up and set off upstream. The sun had just climbed over the lip of the valley so the colours were rich and golden. We took a left up a tributary of the river and followed it through a harsh terrain of rocks, fortunately in the shade of a valley wall. We met nosy apart from several vast herds of goats and the odd herder. After a while the stream transformed into a series of slower moving pools populated with a weed with delightful white flowers. We carried on climbing.

About midday, with the stream presumably near its source, the path climbed its way diagonally up to Tizi n'Ourai, a 3109m pass. Photographs taken in the midday sun are probably not going to do it justice but it was at this point, with several mule trains climbing up the slope ahead of us, that I really started to feel that we were on an epic journey. One of those journeys that only a desolate mountain range can really deliver. We slowly plodded our way up and pretty soon we were looking down at a massive bend in the stream. We had our lunch somewhere near the top, the cook had provided us with a packed lunch and it was a welcome rest.

Path to Tizi n'Ourai (top right)
(Amsouzert, Souss Massa, Morocco)

From the pass we followed the ridge of a mountain. The flora started to change at this point, somehow what should have been a barren mountainside was dotted with lots of small colourful flowers. The views were spectacular. From our ridge we could see the Eastern ranges of the Atlas which separated us from the Sahara desert. After this very enjoyable ridge walk we rapidly descended into a side valley of Amsouzert. Here we found quite a lot of terracing as the villagers were growing corn half way up the mountainside. Before long we entered the houses and then, thankfully because it was the hottest part of the afternoon, a river gully shaded by walnut trees which took us down to the centre of the town.

View towards Sahara
(Amsouzert, Souss Massa, Morocco)

We got to the hotel around 1500 and it was not fantastic. Or more to the point the hotel had a couple of fantastic rooms with balconies but was full so we were given an awful room, a claustrophobic hole with no windows that was only just a bit bigger than the bed. We would have much preferred to camp. We complained, but our guide could not really do anything. The people who organised our trek had not made any attempt to book ahead. Possibly there was no way to do this but that seemed unlikely. Hot and bothered we sat down to cool on the communal balcony, which along with the shower room was the only saving grace of the hotel, read and eventually had an early dinner.

(Amsouzert, Souss Massa, Morocco)

There was not a lot to do that afternoon so we took a short walk down the road in the opposite direction to our hotel. There we found a charming village nestled on the floor of the valley. We crossed the river by a bridge and were giggled at by some teenage girls. There was a pink mosque and we looked around the houses but found no-one so returned back to the centre of town. On the way back we secured more water bottles. As I had already mentioned we were in charge of buying our own water which regretfully meant buying bottled water and creating masses of plastic. The handful of other groups we met were also on bottles, one day hopefully someone will legislate that all tour companies filter their own water!

We had even less to do when we got back so we read more. Although the British group were well ahead of us, the other group of westerners which had been at Azib Likemt were already in the hotel. One of them, a young German lad, seemed to be in the grips of some sort of heatstroke and there was a lot of debate about how to take care of him. In the end he made a recovery after which it was time to turn in. We climbed into our box room and sweated for most of the night.

View over Amsouzert valley
(Amsouzert, Souss Massa, Morocco)

Wednesday, 27 July 2022
Azib imi m'Quassif, Souss Massa, Morocco
Berber granary
(Amsouzert, Souss Massa, Morocco)

We were happy to leave Amsouzert behind us as we climbed the next morning up a leafy side valley of the river. The guide pointed out a old berber granary, multi-storey mud and wood storehouses which are often equated to the world's first banking system. We stopped at a cafe under the shade of a massive tree owned by a local character that the guide seemed to know very well. We had mint tea, bread and local honey then set off up the road again.

Swimming in Lac d'Ifni
(Amsouzert, Souss Massa, Morocco)

The leafy valley track unfortunately ran out not far beyond the cafe and was replaced by a road. This proved to be endless, even when it climbed up a terminal moraine we were faced with a series of false summits which made it seem like we would never get to where we were going. Finally, at around 1200, we rounded a bend in the track and were greeted with the sight of the Lac d'Ifni spread out before us. It seemed incredible that in this arid landscape there could be such a large glacial lake but it was testament to how snow covered the High Atlas must be in winter. It is also a popular destination for Moroccan tourists and down below us we could hear the shouts and music of people enjoying a dip in the lake.

We quickly descended and then worked our way round the lake. We passed one scree beach, carrying along the shore to a camp site. Here we dumped out stuff and headed down to the lake to have a swim. After failing to acclimatise by putting my feet in I took the plunge and dived in. I am not going to lie, it was cold. You sort of got used to it once you got swimming but as soon as you stopped moving you realised it was not a place to linger. I climbed out and shivered as I dried off in the sun.

Lac d'Ifni
(Amsouzert, Souss Massa, Morocco)

Ascent of m'Quassif
(Amsouzert, Souss Massa, Morocco)

Back at the camp we had lunch. It was not a hugely pleasant place, a set of rocky terraces each of which housing a desperate shop owner. I told our guide that we were keen to carry on and this started a long debate. The other group with two German lads and an experienced Danish mountaineer had caught up again and from this point on our groups merged. The guides told us that were we to carry on the only other place to camp was a precarious camp site which if it rained would be flooded. However there was so much hesitation in their voices you could tell that the motivation was less to do with safety and more to do with familiarity. They clearly wanted to stay on the fly ridden stony terraces with their chums the shop keepers and were not considering the quality of the trek. Both groups insisted and in the end they relented with repeated grumbles of "Inshallah it will not rain", and we continued working our way up.

This proved to be a really good decision. From Lac d'Ifni you work your way across an immense delta of rocks then ascend an impressive gorge. After about an hour we found the Azib imi m'Quassif camp site at the confluence of two streams and it was beautiful. Surrounded by a circle of peaks the was a small patch of ground just uphill from the river junction. We pitched our tents on terraces on a scree slope which seemed impossible to ever flood. The two crews had gotten over any annoyance by this point and were enjoying being in such a pristine surroundings. They started to cook whilst we relaxed on a huge slab of rock, surrounded by mountain flowers with the stream burbling beside us. We then had dinner and chatted to the others. We attempted to explain what was going on in English politics at the time, what would prove to be the last few weeks of BoJo.

Camping in nature
(Azib imi m'Quassif, Souss Massa, Morocco)

After dinner we climbed into our tent to read. After a while I poked my head out and saw two singular things. Firstly the stars, from inside the gorge the stars formed a Y shape overhead and were crystal clear. We could see thousands more than we would back home and sat there in the chill night air watching out for shooting stars and the now ubiquitous satellites. The second sight was that of the guides and cooks themselves. Finding themselves in the middle of a gorge at the allotted hour they had no option but to spread out a blanket on the rocks, don their white robes and pray. I could make them out by starlight and it was a unique end to what had been an amazing day.

Thursday, 28 July 2022
Toubkal Refuge, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco
Ascent to Tizi n'Ouanoums
(Toubkal Refuge, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

We woke up relatively early and had breakfast in the gorge. The guides and cooks packed up and we continued heading up. The path was surrounded by beautiful alpine flowers and thistles. As we climbed we passed a waterfall and near the top even found some remnants of snow tucked in a shaded crevasse. We zigged and zagged our way up and finally around 1000 got to the saddle Tizi n'Ouanoums at 3630m. The view from there was spectacular. Lac d'Ifni was a tiny puddle thousands of metres below us, with the foothills of the Atlas mountains behind it and the edge of the Sahara beyond that. We had a brief rest and talked to another group who were passing through. We then dropped down into the valley of the Oued Rheraya which would take us back to Imlil.

View from Tizi n'Ouanoums
(Toubkal Refuge, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

At the head of the valley was a huge glacier which supplied the river. We scrambled down a zigzagging path on a scree slope and met the river at a vast patch of thistles. From here we slowly worked our way down the valley until we got to the Toubkal Refuge, a complex of two or three mountain refuges which act as base camp for the ascent on the 4109m Jebel Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa. We were camping in a vast terraced camp site just below one of the refuges. The guides set up camp and then made some lunch for us. Since we had no more walking to do that day we explored the refuge a bit and then headed off to a waterfall in a hollow just upstream. We took our Kindles with us and passed a very pleasant afternoon by the pools at the base of the falls.

Toubkal Refuge
(Toubkal Refuge, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

When we got back to the camp the scene was fairly chaotic. Several large groups had arrived all intent on getting to the summit the next morning. We had made a tactical decision not to accompany them. We had seen plenty of summits before and the thought of waking up at 0300 to join a queue of over a hundred people trying to make it up a mountain in the dark did not appeal. We had purposefully asked our guide to set our tent well away form other groups so they would not wake us. A couple of donkeys had escaped and were running amok amongst the tents with people chasing them. We washed ourselves in the refuge and then joined the rest of the group for dinner, before getting an early night's sleep.

Friday, 29 July 2022
Essaouira, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco
Beams of light
(Sidi Chamharouch, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

Our hopes of getting an uninterrupted nights sleep were dashed. A hundred people getting up at 0300 are not quiet no matter how hard they try. They fumbled about, brushed their teeth, clanged pots etc. We did however manage to snooze off after they left and woke to a near empty camp site. After a leisurely breakfast we then set off back down the valley towards Imlil.

Path down
(Sidi Chamharouch, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

One of the great things about doing the opposite of the crowd is you often have the paths to yourselves. Whilst the hordes would be jostling their way down the valley in the middle of afternoon we were on our own. Not long after setting off the valley narrowed to a gorge and we enjoyed the shade with the drama of the occasional beam of sunlight. We met few other people apart from the odd local transporting wood or provisions up the valley.

We only started encountering groups on their way up when we got to Sidi Chamharouch, a shrine which started off as a boulder painted white but is now surrounded by a small collection of cafes and houses. We stopped for an orange juice on a terrace above the river and relaxed watching Moroccan tourists paddling in the water.

Juniper forests
(Imlil, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

We set off on the final leg of our journey mid morning. The valley began to open up and we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by wild juniper trees. We finally got down to a vast floodplain just below Aroumd at around 1100. Our guide had called ahead and arranged for our driver to pick up our bags from the hotel they had been left at. We gave our guide and muleteer a handsome tip and, covered in dust, climbed into the car and set off for Essaouira.

Aroumd and floodplain
(Imlil, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

When we were younger we would have recuperated in Imlil, then found a local bus to take us back to Marrakesh. However the benefit of being a little bit better off was that we could afford to cut out days of transit and pack more into our holidays. It took our driver about five hours to work his way out of the mountains and across the coastal plain to reach the sea at Essaouira , our next destination.

Essaouira is a fantastically romantic, windy, walled town on the Atlantic coast. Until the 60s it was known as Mogador, a name given to it by its Portugese occupiers. We were staying in a hotel literally next to the ramparts with a room overlooking Plaza Orson Welles (so named for being a location in his film of Othello). We got ourselves cleaned up and dressed in nice new clothes and headed out into the early evening. My number one priority was to get something we had not seen for seven days in the mountain, a beer. We picked Taros, a somewhat touristy bar with a roof terrace, to enjoy a cold one and watch the sun set.

After a bit of debate we had dinner in the restaurant under our hotel rooms. It was very luxurious and we treated ourselves to a bottle of wine. We thoroughly celebrated our return to civilisation then, very tired, crawled back upstairs to bed.

Saturday, 30 July 2022
Essaouira, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco
Astapor, or the Skala de la Ville
(Essaouira, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

We planned to spend the day exploring Essaouira and finally do some haggling. The souks of Marrakesh represent the pinnacle of haggling so Essaouira provide a more relaxed way to buy the all important holiday trinkets. We had a long list of potential items and after breakfast set off into the alleyways.

Decorated plates
(Essaouira, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

The things which immediately stood out were ceramic wares and carved wooden objects. I found an aladdin's cave of wood and asked the owner to see some bowls with the intention of buying one to use for salad. The owner kicked off by asking me how much I think I should pay. I replied 400 dirhams (about 30GBP) at which point the theatre started. "I cannot make enough to feed my family at this price", he said. I started to walk off, "No come back times have been hard during COVID and I want to make a sale". After a while we settled on a price slightly above my opening gambit, and shook on it.

Canon on Skala
(Essaouira, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

The rest of the day was more of the same with a brief pause for lunch. We did not buy that much, we got sick of looking at ceramic ware and gave up on that. We really enjoyed walking around the heart of the old city, encountering various characters such as an oud maker who spent what seemed like an hour talking to us about his instruments. We also explored the ramparts, which stood in for the city of Astapor in Game of Thrones.

Caravan club
(Essaouira, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

That night we had dinner relatively early in a restaurant filled with eclectic 70's furniture and then headed out to explore the night life. With a bit of patience we managed to get a table at the Caravan Cafe where we got to watch an amazing floor show with singers, dancers and finally a fire juggler. One amusing scene was a group of Muslim girls on a hen do at a table opposite us. They did not benefit from the large amounts of alcohol we had imbibed, so were quite alarmed by the proximity of the fire.

Sunday, 31 July 2022
Essaouira, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco
Dried up river
(Diabat, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

Surprisingly we wanted to go for a walk along the coast so set off for Diabat, 5 km south of town. It was incredibly misty and atmospheric as we worked our way along the beach. We stopped to look at a dried up river bed amongst the dunes and observed some tourists setting off to explore the dunes on buggies. It was a very cool 25 degrees and at places we felt cold.

Foggy beach
(Essaouira, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

Diabat was a bit of a disappointment but nevertheless we stopped for coffee at one of many Jimi Hendrix cafes. The great man himself apparently visited for a couple of weeks. There is a persistent rumour that "Castles made of sand" is based on the ruins of the Borj Al Baroud in Diabat even though he wrote it well before he visited.

On the way back we walked through the dunes in the fog. It was very bizarre as you could hardly see fifty metres ahead. Every now and then somebody would loom out including some local tourists on camels. Around midday we stopped at a lovely beach bar and had beers and seafood for a leisurely lunch whilst the sun made a very sickly appearance.

We had dinner at Umia, a gourmet restaurant with great food. We felt we deserved a bit of luxury on our holiday!

Monday, 1 August 2022
Marrakesh, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco
Fishing boats
(Essaouira, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

Our last morning in Essaouira we got up really early to explore the fishing port. The port was designed by the wonderfully named Amhed El Inglizi, Ahmed the English an 18th century renegade. It is known for its distinctive blue fishing boats so is a bit of a tourist trap during the day. However early in the morning the fisherman land their catch and haggle with the market stall owners on the dockside. It was still foggy so we wandered round and enjoyed in the spectacle.

Fish market
(Essaouira, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

We attempted to do more shopping but our heart was not in it. We did manage to get some spices for a friend of ours and had a very instructive half hour with a spice seller who taught us how to tell the difference between fake and real saffron, we assume (it is something to do with the number of stamen and how much colour comes out when rolled in water).

For lunch we engaged in something which is a must in Essaouira. You buy some raw fish at the fish market in the souk and then take it to an open air square full of restaurants who then cook it for you. It was amazing and only a fraction of the price of similar outfits near the fishing port.

(Essaouira, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

Mid afternoon a driver (yes we were very spoilt on this trip) picked us up and took us to Marrakesh. Whilst Essaouira had been a very chilly 25 most of the time, Marrakesh was in the mid 40s. When we got to Bab Doukkala we melted into our hotel room and got changed for dinner.

I am not sure if it was a big mistake but we opted to go to a glitzy Moroccan restaurant in the Gueliz district. The food was great but in the middle of dinner some belly dancers appeared and proceeded to give a floor show at one point jumping on a table. We were slightly entertained but mostly appalled, as local men stuffed notes into their tops. Fortunately it was only a short interlude and the food more than made up for it.

Tuesday, 2 August 2022
Marrakesh, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco
Jardin Majorelle
(Marrakesh, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

On the last day of our trip we had planned a full schedule of activities. First we visited the Jardin Majorelle , an old garden renovated by Yves Saint Laurent who owned a neighbouring villa. The villa was closed but the garden provided a welcome break from the heat, even at 10 it was in the forties. The garden was mainly cacti but cunningly set around a series of pools which keep it cool.

Jardin Majorelle
(Marrakesh, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

We then took a taxi to the photographic museum. This was stunningly good but a little sweaty as it was set in a traditional building in one of the oldest parts of the medina. We recovered with some water in their roof top terrace overlooking the whole of the neighbourhood.

On the way back we decided to attempt a bit of haggling as Anna wanted one of the local teapots. One place we went in was super aggressive and theatrical. The owner tactically planted himself between Anna and I in the narrow shop, and proceeded to reel out a tale of woe. I only just managed to extricate her and in the end we bought a better teapot for half the price next to our hotel in Bab Doukkala.

Last night
(Marrakesh, Marrakesh-Safi, Morocco)

That afternoon we had booked ourselves in for treat, a couples hammam. When it is 45 degrees outside putting yourself in a steam room is perhaps not an obvious choice but it worked out well. Our attendant gave us some paper underwear, slathered us in oil, covered us in mud and then proceeded to ex-foliate us. The rubbing was so hard I lost most of my carefully built up tan. We came out of it feeling rejuvenated and, I like to think, sweating a bit less.

That last night we had dinner on the roof of Le Foundouk, a former caravanserai ("Funduq" is an Arabic synonym for inn). Gastronomically it was not the pinnacle of our trip but the setting was beautifully romantic. We had a nice candlelit table near the edge and tucked into a series of adequate dishes.

And that was it. We jumped on the plane the next morning and headed back home, very invigorated by our first trip out of Europe in three years!