To emphasise our continued passion for Imaginative travel, read about the fantastic journey into Morocco experienced by Anna our Operations Manager :
"During my time with Imaginative Traveller I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many amazing places, but I think that everyone who knows me would say that my heart truly belongs to Latin America. The Inca Trail, the salt flats of Bolivia, the Atacama Desert, Buenos Aires, Spanish, Salsa, Tango… However, after a year and a half of sharing an office with our (very slightly Africa obsessed) Head of Operations Jim O’Brien, I had to acknowledge that maybe there were other parts of the world worth a visit and that, combined with the very reasonable price of flights meant that at the end of November I found myself headed for Marrakech.
I am struck by how clean and modern the city seems until my taxi turns into the Médina, the old walled city and immediately becomes stuck in a traffic jam behind a donkey cart. It is the perfect contrast between the traditional and the modern, and from that moment I can tell that I am going to love Morocco. We arrive at the Djemaâ el Fna, the main square, and head straight out into the night. I can only say that this square at the heart of the city is magical, with its markets, clouds of steam rising from food stalls, snake charmers, monkey tamers, fortune tellers, musicians and crowds of locals and tourists - all intent on enjoying the show.
My first days pass quickly exploring the city. It seems in many ways surprisingly small and friendly, and almost everything is within in easy walking distance. However it is also totally confounding, with just one wrong turning onto an unfamiliar street capable of leaving you completely lost. The mosques, palaces and gardens are certainly beautiful, but for me Marrakech is a city where the most exciting thing is taking in the atmosphere, above all that of the continuous activity of the Jemaâ el Fna and the markets, or souks.
From Marrakech I catch a public bus via Agadir to Tiznit, and then a grand taxi to Tafroute, a small town 1200 metres above sea level surrounded by mountains. Close by is an area known as the Vallée des Ameln, ‘The Valley of the Almonds’, of picturesque small villages built amidst a landscape of strange golden rock formations. There are also Les pierres bleues, an area where the rocks were painted by the Belgian artist Jean Vérame, and the landscape forms an interesting outdoor art gallery.
At the hotel I meet a group of French travellers who have hired a car and driver and are looking for more people to split their costs, so the next day we set off with our driver Mohammed, who tells us that when he is not guiding tourists he trains drivers to compete in the Paris-Dakar rally. He takes us first to Aït Mansour gorge, a very calm and peaceful place where we walk though palm groves and small villages. Then we visit areas of prehistoric rock carvings before reaching Tata, a town with a frontier feel and a clear military presence. From Tata we get a demonstration of Mohammed’s rally driving skills as we head out into the desert to the dunes of Chigaga.
Tamegroute is our next stop, with a fascinating library containing ancient copies of the Koran, as well as books on animals, medicines and mathematics, before we reach Zagora and civilisation – well, maybe tourism rather than civilisation. We don’t stay long, and travel on along the Draâ Valley past villages, Kasbahs – complexes of traditional packed-earth buildings, farm land and plentiful palm trees.
The next day we arrive in Hollywood, well, Ouarzazate, the Moroccan Hollywood and the centre of the local film industry. I say goodbye to my extremely patient French friends, and tell them I will particularly miss our regular betting sessions before each meal – will it be Tajine, or Couscous this time? Then, with my guide Rachid I head out to the Atlas Film Studios on the outskirts of the town. There, picturesquely decaying under the Moroccan sun are Egyptian temples, villages, a boat and a crusader castle, used in films ranging from The Mummy to Kingdom of Heaven. Not for the first time, I wish my understanding of French was better, but I do manage to discern that I am following in the footsteps of a number of famous actors, including Oliver Reed. Knowing though that Oliver Reed actually died whilst making one of the movies filmed in this area I can only hope that what my guide is pointing out a place where Reed filmed one of his scenes, rather than something else a bit more macabre.
Continuing with our movie theme, Rachid and I leave for Aït Ben Haddou, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the largest and most famous Kasbahs in Morocco - featured in films like Gladiator. It is not the easiest place to get to without your own transport as the local bus stops some distance away, and we are eventually given a lift by a group of Australians who tell us they have been surfing in the coastal area of Mirleft. After a couple of hours exploring the complex (and pretending to be in my own historical epic film!) we walk by the river through the surrounding farmland, and Rachid decides that it would be funny for me to try riding one of the local farmers donkeys. It is just too difficult to explain that actually I used to ride donkeys on a regular basis when working as a tour leader in Egypt, so I decide to go along with it, and thankfully the owner (and more importantly the donkey) are happy to oblige.
Returning to Marrakech, I decide I can’t leave without having stayed in a Riad, a traditional property built around a garden courtyard, and decide on the beautiful Riad Darna. What I don’t realise is that the next day is the Islamic feast of Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God. That afternoon I am invited by the owners of the Riad to go with them to the house of a friend the next day to see a sheep sacrificed in the traditional way. After witnessing this, we spend the day going from house to house eating kebabs, sweets, and drinking gallons of tea. As always when I travel I am struck by peoples friendliness and hospitality, and I know that this is a day I will always remember.
So, would Imaginative Traveller ever consider a tour in the south of Morocco? Well, Jim assures me that it is something that was tried some years ago, and maybe something we might consider again in the future. Until then, if you want to visit Morocco you might want to look at our ‘Deserts and Kasbahs’ tour, or if you have already been to Morocco then why not consider ‘Andean Journeys’ for an experience of Bolivia and Chile. That’s right, old habits are very hard to break! "
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