We were all feeling exhausted but exhilarated… to be expected after a couple of weeks of travel in an exciting place like Morocco. “Sensory overload” is the best way to describe it – it’s a journey of exotic sights, unusual sounds, intriguing smells and emotional highs. Every day is magic, and it leaves you wanting more. Yes, you can get a little greedy in Morocco!
We are on an 18-day all-girls trip to this magical country, and everywhere we go, our guide, Adil, is the envy of every man we meet – policemen, rug salesmen, waiters. “They are my wives,” Adil jokes in his thick Moroccan accent. It is fun to be a female tourist here: A bit of flirting never goes astray when trying to get the price of a carpet down! And every time we walk into a spice shop, mint tea is served and we are entertained for a good hour smelling spices, having our temples massaged with orange flower oil, and our wrists dabbed with sweet smelling oils. Now, we wouldn’t get that at home!
Aside from meeting the wonderfully generous Moroccans, riding camels into the Sahara is one of the many highlights. With the sun setting on the horizon, we saunter on camelback to our desert camp for the night; the colour of the huge dunes changes from orange to rose. The silence and vast nothingness of the desert clears the mind and is good for the soul. On arrival at camp, we relax with a gin. Mohammed, our Tuareg guide disappears into a goat-hair tent, emerging an hour later with a wonderfully tasty vegetable tajine. He knows the way to a girl’s heart! We all agree “Life doesn’t get much better than this,” as we nestle into our blankets for the night, and sweet Saharan dreams are had in our “million star hotel”.
A few days and several amazing sights later, we take an overnight hike into the Atlas Mountains to stay with a Berber family. Our hike takes us along well-used donkey trails on bare mountainsides, dotted with goat-herders and their flocks, and random Berber villages. Lunchtime is again a feast prepared by our guides – Berber omelets, salad, bread and fruit. The food in Morocco is always prepared fresh, spiced just right, and is, quite frankly, just the best!
In the late afternoon, we arrive in our remote village, a convoy of curious children in tow. Mint tea is immediately served on the terrace of the house, whilst neighbours peer curiously at us. Most of these people have never even been to Marrakesh, a few hours’ walk and two-hours’ drive away. Life is simple and basic here. The mother of the family gives us a toothless grin as she sifts hot couscous through her hands. The couscous is delicious and we all eat from the same large dish, with our right hand. After dinner, we are tired, but reluctant to go to bed: it’s very special spending this time with the Berbers…
Gone is the peace of the mountains and the desert: Marrakesh is exotic, chaotic, exciting and irresistible. Our first stop after the hike is a hammam (traditional bath). Dressed in just our undies in a hot, steamy room, we pour water over ourselves and rub our bodies all over with savon noir, an olive-oil soap. One by one, we are taken to a warm marble slab for a scrubbing – the attendant uses a rough glove to scrub us to within an inch of our lives! Probably the last time I was this clean was at birth! This rough treatment is followed by a luxurious argane oil massage. Relaxed and sleepy, we make our way back to the riad (a beautiful tiled accommodation) for an early night.
As we sit on the rooftop terrace of the riad, we hear the Berber drums beating in the big square and enticing wafts of food and spices drift our way…who can resist? We decide we’ll sleep after the trip is over. Off we go to the square: belly dancers, storytellers, acrobats and snake charmers entertain the throngs of people attracted to this madness. Behind all this action are rows of brightly lit food stalls, orange juice and dried fruit stands, spiced tea stalls… Food hawkers try to lure us to their tables, henna ladies vie for our attention to sell us a henna tattoo, children selling trinkets follow us around, swarthy men make casual advances and beggars try to cadge a dirham or two. After a couple of hours of this, we finally give in to our tiredness, and, thoroughly over-stimulated, we make our way back to the riad for some well-deserved sleep. After all, tomorrow awaits another day.
This article was written by JULIE PATERSON.