Walking in Circles, Part 2: Moulay Idriss and Chefchauen

by Elizabeth

Following Fes, we decided to visit both the white and blue cities of Morocco.  First up was Moulay Idriss, the sacred white town on a hill.  In 789, Mousey Idriss I arrived in the town, bringing Islam to the area.  We were told that the town is still considered so sacred that if a Muslim visits Moulay Idriss six times during its annual festival, it is considered the equivalent of one Haj to Mecca.  Non-Muslims were only recently permitted to stay overnight in Moulay Idriss (in 2005), although they still cannot visit the mausoleum (a trend in Morocco).  Before that, non-Muslim visitors were advised to leave town by 3pm.

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Moulay Idriss from one of the viewpoints.

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Walking in Circles, Part 1: Fes

by Michael

We arrived in Fes and did our usual walk to find a hotel. The problem with Fes (and many Moroccan cities) is that the hotels in the medinas (old walled cities) are on narrow streets behind nondescript doors. Even when we can find them, we can’t figure out if they are in our price range. And once you find a place, you must sit down and have some mint tea before you do anything else, then you can see the room, and maybe after that you can learn the price.

After visiting a couple places that were booked, we saw (and had mint tea) a place that we could have booked for about $35 per night. But we didn’t think it was a good value and wasn’t quite in the location that we wanted to be in, so we kept on. We went across the Fes Medina to find a better neighborhood but didn’t find the right type of doors. Many Moroccans tried to lead us to the “Funky Fes” (a cheap hostel) but we thought that wouldn’t be a good idea.

After at least an hour (we got so lost — literally going around the narrow winding streets in circles without seeing another hotel option), we found Dar Bensouda. The centuries-old building with a restored courtyard was gorgeous. We had to stay for the mint tea. And two nights.

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This place is gorgeous (now say it again with a British accent — it will seem even better)

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What happens if it rains in the Sahara? You get wet.

by Michael

After an afternoon of shopping around in Marrakech, we booked our trip to the desert. We don’t usually book group tours – we try to travel the way locals do – but this ended up being much more efficient (in both time and money).

We joined a van with six other travelers, and we were off through the mountains. Before lunch we made it to Ait Benhaddou.

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Avocado Juice or Lawyer Juice?

by Michael

In Morocco, some fruit juice stands have avocados. And some list avocado juice on the menu — though the menu is typically in French and maybe Arabic, so I can never be sure. But the idea of avocado juice, or maybe even an avocado smoothie, seemed interesting. I wanted to try it.

We sat down at a juice and sweets shop just off of the Souk in Marrakech. Jus d’Avocat was on the menu. Before we ordered, Elizabeth mentioned to me that she thought Avocat was the French word for lawyer. Were we about to order lawyer juice? After some difficulty, Elizabeth placed the order. I didn’t really think Elizabeth had so much trouble with the language that she ordered lawyer juice, but maybe the word was causing the confusion. Anyway, here it is:

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Summiting Toubkal: North Africa’s Highest Peak

by Elizabeth

After arriving back in Marrakech on our early morning bus from Essaouira, we turned around and hopped in a private van headed for Imlil.  We had identified Imlil, a small town in the High Atlas Mountains, as a good base for trekking in Toubkal National Park.  Although we typically prefer hiking on our own (and had a particularly odd experience using a guide in the Indian Himalayans), our limited research suggested that organizing and navigating a multi-day hike on our own would be difficult. 

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The wonderful view from the terrace of our first riad in Imlil.

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The Sights of Marrakech

by Michael

The most popular sights in Marrakech are the Jemaa el Fna and the Souks, especially in the evening when Moroccans are out and about. During the day, we took the opportunity to see several of the older sights, some of which now house museums.

The Jardin Majorelle, located a short walk outside of the Medina (old city) was built by French artist Jaques Majorelle.  The gardens, designed by Majorelle, are now more famous than his painting.

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Wandering the Souks in Marrakech

by Elizabeth

In a complete change of pace from cold, orderly Stockholm, we set off for Marrakech, Morocco.  The difference was apparent from the moment we boarded the plane — individuals did not board in zones or by row number, instead, everyone rushed the gate as soon as it opened and pushed their way to the front of the line.  The flight itself was the loudest that I’ve ever been on; everyone chatted loudly for the duration of the five hour flight.

After scrambling to get to our riad (Moroccan hotel with inner courtyard) on our own (as the pre-arranged transport did not arrive), we got an overview of the city from our host and set off to explore (and eat our way through) Marrakech.

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Courtyard of our riad.  In contrast, our room was very plain.

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