We were in love with Morocco almost as soon as we landed (despite the heat). We honestly didn't know what to expect; we had heard a lot of positive & negative things about the country & were a little prepared for anything.
For the most part, people tried to describe it to us like our experiences in India - loud, chaotic, crowded & people always working “a deal”. Yet, we didn't really experience any of this, at least not in Marrakech.
Marrakech was founded by the Berber empire in 1062 (though the Berber farmers inhabited the city for decades prior). Far from the chaotic scene we expected, the city seemed quite easy to navigate, calm even, compared to many places we’ve been.
With a little help, we wound our way around the Jemaa el-Fna square & into the old Medina, locating our amazing riad in tiny back alleys. This was the kind of place I dreamed about sleeping in when we left on this crazy expedition & with a thousand of riads to choose from, you’ll find the one that's right for you.
We didn't have long in the city so we wasted no time setting out for a little shopping, or some medium sized shopping I’d guess you could say - we managed to get ourselves talked into a locally made Berber rug. When in Rome as they say!
I could have spent hours just wandering around the twisted & elaborate labyrinth that is the Medina. Brightly colored rugs, tapestries & pottery pop against the silver & bronze tones of the lamps & metal workings. Aromas of hot spices rise in the air mixing with some not-as-tasty street scents, but it is still enough to get your stomach rumbling for a snack. Many-a-tourist has gotten turned around in the intricate paths, but if you can follow the light you’ll find your way out soon enough.
We also spent a little bit of time wandering around the former Berber Palaces, de la Bahiaa & El badii. Built a few hundred years apart from each other, both are an incredible testament to the beauty & wealth of the Berber empires. Color-rich tiles, hand cut & placed line the Bahiaa Palace along with painstakingly detailed woodwork in the ceilings.
All that remains of the beautiful Badii Palace are the sunken gardens, reflecting pools & the various outer walls. But it doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to get a feel for how grand it must have been in its prime. You can also view the Koutoubia minbar (prayer pulpit), considered to be one of the greatest masterpieces of Islamic art.
Though we loved Marrakech, we didn't enjoy the 100+ degree weather. To escape the oppressive heat, we packed ourselves up in a little rental car & headed up for a few days in the Atlas Mountains.
We wanted a chance to see a different side of Morocco, to get out into the countryside & do a little natural trekking. Imlil is comprised of numerous small Berber villages about 90 minutes outside of Marrakech. Its popularity has grown exponentially in recent years, drawing tourists from all over the world to its mountain slopes for skiing & trekking. Many adventurers start out from here to tackle Toubkal Mountain, the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains.
While we weren't equipped for the multi-day summit to the peak, we did get to take advantage of an all-day circuit around Imlil’s 9 individual villages. Lucky for us, the rains held off & the temperature was just cool enough that we could enjoy the day.
The trek up towards Tizi n’ Tamatert (the saddle) was a fairly gradual climb compared to some of those we had already done in Nepal. The climb was, however, filled with walnut trees, apple orchards, wheat fields & various wildlife, all things we did not expect to find in Morocco. Having a guide allowed us to learn much more of the area than if we had done it alone. He taught us the rich Berber history of the area & explained its fertile growing environment.
The day trek gave us the chance to see a completely different side of Morocco than anything you would see in the major cities - families enjoying a simpler life over the chaos of Marrakech. From young boys leading around the family mule to small children playing in the waterfalls, we saw many walks of life in the mountain community.
At the end of a long day, there was nothing better than dinner with a view & the silence of the mountains - even if that silence was broken by the occasional braying donkey.
I could have stayed hidden up in those mountains for days. The village was so quiet & peaceful. The more we travel the more we realize how much we prefer the solitude of nature to the chaos of crowds. But Morocco held much more for us to see so after a few tranquil days we packed up our little Fiat & headed back to the city to continue our adventure!