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Our Moroccan Adventure

A bit of a departure from fashion today, but I thought it might be interesting to write about my time in Morocco with Exodus Travels. This blog post isn’t paid for by them, but Edward (16) and I went on this Moroccan trip in return for me posting about it on Instagram. Had we paid for it ourselves it would have been around £1,500 each (including flights) which, considering all the things we got up to, is a really good price. I won’t be able to recommend places to stay or restaurants to eat in as this was a group trip where we basically went where we were taken. Exodus specialises in holidays that are more about exploring the ‘real’ side of a country, not just the usual tourist spots.

I shall start at the beginning…

Day 1.

We were up before dawn to get the 07.45am flight to Marrakech from Gatwick. On arrival, we were met at Marrakech airport (or is it Marrakesh? I’m not sure why it’s spelt differently depending on where you read it) by a man and a minivan. We will get used to being in a minivan on this trip, and a word to the wise: it’s good to be one of the first people on so you can get that coveted window seat. Perfect for sightseeing and also better for napping. After checking in to our fairly basic but clean and well-located hotel, we met with the rest of our travelling group. There were 13 of us in total, and we were a varied and mixed bunch of characters, with our fellow travellers ranging in age from 31 to late 60s/early 70s (one doesn’t like to ask an age unless it’s offered). There were two couples, three if you include me and Edward, and the rest were solo travellers.

Our lovely guide Abdellah

We met our guide for the week, Abdellah, a mild-mannered and earnest Berber man who only learned English six months ago. Kudos to him, though; he spoke it very well. We did that ‘introduce yourself’ thing that everyone dreads in office meetings, but it was definitely useful to do so in a situation such as this where you’re going to be spending a full seven days with a bunch of complete strangers. Then it was off for our first meal of the trip. We had been pointed in the direction of a Moroccan restaurant near Marrakech’s main square. Tagines all round was the order of the evening, and that set the precedent for the rest of the trip. Tagines are cheap, they’re usually either chicken or lamb with vegetables, they fill you up, and they vary wildly in both price and quality. Tonight’s, I think, was referred to as ‘something from Tutankhamun’s tomb’, but it cost less than £4 each and was edible, so potato/potarto…

Day 2.

Within the walls of Ait Benhaddou

Our merry band of travellers assembled in the hotel lobby and boarded the minibus for the start of the week’s adventures. First stop on the itinerary was Aït Benhaddou. We got there by traversing the High Atlas mountains, but with a stop-off to have tea and take photos, of course. We’re tourists, after all. The scenery is stunning. It’s like a film set, and a lot of it has been.

The views over the high Atlas Mountains

In fact, you would recognise Aït Benhaddou as the setting for many, many movies, from Lawrence of Arabia to Gladiator to Indiana Jones and even Time Bandits (an 80s classic). It also doubled as one of the Slaver’s Bay towns in my favourite TV series, Game of Thrones. We explored the village in the afternoon and stopped off to peruse some handmade carpets. Gorgeous they may have been, but they were way above my pay grade. I had assumed I could get one for a couple of hundred but no, they’re more like £1,000 and up these days. After a couscous buffet dinner we retired to our chambers at a local hotel.

Climbing to the top of the Kasbah at Ait Benhaddou

Day 3.

The sunrise from the hotel at Ait Benhaddou

Up at sunrise, and what a sunrise it was: a glowing red sky the likes of which you don’t see very often (ever) in London. We headed out towards the Sahara desert, stopping off to buy snacks and scarves in case of hunger and sandstorms, respectively. Then we met up with our camels, which were to be our transport to the desert camp. Abdellah was at pains to tell us that they were in fact dromedaries, not camels. Camels have two humps, while these beasts had only one. They move fairly slowly, so once you’re on it’s a pretty relaxed ride.

The Camel ride into the Sahara at sunset

We arrived at camp just before sunset and took turns in getting ‘the’ perfect photo of each other looking wistfully over the sand dunes. It was quite something being surrounded by the dark, open desert and thousands upon thousands of stars. It’s a feeling I will never forget.

We nailed that desert shot

Once more, it was tagines all round at dinner and then an evening around the campfire. This was where we really got to chat and find out more about each other. We had one in the RAF (which is absolutely NOT the Army, as we now know), a gynaecological nurse, a school teacher, a botanist, a psychologist, an accountant, an interior designer, someone who works for Costco, two semi-retired charity workers, and one who never really disclosed what he did for a living. I like to think he was in the CIA, but more likely worked in sales.

The evening campfire entertainment in the Sahara desert camp.

Day 4.

Sunrise in the Sahara

Dawn broke over the Sahara. I don’t think I’ll experience silence like it ever again, unless I happen to visit another remote desert in my lifetime. It was a relaxing morning, as our camel timetable meant we didn’t need to depart until 11am. One of our party had to make an emergency exit due to (let’s put it politely) ‘tummy troubles’. I’m eternally grateful that this didn’t happen to me or Edward. I deliberately steered clear of anything not boiled to within an inch of its life, though. Top tip: don’t eat salad.

I mean… I’d take one of everything if I could.

Our next stop was a local pottery where we were shown around by a man with the brownest teeth I ever did see. But the green earthenware was stunning, and all made by hand. Had I more luggage space I’d have bought so much of it; alas, I did not, so I settled for a pair of bowls and a couple of mugs. The last stop for the day was in Zagora. Six of us formed a rogue breakout dinner group and went in search of pizza. We hit gold in a local café. Total cost for six, plus a soft drink? £21.

Day 5.

Walking to the village gite near Telouet

Today saw a trek into the High Atlas mountains to visit a remote village and stay over at their local gîte. I say ‘trek’, but it was more of a light hike. I was chastised for wearing sandals but I did point out many times that ‘they’re actually walking sandals’. The sandals did me proud, keeping my feet cool but also serving to grip underfoot when traversing a stony path. We had a (tagine-based) lunch with a local family, and then it was onwards to visit the local hammam.

Lunch at a family home with our group in Telouet

I’m not sure if you’ve ever been to a hammam before, but let’s just say it was NOT like anything I’ve previously experienced. Nothing bonds you more with your fellow female travellers than being half-naked, having a toothless Berber lady scrubbing you to within an inch of your life and ferreting around in your underpants. Shell-shocked and rocking with laughter, we staggered back to the gîte (youth hostel vibes) for another tagine.

Day 6.


In the morning, we bid adieu to the friendly villagers and took a leisurely trek down the mountain to meet our driver. We had mules to carry our backpacks, thankfully; transport in this part of the country is definitely not as modern as in the city. We got back to bustling Marrakech mid-afternoon.

A literal Aladdins cave of treasure in the souks

It’s hard to put into words what Marrakech is like, as it’s different to anywhere I’ve been before. In fact, it’s an absolute assault on the senses, especially the main square, Jemaa el-Fna, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and ALWAYS busy. It’s madness, but I loved it. Be careful not to get run over by a full family on one moped, avoid the men with monkeys on a chain, don’t look the snake charmers in the eye and watch your step or you might plunge into a pile of horseshit, but apart from that it’s so much fun and fascinating. I didn’t feel unsafe at all. It probably helps that we are from London so we’re used to a fairly busy city, but this was on another level.

Day 7.

Tile heaven at the Bahia Palace

A full day in Marrakech started with a local city guide taking us to the Bahia Palace and the Ben Youssef Madrasa Muslim school. If you’re interested in the traditional architecture of the city, then these two are a must-see. Plus they both contain lovely tiles, and we all love a good Moroccan tile, don’t we? Then we headed deep into the medina souks. This was something I was really looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint in any way. A literal Aladdin’s cave of joy. I’m pretty sure you could buy all of Aladdin’s treasure here and then some.

Edward bartering for his Fez

Contrary to what I had been told by friends who had been there in the past, we didn’t get scammed, we didn’t feel pressure to buy anything and we didn’t get ripped off. In fact, all the stallholders we spoke to were really friendly and one taught us how we should barter. Basically, he says a price, you halve it, then go up from there until you are both agreed. I got really into it, and now I never want to pay full price for anything. If you walk away, you’ll get an even better deal. I was restrained once again and only got two semi-precious, stone-beaded bracelets for about £25. Edward bought five fez hats for him and his friends and a traditional hooded robe to wear at home. He got really into it, it was hilarious.

The stunning colours at Jardin Majorelle

Later in the afternoon (after we had sought out a bar to watch Brentford get roundly thrashed by Liverpool), we visited the Jardin Majorelle. Unfortunately, the Yves Saint Laurent Museum was closed, but the gardens are really worth a visit for the colours of the buildings alone. Beautiful bright blues mixed with intense yellow, and then the greens of the cactus and the deep pink of the bougainvillea. Just stunning.

The vast lanes of the souks

We couldn’t resist another exploration of the souks in the early evening and the madness of the main square again, just so we could soak it all up before we had to leave the next day. Our trip was topped off by Edward spotting Eric Cantona at the airport the next morning. To say he was fan-girling would be an understatement.

Ohh ahh Cantona

In summary, if you fancy a trip that really is off the beaten track and you like meeting new people, this sort of holiday is definitely for you. It’s also perfect if you want to ‘go it alone’ but not be alone. The lack of phone signal and wi-fi meant we all had to speak to each other more than we might usually have done, and I really liked that. There’s nothing more fascinating to me than other people. I also highly advocate going away with just one member of your family, especially an offspring. You get to know each other so much better. Teenagers get a bad rep, but one-on-one they are amazing, funny, insightful and genuinely interested in things other than what they see on their phones. Edward and I will forever remember this holiday together and that counts for so much.

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