Oct 7, 2011
Marrakech is a feast for the senses. One can be enticed by the alluring scents and brilliant colours of the spice markets, the entrancing sounds of the musicians, the rich folds of carpets, delectable foods, acrobats and perfumed gardens reflected in the shimmering waters of the many pools. Come evening the Djemaa el Fna transforms with huge crowds converging to see the singers, drummers, dancers, snake charmers, fortune tellers, storytellers, jugglers and even old medicine men, who together make up what has been dubbed the greatest spectacle on earth. An al fresco dinner at one of the many stalls is also on the cards.
The monuments of Marrakech are numerous and range from the well-known Koutoubia Mosque and its superb minaret - famous throughout the world as one of the greatest minarets and the 'sister' to the Giralda in Seville, to the lesser-known tropical gardens of the French Painter Jacques Marjorelle (now owned by Yves Saint Laurent). There is the Palais Bahia, a superb example of Muslim architecture, and the ruins of the Palais Badi, reputedly one of the most beautiful palaces in the world in its time. The Saadian tombs are a recently uncovered gem of the Medina.
It was an early morning today. We left at 6:00 AM to catch a train to Marrakech which took approximately 7 hours. It was actually a very comfortable train ride as we paid a bit extra to upgrade to first class. We arrived in hot, sunny Marrakech about 2:00 PM and headed straight to our hotel. We had some free time in the afternoon and a few of us went exploring on our own. This is a big, busy city. Our hotel has an outdoor swimming pool, but the water is far too cold for my liking. Since I hadn't really eaten anything all day, I did the unthinkable and stopped at a McDonalds for a quick snack. I knew we wouldn't be having dinner until later tonight. That may have been a mistake.
Late afternoon, our group met up and headed off to explore the highlights of this city. We walked to the famous Djemaa el Fna which was absolutely buzzing with activity ... not a place I wanted to spend too much time at. We went up to the rooftop of one of the restaurants where we could watch the craziness from above. I have never seen anything quite like it. Kristina and I decided to venture around the square for awhile, but I was glad to get out of there. Our group went to a very nice restaurant in the area for our farewell dinner. I had the usual Moroccan salad, chicken tajine and fruit for dessert along with mint tea of course. During dinner, we were entertained by a few dancers including a belly dancer. We then walked back to the hotel (about a 40-minute walk) which was nice after our big meal and especially since the temperature was still about 23C late at night. We said our farewells and had an early night. I felt rather sad that I was losing this whole group and had to start over with a new one for the rest of my trip.
Kristina left early this morning and I had a chance to sleep in because it was a free day for me today. It was the changeover day where I meet up with the new group tonight so I had planned to do all my Marrakech sightseeing. Unfortunately, I got hit with the stomach bug today and didn't venture far from the hotel at all. I'm beginning to wonder whether it was the McDonald's snack that did me in. Jose was still around this morning so he went to the pharmacy with me to help me translate to get some medication. I did manage to wander around the area close to the hotel for awhile and forced myself to eat some lunch ... I thought the good Moroccan soup shouldn't harm me. By this time, I really had no desire to continue this tour. I was tired, felt sick and just wanted to go home. So I spent most of the afternoon resting at the hotel which was probably something I needed anyway. I met my new temporary roommate, Melanie, from San Francisco. She just finished the first part of her tour in northern Morocco as part of a group of 8 women. Later in the evening, I went to join the new group for our orientation meeting and after much confusion, it turned out that instead of having a group of 12 (which is supposed to be the maximum), we now have a group of 15 because Intrepid messed up on the booking. The previous group of 8 were not happy at all and complained bitterly. I, along with three other women, was booked on the correct tour to make the total 12. However, there were 3 Germans who got booked on the wrong tour and were supposed to be on ours, so our tour leader (a Moroccan fellow named Mourad) had to make it work somehow. It was a rather stressful night for everyone. They all went back to the crazy square for dinner and I stayed at the hotel, drank tea and went to bed early.
Our new group consists of 3 Germans (a couple with their daughter), a Japanese gal, one American, one Kiwi, a few Aussies, a few British and once again, I'm the lone Canadian.
October 9 Aroumd/Armed
This morning, all 15 of us plus the leader and the driver boarded our private mini bus (which will be our transport for the first 5 days of this trip due to unreliable local transport) for the two-hour drive into the towering High Atlas Mountains.
After driving on very windy, mountainous roads in a hot crammed bus, we arrived to the end of the road to the village of Imlil (70 km southeast of Marrakech) around noon where we stored our main luggage and loaded our day packs onto mules before making the one hour walk up to the peaceful village of Aroumd/Armed. We had the option of using local transport (mule) up to the village, but most of us decided to walk. We spent the night at this family run Mountain Home (Gite) perched on a great rocky outcrop where we had an incredible sight to appreciate from our terrace: views of North Africa's highest peak - Mount Toubkal!
Facilities at the Mountain Gite were shared - both the bathroom and sleeping arrangements - but cosy and comfortable. It was a lot more civilized than I expected. We had real beds, toilets and even showers! There were only 3 of us in one room.
We were treated to a nice homemade lunch and then about eight of us decided to do the 8 km trek to the shrine of Sidi Chamarouch (4 hours return) up about 400 meters from the village which was at 2000 meters. This interesting destination is the burial place of a medieval Saint and is a popular trek for both serious trekkers en-route to Toubkal and for Moroccan faithful wishing to receive Baraka (blessings) from this sacred place. It was a rather steep, rocky climb, but quite good. There are many apple and walnut trees in this area. There's not much to see except the Shrine which is out of bounds to non-Muslims. We got back before the sun set just in time for another home-made dinner and everyone was so exhausted that we had an early night. I was in bed by 9 PM!