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Maroc 2016

Our 2016 long range holiday was this year a trip to Marrakech in Morocco. From there the plan was to go to the Sahara and to the High Atlas, a snow covered mountain ridge with tops of more than 4100m.

The plan was to drive to Holland, see family there and we planned to fly from Amsterdam Schiphol AirPort. It was Christmas eve and extremely busy. It took us two hours to take the hurdles of parking, passing the security and pasport checks. For us no problem as we had lots of extra time build in our scheme. But many passenders were panicking as they were about to miss their flight due to the poor management of the security, and tried to sneak past us directly to the security, that we allowed with a smile.

The flight by an Royal Air Maroc Boeing 737-800 was uneventful. We landed an Casablanca and took the next flight to Marrakech. The flight and processing by customs was uneventful as well. We were with a group of 19, and met with the tour guide, who brought us in an comfortable bus to the hotel.
We celebrated Christmas Eve travelling. Upon arriving we prepared ourselves for almost every day another destination and to avoid our car key was lost or stolen, we put it safely in our big bag, that was transported by the bus. But that caused some anxiety at the end of the holiday.

Marrakech is a very old oasis town, with a complex history. It was a gateway to the Sahara and prospered through caravan trade. A successful trade was gold for salt. To Mali the camel caravans brought salt and returned with gold. In that time one kg salt was exchanged for one kg gold! No wonder Marrakech was so wealthy.

Next day was a visit to Marrakech. It has an very big old town, the Medina surrounded by a 25 km wall and inside many souks, very small shops and craftsmen business. Some professions were concentrated, like the leather tanneries. A heavy, dirty and smelling job. The leather is processed in several concrete tubs full of aggressive chemicals. Difficult to imagine at this stage that the result is fine leather. Hides and leather products are everywhere for sale. We visited many parts of the Medina and enjoyed the other smells and sights of anything that is worth selling and making. Metal and leather craftsmen, and of course hundreds of shoes, clothing and fabric shops. Special colourful and aromatic smelling were the bright coloured heaps of herbs and spices.
A highlight is the Koran school. Build 5 centuries ago, it was a combination of university and monastery, with about 136 small cells, for the students. People were prepared here for top functions in the society. The school was beautiful decorated with Islamic motives. We spend some time in a kind of herbal drugstore. The owner spend so much time and energy to show us let us smell the herbs, that the managed to sell us some natural "medicines", that indeed smelled delicious. As a present we got "berber lipstick", red flower petels powder in wax, that seems to be a long lasting and healthy lipstick. According their website herboriste-du-paradis.com it was prepared from coquelicot and pommegrenade. It was packed in a traditional stone container.

Marrakech is mostly populated by Berbers, the balance are Arabs. Berbers maintain their own culture and language. They are the original population of Maroc and consider themselves as a different race from the Arabs. Population of Marrakech is around one and a half million.
The new part of Marrakech is a progressive modern town, with many malls and shops. Like any other modern town. The streets are full of modern cars and traffic is disciplined. People are dressed according modern western standards. Even most of the girls are not covered by veils, probably spending lots of time for the mirror, with result! It looks like they are participating in a beauty contest. Marrakech is a desert oasis, but has a special location. Around Marrakech are mountains, the High Atlas, up to 4166m high, and now, in winter, snow covered. The snow must be a significant source of water, distributed nicely when melting.
Price level is favourable and that attracts lots of tourists.

The second day of Christmas we left for a 6 hour trip over the High Atlas Mountains. The first part from Marrakech was completely flat and the hills prior the mountains started abrupt. The mountains were covered by a shallow layer of snow. We passed numerous Berber villages, all with houses build of mud bricks and flat roofs. The mud bricks are a mixture of mud and straw. The building materials keep it cool in summer and keeps the warmth in winter. After heavy rainfall however the building is usually damaged and needs repair. If no maintenance is performed the houses disappear in a few years. The pass altitude is 2260m. It was cold there and traces of snow covered the mountain ridges. Before the Pass the road were excellent, after the Pass the old road was in an initial stage of rebuilding. The pass is in winter often closed due to snow, But usually quickly cleared. Destination was Ait Benhaddou. It is a kasbah and that is a fortified village. After it was placed on the UNESCO World heritage list and since it was refurbished it is a major tourism attraction. It is strategically located along a river and build up a hill. Major activity is selling souvenirs to tourists.
On the other side of the salty river is the new town, with tourist accommodation. The location is used for major movie productions like Gladiator, Prince of Persia and Laurence of Arabia. In total some 15 major Hollywood films used the Kashba as decor. We visited the Kashba Ait Benhaddou. It is a very complex structure, consisting of 6 Kashbas. It serves as fortified object, residence of the ruler and storage. It was build 400 years ago. It was lovely to sneak trough the narrow paths between the houses. As usual in these tourist traps on every corner locals trying to sell everything what you do not need.

A Kashba is continually extended if the population grows. Families stay together and new parts are added.

The night was cold, it was 10 degrees C in the hotel room. That promised something for the next night, a tent in the desert.

Next morning we had a long trip over the Anti-Atlas, a mountain ridge with a pass altitude of 1600m. The landscape was stunning. We followed the Dava river which meandered through the landscape, lined with oases. We approached the Algerian border an as the Western Sahara is hotly contested by Algeria, there is a significant military presence and people entering the area are checked.
At the end of the afternoon we arrived at Ouled Driss, one of the last oases prior the Algerian border, where the camels waited to transport us to the desert. Maroc and Algeria have a hostile relationship and the border is closed.
It was a two hour trip on the "ship of the desert", our camels. We have done it before and know that is is not exactly a comfortable ride. Birgitt preferred to walk but Mariska enjoyed the camel ride quite a lot. We arrived at the camp, consisting of 10 tents for guests and a few for showers, dining facilities and the crew. The tents for the guests were roomy, with tapestry on the floor and a small but adequate LED light. First we enjoyed the sunset in the desert. The dinner in Berber style was served is a comfortable but cold tent, but was delicious. After dinner we had a campfire and the Dutch people had a terrific time, polonaise around the fire and shouted our favourite songs. Much to the chagrin of the German guests who have a different feeling for humor.

The night was cold and we slept with lots of clothes still on, under loads of blankets, only to wake up early to witness the sunrise in the desert. A stunning event as well. After breakfast it was time to board our camels again for the trip to the oasis. We left for Ouarzazate, the modern town between the High Atlas and Anti Atlas. In the bright sunshine we enjoyed the beautiful scenery, with canyons and ridges. The road is upgraded so on many places the "work in progress" kept the pace down.
We arrived in the comfortable hotel Perle of the Desert and could relax and shower again.

Next morning we leave Ouarzazate to the north, where the Atlas film studio's are. Many famous movies like James Bond, Gladiator, Asterix, jewel of the Nile, Ben Hur were recorded here.
Stunning are the still existing decors of the Mummy and the Dalai Lama. It is all polystyrene, gypsum, of course fragile building materials. Nowadays all can be fixed in computers. Many decors were used is different films, sometimes pretending Kabul, or Jerusalem or other oriental cities. The business is slowing as more and more productions are computer animations. The Jewel of the Nile F-16 is an eye sore as it only remotely resembles a F-16.

Later we stopped at a restaurant where as well many fossils were on sale and scarfs of course we bought again some fossils and other presents.
After the visit we set course to Marrakech. A surprise was the lunch. The guide took us through a butcher shop over a bridge to the restaurant, with excellent food.
The trip back over the High Atlas was again an adventure with intriguing geologic features, an a good view over the Berber villages in the valley. Back in Marrakech the next adventure was a Haman. In a steamy atmosphere you get washes, scrubbed and massaged. A great experience, you feel reborn. After that we made another shopping spree in Marrakech. Now it was very busy and remarkable was that the town was full of cars, most of them looking new and well maintained. It gives the impression of a booming economy there.

The last full day in Maroc we spend high in the mountains, in the National Park of Toubkal, in the village of Imlil. It is a tourist hotpoint, just under the peak of the Toubkal mountain, 4167m high. We made a walk from 1600m to 2000m for about 3 hours and the altitude made it a strenuous walk.
The children had it easy, they were allowed to travel part of the walk on a mule. It was a slippery track due to the snow rests. It is again a tourist highlight en the path was considerably worn out by countless tourist shoes. We ended in a nice mountain restaurant where we had a delicious lunch.
The road to Marrakech showed is again unique landscape and here again west of the mountains the rocks and soil turned red again. The trip back was safe again, what is worth mentioning as on the trip back we had the roadside next to the steep canyons. We arrived in Marrakech, with first thing to do is to pack for the trip back home. It will be an early start at 0730, to arrive in the afternoon at Amsterdam Schiphol

The trip gave us a clear insight in present day Maroc. Some locations like Marrakech Zagora and Ouarzazate are modern but small Berber villages life is hard and it is difficult to scratch a life out of it. The contrast is massive. Clearly visible is that the government is betting on education as many new schools are build. And big investments are made to upgrade the road to the east. If the communication by road are improved, mineral rich Maroc can exploit better its riches.
Remarkable is that the mobile network is robust, everywhere in the country.

On New Years Eve we returned to the Marakech Airport for the first flight, to Casablanca. When we boarded the aircraft we realised the car keys were in the checked luggage. No problem if the bag shows up at the luggage belt at Schiphol, but it is a complete disaster if the bag is lost. It was our lucky day and the bag, and more important the car keys, arrived on the belt.
The departure in Casablanca was delayed due to fog at Amsterdam, but the flight further went as scheduled. We were looking back at a wonderful holiday.

We were met by the driver of the van of the parking lot, collected the car and went to Arnhem to celebrate New Year. Two days later we went to Hungary again, with fond memories of a wonderful holiday.

Click on a picture to enlarge The pictures you see after clicking on the small thumbnail pictures, are shrunk to 5% of their original dimensions

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<For pictures click here Back to Homepage