Showing posts with label Morocco. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Morocco. Show all posts

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Budget for a three week trip to Morocco

When we were leaving on a three week trip (September 27th - October 18th) to Morocco, we didn't know exactly how expensive it is going to be. In the end we were pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

We bought 2 return flight tickets from Venice, Italy to Casablanca, Morocco in advance. Everything else we spent were admission fees, travel (bus, train and taxi rides), food, drink and accommodation expenses, various other shopping expenses (gifts, postcards etc.), a trip to the Erg Chebbi desert and some other things.

Morocco - 3 week expenses (2 persons)
Item Expenses
(daily AVG)
(3 week SUM)
SUM 59 EUR 1.307 EUR
MyAir flight tickets (including taxes) 13 EUR 282 EUR
Travel expenses (bus, train & taxi) 9 EUR 189 EUR
Accomodation (budget hotels) 11 EUR 247 EUR
Food & drinks 16 EUR 351 EUR
Admission fees (desert trip, museums etc.) 8 EUR 167 EUR
Other (gifts, postcards etc.) 3 EUR 71 EUR

It all added up to 1.300 EUR for both of us. On average that's under 60 Euros per day!
Considering we traveled more then 2.500 kilometers (1.550 miles) around Morocco I'd say it was a bargain. You can check out a detailed map of our trip in this post.

So if you liked the report of our Moroccan adventure, I recommend you do it yourself. I am pretty sure you will enjoy it much more and spend less money if you do it without an agency.

Let me just point out that MyAir (the low cost airline we used) are not flying at the moment. They are grounded due to financial problems. That shouldn't be a problem, because there are many alternatives available out there.


Wednesday 30 September 2009

Moroccan round trip almost complete (Day 21)

Since we liked Essaouira so much, departing hour definitely came way too early. Before we joined our Moroccan travel circle where it begun (that's in Casablanca), we still had some time left to soak in the relaxed atmosphere of Essaouira.

No matter what sort of goods you might be looking for, in Morocco it is quite possible to find it all in one shop. On some occasions you might try on a new pair of shoes and in the meanwhile buy meat for dinner. You could get some blood on your new shoes in the process, but that doesn't really matter. You're in Morocco, remember?

During our last morning in Essaouira we walked by the countless cannons lined up on city walls once again and treated ourselves with another delicious seafood meal. The last week in Morocco went by, strongly tasting of fish. We had a seafood meal at least once a day. Most of the people I know would have had enough of it much sooner, but we just couldn't resist it. It was always as fresh as it could be and usually also very delicious. At some occasions some of the fish we chose from, were still moving.

When we finally walked to the bus station, we noticed there was something wrong with one of the tires on our bus. Since we were a bit early, we figured out they would fix it in time.

Scheduled departure time got closer with every minute, but a few of the employees from the bus station just couldn't decide how to handle the situation. After some half an hour of walking around the bus and discussing the situation, it seemed something was happening at last. To my amusement I realized they all went away just to get some coffee.
When they finally got back they tried a few new things. By then most of the passengers were quite amused with the show. Obviously nobody was in a real hurry.
At last the bus driver decided that going to a nearby gas station would be the right thing to do. He was back in 15 minutes and we were ready to go. I wasn't so sure at the time, but fortunately the tire lasted all the way to Casablanca.

In Casablanca we had lots of time to spend the remaining Dirhams. It wasn't a hard task, since we didn't have all that many left.
We met some more interesting people while hanging around the city center. The most interesting were father and son from Saudi Arabia. They were in Casablanca on a business trip and were arranging some details regarding sports clothes manufacturing. They were setting up a production of various copied trademark clothes. For me the most amusing dirty detail was sowing labels "Made in China" onto the products. Obviously, various products are not being copied only in the Far East. There are others (Moroccans in this case), who copy the Chinese.
Actually when you think of it, Nike, Adidas and such products are all made in China. And to make a perfect copy, the label also has to look as genuine as possible.

After an illuminating chat with the two Saudis, it was time to catch a train to the airport. Moroccan trains are quite good - they could easily be compared to European standards. Unfortunately due to Atlas mountain range, stretching over a considerable part of Morocco and rising over 4.000 meters above sea level, the railroad network does not cover a very large part of the country. That is why we did most of our traveling by bus.

Later that same night we boarded our MyAir flight to Venice, Italy. Everything went smooth and in the morning we were met by M's sister, who took us home to Slovenia.

We really enjoyed this three week Moroccan adventure of ours, but it is nice to be home again.


Tuesday 15 September 2009

Mogador - The City of Wind (Day 20)

"The city of Mogador" - it sounds like a fairytale place from Tolkien's Lord of the rings, doesn't it?

Although it really looks like a city straight from a fantasy book, Essaouira is an easily reachable destination. It is one of top 5 Moroccan destinations and a go-to place for wind and kite surfers. Mogador is an old name given by the Portuguese who occupied the city in the 16th century. Some remains of their influence are still visible today.

Even if one could not feel the winds that are blowing literary all the time (hence the name "City of wind"), it would be easy to figure it out from countless seagulls effortlessly gliding over the city. Every time I passed by the fishing port area, I was just waiting to get crapped on.
Surprisingly even after countless photo sessions in the danger zone, I escaped unharmed.

Essaouira is easily one of the top five most photogenic cities in Morocco. Despite being quite small, it has loads of interesting streets and corners.

Skala de la Kasbah - a section of city's 18th-century walls, surrounding UNESCO World Heritage medina, is just one such example. Musée Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah, the beach, city souks and port are also places worth visiting.

Among everything else, Essaouira is also a city of music. Once a year Essaouira gnaoua music festival is held here. It usually takes place in June and attracts people from all over the world. There are also many gnaoua (also spelled gnawa) bands performing in Essaouira every day. Locals say gnaoua music is a genuine African mix of music influences and a link to the past.

Although we didn't catch the festival, we were lucky enough to participate in a relaxed music session with a local band. A local guy invited us to participate in an evening session of their gnaoua band. It was quite interesting to see them in action, playing traditional Moroccan instruments.
Locals were quite amused when I asked a member of the band if there are many music schools in Morocco. He just couldn't understand the concept of learning music in school. He said music is something you learn as you go - pick up an instrument and try to play. You simply feel it or you don't.

The atmosphere was really relaxed, with a strong scent of green in the air. Something tells me that smoking hashish is an important part of Moroccan music. That evening it felt almost like the fifth member of the band.


Wednesday 29 July 2009

Destination Essaouira (Day 19)

The bus from Agadir to Essaouira was scheduled for 8 AM, so we had to get up pretty early. We packed our backpacks, payed the bill for our stay in the very nice Hotel Tiznine and left for the station.

We didn't know how long it would take us to find a petit taxi, so we left a little early. As soon as we got to the main road a little Fiat Uno pulled over. After a short negotiation process, the driver agreed to take us to the station for 12 Dirhams, which was quite OK.

We got to the station about a half an hour too early. Since we had bought our tickets in advance (at the CTM headquarters), we didn't need to get involved in tiresome haggling over the ticket price. Those guys looked really disappointed when we told them we already had our bus tickets. Instead we took a seat at a modest (but quite expensive) café and ordered a mint tea.
The moment we ordered our drinks I realized we didn't ask about the price. Obviously that can happen even after more then two weeks in Morocco. I am pretty sure they charged us a double or even triple price for those two glasses of mint tea. I guess every lesson has a price. We took this lesson more then once, during our stay in Morocco. Since it was usually just drinks, it didn't matter all that much.

We were already getting tired of waiting when our bus finally arrived. Before all the passengers got off, the new ones got on and all the bags were loaded in, the departure was already delayed for 45 minutes. In the end we finally got on our way.

Including a single half way stop, the ride was nothing special. Again there were many fossils and minerals on offer. Of course freshly prepared couscous was also available.
The stop didn't take long, so soon enough we reached our destination.

First we had to find a way from the bus station to the old city center within the city walls of Essaouira. It was quite a task to get rid of all the annoying locals, offering a place to stay. We had a place picked out from the Lonely Planet Guidebook. I think we chose the cheapest one listed in the budget accommodation section - the Hotel Souiri.
When we finally located it, we were unpleasantly surprised to learn that the price jumped for 100 MAD for a double room without a bathroom. Since the place looked really clean, we agreed to take the only free room they had.

The hot sun has drained M. of even that little energy she had left. That meant she decided to test our new bed for a while. I went out to wander the streets alone for a while. After an hour of much needed rest she joined me and we went exploring the walled city together.

Pretty soon we learned that this city is also quite touristy, but with lots of character when compared to Agadir.
It was really fun to wander its narrow streets. If you are looking for a photogenic location in Morocco, you definitely can't go wrong with Essaouira.

Next to the port we found stalls with fresh fish, which are ready to be served in a matter of minutes. Fish were really fresh - some even still alive.

We treated ourselves with two huge fish (a red snapper and a sea bass). Together they weighed just over a kilo. It was a real feast (not very cheap, but definitely worth the money). Afterwards we were quite exhausted and decided to call it a day. We agreed to check out the port and the city walls on the next day.

When we got to the hotel, a quick shower followed and then it was time to get some sleep. I think I fell asleep the second I closed my eyes.


Monday 20 July 2009

Mighty fishing fleet of Agadir (Day 18)

Before Agadir was turned into a seaside destination for Moroccan rich&famous and a popular resort for many western tourists, it was a simple fishing village.
Minutes before midnight on February 29, 1960, everything changed for the city of Agadir. A major earthquake destroyed the city to the ground, killing 15.000 people. The remains of the old kasbah can still be seen on a hill overlooking the new city today.

Moroccan king decided to rebuild the city and a year after the disaster, rebuilding actually began. An old fishing village was slowly transformed into a high class seaside destination with fancy hotels and hip bars. Let me just point out, that we saw more trash cans in Agadir than in all other Moroccan cities combined. It really is clean - even by European standards.

Despite all that, a stroll through the city docks reveals a mighty fishing fleet. When we reached the sea, there were countless fishing boats lined up left and right from where we were standing. We couldn't see to either end of the long row. Rusty ships were disappearing into the mist both left and right from us.
With fishing fleets of such size, it is a miracle there are still at least some fish in the ocean today.

Another interesting thing was the shipyard. We curiously observed a group of locals working on a wooden hull of a ship. Not a common sight these days.

Nearby there was an improvised stall, where different sea creatures were displayed. One could buy a whale's rib bone, a giant sea shell, a razor-sharp shark tooth, a whole shark jaw or even a scary looking shark head. We weren't really thinking of buying anything, but we talked to the guy, scrubbing a giant sea shell, for some time just the same.
On our way back to the city center we were both laughing at the idea of us walking through airport customs with a meter long whale rib-bone in one arm and a huge shark head in the other, trying to convince a customs officer that it was all just our usual personal carry-on luggage.

We couldn't resist a mint tea on the way back to the hotel. There we made plans for the next day. We decided that in the morning it was time to move on.
Even though Agadir is not a typical Moroccan city, we enjoyed our stay. We took the opportunity to just relax and power up for the few days of travel we got left.


Monday 13 July 2009

Agadir - The No.1 seaside destination for wealthy Morrocans (Day 17)

We liked our room at Hotel Tiznine so much that we decided to take it easy for a couple of days and just relax. Agadir would not be my first choice, but M. really needed some time to get rid of the cold she caught in the desert and to just relax for a few days. Her cough really didn't sound encouraging at all.

As a consequence of all this, our first day in Agadir started quite late. We slept like dead until 10 in the morning and even then we didn't get up straight away.

When we finally got out of the hotel it was time to find a patisserie. We found a promising one on our way to the beach. That once again reminded us why it would be really stupid to break our habit of such breakfasts while in Morocco.
We tried some new local sweet delights and were not sorry we did it. Everything we tried was really delicious.

Among other things I also tried Pastilla - a typical Moroccan pie filled with chicken, honey, nuts and lots of spices. It combines sweet and salty flavours with a ton of cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top. Due to a quite unusual combination of flavours M. didn't like it all that much. I thought it was quite delicious.
Over breakfast we decided to stay in Agadir for two more days. We were both hoping M. would get better until we move on.

We spent most of the remaining day on the beach. While I was exploring the beach, M. was relaxing in one of the available deck chairs. The sky was cloudy (a strange mist came rolling in from the ocean and didn't go away till the evening) for the most of the day so there was no fear of getting sunburned.

It is quite obvious that Agadir is often chosen as a vacation destination by wealthy Moroccans. Many of them work abroad, often in Spain or France. When they return for a vacation with their families, they usually have many Euros to spend.
If you know these things it is not such a surprise when you see some brand new fast food restaurants by the beach. Western style! Pizza Hut and McDonald's neon sings can be seen from almost anywhere on the beach.

Despite all that, one can still see some people in more traditional outfits. All in all it's a funny mix.

While walking around the beach I talked to some locals. As I learned at some point of each conversation, every one of them tried to sell me something. This is just one of the reasons I don't like touristy places - it is usualy quite hard to make genuine contact with locals at such places. They just see you as a big fat bag of money (usually with a big hole, from which an endless supply of money is dropping).

It took me almost a half an hour to explain to a guy that 40 Euros for a few minute spin on a water scooter is way over my budget.

We finished our day at the beach with a walk to the fish stalls by the port. We knew the procedure from the day before. This time we opted for some shrimps and a red snapper. Everything came with a spicy sauce of some kind but we liked it anyway.

On the way back to our hotel, we stopped for a fresh orange juice and mint tea. We weren't tired, but when we got to our room, we fell asleep easily.


Monday 6 July 2009

Moroccan coast, here we come! (Day 16)

We woke up early in the morning. It was around seven and we were still in Marrakesh. Because of many unwelcome guests in our room we didn't sleep too well and were eager to get out of the room as soon as possible.

When we inspected the room and checked around for any remaining night-time guests, we were surprised not to find a single cockroach anywhere. It felt like being caught in a low budget horror movie, where after a tough night, with the morning light no zombies/vampires/werewolves can be found anywhere.

When the nice receptionist from the day before, asked us how the night was, we just gave him the look and a short "Not all that well...".
He said nothing but the look on his face spoke for itself. He knew exactly what we had in mind.

Over another delicious breakfast at the patisserie we had discovered the day before, we decided to head on to the Moroccan western coast. We were really looking forward to see the Atlantic Ocean again and enjoy some fresh seafood.
We checked out of Hotel Mimosa and caught a petit taxi to the bus station. We negotiated a good price quite quickly and getting to the bus station was a matter of minutes. Once again we chose a CTM company bus.

The trip was nothing special. As usually we stopped at a small village, with food and drink opportunities. There was also the usual fossil stand. By this time we got used to sometimes very impressive fossils sold everywhere. Some were so fascinating I even considered buying them, however I didn't want to risk some unnecessary border troubles.

When we got to Agadir we caught a taxi to an affordable hotel we found in our Lonely Planet guide book. We chose Hotel Tiznine which proved to be an excellent value. We got the last of their double rooms with a bathroom for 160 Dh per night.

Since we needed some quality sleep (we didn't sleep too good last night and M. was not feeling too well since she caught a cold one night in the desert), we decided to soon turn in for the night. We still had time to take a stroll by the beach and find fish stalls next to the port.
As it was getting darker an inscription in Arabic was lit on the side of a hill with the ruins of the old city on top of it. It could be translated into English as: "God, Homeland, King". I guess this should be the right sequence of important things in the life of every true Moroccan. I am not really sure if this is still true today (especially in a modern and westernised city like Agadir), but was surely the case a couple of decades ago.

When we finally got to the stalls (M. lost hope way before we got to the port), we negotiated two huge sea breams with bread, olives and salad for 70 Dh each and demanded an extra large coke on top of it. With a large bottle I meant one half a litre bottle, instead of a standard tin. After a couple of minutes we got a whole litre of coke.
We ate it all up and even took some of the leftover coke with us. 140 Dh is not very cheap, but those two fish were really huge and at the same time very delicious. Our tummies were full and after we made it to our hotel, we slept like in heaven.


Tuesday 23 June 2009

A room full of cockroaches (Day 15)

We woke up in Hotel El Kennaria in Marrakech. We didn't sleep too good, but it didn't bother us much, since the plan was to move to another hotel. After a few morning photos of the street bellow from our room's window, we were glad to leave this hotel behind. We checked into the nearby Hotel Mimosa, which was recommended to us by a couple we know back home. This was the single hotel recommendation we got before the trip and accordingly our expectations were high.

The staff at the Hotel Mimosa were extra friendly and we also liked our modest room and also the insides of the hotel. On top of that, everything looked very clean.

After we dropped our backpacks by the bed, we went straight out to get a breakfast and a glass of fresh orange juice. We discovered a really nice café and pastry shop in a street just off the Djemaa el Fna square.
Delicious pastries were flushed down with freshly squeezed juice. This was the one thing we just couldn't get enough of during our three weeks in Morocco.

Once again we were running out of local currency and it was time to find a working ATM machine to withdraw some Dirhams.
We only had Maestro/Cirrus cards that (as we found out) didn't work with all local banks and ATMs. We finally found La Banque Centrale Populaire ATM that was ready to cooperate.
I expected one of many banks with western bank logos on their ATMs would work with our Maestro/Cirrus cards, but no luck. I guess it would help to have a Visa card for backup when going to Morocco. However if you have problems withdrawing money from various ATMs, be sure to look around for La Banque Centrale Populaire logo. It worked for us.

After a visit of a quite interesting nearby palace we decided to take an inside look at a Hammam (a traditional public bath). Not a fancy - touristy one, but a real one. The kind Moroccans go to.

Since this was our first time visit, we didn't know what to expect. A young receptionist from the small hotel we were staying in, tried to prepare us for the visit (you can check out a few tips on public hammam etiquette here). He found this situation at least funny, if not hilarious and was giggling all the time.
He directed us to a corner shop where we got the necessary hammam items we were missing: black soap (savon noir) and two scrubbing mitts. After a short negotiation this added up to 25 dirhams. We already had shampoo and towels.
The receptionist tried to tell us that the price for entering the hammam could not be more then 15 dirhams, we didn't manage to get in for less then 60 dirhams (and we tried - hard).
We entered through two separate doors - one for men and the other for women. I went in dressed only in my underwear. It became hotter and hotter as I went deeper into the hammam and didn't stop until I reached the last room which was really hot. I grabbed a bucket, filled it with hot water and began the routine. There were a couple of locals who pointed me to a thing or two, but unfortunately conversation wise, that was it. None of them spoke any English, not even the guy from the reception who came in after a while and gave me a scrubbing massage of some kind.

It really was a very interesting (sauna like) experience, lasting way over an hour and also included a quick scrub, so I guess even if it was overpaid, the price wasn't all that bad.
M. had a similar experience but got tired of it a bit earlier then I did. So we met at the entrance, where she was occupied talking to a local couple. They seemed disappointed when I showed up - this meant an end to their conversation with a freshly scrubbed and of soap smelling blonde.

We were too exhausted for any further activity. The hammam experience also made us quite hungry, so we went to grab some food from one of the stalls on Djemaa el Fna. It was quite amusing watching two locals repair a light at the food stall next to ours. It was like watching an episode of MacGyver on TV, with a good deal of suicidal tendencies feel to it. The whole time through my meal I was waiting for someone to get electrocuted. Fortunately the Moroccan MacGyver saved the day and there was light again.

After a cup of tea, we went to sleep. Well... that was what we wanted to do.
As we got into our room and switched the light on, everything started moving. There were dozens of cockroaches running around, trying to get away from the light. After squashing a few, I gave up and decided to go to sleep despite the annoyance.
M. just couldn't believe it, but to me it seemed obvious that I couldn't win a battle against the far greater numbers of annoying little creatures.

I zipped myself into my sleeping bag and soon fell to sleep. M. followed after a while but didn't dare to close her eyes for another couple of hours.
That night we slept with the light on - at the only place in Morocco that was recommended to us back home. The only one with cockroaches too!


Monday 8 June 2009

What is so special about Marrakech?

Marrakech is definitely the number one destination in Morocco. Quite frankly I don't know why...

It surely has some good points, but I don't think it really has something you couldn't find at another place in Morocco.
On the main square (Djemaa el Fna) you can find the cheapest (3dh per glass) freshly squeezed orange juice. You have to specifically ask to get it without ice and will probably be charged extra for the privilege.

There are many snake charmers and watermen on the main square. If you never saw a snake charmer, this might be a good opportunity for taking some great photos, otherwise stay away - as they can get quite pushy. However you have to be aware that you will be expected to pay for taking a photo or even for taking a close look. I took a few photos, but from quite a large distance or from under my arm. In such a way I also got away with this photo of a waterman. They are there only for the show and don't have their original role any more (if you take a closer look at the guy on the photo that is quite obvious).

Marrakesh (also spelled Marrakesh) is a big city with many interesting things to see. Sadly most of them are overrun by tourists. Consequentially the prices can be quite high. Hotel rooms we checked out were mostly quite expensive but at the same time were not at all that good.

Usually the medina of Marrakesh is regarded as a shoppers heaven. I beg to differ. The architecture doesn't seem all that genuine (at least compared to the one in Fes) and it also isn't all that big.
Locals often have a bit too arrogant approach for my taste. On the other hand it is not so strange that salesmen are mostly not too interested in haggling over a scarf. They can be pretty sure there is a tourist with pockets full of money waiting in line just behind you. It is still worth looking for a decent offer, but you have to look for it. Typically it is waiting for you at least a few streets away from the main square.

I don't know if it is just me being weird, but I like Fes a lot more and would recommend it to anyone who has to choose between the two (you can read about my (a)mazing Fassi experience on this link). If you have a different opinion and like Marrakesh above all, please do share your views.


Monday 1 June 2009

Over the Atlas to Marrakech (Day 14)

We caught an early bus to Marrakech (also called Marrakesh or Murrākush) and left Ouarzazate behind. This time we took a CTM bus. We always tried to do that but on some occasions CTM was not an option. The bus was quite new and really decent even by European standards. Nevertheless we were the only foreigners on board.

Considering the narrow, winding road over the high Atlas mountains and our experience so far, the bus driver was driving very carefully, slowing before every tight turn. Nevertheless some of the local passengers were not taking it too well, throwing up every fifteen minutes.
At first it was quite awful but eventually we got used to it.
Five and a half hours, several puking bags (fortunately not by us) and a few stops later, we arrived to Marrakech.

The first stop was next to an improvised fruit stand. Actually to be accurate, it was an apple stand. A guy, obviously the bus driver's acquaintance, was standing next to the road and had ten boxes of apples to sell. Passengers seemed quite thrilled - almost everybody got at least a few apples.
Next stop was in a small village which consisted of a few houses and an all-in-one café, butcher's shop and grill. A cow curiously looked at us through a door of one of the houses.

It was quite interesting to watch most of the passengers gorging on whatever was on offer, just to puke it all out a few minutes later.

At the Marrakech CTM bus station we caught a petit taxi which took us to the old town center. He dropped us near the main square - the famous Djemaa el Fna.

We were looking for a specific hotel that was recommended to us back home and we soon found it. Despite a very friendly receptionist, we couldn't get a room. It appeared to be full, so we decided to try our luck again on the next morning.
Finding another hotel was not so hard, but we still had to check out a few of them to find at least a half decent substitute. Since it was just for a single night we settled for the Hotel El Kennaria, which turned out not to be the best of choices (besides relatively clean sheets, everything else was bellow our not at all high standards).
We quickly got over the check-in formalities and left to explore the city. First we walked around the Djemaa el Fna for some time and then plunged right into the maze of narrow streets behind the square.

We were a bit disappointed - from all the stories we had heard we expected the city Medina to be something really special. Instead it just looked kind of fake and touristy - it just couldn't compare to the one we saw in Fes.

Soon we found the Museum of Marrakech and went in. It wasn't all that special, but still worth a visit. The atmosphere was really relaxed and some of the wall carvings and tile works were quite stunning.

When we were done with the museum, we also took a look at the nearby buildings. It didn't take us long to find Medersa Ben Youssef. Medersa or Madrasa is a word for school in the Arabic world.
This one in particular was an Islamic college and is today open to public. It offers magnificent examples of calligraphy, carved in stone and wood all over the place.

Two of the small student cells had been decorated in a supposedly authentic way. One represents a poor students cell and the other one of an aristocrat. By today's standards both of them are quite modestly furnished.
The atmosphere was nice, peaceful and really reminded me of a monastery in the Christian world.

We ended our day with another stroll around Djemaa el Fna. By this time it was transformed into one large barbecue. More then hundred stalls was offering freshly cooked, fried and grilled dishes. Thick clouds of steam were rising high into the air. A strong mix of smells was impossible to ignore. We tried our luck at one of the stalls and ordered some squids, shrimps and lamb kofta (local version of meat balls).
We rounded it all up with a cup of mint tea at a fancy café, overlooking the square.


Tuesday 12 May 2009

Ouarzazate aka Moroccan Hollywood (Day 13)

After a a long (6 hour) ride from Erfoud to Ouarzazate we didn't have much trouble finding a suitable hotel.
Our Lonely Planet guide book proved to be quite handy once again. This time Hotel Royal was our choice. It proved to be OK but not much more.

It was still early when we got up and headed for the Ouarzazate Grand Taxi station on the next morning.
We were expecting another bargaining session and we were right. As soon as we got there we found someone who would be very happy to take us to Ait Benhaddou. This was our destination of the day.
I thought it would be easier to lower the starting price for the ride there and back. The story was, M. and I would have to pay for all six (yes that's 6!) places in an old Mercedes (you can read more about grand taxi habits in Morroco in this post).
Although many of the drivers standing around were assuring us that definitely there were no other passengers going our way, we decided to hang around for a bit longer and wait for someone willing to share a ride with us.

We didn't have to wait long. Soon a foreign looking group of three stepped out of a petit taxi. We approached them before anyone else started talking to them. As we expected, they were also heading our way and it didn't take us long to arrange a ride.

During a ride to Ait Benhaddou in an old Mercedes we learned, that father and daughter of Korean origin were coming from US and have a local guide with them to show them around. We were told he was a friend of a friend and a really valuable asset when traveling around Morocco.

After a photo stop or two we arrived to our destination and went on a quick tour around the city made out of mud. It was quite interesting and soon we realized residents are probably never bored. The walls have to be constantly repaired - they are damaged every time it rains. Luckily that is not too often.
We saw a group of locals preparing the muddy mix. Most walls are obviously made from such a mix of mud, water, straw and supported by wood. Supposedly only nine families live in the mud city today and they are trying to keep it in a reasonably good shape.

This UNESCO site is often used as a movie set and is quite famous.

On the way back we passed Atlas Studios and we decided to check it out. They offer guided tours around most of the movie sets still standing today. Some of those are really old (for instance the F16 airplane from the 1985 movie The Jewel of the Nile is in a pretty sad state), others were reasonably new.
We also saw other famous movie sets (Gladiator, Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatre, Kundun etc.) of which the most fascinating was a real-size castle for The Kingdom of Heaven. Supposedly it was built for 20 minutes of the movie.

Despite a 50 Dirham entrance fee per person and a pretty touristy feel to it, we still liked it (after all it was the single one attraction of this type on our three week trip).

Potential visitors beware: Because of the price and at moments a bit industrial feel to it, some of you might see Atlas Studios as a tourist trap.

After a quick tour of the studios (our guide was constantly rushing us from set to set) we caught a city bus to our hotel. After a quick stop we went out to grab something to eat. Since we still didn't have enough of attractions for one day, we walked to the city Kasbah. Kasbah of Ouarzazate is supposedly the largest in Morocco. It truly is magnificent!

After this we were really exhausted and literally fell into bed. We slept like dead until the morning.

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