Day 2: We woke up to the sound of birds singing. Outside our door in the courtyard, a table was set up for breakfast. We were served Moroccan bread and pastries along with tea and freshly squeezed orange juice. All were quite tasty, and we're definitely going to try and find something similar to the Moroccan bread in the UK.
After finishing our breakfast, we scrambled off to meet our tour guide for the day trip to the Atlas Mountains. We booked our tour with Camel 4x4 and unlike other tours we've taken in various cities around Europe, this was a private tour. Once we got to the meeting spot we hopped in Adil's (our tour guide) 4x4 land cruiser and were off.
As we drove to our first destination we passed parts of the new city, which are in stark contrast to the medina. A lot of new, modern looking buildings lined the road. Windows were a much more prominent feature on these buildings but they still strived to resemble the architecture of the riads in the old city.
Soon enough we were out of Marrakechand on the open road. Driving outside of the city was a little less hectic and the roads actually had lanes. Buildings were sparsely scattered along the landscape and while some almost seemed like palaces, others could be classified as shanties. There wasn't a cloud in the sky yet in the distance, through a sort of haze, you could just make out the outline of the Atlas Mountains. They seemed much higher than the Munro's we've become accustomed to in Scotland.
Shortly after, we passed a small town and Adil pulled off the road for our first stop. Camel rides! There were about 6 camels in a small dirt parking lot on the side of the road. They turned out to be a decent amount taller than we expected. To get on, they were instructed to drop to their knees and almost lay down. Once you were on and the guide told them to stand, you were jerked up about 6 feet. R was first then they grabbed a bigger camel for me. Unfortunately, mine looked like it wasn't cared for. Flies covered it's sad face and it was missing patches of fur. R's on the other hand, looked much better.
The camel guide started walking us towards the path. There was a pretty large drop off on one side and when R saw it, she started telling me she wanted to get down. I yelled back to Adil to have them stop, but it didn't appear he heard the first time so I yelled again. By this time R was a little more comfortable and told me she was ok. Crisis averted.
The guide led us up a small hill and then a winding path down the other side. Every so often he stopped to take pictures of us with our camera. Every time he walked back to my camel to grab the rope, the camel would let out a long moan. Surely I couldn't have been the heaviest passenger this camel has had? Once back in the parking lot, the camels resumed their position on the ground to let us off. We paid our guides and were off to our next stop.
The great thing about the private tour, as opposed to the typical bus or van tour with loads of tourist, is that we had a lot more control over what to do and see. Driving through the valley, we spotted some houses that looked as though they had just rose up out of the ground. We asked Adil to stop so we could snap some pictures.
Soon after stopping for pictures, we arrived at a Berber Market. I can't say I was prepared for the assault of my senses that followed. Visually the market looked like a scene from a movie. Low hanging tarps draped over some paths and most stalls. Jewelry, spices, old coins, camel legs, camel brains ( I'm assume), chickens, donkeys getting new horseshoes fitted, a small child having his bad blood removed, and another one throwing up on the other side of the wall (coincidence?). The sounds, sights and smells were definitely a new experience for us.
R found a necklace she liked. Typically we would have had to gone through the painful process of bartering for something I can't really place a value on, but luckily Adil was there and agreed on a price with the shop keeper. We ended up paying a very reasonable amount for it. Especially considering as we were walking out people kept trying to offer us other jewelry for a decent amount more.
What seemed like only a mile or so later, we arrived at our next stop. A place for tea in the Ourika Valley that had a little stream running past it. Here we sat down on a blanket and some pillows while drinking Moroccan tea - A very delicious and sweet tasting tea. While relaxing and sipping tea we talked with Adil about both our cultures and the state of the world. It was a very interesting conversation.
Once we ran out of tea we walked up the road a bit to a women's Argan oil cooperative. Widows from the local villages worked here to support their families and themselves. All the work done there is by hand - no machines are used. The oil is made from a nut that only grows in Morocco. From the oil they make a variety of products from Argan Oil for bread, which has a similar consistency to olive oil but tastes more nutty, to lotions and face masks. We bought some Argan Oil for bread, an Argan Oil lip gloss as well as a face mask for R.
The next leg of the trip is the reason 4x4 is in the name of the tour company. We turned off a side street and headed up the side of a mountain; no tour busses had been this way before. The path was gravel and quite bumpy in parts. It was refreshing to see an SUV being used for what it was built for, not dropping kids off at soccer practice. We asked Adil to stop a few times to take photos because the scenery was so beautiful... Although at certain points I found myself closing my eyes because of the large drop off that was on the side of the path.
When booking the tour with Adil he mentioned it would be nice to bring some school supplies, clothes or sweets for the underprivladged children we would come across in the higher altitudes. We were more than happy to do this and packed 1/4 of our suitcase with pencils, notepads, sticker books and candy. Around this point of our trip up the mountain, we started coming across some of the children Adil was talking about. It was truly a great feeling to see how happy a simple piece of candy or pencil made them. You could tell how much Adil cared about these people. He knew 2 of the children were diabetic and made sure we didn't give them any candy and instead got something more than a pencil. We gave them the sticker books and colored pencils we brought.
Yes, that's a chipmunk...
Right before we got to the Berber House, we came across a group of woman that were carrying heavy loads of barley on their backs down the mountain. Adil once again made sure to stop to give them some sweets and water to make their hard work a little less grueling. Once back in the car, he explained that in the Berber culture the woman do all the hard manual labor while the men do simpler tasks and drink tea. Maybe they're on to something! Just kidding, of course.
A bit further up the road we arrived at the Berber House, where we were scheduled to have lunch. As part of the tour you're given the option of eating lunch at a restaurant or a local Berber house. Initially we were hesitant to have lunch at a Berber house, but the more we thought about it, the more it seemed like the only option.
Upon arrival, we were shown around the house. We saw a sitting room, the children's bedroom, the dining area, the kitchen and the terrace. The terrace had amazing views of the Valley below. To start, we were served some more of the sweet Moroccan tea. The first course was bread with something similar to a chunky salsa, but much better. At first I was hesitant to try it because of all the tomatoes, but Adil insisted it was good and he was completely right. Now if only we had asked for the recipe so we could make it.
Next up was chicken tagine. I happened to eat this the night before at the restaurant we went to, but this was much better. The spices they use in their cooking really gave the food a unique taste, as well as making the food visually appealing. What pieces of chicken we didn't finish R was happy to feed the cats that were at the house.
After the tagine we had some couscous. This was my first time having this and I really enjoyed it. The vegetables in the couscous were tender and very flavorful. Definitely a dish I would recommend if you find yourself in Morocco. During the meal I asked Adil how he started doing this on the tour. He said the family invited him and some tourists over for tea one time and it had evolved from that into lunch as well. The tourists from the first few times loved it so much they posted their experience on trip advisor and from there everyone was requesting it. This was definitely my favorite part of the tour and would encourage everyone who takes Adil's tour to do this.
What was also nice about this, is that you pay the family for the meal they provide. With this money Adil pointed out that they have been able to upgrade their home. Since they started doing this they were able to purchase a fridge and redo the dining area. You can tell Adil is adememt about having his tours help people who otherwise would not benefit from the country's main industry - tourism.
Dessert was served on the terrace. It was melon that tasted much better than any melon I had ever had in the states. Oddly enough, the cats also loved the melon and were more than happy to eat any pieces we dropped for them. While finishing up dessert, a bunch of ladies came in from working in the fields to have lunch. In the community, everyone helps everyone else out. The funniest part about this was that you could hear the women talking up a storm in the other room. If it wasn't for the language barrier, I could have sworn a group of 15 year old girls were gossiping about something in any place in America. I guess woman's desire to talk about anything and everything transcends cultures!
We thanked the family for their hospitality and were off to continue our climb up the Atlas Mountains. During this part of the trip we got the best views of the mountains. Snow could still be seen on parts of them, which was odd considering the temperature in Marrakech was swelteringly hot. Adil pointed out a peak that was over 4,000 meters high, which puts Ben Lomond to shame. Throughout this area, we would periodically stop to take some pictures of the views but of course our camera doesn't do justice to what we saw.
On the way back to Marrakech both R and I were dead tired. Possibly from the sun that was beating down on us all day or the sensory overload we had experienced on the tour. Either way this turned out to be one of our most memorable tours.