A Travellerspoint blog

Back in Canada

Until we meet again

rain 9 °C

Well we made it back to Canada. We left another 7 people at the airport in Frankfurt as they were going to extend their stay in Europe by a few days or a few weeks. Have heard from most saying they had arrived at their destinations.

This time, everyone’s' luggage arrived with them. It figures. When you don't need it, it shows up!! I think everyone was happy to be home and finally get to sleep in their own beds again.

This trip was amazing and from the beginning we called it "Amazing Morocco". It truly was. The tour itself was well put together and the local tour company did everything possible to make this a trip of a lifetime. Our tour guide, Redouane was patient and very helpful. Any request we had he made sure was completed. Our driver Adil was incredible, especially through the winding roads of the Tiz In Tichka Pass. The hotels were all comfortable and clean and the breakfasts were always satisfying. Dinners were in different hotels or restaurants and we always left full.

We wanted to pass on some of the things we learned about Morocco to anyone thinking of going to this wonderful country in the future.

The country of Morocco lies between the Mediterranean Sea (to the North); the Atlantic Ocean (to the West); the Atlas Mountains and Algeria (in the East) and the Western Sahara (in the South)
The political system in Morocco is very stable
The weather is always warm but can reach 115oF in the high season (summer)
The food is incredible. No hot spices are used, just great seasonings and salt and pepper
The dress code is very much like home. No short-shorts or midriffs showing for the girls but sleeveless tops were not a problem. We found that if you dressed respectfully there were no problems
ALWAYS take a change of clothes in your hand carry as you never know if your luggage will make it or not
Always have small change ready for tips. Everyone gets a tip in Morocco. 5 – 10 Durham is enough for the wait staff at a restaurant
Always ask first if you can take someone’s photo. If they say no, just say thank you and move along
The people understand French as well as some English. This is a great place to practice your high school French. They also understand Spanish. Arabic and Berber are the national languages
Wi-Fi is not always available. Many restaurants we were in did have it
Getting cash from the bank machines was not easy. You can only take out so much at a time and many ATMs only accepted Credit Cards not Debit cards
If you plan on climbing the sand dunes in the desert, do it barefoot, it is much easier
Try the camel meat. We were told it tastes like beef
Be prepared to bargain. The street sellers will continue to follow you until you say yes but don’t pay what they started with. If you last long enough, you can get a great deal
Watch out for the Henna tattoo women. They will grab your arm and just start applying Henna. Be very firm that you do not want it. Unless of course you do
When you have your picture taken with camels, monkeys, horses or other people in the market, they will expect a tip
Don’t give money to the begging children. Most of them do not need it

I hope you have enjoyed our tour of Morocco. I know we did. It is one country I would love to go back to and spend time going to the south.

Posted by Scrossman 11:30 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Casablanca, our last few days

"As Time Goes By"

sunny 38 °C

We left the Berber Camp and headed north towards Casablanca. This would be the second last day we were to be in Morocco. There were mixed feelings as we all realized we were heading home shortly. We had a change of hotels for this last night. We stayed at the “Almohades” Hotel. This hotel had a beautiful entry and lounge area where you could order a quick drink. The rooms were again comfortable and quiet. We dropped our luggage in our rooms and were out again for a quick city tour and to see the Hassan II Mosque. It was Sunday when we saw the mosque and the square was filled with people. As the sun set, we saw a beautiful outline of the building when the lights came on.

This mosque is the third largest in the world, following the ones in Mecca and Medina. The minaret is the highest in the world, standing 200 meters. This mosque is very impressive and covers 9 hectares with two thirds of the mosque constructed over the water which gives the appearance of the structure rising out of the Atlantic Ocean. The prayer room can accommodate 25,000 people while the square surrounding the mosque can hold another 55,000 people.

The structure took 12,500 workers, (10,000 craftsman and the rest labourers) working both day and night shifts to complete the building in 6 years with 50 million man hours spent. The interior includes a museum, a library, a Medersa (Islamic University), rooms set aside for seminars and meetings, a subterranean four lane driveway and underground car park with capacity for one thousand, one hundred cars and forty coaches.
We walked down the boardwalk and saw the sun set into the Atlantic Ocean. Not many of us have seen the Atlantic from this side or stepped into the waters of the Ocean from either side. It was a treat we would experience the following day. We then went to dinner at the Oum Palace (the hotel we were supposed to stay in). We couldn’t stay in this hotel for the night because the King was in Casablanca and this hotel was being used for many of his staff. The hotel wanted us to have dinner with them as a way to make up the change of hotel.

We then headed back to our hotel for the night and a night cap and to decide where we were going to spend our last day in Casablanca.
On our final day, there were groups going to many different places in Casablanca. One group went by tram to the mall (does every city have one?). We stopped at the Harley Davidson store to get T-shirts for those at home. Another group went to Rick’s Café’ for lunch. We were supposed to have our final night here but it is so small, it could not accommodate us. There were some that went to the beach for a day in the water and others went to the market for final shopping.

The day was very warm and the walk was very tiring for everyone. Our final dinner was at a restaurant across the street from the Oum Palace. It was very Moroccan in décor and the food was delicious. One of the students had her birthday yesterday and we had a cake for her to finish off the night. The service was great and the staff was very friendly and funny. They had everyone laughing with their silliness.
We were back to the hotel for a final time to get our bags and say good bye to the ones who were staying for an extra day.

A sad farewell to Redouan at the airport and we were off to Frankfurt for our connecting flight home.

Posted by Scrossman 10:22 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)


Old, but always fresh

sunny 38 °C

Traditions: Old but Always Fresh

We started off to our last destination in Morocco. We were heading for the large town of Imintanoute and the village of Boulouane. The Berber Camp, where we were going to spend the night is in an even smaller village: Iguentergua. The camp is located 200km from Marrakech and half way between Marrakech and Agadir. This is the southernmost point on our itinerary. On our way we saw many fields with grapes (I am sure they do not make “Ice Wine”) and also fields of wheat.

We arrived at the village and had to leave the bus on the main street and walk to the cultural centre. The bus was too big to be able to maneuver the very narrow streets. We were going to stay at the Berber Cultural Center for the night. This accommodation had rooms for 1, 2, 4, 6 and 7 people. We split the group up and then were given a demonstration of Mint Tea making which is made according to a strict ritual.

Mint tea is practically the national drink. It is drunk throughout the day in small glasses. When sipped slowly, you can small the aroma of the mint. Wormwood and orange flower can also be added but we did not see this. This tea is usually very sweet, with large chunks of sugar added to the brew. We also enjoyed wonderful flavourful coffee in the morning. I found out that the local people would go the store and have spices like: cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg, black pepper and ginger ground along with the beans. It was a really nice change to regular coffee we have at home.

We then went on an hour walk around the village. We saw a beautiful valley with flowering shrubs and bamboo being grown. The students had an opportunity to photograph the local women and children. I don’t know which group had more fun. Those being photographed or the photographers! One thing we noticed was all the doors to the homes. They were all different and very colourful. We crossed a small stream and saw little frogs and tadpoles.

Back at the center, the staff has set up tables in sets of three for us to have a competition for tea making. We were all given the ingredients and were asked to follow the ritual we had seen earlier. We had lots of fun and three of the first year students won a lovely teapot and were given a certificate for their ability of making a very good tasting tea. Sarah, Lacey and Kerrin were our lucky winners. Congratulations!

Our dinner was a traditional dish of Couscous and vegetables. It was so simple but so tasty. Couscous is given its name from the dish it is prepared in. There is a lower pan where vegetables and meat are cooked with a perforated cover where semolina, made from flour is placed and steamed. The flavours from the lower pan are infused into the couscous.

The night finished off with local people joining us for music, singing and dancing. Family, friends and community are very important to the Berber people. It seemed like everyone who came to the center was a relative or knew a relative of the family. The people are very gracious and the hospitality they offer is next to nothing I have seen in North America.

The following morning we woke around 9AM. It was a noisy night with dogs barking and the rooster next door crowing at all hours. It was comfortable but a little hot for most as there were no fans to move the air. Today we were going the help the women with the preparation of the Tagine, bread and almond butter we would eat for lunch. A group also took two little donkeys to the well to fetch water.

Each group followed the instructions of one of the women to learn how to make the food for the day. The Tagine group cut and chopped and prepared the delicious dish of Chicken Tagine. This dish also takes its name from the earthenware bowl with a cone-shaped top in which this meat dish is cooked in. The recipe is at the end of this blog. The bread was the best I had ever had. Its ingredients are flour, yeast, salt and water. The students kneaded the bread and baked it in the stone oven located outside away from the center. The students who made the almond butter roasted and ground the almonds with traditional motor, pestles and grinding equipment. These recipes have been passed down from Mother to Daughter for over a thousand years.

This experience was the most authentic and appealed to the students. I think many of them would have stayed longer here just to play with the children. It was wonderful to see how a typical family lives in this country, away from technology and the interference of TVs and Wi-Fi. (Although these are available but limited).

We left the village after lunch and headed back to Casablanca on a 4 hour drive.

The Website for the cultural Center is: www.berberculturalcenter.com if you want to see what is here or leave a comment.

And now for the recipe for Tagine.
4-5 pieces of chicken
Green olives
Red onions (2)
Fresh Mint and Parsley
Tomatoes (skinned)
Garlic Cloves (2)
Salt and Pepper
Turmeric and Ginger

Place the chicken in the bottom of a tagine. Peel and slice one red onion and place on top of chicken. Peel and dice the garlic and add this to the tangine. Chop a handful of mint and a handful of parsley together. Add to pot. Season with a teaspoon of black pepper and ginger and half a teaspoon of salt to the top of the ingredients. Add a tablespoon of Turmeric and also of Ginger. 4 Tablespoons of Olive oil and 2 tablespoons of Safflower oil. Cover and put over hot coals for half an hour.

Slice the second red onion and the tomatoes lengthwise. Check the tagine and add half cup of water. Turn chicken, cover and continue to cook for half an hour more. Turn chicken again and add the sliced onion; sliced tomatoes; peas and olives (in that order) to the tagine. Add 2 slices of lemon and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Keep a watch on the liquid. Do not allow the chicken to burn. After an hour and a quarter, check the chicken for doneness. Serve with bread.

A vegetarian variation can be made by using Couscous with sliced potatoes; zucchini; carrots; cabbage; parsnips; eggplant and the same seasonings as above.

Posted by Scrossman 08:50 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Marrakech Express

Paris of the Sahara

sunny 38 °C

Marrakech Express

We had the luxury to sleep in until 8AM again this morning and then off to The “Hollywood of Morocco”. We visited Atlas Studios. This is where many movies we have all seen have been filmed. One of the most famous was Ben Hur with Charlton Heston. Many props are still on the studio grounds.

There was one set that took the set builders over two years to build and it was only used for two months of shooting. It was one of the sets from Game of Thrones. We saw an oriental room and many rooms with an Egyptian theme. These rooms have been used for: Prince of Persia, Babel, Gladiator, the new Cleopatra, The Ark, Ten Commandments and The Bible. The set builders use plaster so they can change out an area within a week. Some sets are huge and when you get close it is strange to see how things are made out of cardboard!!!

We finally left the studio and Ouarzazate and headed for the spectacular fortress of Ait Ben Haddou. This area was shown again in the movies Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator. This site is another of the UNESCO World heritage sites in Morocco. This climb to the top made up for the climb in the dessert to see the sun rise. Very steep and uneven stairs and very hot.

We left and set off for the high Atlas Mountains. We were going to go over the highest point in the mountains at 3000M. The Tiz In Tichka Pass was a very winding and narrow road. At one point, it was straight down on both sides of the road, no shoulders. Just a little scary. Beautiful countryside. Many green fields of wheat. They are grown on terraces much like the rice terraces in Asia.

We continued on and made it to the hotel in Marrakesh by 6PM. If this hotel is not a 5 star, it should be. Absolutely beautiful and another pool. The group who had lost luggage went off to the airport and retrieved it. At dinner we saw many new clothes not seen before this and a smile on every face.

Our tour guide, Redouane, had arranged for the group to go to a “Hookah” bar for the Shisha. This is a very social tradition of sitting with friends and passing around the water pipe. The flavour we had was apple and mint. Very different. After this some went to the Night Club for another local experience. Great night.

Marrakesh is known as the “Pearl of the South”. It is the second oldest city in Morocco. Our next two days in Marrakech started after lunch time. It was nice to be able to have a sleep in and go for lunch at one of the many restaurants in the area. Most of the students opted to try pizza.
Our first excursion sent us to the Bahia Palace. A beautiful building set on 10 hectors of lush land. This palace took 6 years to be built by 3000 workers. The mosaics and marble work were incredible. The Sultan who lived here had 3 legal wives and many concubines. We went through the area that were the rooms where the legal wives each had their own wing in the palace. The area for the harem was closed for reconstruction.

We continued on the see the Koutoubia Mosque and its famous Mineret built by the Almohads in the 12th century. From here we stopped for a very informative visit at the Bab Agnaou Herboristerie, a Berber pharmacy. All the items in this shop were natural and have been used for centuries by the local people as remedies for anything from acne to hemorrhoids. Everyone on the tour purchased Argon Oil for their hair. Our hair looks very shiny and healthy now. Another favorite purchase was a spice they locally call “Dynamite”. A very hot chilli.

Our last stop for the day was the Jemaa el Fina Square. This is the main square of the city and has snake charmers, local musicians, fortune tellers, ladies applying Henna to the girls hands, restaurants and of course the Souk. The group was given 1 hour to purchase any numbers of items. Back on the bus and back to the hotel. We had to say goodbye to our driver, Adil. He had been with us from Casablanca on day one but had to go to start working with another tour. We went to the pool to cool off as the temperature today was 38C.

Another late start and then off to the Berber Camp in Imintanoute. This will give us a chance to experience a day in the life of Berber women. We will not have Wi-Fi until we get back to Casablanca, so please stay tuned.

Posted by Scrossman 01:26 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Thoughts for the day

We have Wi-Fi!!!


Thoughts for the day.

We have been having Wi-Fi connection problems so please forgive the delay with the blog. It seems to come and go and it is mostly gone!!!
The group has been doing so much it just seems like we have had no time to sit down and think about what we have been doing or what we have seen. I hope the blog has given you some ideas of what the desert is like and maybe you will want to visit this country in the future.

Rebecca Lawrence
So far the trip has been amazing but the best part so far has to be the camel ride and camping in the desert. Being able to look up at the stars, while being on top of a camel is really something unique and fun. I named my camel caramel and then in the morning when it was light out I discovered caramel was black so then he got named not so caramel camel. I will never forget any part of the camel ride.

Aditi Sudan
The whole trip thus far has been unreal! We have had amazing experiences and we have had the chance to stay in beautiful accommodations– our tents in the desert rank the highest there. So far everything has been fabulous!

Sarah Psiurski
The best part of the trip so far has definitely been riding camels out into the desert under the stars, the gorgeous desert camp (that looked like the Triwizard Cup!) with the fire, drums and singing, and watching the sun rise over the sand dunes! I'm gonna miss my little camel, who I named Parsley.

Lisa Sterr
The diversity in this country is hard to wrap my head around. Visiting the massive medina in Fez was an incredible experience. In the loud and narrow alleys you could smell everything from scent of caca channel to freshly baked bread and burning incense. We saw everything from mounds of dates to actual goat heads for sale! I'm glad we didn't lose anybody in the 9500 alleys that make up the largest medina in Fez!

Serena Riel
Camel ride under the moonlight is the most amazing thing I've experienced in my life, so I'm going to go with that as being my highlight for the trip so far!
Also the tour of the medina in Fes is something that will stay with me. It was absolutely incredible.
I cannot tell you how much everything we've done has meant to me! And we’re only halfway!
Serena :)

Stephanie Craigen My thoughts on the trip so far:
I have found this trip to be absolutely fantastic! I barely remember what we've done because it's been such a blur with little sleep but I am loving every minute of it.
My highlights are being able to visit Frankfurt during our connection and CAMELS!!!! (Also the fact that it felt like we were at the Quidditch World Cup during our camping night :))

Nerima's thoughts:
I really enjoyed riding the Camels and staying at the camp. The sunrise was one of the most magical moments of my life. OMG CAMELS.
See mom and dad I told you I would be safe. Stop worrying.

Ali's thoughts:
Morocco is really beautiful. The sights, sounds, people, food and the culture are much more beautiful than any picture could ever show. The people are laid back and friendly. It is a fun place to be with tons to do. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to experience a beautiful new culture and amazing new land.
PS: CAMELS are dope.

Laura's thoughts:
The first day in Frankfurt was amazing. Can't remember half the things we did in Morocco, but the CAMELS were awesome. Other than the fact that the airline lost my luggage for 5 days *coughlufthansacough*, this trip has been amazing. Redwine is an awesome tour guide.
PS: I had to buy new clothes. Best thing ever is to put on new clothes after wearing dirty ones for 3 days straight.

Abby Willett
Sorry this took so long. My brain is not functioning at capacity right now lol. I would have to say that the first day was my favourite so far. We hit a lot of historical sites and learned about the history of Morocco. Great way to kick off the trip seeing as we were all high energy and excited to get rolling. I would like to voice that it irritates me how our personal stops, such as; bank machine, bathroom breaks, and water breaks are not more structured. It takes too much time of our day and believe that we can work towards minimizing frequent stops. 30-60 bottles of water could be bought and placed in the storage located under the bus. Bathroom and bank stops are more difficult, but encourage lending money between friends until we conveniently find a place to stop. As for departure times. We have yet to leave on timeout the morning and find that it cuts into our evenings. Other than that, I believe that our group is awesome and I know from previous conversations with others that this is not only my concern, but others too, so we should all be able to work together to make things run smoothly from here on out.
Have a good sleep, I'm sorry I'm sending this late

Alexa Smith
Having an amazing time here. Things are really cool, very different lifestyle. We got to ride camels, I named mine Tino, he had a bit of an attitude problem but we bonded and it was good! Shout out to my family and friends reading this! Message me if you actually read this!!

Ray Stannard
The trip has been good, I know baggage isn’t anyone’s fault so I don’t fault the trip for that. I think more firm instruction would help though. We don’t seem to make destinations in a timely manner and when the bus stops and there is no announcement its confusing and everyone takes a bit longer!

The suitcases have been retrieved and now all is right with the world. Until I can send again. Shalom.

PS. Pictures to follow.

Posted by Scrossman 01:22 Archived in Morocco Comments (2)

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