The day is July 1, 2015 as I head to the airport to begin my next adventure. I board a giant Air Transat plane, and arrive into Gatwick Airport for a long layover. I decide to go meet Sophie, a girl I met while traveling in Vietnam. I stand in line for half an hour to buy a train ticket into London, and the cost is $60CAD. Or I can wait a half hour and pay $30CAD. I decide that’s way too much, so I have to bail on Sophie and spend the next 7 hours at the airport when all I really want is to be horizontal in a bed somewhere. My next flight is to Casablanca, and then it’s another 3 hours to kill in this small airport with 1 café open and a small waiting area full of kids running around screaming, and babies howling. I feel like I might lose my mind.
Then a quick 1-hour flight to Marrakech, where I’m picked up at the airport as part of the tour I booked with Top Deck.
Hotel Akabar is nice; it’s located in a quieter area of the city and just a short walk from the main square, Jamaa El Fna. The room is small, but it’s fine for a couple of nights and I will have a tour roommate joining me at some point tomorrow. I have a quick shower and you can’t get me in that bed fast enough!
Next morning I head down for breakfast and the hotel guy starts putting everything on my plate despite it being a buffet(using his fingers instead of tongs..yikes!), and it’s mostly bread and pastries. And you dip all of these carbs in honey and jam.
I notice there is no mint tea, which is a staple here in Morocco so the guy quickly whips up a batch with mint from their garden. It’s soooo sweet and delicious. The hotel people tell me there is a grocery store a few blocks away so I head over to grab a few things – so far everyone here is really nice, and not many people stare at me except for the little kids. I head back to the hotel and wait for my guide to arrive for my day trip to the Ourika Valley. Finally, 2 hours later, Mohammed shows up – he didn’t know anyone wanted to do this trip today. And it’s only me that wants to go, and that’s enough for the 2 of us to hop into a van and drive for just under an hour to reach our destination. Mohammed is going to be my tour leader for the rest of my time in Morocco, so it’s nice to get to know him before the tour starts.
The Ourika Valley is located in the High Atlas Mountains, with the Ourika river flowing through it.
It is a popular tourist destination, but the area is considered unspoiled as the Berbers who live here still practice a traditional way of life.
The houses are multicolor, and built high up into the mountains.
We park the van and walk across a small bridge over the river to a restaurant located along the water. Some tables are right in the water so you can keep your feet cool while you eat.
This is my first authentic Moroccan meal – Moroccan salad, vegetarian couscous (tiny balls of semolina pasta served with meat or veggies on top) and oranges with cinnamon for dessert.
After lunch, Mohammed insists we walk up to the waterfall, and I have no idea how challenging this will be. This is because I’m a bit out of shape, I have bad knees, short legs and I just ate. This waterfall cascades down a few levels, which we proceed to climb.
There are a few spots where I don’t think I can go on, but Mohammed grabs my hand and pulls me along and assures me I’m not going to fall to my death. Really, I find it a bit scary and then I tell him I’m good and I don’t need to go any further and he insists we get to the top—and ok, it is pretty cool.
Coming back down isn’t nearly as hard but I’m still worried I’m gonna slip on the rocks as my legs are trembling from strain and fear. Haha.
We get into the van and head back to the hotel to start the tour meeting and meet the rest of the group. We’ve got Stacey and Josh, cousins from Australia, Dane, Bronte and Meg – 3 friends from Australia. A blogger dude from the UK named Josh, and a couple from New Zealand – Jason and Liz. Everyone seems really cool, and we head over to the medina to have dinner. Right now it is Ramadan, a 30-day spiritual celebration observed by Muslims. Those who celebrate Ramadan fast all day and then feast after sunset, so we don’t leave for dinner until 9pm. Nothing is open until then! Tonight I try veggie tagine, which is actually called that because it’s cooked in a pot called a tagine! It’s like a vegetable stew, slow cooked and loaded with fragrant spices. It tastes amazing. As we leave the restaurant, the party is really starting and there are so many people out celebrating and having their iftar (the meal that breaks the daily fast). But it’s back to the hotel for us which is great because I’m still super tired from the last couple of days!