January 6, 2006
My trip to Morocco was magnificent. There was palpable energy in the air and the attitude of many of the people in the street reminded me of China in 1994!
After landing in Casablanca, the capital, I headed to Marrakech, the red city. The city has a long history as it was a large imperial city and several dynasties had made it their capital as testified by the numerous historical monuments in the city.
I ate dinner that evening at “Le Comptoir de Marrakech” which is part of “Le Buddha Bar,” before heading to the Riad where I was staying. For those not familiar with it, a Riad is a traditional Moroccan housing where entire families live together. While the exterior is typically modest, those are typically large on the inside and have a large internal garden that serves as the focal point of the Riad. I stayed at the Riad “Les Boungainvilliers” where the owners were nice enough to rent me a room.
The second day started with a visit to the famed Djamaa El Fna at the heart of the medina – a vast plaza outside of the souk with snake charmers, monkey trainers, acrobats and animals of all kinds. From there I explored the souk with its infinite offering – traditional clothes, carpets, jewelry, etc.
From there one it was off to “Les Jardins Marjorelle” an ecological masterpiece by Jacques Morelle with numerous plants from around the world beautifully assorted. The park is owned by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé.
I ate lunch at “El Fassia” an amazing Moroccan restaurant owned and managed by women where I tried a delicious multitude of local food.
In the afternoon, I visited the Bahia and Bdiaa palaces. The Bahia palace is relatively close to Jemaa El Fna. It occupies around 27 acres and was built in 1880 by Ahmed ben Moussa, the grand vizir of the sultan. The palace has two parts: an old part with apartments around a riad paved in marble; a recent part with a large garden surrounded by rooms for the concubines. I was most impressed by the mosaics on the walls, magnificent ceilings, the marble and the humongous double doors.
The El Bdia palace is grandiose and was built in 1578 after the victory by sultan Ahmed El Mansour Ed-Dahbi in the “battle of the three kings.” The palace is mostly in ruins and a housing place for storks but its roof provides startling views of Marrakech. It also houses an alcove “Mihrab” more than 900 years old for the imam to direct prayers and read the Koran.
That evening was spent at Chez Ali – a traditional Moroccan dinner in massive tent with diverse folklore troops singing, dancing and animating the evening. At the end of the meal the real show began with an horseback riding show displaying old tribal power with various acrobatic tricks and mock cavalry charges with gun fire.
On the third day, I was off to Agadir by way of Essaouira. Essaouira, ex-Mogador, means “the well drawn.” It is a beautiful coastal city built on a rock with strong Atlantic winds making it a paradise for wind and kite surfers. That evening I reached Agadir and stayed at the Club Tikkida Dunas. Agadir is more of a beach resort on the Atlantic. I took advantage of an amazing 2 hour massage for $30 at the “Argan Massage Center” which was much needed after so much driving and in light of the coming trek and journey to the desert.
I was then off for the dunes of Chegaga in the Sahara. I stopped on the way at Taroudant, Taliouine and Tazenakht. We then went through a 96 km of off road course in diverse sceneries reminiscent of the “Paris Dakar” – even managing to get stuck in one of the dunes! After many hours of digging, we finally escaped and reached the immense and beautiful blond dunes where we bivouacked and tented with nomads – the blue men of the desert. I had hoped to see the sunset, the stars and the sunrise in the Sahara, but it was not to be as it was raining non-stop!
The next two days were absolutely amazing as we first raced dune buggies before beginning a beautiful 15 mile 2 days hike in the afternoon. It was unfortunately time to go back and the next day we started the long trek back to Marrakech. We started with 60 km of off road before reaching Zagora. We traversed the famed Draa valley in the middle of palm tree oasis with tons of “Kasbahs” and “ksours” – small villages with houses in cooked mud and stone walls. Then came a late lunch at Agdz before heading to Ourzazate. From Ouarzazate to Marrakech, we moved slowly through a blizzard as we crossed the summit of Tizi-n-Tichka at 2,260 meters of altitude.
I finally reached Marrackech and spent the night a the Tikkida Garden before heading back to Casablanca for my flight to Nice the next day.
All in all, it was amazing. I loved the country, the people, the food, the culture and saw rain and snow in the Sahara. You can see all the pictures here. I am sure one of my upcoming startups will have a North African component to it 🙂
Next stop: Argentina!