Amazing Morocco

This trip was a surprise birthday trip for my sister. She thought the surprise was the location, as we wouldn’t tell her where we were going. But little did she know, my dad and brother had travelled all the way from New Zealand and were waiting for her at the Marrakech airport! Her reaction was definitely worth the month of keeping secrets, with squeals and tears and hugs all around! We made quite the scene in the arrivals lounge.
libby being surprisedDad and Phil were with a guide they had for the past couple of days, and they took us to our Riad in the middle of the Medina where we were greeted with some traditional mint tea, delicious but incredibly sweet. We went out for dinner close by and I had a primal meal of chicken with ginger and olives. Full of flavour! And a glass of the famous freshly squeezed orange juice – so rich in colour and flavour. Our first night was spent in the Riad with a bottle of Marrakech wine, apple flavoured hookah, a new card game and lots of laughs. It was the first time we had all been together for a long time.
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The next day started with a very high carbohydrate breakfast that left me with the shakes – fresh bread, crepes and roti, all served with butter and jam. Then our guide came to pick us up and gave us a walking tour through the winding medina, pointing out places of interest for us to visit later. We walked past the biggest mosque in the city and saw hundreds of people lining the streets to see the king. So of course we joined them, and managed to see the Moroccan King come out in his bright yellow outfit, get into his car and race down the street, followed by several other leaders of Arab countries. There were lots of security around and no photos were allowed! We then continued down to the main square where people had dancing cobras, playful monkeys, stalls of food and drink. The square was not as packed as it usually is due to the weather being colder than normal. After lunch my sister got to hold a monkey, then her and I were accosted by women who drew with henna on our hands and then demanded money. It was chaos!
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We went to an old mosque converted into an art gallery and had our names written in Arabic in a beautiful calligraphy style. Then we visited Ben Youssef Madrasa, an Islamic college founded in the 14th century for studying the Quran. There were 130 small rooms clustered around a courtyard carved in cedar and marble, and each slept 4-5 people! It was thought to be one of the largest Islamic schools in North Africa, with around 900 students at one time! It was filled with elaborate tiling and words of the Quran carved into the wood.
Unfortunately, the weather was cold and wet so we went back to our Riad for some Moroccan wine and olives and sat in front of an open fire. It was not something I imagined I would be doing in Morocco!
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Saturday we were picked up by a guide from Trekking Morocco Mountains. We were driven towards the Atlas Mountains, where we stopped by a riverbed to ride some camels! It was mine and Libby’s first time, and Libby was very excited! We rode the camels up the riverbed for about half an hour. Unfortunately it was rather cold and it began to rain; other than that it was an incredible experience. My camel was female, with her baby attached behind us. He was very noisy, making strange grunts for most of the journey.
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Our driver met us at the other side and we continued the drive up the Atlas Mountains. Before we knew it, it had started to snow! Our guide stopped the car and we had a quick snow fight (I liked how the guide and our driver immediately picked on my brother), then he led us up the mountain on foot, through the winding paths of a Berber village. There were bare walnut trees everywhere, heavy with snow. We were not prepared for the cold white stuff – wearing thin shoes and light coats. We layered up our clothes as much as possible but our feet got very wet. Luckily, the walk up the hill got our blood moving.
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After some time we arrived at a local’s house and were greeted with a warm fire and shown how to make the traditional mint tea. It was nice to feel warm again! The tea is made by steeping fresh mint leaves and green tea in hot water, then adding a cr*pload of sugar to it. The sweet tooth people of my family enjoyed it!

The houses are almost built into the hillside; we had to duck through a cave to get into the rooms. We had a delicious traditional lunch on their terrace, with a view overlooking the snowy valley. We were served salade Maroc, with chicken kebabs, then a lamb and vegetable cous cous with their local bread. It was deliicous!
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Sitting outside had made us very cold though, so we were keen to head down the mountain. We took the road this time as it was a much easier path and less slippery. I wish we had skis! The views were absolutely incredible – everything was black, white and clay coloured which was very striking. It was also eerily quiet, which made the call to prayer even more incredible sounding.

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In contrast to the snow, the next day we were taken to the seaside! On the way there, we passed some goats sitting in the Argan trees. A bit of a tourist trap, but we stopped none-the-less and paid for some photos. It is amazing how the goats can stand so precariously on the thin branches. Argan trees are fascinating because their fruit takes over a year to ripen, and the trees themselves can live to be over 150-200 years old. The oil from the nuts contains 80% unsaturated fatty acids, is rich in essential fatty acids and is more resistant to oxidation than olive oil. Argan oil is used for dipping bread, on couscous and over salads, though it has a very unusual flavour!

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The weather was much warmer, and we even put our feet in the water. Essaouira  in the Berber language means ‘the wall’, in reference to the fortress that surrounds the city, built by the Portuguese when they occupied the area. During the 16th century it was a haven for the export of sugar, molasses and the anchoring of pirates and many other countries tried in vain to conquer the city.

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Today Essaouira is a  charming and vibrant port and resort town on the Atlantic Ocean, famous for the bright blue fishing boats that bring in hauls of fish every day. They play an integral part in Morocco’s economy.

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The bay at Essaouira is partially sheltered by the island of Mogador, making it a peaceful beach protected against strong marine winds. On the other side however, the sea was very rough, with huge waves crashing up against the rocks. After exploring the city  and it’s Portuguese, French and Berber architecture with a local guide, we had lunch of fresh fish on the sea front by the beach.

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The next day was Libby’s 21st birthday!! Dad had booked us in for a Moroccan cooking course followed by a spa treatment. We were driven out to Faim d’Epices and met the others doing the course, and our French instructor. Him and my Dad had a ‘friendly’ banter regarding the All Blacks and rugby, which explains the funny logo on the photo we were sent below! We were taught how to make the traditional bread that we had been served every morning at the Riad, and the roti, as well as several salads, and a lamb and prune tagine. We also did a blind smell test of many different herbs and spices, which was rather enlightening. The lamb tagine was surprisingly easy, it just required a bit of time – and it was amazingly delicious. I will definitely be making it again.

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We even got a certificate to say we are now qualified amateur Moroccan Chefs. BUT the best part of the day was definitely the Hammam we had at Mythic Oriental Spa. We were given a full exfoliation treatment then an hour-long relaxing massage. It was amazing!

Sadly, the next day was our last day. We spent it exploring the shops in the medina and buying some souvenirs, then having a quick lunch in the square before being taken to the airport. It was sad to leave such an amazing country, full of friendly and helpful people. I would highly recommend Riad Kenzo, the staff there went out of their way for us – they got us champagne at the last minute for Libby’s birthday, and even sung in Arabic and French for her!
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