Monday, May 21, 2007


Since Summer vacation is soon upon us, we thought you'd be interested in some travel articles submitted by local writer Ruth Kozak. Read more at her website (link in the sidebar).


It was November, and the rainy season had begun in Morocco. The day before our trekking group arrived at the Ourika Valley in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains, a flash flood had swept down the dry wadi gouging away great chunks of the road and gnawing at the foundations of the mud-build Berber houses that perched precariously along the river bank.

Berber village

My Moroccan trekking adventure had begun from the beautiful city of Marrakech that nestles like a rose-quartz gemstone near the foothills of the snow-capped High Atlas Mountains.

Our first trekking destination was the Ourika Valley. When we arrived at the starting point, we were forced to leave the van walk to the meeting point as the roads were impassable. We had to teeter across foot-wide Berber bridges fashioned out of sticks, suspended over the rushing white water and squeeze behind houses on uneven slippery pathways meant only for goats. In places where the road had washed away the mud-brick houses overhung precariously over the river bed .

The circle trip up the Ourika Valley took six hours, a total of just over seven kilometers. By the time we arrived back to where we had started, some of the road had been cleared. A van waited for us to take us back to the restaurant where our driver would be waiting. It was a ramshackle vehicle, the cabin gutted, with wooden benches along each side. Our group of fifteen trekkers and the tour leader crammed into the back. The driver, his companion and the Berber guides sat in the front and one other man stood on the back bumper. Amazingly, twenty people scrunched into a space that was meant for ten. In places, there was barely enough road left for the van to manoeuvre by. Miraculously we made it to the end of the road construction where our mini-van was waiting to take us back to Marrakech.


Amizmiz Souk

Early the next morning, we set off for a visit to the Berber market at the town of Amizmiz. A Moroccan souq is a total sensory experience. We were greeted by a cacophony of sounds: goat bells, braying donkeys, merchants calling out their wares and shoppers haggling, coppersmiths and blacksmiths hammering. The souq is comprised of very small shops and canopied stalls selling fish, meat, poultry, and locally grown fruit and vegetables, sacks of mint tea, nuts and dates. Spices such as saffron, cumin, ginger and cinnamon are displayed in colourful cone-shaped piles. The smells of mint, spices and baking foods fill the air with a mouth-watering fragrance. In one lane the barber shops were doing a brisk business. Men can get a shave and haircut while their wives bargain in the market. In another lane a man tends the barbecue coals under a dozen cone-shaped clay tajine pots containing chicken or lamb stewed with eggplant, carrots, onions and raisins in savory spices, to be served over steaming plates of couscous. Dinner’s ready when your shopping’s done!

Leaving the Amizmiz souq, we headed up into the mountains on a well-maintained forestry road. Here the villages are different from those in the Ourika Valley. Tiered on the mountainside, their ochre clay walls almost make them invisible in the mountain landscape. There are well-irrigated terraced gardens and lemon and olive groves. The road is lined with eucalyptus trees; the mountain slopes rocky and arid. The scent of lavender and thyme makes the air fragrant and the walk pleasant.


Back in Marrakech, the enchanting old hotel, the Hotel du Foucald, is well situated for sightseeing in Marrakesch’s medina (old town), near the famous Djamaa el Fna square with its labyrinth of side streets, hammams, caravanserai and bazaars. The souq is a maze of tiny covered walkways where everything is sold from embroidered saddles for camels, to potions for casting spells.

The Djmaa el Fna is a spectacle of exotica: snake charmers, musicians, acrobats, water vendors wearing distinctive red suits and wide-brimmed hats and jangling bells, story tellers, ebony-skinned dancers in brightly hued costumes, boys with pet monkeys, and other assorted side-show attractions will entertain you -- for a price

Snake Charmer

Marrakech is one of Morocco’ imperial cities, a Berber/Arab fortress settlement nine centuries old. I took the opportunity of a day’s respite from trekking to explore. Within its 11th century medina is the Koutoubia mosque with its elegant 65-meter high minaret, and several elaborate palaces such as the El Badi where storks nest on the ramparts, and the Palais el Bahia with its lovely gardens or the Mausoleum of the Saadiens. The 16th century religious school for students who studied at the nearby Mosque of Ben Yussef is rich with mosaics and cedar carvings, in contrast to the stark cells occupied by the students.


I took a caliches (horse-drawn carriage) to the Jardin Majorelle in the European quarter, a beautiful garden estate created in the 1920’s by the French Orientalist painter Jacques Majorelle now owned by fashion designer Yves St. Laurent. It’s a tropical paradise of tall cacti and palms set against pink towered buildings and grill-worked gateways. Bougainvillea, hibiscus and flowering potted plants line the cobbled pathways. The colours of the buildings and clay pots are dazzling brilliant blue, turquoise, pink, yellow, and orange, all complimenting the colours of the flowers. Birds twitter in the trees and trellises hung with flowering vines. Tropical plants grow in abundance. The artist’s studio has been converted into a small Museum of Islamic art and displays St. Laurent’s fine collection of North African carpets and furniture as well as Majorelle’s paintings.


The next morning we set off for another trek to inspect a higher route along the ravine above the River Ourigane. Instead of attempting the more difficult climb up into the mountains with the rest of the group, I opted to cross the valley on the Berber trails instead and was provided with my own personal guide, Mabourak.

Me in the Ourigane Valley

The countryside is stunning with its shrub-covered knolls and rich sienna-red earth. Because my guide was well informed about the flora and fauna of the land, our walk became a geology and botany lesson.

Minerals abound in the area and I collected agate, flint, hematite and bits of lapis lazuli. Mabourak showed me wild garlic, thyme and other herbs and wild flowers. Low bush juniper and quince grow in abundance. In the reforested juniper groves wild boar are hunted. Other animals such as fox, mountain sheep and goats, and jackals roam here. There are many wild birds too, such as eagles, hawks, cuckoos and pheasants. The trek with Mabourak, was the highlight of my Moroccan adventure. I was glad that I’d had that time alone to absorb the beauty of the countryside and get acquainted with one of the locals.


Tea Sellers

That evening, after dining on a delicious buffet of lamb tajine, salads and honey-drenched desserts, it was time to pay one last visit to the Djemaa el Fna. The velvet sky was ablaze with stars. The smoke of barbecues filled the air with the tantalizing aroma of the delicious tidbits sold by the street vendors. I sat upstairs in a restaurant, sipping hot mint tea, with a ringside view of the activities below. As I watched darkness envelope the city, I marvelled at the things I had experienced: the vibrant, kaleidoscope of colours; the fragrance of spices and mint that permeate the air; the lovely rose hue that enshrouds Marrakech city; the interesting, friendly and gracious people; the souqs and markets, especially the Djmaa el Fna with all its strange sights. For a traveller like me, who seeks the exotic, Morocco did not disappoint me.



Currency in Morocco is the dirham . $1. 00 U.S. = 8.52 dirham

Passports valid from six months of issue are necessary but no visa is required. You must show a return ticket. It would be wise to check the travel immunization clinic before leaving and take along medication for stomach upset.

Travel warning: Be aware of pick-pockets and backpack slashers in crowded markets. If you enter the souks with either an official guide or hustler the price of everything you buy will be increased to include a commission for them, often as much as 40 per cent. Be prepared for the attentions of faux-guides.

Licensed guides can be hired for about $30 Cdn a day for sight seeing in the city or trekking in the country.

Modest clothing is advised for both female and male travellers to avoid hassles.

Taking photos: Vendors and performers in the souks expect to be paid. Many Moroccans don’t like having their photos taken so be discreet when doing so.

Tours groups: There are various tour companies offering group tours and treks. I went with Ramblers Holidays from London Eng. . Prices vary depending on season, and include airfare from London Gatwick, hotel, 2 or 3 meals, guide and transportation to trekking areas. From $750 up with an additional single room supplement. Tours range from 8 - 11 days. (Fares from Canada not included).

See also: exodus tours and (City breaks holidays) and

Where to stay: For hotel information :

or contact: Federation Nationale de l”Industrie Hotelieri

Angle Ave Nado et Rue 3

Quartier Polo, Casblanca 20550


There are well-organized campsites, youth hostels, self-catering suites and hotels of all categories available in Morocco. See for more information on hotels.

Where to eat: For people-watching, sit in a cafe terrace and enjoy a cafe au lait and a fresh pastry. Moroccan food is delicious. Try the food stalls and juice stands. Provided it serves a crowd you can be sure the food is fresh. In Marrakech head for Marche Central, buy a picnic and enjoy lunch with a view. The Cafe de l’Hotel de Paris in the Djmaa el Fna has excellent views at sunset. There are many good hotels where you can dine. Morocco is a ‘dry’ country. Wine and liquor may be bought at the airport duty-free otherwise it is difficult to find a wine shop. Most five-star tourist hotels will serve wine or beer with meals. From the five-star Hotel Mamounia to the food stalls in the Djmaa el Fna, you will enjoy the spicy flavour of Moroccan food accompanied by a steaming cup of mint tea.

Getting around Marrakech: Once the price is agreed, a caleche is a hassle-free way to discover parts of the medina. You can easily walk from the Djmaa el Fna to most of the museums and places of interest. A complete tour, starting from the Gate of the Gnaoua near the Mosquee de el-Mansour will cover approximately 3 kms and take 5 hours. Avoid lunch time when most sites are closed.

Museum sites: If you are traveling with a group the entrance fees are usually included in your tour price.

Most sites are open from 8.30 am until noon, and from 2.30 pm - 6 pm. Prices of entry vary. There are a few sites such as the Koutoubia Mosque that allow entry to Muslims only.

For more information on Morocco see

Books: Essential Morocco This is a small pocket guide published by AA World Travel Guides which I found useful in Marrakech. Both the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet also have books on travel in Morocco.

Some additional info: Hotel de Foucauld, Avenue El Monahidine, Marrakech

FAX 212- 4- 441344

and a comparison tour option for possible solo travelers (they meet you at the airport in Marrakech):

Afourar Moroccan Tours


individual custom travel services which includes guides.


Destination: Africa (N. Africa, Morocco)

Special Interest: Adventure/ Outdoors

photo credits: W. Ruth Kozak


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