I'm happy to tell you about my recent trip to Morocco.
We travel as a group of 6 (2 families with teenage children), always the six of us, and every year we go to a different place. Money permitting, we love to travel, but we tend to stay away from organized tours in the usual sense of the word since so often they tend to protect from really getting into the places, skipping from one tourist attraction to the next. This year we decided to go to Morocco, mainly because it seemed inexpensive, but after the vacation we were definitely in love with the place. We flew into Marrakech and were impressed immediately upon arrival by the airport building: its incredible roof outside is like lace and the sun shines through it, casting beautiful shadows on the pavement: there already was an incredible atmosphere greeting us.
We took a taxi for 6 (a minivan) and for 15 euros were taken to Marrakech, with hundreds of scooters speeding around us! Our hotel was right off the Jeema el-Fna - an orderly chaos of smells, colors and sounds, by day and into the night! We hadn't yet learned to not fall for taking pictures of guys with cobras (after you do they demand money), but that is how it started! We spent 2 days in Marrakech visiting the traditional tourist destinations (the souk, the Saadian toumbs, the Majorelle Gardens, the Tower of Hassan II and so forth) before we were met by our travel guides (nomadexperience .com) that we had selected for the real tour: Nourdine El Jakani of nomadexperience (he speaks 5 languages, and is half Tuareg, half Berber) and Hassan (he absolutely doesn't speak any foreign language but drives fine!).
From the outset, we found Nourdine an incredible person, full of joy, outgoing, but never intrusive. We left for Ouarzazate where we visited the Kasbah Ait Benhaddou (a lot of movies were made there) and then off to the Todra Gorges. Here we stayed in a hotel built in the caves! How wonderful! If you want I can give you its name. The next legs of our trip were the classic ones: Erfoud, Merzouga, Rissani, Zagora and Ouarzazate: you can do them with any tour operator, but what we experienced is unforgettable. At Erfoud we had lunch at home with Nourdine's family: What a welcome! We ate couscous the way they make it and drank REAL mint tea, his sister's friends were doing henna tattoos, and did it to us, too. The next evening we headed for a desert oasis on camels, to spend the night in a berber tent distinctly counting every star in the Milky Way (well, almost all).
How can we forget, while at his family's home, how Roger 'vomited' from having drunk milk in his morning coffee?!?!? But that mishap actually led to an interesting experience! Nourdine's mother massaged special points of Roger's wrists and feet with 'magic' oil, and incredibly, somehow, after a quarter of an hour, Roger was good as new. And how can we forget our stop on the way to Zagora, stopping to take a picture, when suddenly 2 children leaped out from nowhere offering a pony made of mud, they had made with their hands, in exchange for some candy! And when they accompanied us through the tiny dark inner passageways of a small town in the south, revealing the meaning of poverty, enabling us to quietly and respectfully peek into the everyday life of people in southern Morocco.
And how can we forget our lunch, eating Berber pizza, in a small rug factory, sitting in the midst of all those dancing colors and so many types of fabric!
I could go on for hours recounting the feelings, more than the places we visited. Thanks to Nourdine (organizing everything down to details like cool drinking water, snacks, SD cards for my camera and making us always feel safe in places that are so strange to us in culture and language) and to Hassan, who, though silent and not speaking our language and understanding little, was an incredible and fun traveling companion. Feelings, understanding the land and the people of the country we are visiting are what we seek when we travel and that is definitely what we got this time. And our children thank us for it, too.