Part 2: Marrakech, Dades valley, Merzouga
24.2: Munich -> London
Grand hotel Tazi, Marrakech. 280 Dirham
for a room with breakfast. Room is basic, four beds, telephone, TV,
nothing else (no cupboard). A/C which doubles as a heating - good to
have heating, because it is fresh at night. The toilet is so-so, but it
seems that nothing is missing. Great location, three minutes walk from
the Djemma el-Fna.
Weather: in Munich frosty in the
morning, but the temperature rises quickly as it is a sunny day. Fresh
and dry in the evening in Marrakech, probably not more than 15°C.
The alarm clock wakes me up at 7:40am. I get ready and leave home
shortly before 9am, then catch the 9:10am S-Bahn (quite full of
travellers this morning), arriving at the airport shortly before 10am.
At the BA check-in counter there is a group of British female
schoolgirls, so checking in takes some time. It's 9:40am when I finally
check in. Looks like I've been upgraded to the Club Europe class. Is
this business class? At 11am I board the plane after briefly checking
The plane takes off on time and lands in London Heathrow at 12:40pm
local time. Then there are some weird security checks - weird because
I've already been screened before boarding the plane in Munich (and
where could somebody have passed some weapons or explosives to me,
given that security is tight in Munich) and because only
one bag per person is allowed, so I have to place the camera bag into
the small backpack. This takes some effort, and in the end the backpack
doesn't close properly. But ok, it's one bag and they accept it.
So after going through another security screening I reach a
big hall where I wait for the flight (there are two and a half hours
left). I manage to find a place with an AC plug, so I finish processing
the Bratislava images and set up the gallery. There are several WLAN
networks in the hall, but none is free. In the end I buy 30 minutes of
airtime on one network for 3 UK pounds and download the emails.
At 2:45pm the boarding gate is announced. Some more
waiting and finally the BA plane (an Airbus A320) takes off at 3:40pm,
25 minutes late. This time I'm in the economy class.
The flight will first stop in Casablanca then continue to Marrakech
after a 40 minutes break.
The plane lands in Casablanca around 6.40pm local time. Most
passengers leave the plane. Then something needs to be done to the
engine of the plane, and a delay starts building up. I wonder if the
engine developed problems during the flight, or if it already had a
problem in London and BA flew to Casablanca to have it fixed there,
because Moroccan engineers are cheaper. At 8:25pm we are still in
Casablanca. BA is not much of an airline. Finally at 8:30pm the plane
starts rolling and at 8:40pm takes off - 1
1/2 hours late.
The plane touches down in Marrakech at 9:10pm. Then everything goes
quite smooth and
fast: immigration, luggage retrieval. The ATM in the airport does not
work (apparently a communication problem), so I change 50 Euro at the
counter. I walk outside, a bit nervous because now the touts should
show up, but no, surprise, surprise, there are no touts. It's 9:35pm
and outside there are just a few taxis waiting for customers.
Small discussion, where are you going, I explain that I have no
reservation and need a hotel, preferably near the old town square, the
taxi driver understands, how much is the taxi trip into town ... 150
Dirham ... can you use the meter ... no fixed price from the airport.
according to the LP guide locals pay 50-60 Dirham, but it's late and
I'm not in a mode to start discussing about the price. Actually 150
Dirham is way overpriced for just 6 km.
The driver brings me to a hotel in town (Grand hotel Tazi). Nothing so
special, but the room is good enough and quiet, and hey, before 10pm
I'm in the hotel, who would have believed it. Actually this taxi driver
is quite friendly and helpful. He is overcharging for the trip, but is
very helpful. I managed to solve the hotel room problem quickly
After checking it, I walk out a bit to the Djemma el-Fna square. Wow,
feeling, full of people and activity. Not so many touts, or let's say,
not so many touts harassing tourists. It's almost possible to walk
around undisturbed - unbelievable, I will have to reconsider my view of
Morocco, if it continues like this over the next days. Lots of stalls
selling freshly squeezed orange juice, 4 dirham per glass, quite cheap.
Lots of stalls selling delicious food. I'm then back in the hotel at
Grand hotel Tazi, Marrakech. The shower
sucks. The breakfast is buffet style, but with very limited choices.
Weather: sunny, cloudless blue sky
the whole day. The air is not crystal clear. Quite fresh in the
morning, it gets warmer during the day, so that you can walk around in
The alarm clock wakes me up at 8:30am. I get up, have a shower, then
have breakfast at 9:30am. Around 10am I start exploring Marrakech.
Since the Koutoubia mosque looks so near, I first walk there. It's
actually not that impressive and you are not allowed to go inside
There is a minaret and some ruins (at least what I manage to see). To
the south of the mosque there is a small park.
At 10:10am I get back
towards the hotel, because I need to get some cash and a telephone card
and near the hotel there are lots of shops. The ATM withdrawal proceeds
smoothly. Then I walk to the first shop which sells mobile phones and
ask about a SIM card. I buy a SIM card of Maroc Telecom for 50 dirham,
which includes 20 dirham of airtime. In another shop I buy a 200 dirham
whose value today is doubled (I end up with a total of 440 dirham of
In the meantime it's 10:30am and I start walking towards the Djemma
el-Fna square. Although it's morning, it's already very full with
people. I stop briefly and take some photos, then I'm recruited by the
guy of the orange juice stall who sells me a glass of freshly squeezed
orange juice for 3 dirham - delicious and very good value. Later at
lunch in a restaurant I will pay
30 dirham for a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice...
Passing by the snake charmers and other street artists, I head towards
the souk. The idea would be to make a round trip through the souks to
the Ali ben Youssef mosque and medersa, then get back to Djemma el-Fna
for lunch. A medersa is a Koranic school, with an inner court and small
roomsfor the students.
I try to follow the itinerary suggested in the Lonely Planet
guide, but immediately get lost. Actually I'm not even able to find the
starting point. The small alleys are not marked well enough and the
tiny map in the Lonely Planet guide is essentially useless, because it
detailed enough. I basically orient myself with the position of the sun
and a compass and manage to reach the Medersa by 12pm. In between a guy
stops me and tries to bring me to the tanneries, which I decide to
skip, because I'm not that interested.
The Ali ben Youssef medersa is very nice. You have to buy an entry
ticket to get in
(I get the 40 dirham ticket which also covers the Marrakech museum).
Inside there is a court and many rooms with artistic wall decorations
and carvings everywhere. Quite photogenic and full of tourists.
At 12:35pm I walk to the nearby mosque. This is not impressive at all
is closed. The only thing you can see are the pink walls and the
minaret. Never mind. I enter into the Marrakech museum, which was
founded by a Moroccan businessman with close ties to the monarchy. The
interior is quite nice, in Moroccan style with many pieces of art.
Around 1pm I start walking back to the Djemma el-Fna square. Despite
navigating with a compass I manage to get lost in the souks and miss
the Djemma el-Fna square. I end up after some time in a place which
turns out to be the Kasbah. Was actually planning to go to the Kasbah
after lunch, but if I'm already here it's ok. At 1:30pm I have a lunch
in a cafe-restaurant on top of a building with a nice view of the
surroundings. Good location, but expensive food.
While I'm in the restaurant I call Mohammed Lahlali of Atlas Maroc, the
travel agency where I'm booking the car. I explain where I'm staying so
that the driver can pick me up tomorrow morning. Mohammed says that
from Marrakech to Merzouga in one day is not really feasible, that I
would spend 13 hours in the car and would not see anything in between.
But I would prefer to stick to the plan, because my time is limited and
would like to spend two nights in the desert.
After lunch, at 2:20pm, I walk to the nearby Palais el-Badi, but before
that I get lost again (turn left instead of turning right) and get
adopted by a local guy who wants to show
me the Jewish quarter, telling me that the Palais el-Badi is closed
until 4pm today because it's Sunday, so I should visit first the Jewish
quarter. The Lonely Planet guide instead states that the Palais el-Badi
opens at 2:30pm and indeed the palace is open when I arrive there at
2:30pm (after having got rid of this guy). The Palais el-Badi is
nothing special, actually there is nothing to see there, except for
some ruins and walls. It's also just 400 years old, and I wonder how
the Moroccans preserve their cultural heritage.
After this palace I try to make it to the Jewish quarter, but get lost
again, then get adopted by some children who want to show me a
synagogue, a guy joins us, we all walk together to a synagogue, they
out of the synagogue and the guardian locks the door, then we walk to
the Palais de la
The Palais de la
Bahia is very nice, with some very impressive interior
decorations with Islamic patterns and carvings. I spend almost one hour
there, then at 4:30pm start
walking towards the Djemma el-Fna square where I'm planning to take a
rest in a cafe.
Around 5pm I arrive to the square, which is very
full of people as usual. I go to a cafe with a roof
view of the square and spend the next hour up there.
After 6pm I have some dinner. In the evening I don't do much.
Hotel Kasbah Le Touareg. 220 Dirham for
a room, big enough, furnished (has a cupboard) and a big toilet. The
price includes breakfast and dinner.
Weather: sunny, cloudless blue sky
the whole day. Fresh in the morning in Marrakech and the evening in
Merzouga (have to wear a jacket because it is windy).
Today in a 12 hours drive we cover the 600 km distance between
Merzouga. I wake up at 7:13am, get ready and at
8:05am I'm down in the lobby waiting for the car. It's still not there
and will in fact only arrive at 8:15am. We drive to the office of Atlas
Maroc where I pay for the car, then
to the home of Mohammed, the driver, where he picks up his stuff.
We finally leave Marrakech at 8:50am.
After getting out of Marrakech we drive for a while in the plains, then
start climbing the High Atlas mountain range. The scenery is
breathtaking. After crossing the Tichka pass
(2260m) at 11:30am, we arrive in Ouarzazate at 1pm. There we briefly
stop for lunch in a restaurant, then continue the trip at 1:30pm. This
time I'm driving
the car. It takes a few minutes to get used to the car (a
Fiat Palio) in this unusual environment. I manage to get caught by the
local police when I overtake a very slow car where there is a
white line. Apparently it's a 400 dirham fine, but then the policeman
for 50 dirham. Hmmm... yes, you are not allowed to overtake when there
is a countinous white line, but this was a very slow car blocking the
traffic and these continuous white lines are everywhere in Morocco,
even where they make no sense and nobody seems to care about
With a few photo-stops, we finally arrive at the stunning Todra gorge
at 5:15pm. After shooting some photos, we leave for Merzouga, with
Mohammed driving the car. We arrive in Merzouga at 8:15pm. We have
covered 600km in 9 1/2 hours, which probably is a decent time on
Moroccan roads. We could have driven faster
but crossing the Atlas mountains cost us a lot of time.
Upon arrival we look for a hotel. A local, who happens to be a hotel
owner, suggests to go to his place. I'm a bit skeptical and lean
towards choosing a place mentioned in the Lonely Planet guidebook. We
ask where the Ksar Sania is. The Ksar Sania got swept away by the
flooding last year, he replies. Flooding in the desert - you really
expect me to
believe that? Later, after dinner in the Kasbah Le Touareg hotel, the
employees confirm that indeed in 2006 a
catastrophic flooding took place in Merzouga. A dam burst and Merzouga
was covered by 3 metres of water. Since most houses are built with dry
mud bricks, 25
hotels, including the Ksar Sania, collapsed.
Merzouga has completely changed since my last visit in 1996. Back then
this was an underdeveloped village, with no electricity at night and
only a desert track conecting it to Rissani. Now there is a paved road
and electricity in the village. I settle down in the hotel, have
some food, and have a chat with the local hotel guy. He suggests a trip
by a four wheel drive car to the dunes and beyond for 800 dirham (3
hours) or 1200 dirham for the whole day from 9 to 5, covering a range
of places (black people village, touareg camp, mines, oasis).
Somehow interesting, but expensive at 1200 dirham. Will think about it.
After dinner around 10pm I walk towards the dunes. Beautiful sky full
of stars, but very windy and cold.
Kasbah Le Touareg. The hotel is actually not bad. The
only problem is the shower which takes some effort to get
it running properly.
sunny, cloudless blue sky the whole day. Fresh in the morning and
evening, warm in the middle of the day. Windy on the dunes, strong sun
which changes the colour of my face to red.
Day spent in the dunes and relaxing. "Relaxing" is actually a relative
term, as climbing up and down the dunes is very tiring, especially if
you are not used to it.
I wake up at 9am, stay in bed until 10am, then get up and
leave the room after 11am. After a brief breakfast, at 11:45am I start
the dunes. I'm wearing slippers to avoid getting shoes full
of sand. I take some photos of the sand and use the grey card to
colour of the sand. Later, when I white-balance the image in the
computer, I discover that the colour the real sand is a very strong
orange - which is quite surprising because the sand did not look like
that in the midday sun.
Getting on top of the dune (I head to the southern one) is extremely
tiring. The distances do no look big, but this actually is an optical
illusion. The dunes in fact are quite high and
climbing on soft sand takes a lot of effort. Where the slope is steep,
every step causes a sand avalanche which drags you down. It doesn't
help that the sun turns out to be unexpectedly strong and roasts you
like a shrimp. This may be February, but here we are quite far in the
south and the sun is already very high in the sky.
At 1pm I'm on top of the dune. After 25 minutes on top, I start walking
back to the hotel. Getting down is much easier and actually is
fun to run down the dunes, sort of like skiing down a slope. Shortly
before 2pm I'm back in the hotel room. There I take a rest until 3pm,
get out again. When I leave the room I meet the hotel staff and
Mohammed, the driver. I'd like to eat a small thing before climbing
again on the dunes (had no lunch today), but they no small things in
the hotel. No ice cream, no cake etc. So Mohammed and I take the car
and get into "town", i.e. the village of Merzouga. There even is a
"supermarket", which in reality is quite empty. But they have some
small snacks, which is what I was looking for.
We then get back to the hotel. From
there I start walking again to the dunes. Since I'm already a bit
sunburnt, I cover my head with a sweater, the way the locals do. Should
have done so in the morning already, or better I should have bought one
of those light cloths people here use to cover their head.
I head to the northernmost of the three big dunes (there
is a group of three very big dunes near the hotel). This time it is
easier getting on top, because the path has already been walked by
several people and is overall less steep.
Around 4:45pm I'm on top of the dune. Together with me are some local
children, who want to sell some fossile handicrafts and
some other tourists, who also with great effort made it to the top of
By the way, forgot to mention that everybody here speaks French. Most
tourists are either French or communicate in French with each other. I
speak French with the hotel staff, Mohammed, and the (few) other
tourists I meet. There are not so many tourists in Merzouga at the
moment. Among the non-French tourists I notice an English-speaking
couple and a group of three Spanish-speaking tourists. In March there
will be a desert rally and for four days, the place will fill up with
hundreds of tourists.
I'm on the dunes until after sunset, walking to the middle of the three
big ones and back shooting some photos every now and then. The sun sets
at 6:15pm. After that I walk back to the hotel, arriving there slightly
Dinner in the hotel is around 8pm and is not too bad. It's with several
courses and quite filling. The only thing is this hot dish of meat cut
into small pieces full of fat and tendons. Doesn't taste bad, but it's
just too greasy. After dinner not much happens. This evening there are
four new French tourists. Some chit-chat, some drum performance after