Category Archives: Morocco

North to Fes, Volubilis and back to Marrakech….Morocco Road Trip (Part 2)

I read a number of books about Morocco before our trip, in particular a few by Paul Bowles.  While I had trouble getting through parts of his stories, I found his outsider’s viewpoint to be an intriguing glimpse into a incredibly complex country.  Morocco has a deep Phoenician and Berber history, and the far southwest border of the Roman Empire even ran through northern Morocco.  Then the Vandals and Byzantines came along in the 5th and 6th centuries.  Arabic and Islam spread to Morocco in the 8th century and then it only got more complicated.  Between French and Spanish colonization in the early 1900s, I got lost in the intricacy of who had what, when and how.  And don’t ask me how Morocco and Western Sahara are related.  That’s still an ongoing dispute.  But one thing stuck out.  Morocco’s diverse history has left it with an incredibly friendly population, who, while only a short distance from Europe, live a world away from the average European.

This is a long one.

We left the Erg Chebbi dunes and Hassilabied (near Merzouga) to head north toward Fes.  Not wanting to rush, we planned on stopping in Midelt for the night just to break up the drive.

Morocco road trip with cities
This blog entry covers the stops from Hassilabied north to Midelt, Fes, Volubilis and Meknes, as well as the return journey through Mohammedia to Marrakech.

Having read about a tourist loop near Rissani that included a number of historic ksars, or fortified dwellings, we decided to check some out.  Unfortunately, we found it difficult to find this route, despite following the one sign we saw.  Fortunately, we saw a tour group stopping near Moulay Ali Cherif mosque and tagged along to an unidentified ksar, which has very intricate mud work.

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Rissani ksar building – maybe Ksar Arzbat
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Rissani

Leaving Rissani, we headed further north into the Ziz river valley, which was no less than spectacular.  The contrast between the green around the water and the never ending brown elsewhere made for some great photo opportunities.  Plus, the flat topped cliffs and viewpoints helped a bit.  I haven’t been to the Grand Canyon, but I imagine the Ziz valley to be just as stunning.

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Entering the Ziz Valley
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Ziz Valley
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Ziz Valley again
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Riki in the driver’s seat

Along the Ziz River near Meski there is a spot called the Source Bleu.  For a modest 5 Dirhams (50 cents) you can enter the grounds, swim, picnic, and hang out.  Well, only the boys were swimming.  The women and girls were all involved in a group sing along in the shade.  And the men were drinking tea in the little cafes.  We wandered through the area and eventually ended up in a palmery where we found a crystal clear channel where women were doing laundry.

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Source Bleu
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Source Bleu laundry stream

Jumping back in the car, we continued north through more incredible valley sights, eventually nearing the snow capped mountains again.  We went through 4 police checkpoints this day, though were stopped at none.  One, outside of a military town, even had spikes laid out ready to deploy.  Riki wouldn’t let me sneak even a photo from my phone, so I have no documentation of these.  I was going to be really stealthy, but that was vetoed.

Throughout our trip we encountered a feeling of things yet to come.  For instance, huge, new gas stations that look fancy from afar, but when you get up close, you realize that the shop, cafe, and even service center are completely empty and have never been opened and won’t be any time soon.  Entering many towns, the roads would widen, be dotted with oh so many street lights and speed bumps, and there would be nothing on either side of the road.  The most fun were the gates in the middle of nowhere.  Huge, ornate structures we could see from way off and would pass through thinking we were entering another town.  And then there would be nothing.  Not even a house.  It is as if Morocco is preparing for major, instantaneous development.

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“We’re here!” says Riki. “Where?” says I. “Nowhere, but they have impressive gates.” says Riki.
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Lake north of Errachidia
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Another section of the Ziz River
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Sheep in the road
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Contrasting landscapes

We arrived in Midelt late afternoon and briefly hunted for the Sunday carpet souk (market) before deciding if must have only been in the morning.  Then we hunted for somewhere recommended to us to eat, failed and then just settled on a place near the bus station.  This was a fortunate find, as I had the best chicken pizza I’ve had in ages.

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Donkey
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Cat in Midelt
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Midelt mosque

I upgraded us to a nicer hotel when we were in Midelt (13 Euro more).  I thought that after two nights in the desert we may need a few extra comforts.  We didn’t really need the rose petals scattered on the giant, sand-free beds, but the scalding hot water and English television were real treats.

We had been warned while in the desert that a few days earlier there had been a decent amount of snow on our impending route, causing traffic jams and accidents.  Luckily, the roads were clear upon entering the cedar forest near Ifrane.  We did spot some of the endangered Barbary apes in the snow along the road, but opted not to stop to feed them like many of the other cars.

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Heading north
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Aguelmame Sidi Ali lake
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Storks on a roof
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Barbary ape crossing near Azrou

We slowed long enough to get a few shots of the apes and the snow.

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Barbary ape in the snowy cedar forest

 

Ifrane is supposedly the Switzerland of Morocco.  You can see why by the variation in the architecture and the vegetation – complete with mountain chalets.  Wanting to get to Fes in time for a late lunch, we just did a driving tour and continued on our way.

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Chalets above Ifrane

We tried to do some birding just outside of Ifrane, but the lack of water in the Aoua lake made that tough.  Though we did spot a big grey heron and another black and white bird from our travel guide.

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Half full Aoua Lake

Riki handled the entry into Fes like a pro.  After what seemed like a hundred roundabouts, we finally found the dirt parking lot where we were to leave the rental car for three days, at the very reasonable price of 30 Dirham ($3) per night.

We spent the next two days wandering the Medina of Fes, taking in pretty much all the regular tourist sites.  I particularly liked the Medersa Bou Inania and the Medersa Attarine.  While we could not access as much as the one in Marrakech, they had the same intricacies on every surface.

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Fes doorway
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Satellite dishes of Fes
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Moulay Idriss Mosque
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Fountain by Najjarine Museum
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Check out those patterns – wood, plaster and tile
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Tomb of the Merinides
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They don’t even use pay phones here anymore
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In a souk
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Book store
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Getting in the way of Riki’s photo
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Oued Bou Khrareb
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Bab Rcif
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Another amazing and intricate door
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The Blue Gate, which is actually green too
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Cats on cats on cats
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Our kitten neighbors, who don’t eat bread no matter how many times you try.
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Madrasa Bou Inania
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Madrasa Bou Inania
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Madrasa Bou Inania
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Getting in the way again.
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Fes
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Water clock in Fes
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Mmmmm, fish
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Serious underbite on this guy
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Typical traffic jam
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Madrasa Attarine
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Madrasa Attarine
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Madrasa Attarine
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Overwhelming patterns
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Non-Muslims are not allowed into the mosques, but can take photos through the entrance
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So many patterns

Fes’s medina was much easier to navigate than Marrakech’s.  Fes has a few different major routes that are pretty well marked.  Each is color coded and tells you the destination as well.  Since we were staying near the Blue Gate, we often just had to find one of these major routes and follow the zig zagged path back to our riad.

Riki often looks for unique art when we travel.  It can be difficult to find things we like that are within our budget.  But while wandering Fes, we ended up at the end of a very narrow alley in an artists’ coop.  The man spoke French and we managed to ascertain that this guy, his two sons and a few other people all sold their art in this shop.  Riki was drawn to the style seen below, and we bought one of the larger pieces as we felt it represented the colors of Fes better than some of the others.

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Riki’s newest acquisition, and the artist’s father

I later purchased a small rug, where I wrongly asked if I could have tassels added to one side to match the other.  The salesman said no problem and before I could figure out what he was up to, he started to unravel the end without tassels.  I stopped him before he could do more than a few rows and decided to trim them myself later.

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My ‘Berber Picasso’ hanging in Zurich
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Jnane Sbil pond
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Stream on the way to the Jewish Quarter
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Riki in front of the Royal Palace gates
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Dog on a wall
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Jnana Sbil wall and palms
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Literal hole in the wall we ate at
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Meat.

I was not particularly fond of visiting the tannery.  The best views are from the balconies of the neighboring shops and if you don’t want to buy anything, the shopkeepers expect a donation for the necessary mint leave to cover up the stench.  Despite our small donation, we were still hassled a bit while just trying to take some photos.  And its awful to imagine having that job.  The guys stand in chemical muck and pigeon droppings all day.  Often times without any protective gear.

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Chouwara Tannery
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Fes
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Fes
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Fes
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More meat.

We walked up to the Merenid tombs one afternoon, a decidedly nice view, but had a very strange experience.  By this time, we were used to being told we were going the wrong way and offered directions from people who were looking to make a few Dirham.  But the little boy who we met at the top of the hill really threw us for a loop.  He seemed to be all alone and we chatted a little in broken English/French and he pointed to where he lived and where he went to school.  As we were leaving he asked us where we were staying and where we were going.  We told him roughly and politely said we knew how to get there so we didn’t need any help.  But that did not deter him and he proceeded to “lead” us back down the hill and into the Medina.  This is where Riki and I tried to pull a fast one on him, thinking he would get distracted in the chaos of the medina.  So Riki went one way and I went the other and agreed to meet at the Blue Gate.  The kid continued to “lead” Riki and we weren’t able to lose him until we got in a taxi headed to the other side of town.  Even then, he watched us go.  He never asked for money, nor really said anything, just walked a few feet in front of us, quietly glancing back every few seconds to make sure we were still there.

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Found a turtle
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View from the Merenid tomb
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View of Fes from the Merenid tomb

We had been eating 10 Dirham ($1) sandwiches for most of our meals, and mainly from the same stand.  On our last night, the stand was closed so we went to the next one over.  These sandwiches are basically grilled mixed meat with a delicious tomato sauce stuffed in a thick round bread.  Easy enough.  But as we watched, the cook took our raw meat slapped it on the grill and used the same hands to open the bread and then leave it propped up on the raw meat resting on his counter.  We paid for the sandwiches, but were ready to toss the bread, until we realized, the bread is about 10 cents at another stall.  We’ll just dump the cooked meat into new bread and be on our way.  So that’s what we did and still with some apprehension we had our last supper in Fes.

The next morning we checked out and retrieved our car safe and sound from the dirt lot.  We continued north and west to Volubilis, a Roman archaeological site.  The drive was really beautiful, though we encountered the worst roads so far.

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Sidi Chahed reservoir
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Road to Volubilis

Volubilis is a Berber and Roman city from the 3rd century BC.  Under the Romans, it grew and even had a basilica and aqueduct.  The incredible mosaics of the fancy houses have been largely restored, though are sitting out baking in the hot sun with no cover.  Not sure that’s the best preservation method, but it certainly makes for an impressive visit.  There is a new museum on the site which really explains the history well and displays some of the artifacts found there.  I have seen a number of Roman ruins, from all over Europe, but Volubilis was the best at really portraying how the city would have been.  I’m not sure if that’s because of the extensive restoration they have done, or just the sheer amount of ruins and mosaics still left.  Whatever it was, you can really imagine how the city looked under the Romans and how impressive it would have been.

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Volubilis
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Tile mosaics in Volubilis
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Volubilis ruins
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Volubilis basilica
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Volubilis gate
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Hijacking more photos at the Volubilis gate
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Volubilis mosaic floor
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Another mosaic
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Volubilis mosaic and view
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Volubilis mosaic
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Caught Riki taking pictures of bugs
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Getting in the way again. Main pedestrian path next to the main road.
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Volubilis basilica
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Restored mosaic

After a few hours in the scorching sun, we heading south again to Meknes.  We left our car under a tree and the parking attendant gave us a twig as a receipt.  We checked into our room, which was little more than a bed in a cubby with an attached bath separated by saloon style swinging doors.  And the whole room was directly over the alley below, with one little window at the far end.  Luckily, we had little luggage and only stayed one night.

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Road to Meknes

We found Meknes to be a much smaller city, with a lot of students and much more diversity.  The souks had a more modern feeling and the medina much less crowded.

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Gate in Meknes
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More intricate tiles
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Spice market in Meknes

We got followed by a man who insisted on showing us a silver shop and the typical work they did there.  It was neat, as they pound the silver in thin threads, but we weren’t really in the mood for any metalwork.

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Damascene metalwork
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Whole animal
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Meknes woodwork
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Meknes medina
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OMG, 17 cats!
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Meknes market
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Meknes main gate

After mediocre food in Meknes, including tacos filled with french fries, Riki was excited to travel along the coast and find some seafood.  We stopped in Mohammédia, just north of Casablanca to see the Atlantic Ocean and have lunch before returning to Marrakech.

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Mohammédia beach, just north of Casablanca
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Lemon in the sand
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Mohammédia

Back in Marrakech we headed straight for the airport to return the car.  Right outside the airport, we got hustled out of about $10 trying to fill up our gas tank, and even though we realized it was happening, we had no proof, and thus had to end our road trip with a bad taste in our mouths.  We took the bus back to the medina and checked into a different riad, which had tiny kittens on the roof and a very picturesque courtyard.  A much better way to end our two weeks in Morocco.

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Back in Marrakech
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Marrakech
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Riad in Marrakech

Travel goal:

“Even during the short periods when their lives were stationary, which had been few enough since their marriage twelve years ago, he had only to see a map to begin studying it passionately, and then, often as not, he would begin to plan some new, impossible trip which sometimes became a reality.  He did not think of himself as a tourist; he was a traveler.  The difference is partly one of time, he would explain.  Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler, belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly, over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another.  Indeed, he would have found it difficult to tell, among the many places he had lived, precisely where it was he had felt most at home.”

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

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Marrakech to the Sahara….Morocco Road Trip (Part 1)

Our trips are planned according to when I can find the best deals and this trip was no exception.  Flying out of Basel can be much cheaper than Zurich, especially if I get a cheap train ticket ahead of time.  I managed to find a direct flight from Basel to Marrakech for less than $50.  The return was about twice that, but it came to Zurich and had free checked baggage, which was necessary after the shopping we did – more on that later.  I also booked most of our accommodation on Booking.com ahead of time.  I found the rates to be about the same or cheaper than booking in person, and without the hassle of wandering around looking for a room, which is nearly impossible in the medinas we stayed in.  I also booked the car from Hertz ahead of time, I got an incredible rate, and we even got an unnecessary upgrade.  The last thing I pre-arranged was our camel trek.  This was one of the things I was most excited for and wanted to be sure it went off without a hitch.  But for that I just emailed three companies with good reputations online and chose the one who gave me the best deal.  So, besides the flights, accommodation, car and camel trek, everything else was up in the air. More or less.

We took the earliest train from Zurich to Basel, which meant we had to walk to the train station because the trams were not yet running.  No big deal though because we travel light and each had just a backpack for the 15 minute downhill walk.  Luckily, security was light and we cruised through to our gate.  Any delay with the trains or airport could have meant a missed flight, we were cutting it that close.  Travel karma was on my side this time though, as unusual as that is for me.

We arrived in Marrakech and took the 2 Euro bus to the main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa.  Don’t ask me to pronounce it, we heard it so many different ways.  From there we walked about 20 minutes through the medina to our riad.  A riad is a Moroccan house with a courtyard.  The outsides are nondescript but the insides can be very fancy.  Many have been turned into guesthouses.  Though we thought we knew where we were going, we still ended up a bit confused and were hustled by two guys who insisted on showing us the way and both getting paid, despite us declining their services.  Not a very nice way to start the day.  But we made it to the riad, dropped our bags and continued out into the medina.

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In the Medina
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Clay pots for cooking
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Mosque tower
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Souk

The medina was a maze and we ended up in dead ends frequently, but that’s the fun of not having a set schedule.  We found ourselves near the El-Badi palace right before closing and enjoyed the ruins of the late 1500s palace before heading back to the main square to check out the evening madness.

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El Badi Palace
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Marrakech street
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Insulators
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Street Art

The next morning, we went to the Ben Joussef Medersa trying to beat the crowds, which we managed for about 5 minutes.  A medersa, or madrasa (saw it both ways) is an educational facility, and in Morocco, often used for studying Islam.  We visited a number of these, and I found this one the most impressive, as you can wander into the little courtyards surrounded by tiny, dark dorm rooms, which were used for sleeping and studying.  There is an incredible amount of intricate woodwork, tilework and plasterwork, everywhere.

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Inside the Medersa Ben Joussef
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Inside the Medersa Ben Joussef
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Entrance to one of the dorm rooms
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Amazing tilework

From there, we continued to wander the medina for the rest of the day, stopping at El Bahia palace in the afternoon.

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Street art
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Bougainvilla
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Patient donkey
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More amazing tiles
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Patient dog

El Bahia Palace is only a little over 100 years old, but it has stunning tiles and courtyards.  The ceilings were really impressive as well, and it was a great way to get out of the heat for a bit.

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El Bahia Palace
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Stained glass in El Bahia

Unfortunately, about half of Jemaa El-Fnaa square was under construction, so we didn’t get the full feel of it.  However, there were plenty of snake charmers and monkey handlers to go around.  I avoided these like the plague, as the animals are mistreated and these exploits should not be encouraged.  We ate at one of the stalls (#1), but were weary from hearing about so many people being overcharged for things they didn’t want.  We found the food ok, not amazing, nothing to write home about, oh wait, doing that now.

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Jemaa el-Fnaa square
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Snake charmers in the square
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Pushing the monkeys on the tourists

And then the real adventure began!  We picked up our rental car, which was our first time renting a car in a foreign country.  We got upgraded from a mini size to an economy sized Fiat Punto, but not until we were standing in the lot and the Hertz guy realized they definitely didn’t have the car we booked.  We were a bit worried about renting a car, because 1) road conditions, 2) crazy drivers, 3) crashing, 4) not getting an automatic.  But really, none of those things turned out to be issues and you can read about our road trip tips here 15 Tips for a Morocco Road trip and our full itinerary here 12 Day Morocco Road Trip.

Morocco road trip with cities
Part 1 – Marrakesh to Hassilabied (Sahara)

We drove over the Atlas mountains, which was stunning and perfectly doable in a small car.  It is crazy to me for some reason to think of snow in Morocco, but sure enough, there was plenty up there.

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Crossing the Atlas mountains

Our first stop was Ait Ben Haddou, which is a ksar, or fortified village and a UNESCO site.  You might recognize it from Game of Thrones.

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Road to Ait Ben Haddou

The village is largely uninhabited, but there are some families still living in the old clay brick houses. The oldest part is from the 17th century.  We found it to be incredibly interesting, but VERY touristy.  For instance, it is free to enter, but if you happen to cross the river and don’t take the bridge, someone will try to hustle you for 10 Dh to see the inside of her house, saying that is the only way to enter the village.  So, we went back across the river and took the main bridge to avoid this character.

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Ait Ben Haddou
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River crossing to Ait Ben Haddou
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Ait Ben Haddou buildings
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Ait Ben Haddou details

At the top of the village is the old granary, which has excellent views, but staying vertical was nearly impossible due to the wind.

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Windy at the top of Ait Ben Haddou. That’s me, trying not to be knocked backwards, and succeeding for the most part.
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View from Ait Ben Haddou
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Amazing rock formations

While Ait Ben Haddou was interesting to see, it is very small and we spent a little over an hour there, before getting back in the car and working our way towards the Todra Gorge.

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On the road again to Todra Gorge
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Nearing Todra Gorge

With walls 160 meters (525 ft) tall and an opening slinking to 10 meters (33 ft) wide, the Todra Gorge is really a sight to see.  We arrived just before sunset, but the red of the canyon was still striking in the shade.  We opted to stay right next to the gorge, so that we could easily check it out again in the morning, in different light.  A request from my photographer, of course.  It is a popular place for climbers, but having no interest in dangling from little ropes over sharp rocks, we just used it as a stopover to the desert.

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Todra Gorge
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Todra Gorge
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Sheep on the roof
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Kids playing in abandoned car
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Todra Gorge
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Leaving Todra Gorge

The last stretch before the desert was probably the one with the most contrast.  We went from vertical walls of rock to mountains of sand, punctuated with palm tree oases in between.

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On the road again to the desert
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More rocks
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Straight and smooth
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One tree, and a hill
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First look at the dunes of the Sahara

We arrived in Hassilabied a bit early, as the roads were empty and smooth.  Hassilabied is near Merzouga, which is the more well-known town for seeing the dunes here.  I was hoping to visit the nearby lakes to see flamingos, but was informed that it hadn’t rained in two years, so well, there wasn’t any water, or flamingos.  So we went exploring and found a small palmery along the desert and not much else.

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Palmery near the dunes
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The Sahara

After a welcome tajine lunch, we suited up in our head scarves and were assigned camels.  Mine was named Jimmy Hendrix and proved to be a bit aloof, despite me bribing him with bread.

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Me and Jimmy Hendrix
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Our group
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Wells leading to the desert
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On our way

We rode about an hour and a half into the desert of Erg Chebbi, which features a dune about 150 meters tall (492 ft).

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Added two
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Me and Riki in the Sahara
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Scarab

We made it to our camp in the late afternoon and were pretty impressed with our accommodation, except that the light in our tent didn’t work very well.  There were a circle of lined tents to keep out the wind and sand, a round dining area and even a latrine.  Much fancier than I expected, though if we had paid an arm and leg more, we could have had a shower too, but that was a different camp.

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Our camp

We spent our downtime sandboarding, playing cards and wandering the dunes.

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Riki sandboarding
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Me sandboarding
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Line in the sand
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Desert cat, of course
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Sunset in the Sahara
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Wind lines

We felt one night in the desert wasn’t going to be enough, so opted for a two night stay.  This turned out perfect, as we were prepared for some downtime and needed a day off from driving.  Though riding in the car was significantly more comfortable than riding the camels.  We woke up at 6 to see the sunrise and then had a big breakfast before taking the camels further into the desert.  We left the camels and our guide at a base camp and climbed the tallest dune, so that we could see Algeria, which was only a few kilometers away.

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At the top of Erg Chebbi, with a view of Algeria

The border to Algeria is closed now, but you can still get a nice view.

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Riki showing off

We descended and had lunch at the other camp.  We stayed there all afternoon because it was quite hot.  Meanwhile, Jimmy Hendrix wandered off and it took our guide an hour to find him.  Finding a camel in the desert seems to involve standing on the tallest, nearest dune and waiting for the camel to come into sight.  Very high tech.  We jokingly told the guide they need to get GPS trackers for the camels.

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Sitting in the giant litter box
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Desert inhabitants
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Just two chairs
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Not much to do in the desert
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Sunset over the dunes
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Inside our camp

On the second morning, we once again got up for the sunrise, but it was cloudier.  We returned to town, showered, though the power was out, and had breakfast.

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Back to civilization during sunrise
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Cat whisker signs showing where water should be, but it hasn’t rained in two years

Next stop, north through the Ziz Valley to Midelt.

12 Day Morocco Road Trip

More detailed blogs are coming, complete with the infamous Riki photos (of which there are 4,000 to go through).  But for now, here is our trip report from our 12 day journey in Morocco.  Check out 15 Tips for a Morocco Road trip as well.

We flew in and out of Marrakech, but this could be done from Casablanca as well, or even starting in Marrakech and ending in Fes (with a one-way rental).

Morocco road trip with cities
Map available here : 9 day road trip

12 Days in Morocco Itinerary (Short Version)

  1. Arrive in Marrakech.
  2. Explore Marrakech.
  3. Drive 4 hours to Ait Ben Haddou. 2 hour visit with lunch. Drive 3.5 hours to Todra Gorge.
  4. Drive 3 hours to Hassilabied (Merzouga). 1.5 hours on camel to camp.
  5. Camel ride and climb Erg Chebbi dunes.
  6. Camels back to Hassilabied.  4 hour drive to Midelt.  Stop in Rissani to see kasbahs. Amazing views of Ziz valley.  Stop at Source Bleu in Meski.
  7. 3.5 hour drive to Fes.  Drive through cedar forest near Azrou with Barbary monkeys.  Stop at Dayet Aaoua lake.
  8. Explore Fes.
  9. Explore Fes.
  10. Drive 1.5 hours to Volubilis. 2 hours visiting site.  45 minute drive to Meknes.
  11. Drive 2.5 hours to Mohammedia for lunch. Drive 3 hours to return car at Marrakech airport.
  12. Last minute shopping and return to Marrakech airport.

 


12 Day Morocco Trip Report

Day 1: Arrive in Marrakech late morning. Bus #19 (20 Dh low season, 30 Dh high season) to Jemaa el-Fnaa. Walk to Riad dar Nael (270 Dh/night plus city tax, incl. breakfast) in Medina. Explore souks.  Visit El Badi (10 Dh).

Day 2: Ben Joussef Medersa (20 Dh) to see amazing tilework and student dorms. Visit Ensemble Artisanal for handicraft market with fixed prices. Explored Kasbah neighborhood and went to El Bahia Palace (10 Dh). Bus from Jemaa el_Fnaa to Gueliz area (new part). Walked back.  Ate at stall #1 on Jemaa el_Fnaa (90 Dh for 12 sticks of meat and vegetable couscous).

Day 3: Bus #19 back to airport to pick up rental car (Hertz via Holidayautos for $139 (1400 Dh) for 9 days, mini). Drive 4 hours to Ait Ben Haddou. Visit ksar and climb to top (free). Drive 3.5 hours to Todra Gorge. 7 police checkpoints. Check in to Auberges Cavaliers (190 Dh room, 100 Dh dinner, 50 Dh breakfast).

Day 4: Drive 3 hours to Hassilabied (Merzouga). 3 police checkpoints. Leave bags at Camels House (375 Dh/night in tent incl camel transport and all food/water). 1.5 hours on camel to camp.

Day 5: Sunrise in the desert.  1 hour on camels to base of Erg Chebbi dunes. Climb dunes. Lunch at other camp.  Return to our camp for sunset.

Day 6: Sunrise in the desert. Camels back to Hassilabied for breakfast and shower.  4 hour drive to Midelt.  Stop in Rissani to see kasbahs. Amazing views of Ziz valley.  Stop at Source Bleu in Meski (5 Dh). 4 police checkpoints. Overnight at Riad Villa Midelt (350 Dh incl breakfast).

Day 7: 3.5 hour drive to Fes.  Drive through cedar forest near Azrou with Barbary monkeys.  Stop at Dayet Aaoua lake, but its half dry and has few birds.  Arrive in Fes and park at Ain Azliten (30 Dh/night).  3 police checkpoints.  3 minute walk to Fez Dar (215 Dh/night plus city tax, incl breakfast). Nejjarine Museum right before closing (20 Dh) for woodworking exhibit and terrace views.

Day 8: Early to Medersa Bou Inania (20 Dh).  Explored medina and souks. Medersa Attarine (20 Dh).  Art shopping at Galerie Yessari.  Through Jnane sbile park to Mellah, the Jewish quarter.

Day 9: El Batha Museum (10 Dh) to see handicraft antiques. Chouwara tanneries from viewpoint above (10 Dh to the door guy just to look – no shopping). Walked in El Andalus area and up to Bab Guissa and Merenide tombs (free).

Day 10: Drive 1.5 hours to Roman ruins at Volubilis and museum (10 Dh). 2 hours visiting site.  45 minute drive to Meknes. 1 police checkpoint. Parking at Place Lalla Aouda (20 Dh/night to parking attendant).  Short walk to Riad ma Boheme (200 Dh plus city tax incl. breakfast). Explored souks and silverworks.

Day 11: Drive 2.5 hours to Mohammedia for lunch near beach. 2 police checkpoints.  Drive 3 hours to return car at Marrakech airport (159 Dh in tolls). Bus #19 back to Jemaa el-Fnaa. Walk to Riad Riva (215 Dh plus city taxes, incl. breakfast).  Wander souks and leisurely dinner.

Day 12: Last minute shopping. 40 Dh taxi to the airport. Bus price went up April 1 to 30 Dh / 3 Euro each. Long lines at airport and passport control.

 

 

Car and Gas: Fiat Punto, approx 700 Dh / $70 in diesel (not incl. $10 scam), unleaded was about 1 Dh/L more expensive (~9.50 Dh vs 10.50 per liter, March 2017)

Total distance: 1650 km / 1025 miles

Total hours: ~26 hours, with plenty of photo stops

Tolls: 6, all between Meknes and Marrakech, 159 Dh / $15.80

Police checkpoints: 20, most in the south, stopped at 0

Morocco and swiss
Outline of Switzerland inside our Morocco route

Map available here : 9 day road trip

More tips here: 15 Tips for a Morocco Road trip

15 Tips for a Morocco Road trip

My musings are based on the route below.  I can offer little advice for driving in the cities, as we avoided Casablanca and Rabat on this trip.  For more information about our itinerary, check out the other Morocco blogs (Coming soon).

Morocco road trip with cities.JPG

  1. Road conditions are good.  Our economy sized Fiat Punto had no problems in the mountains or desert, though we did not go off-piste at all.  The worst road we encountered was between Fes and Volubilis, where the edges were bumpy.
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    Road between Fes and Volubilis

    In the desert, the roads were generally smooth except where water occasionally passes over them.  These are marked with this amusing cat-like sign.

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    Thought this was a funny looking cat the first time we sped by
  2. Speed limits are well marked and range from 40/60 (in towns) to 120 (toll roads) km per hour.  Police radar traps are frequent as are checkpoints.  We met a couple whose fine for 68 in a 60 zone was about $20.  Drivers will often flash at you to warn about upcoming radar traps.  We were waved through all 20 checkpoints we went past, most of which were south of the Atlas mountains.
  3. Gas prices are lower than in Europe. Diesel (Gasoil) was around 9.50 Dh/liter (March 2017) and Unleaded (Sans Plomb) was around 10.50 Dh/liter.  There are plenty of gas stations along the main roads.
  4. Moroccan drivers are not all crazy or bad drivers.  We found driving in Marrakech and Fes to be hectic, but only a bit crazier than what we’ve encountered in Europe.
  5. Passing and honking are frequent occurrences.  Use your blinker when passing and honk to let the other driver know you are coming.  Most of the honking we encountered was just friendly beeps alerting us to their passing.
  6. Be alert at traffic lights.  If you are too slow to get moving, you will get honked at.
  7. Roundabouts or circles can be confusing.  For the majority, you should yield to traffic in the circle and this will be evident by a normal red triangle yield sign.  When there is a traffic light to enter the circle, you may be required to stop in the circle and wait for incoming traffic.  If there is neither a yield sign or a traffic light, yielding is the best bet.
  8. Watch out for animals and people in the road.  Many of the rural roads are used by pedestrians as well as herds of sheep and goats.

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    Watch out for monkeys near Azrou
  9. Signs are in Arabic and French.  Most roads signs are similar to those in Europe.
  10. Avoid scams.  We were the unfortunate victim of a gas scam at the Afriquia nearest to the Marrakech airport. Make sure the attendant resets the pump from the previous customer to avoid paying extra. We also read about scams involving people pretending to need assistance, only to take you to their friend’s shop.
  11. Use an app such as maps.me for offline driving directions.  We found this app to be generally accurate even though roads were rarely marked.
  12. Rental agencies are required to provide 3rd party liability coverage.  Consider booking your car with a credit card that offers additional insurance coverage for car rentals, so you don’t have to use the additional insurance offered.
  13. For entertainment during those long hours, we found the Moroccan FM radio to be decent with a mix of English and Arabic songs.  Bring a USB car charger to play your own music and to charge your phone.
  14. Check the spare tire has air and there is a working jack before leaving the rental agency office.
  15. Relax and don’t forget to pull over to enjoy the view (and if you’re Riki, take a few thousand pictures).

 

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In the Atlas Mountains between Marrakech and Ait Ben Haddou
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In the Atlas Mountains between Marrakech and Ait Ben Haddou

 

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Our little Fiat Punto
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Driving in the desert
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Pit Stop
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Road in Hassilabied, near Merzouga.  Fortunately, we only drove on this for a few blocks.
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Smooth roads except for some places where the shoulders are rough.
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Smooth and flat

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Distance markers for major towns are frequent.

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Motorbikes can also make this journey
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Watch out for these guys in the Medinas – real troublemakers.
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Meknes traffic
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Meknes Gate

Thanks for reading, and check out the other blogs on Morocco for more information.