Posted by: vlibrizzi | December 17, 2009

Graduation Trip to Morocco: Atlas Mountains and Essaouira

While we were in Morocco, we took two side trips from Marrakesh: one way up into the Atlas Mountains to visit a Berber village, and another down to the coast to see the town of Essouira. 

First, the Atlas Mountains.

With all of our friends, we took a 3.5 hour van ride up the winding Atlas mountains to visit a traditional Berber village. We’d loved seeing all of the Berbers in Marrakesh wearing their pointy-hooded outfits, and were hoping that their villages would be equally as impressive and interesting as their garb. 

Unfortunately, while the towns are composed beautiful red structures that blend into the mountainsides, once you get up close, most have fallen into disrepair, the people look tired, and the children beg for food. 

With our tour guide, we visited a casbah in one of the towns we visited. It was a huge structure that once housed more than 5,000 people, but now has fallen into disrepair like all of the other buildings in town. When we asked the guide how long the casbah had been vacant, we were hoping to hear him tell us that it had been hundreds of years since the place was really crumbling, but he simply replied, “About 50 years.” I’m not sure if the weather in the area tends to erode buildings more quickly than usual, or if these buildings were particularly poorly made, but our tour guide’s response really surprised us. 

Once we entered the interior of the casbah, there were some beautifully decorated rooms with amazing tile work (as you can see in the photo to the left). The rooms reminded us of the Alhambra in Granada, and even our guide made note of the same similarity. 

We took our time walking through these rooms and gawking at the perfectly symmetrical tiles on the walls, and the carved mosaics on the ceilings. Beautiful! 

Then, after lunch we stopped at a local souk (market) to see what the rural, local markets look like. And, honestly, it was a depressing sight. 

As you can see in the photo to the left, the souk was in the middle of a dusty valley and the locals were selling basic necessities for living (soap, shampoo, dusty vegetables, etc.). Everyone looked tired, hungry, and dusty. We gave all of our remaining food to some poor children who were following our group all day, and then left the town feeling thankful (but also a bit guilty) for what we have been blessed with in our lives.

 Then, Essaouira.

A few days after our trip to the Atlas mountains, we took a 2.5 hour van ride to the seaside town of Essaouira. 

The town was really quite beautiful with a rocky shoreline and great ramparts that you can walk around on (as you can see in the photo to the left).  Of all the places we saw in Morocco, it was probably the nicest town, with the most picturesque views.

The buildings in the town are all white with blue shutters and doors, which reminded us of the buildings on the Greek islands. Although the day was a bit chilly, we spent out time walking around outdoors admiring the spectacular views. 

We first walked through the small alleyways of the medina (downtown), got lost for a bit (the medinas are all very confusing!), then had a great lunch of fresh, local seafood. You can see an alleyway in the medina in the photo to the left.

After lunch, we climbed atop the ramparts to take some photos and breathe in the salty air. I loved it…but I’m not sure if that’s because the views were so great or if I was just missing being near the beach and seeing the ocean (living in landlocked Fonty doesn’t afford lots of beach visits).

Then we walked out to the fishing pier to see the fish that we ate for lunch being brought in from the sea. Although we had to battle with the seagulls and the smells of dead fish (yuck!), the views from the pier were fantastic. All of the blue boats set against the white buildings of the town to one side and the magestic stone fort to the other side, made for a great contrast…and for great photos! 

Finally, as we were driving out of the city, ready to make our way back to Marrakesh, we saw some camels being led across the beach. We immediately asked our driver to stop the car (in the middle of the road!), jumped out, and on a whim, decided to ride the camels on the beach!

It was fabulous! I don’t think I had ridden a camel since I was in elementary school on a visit to the Philadelphia zoo, so riding on the beach as an adult was a real treat!!!

Although the mount and dismount were a bit treacherous (I thought I could have fallen off at any minute), the actual ride was really smooth, and quite fun. It was an experience I’ll never forget…riding camels on the beach in Morocco. Seriously cool!

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