As do most road trips in Morocco, the drive to Aït Benhaddou, our next stop takes a while and Pierre and I try to find a place to eat lunch which we saw recommended on trip adviser. As it turns out we can’t find the place we originally planned to go to but after bumping along barely there mud paths through palm trees and around earthern plastered homes, giving way to the odd donkey and boys on bicycles, we came across a most charming looking place.
Auberge Restaurant Chez Talout is a lovely little bed and breakfast place with air conditioned rooms, a lush garden and pool and, upon climbing to its balcony 360 degree views of the surrounding area. An oasis in the desert if you will. Although we were unexpected the wooden door opened swiftly and we were asked what we’d like for lunch and offered an apology that since we were unexpected guests it may take a little while. An offer of Berber whisky (tea) was accepted and we looked around before settling ourselves on the balcony above – while we asked for a small salad – a huge feast soon arrived…we ate and ate and ate as much as we could but still could not finish it. I thanked our host and said we were finished, L’addition, s’il vous plaît….” (bill please) oh no” he replies “ this is Morocco, don’t say that” and I am ushered back upstairs where we are served a plate of fruit as dessert.
Eventually back on the road we pass the town of Quarzazate its amazing desert landscapes mean that Hollywood found it hard to ignore and two filming studios (Atlas and CLA studios) can be found near the main city. Not long after we pass Quarzazate we arrive at Aït Benhaddou a Unesco heritage site whose claim to fame is that it has been the site for so many movies I cannot mention them all but, to name a few: The Man who would be King’ staring Michael Caine and Sean Connery (released 1975); Time Bandits; The Jewel of the Nile; the Living Daylights; Prince of Persia; and some scenes from The Game of Thrones. It is the perfect background for any middle east, desert story. Of course tourism and Hollywood have almost certainly altered what it originally looked like, but it remains worth a visit and even without special effects it gives a dramatic show with its old Kasbah and clay houses crawling up the hill glowing in the setting sun. Expect to have to dodge lots of tourist savvy sellers’ en-route up to the top.
We stayed overnight at the hotel at Aït Benhaddou. A charming place, however it was here our good fortune and hassle free trip took a detour. I could barely eat (I’ve heard it said that the reason we eat so much junk food is that it is low in nutrients and thus our body requires us to eat a great deal to get our requirements, here it is the opposite and I probably have enough nutrition now to last me into my old age J). I stare sadly at my lovely looking meal and manage a few bites, decline dessert. Pierre enjoys his meal and perhaps in hindsight this is a pity. Something he ate something radically disagrees with him and he is up all night. To add to our woes the next morning halfway through my shower I raise my arms knock the shower head out the holder and it smashes to the floor…..yes I have managed to break the showerhead.
The following morning we just grabbed a cup of coffee and juice and set off feeling rather sorry for ourselves. – I felt terribly sorry for Pierre, to be feeling grotty in a strange place with a four hour drive over one of the worst mountain passes in the world is no joke. Tizi n’Tichka a narrow winding road across the Atlas mountain’s has an elevation of 2,260 metres (7,410 ft) above the sea level and regularly and is regularly listed on lists like ‘most dangerous mountain passes’. Don’t worry ma, we made it and don’t need to go back across it again – promise.
So first stop was to find a pharmacy, as it turns out December 24th is also a public holiday in Morocco, The Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday. Would the pharmacy in the village be open? Fortunately it was and almost immediately the meds start to work. Added to which that mountain pass didn’t get its reputation for nothing the views are incredible and the drop most certainly has a sphincter tightening effect.
Finally we arrive in Marrakesh which after the last couple of weeks of sleepy villages and desert camping was quite a culture shock for me, I can only imagine how someone from the villages encountering this for the first time must feel. At last, we thought the worst was behind us but no, not yet. Now to find where to leave the rental car. There is no signage for the airport until you are on the road to the airport, so a couple of double backs were required and this is now a busy road with loads of cars, bikes, the requisite donkeys even some kids on roller blades!
When you get to the airport there is no signage for Hertz, much less where to drop it off. We ask several people who direct us into the parking lot. We follow their directions a few times but still, no sign for Hertz. The unhelpful attitude of the parking security chap sealed our fate, (the first rude person I’ve met here) now there was no way Pierre was going to go back into the parking so one of us could run into the airport and see if we could find Hertz there. Instead we decided to see if we could find a Hertz agency in the city centre. At this point we had been driving around within Marrakesh for more than an hour trying first to find the airport then the Hertz… The mood in the car was not cheerful. Google / Apple maps led us not to Hertz but a hotel where I went to find a concierge who might be able to help (at this point I thought it best to keep Pierre away from innocent bystanders, and left him to fight with technology). The concierge’s directions were excellent and we found the agency with no problem…… But being a holiday it was closed.
As you may recall from an earlier blog it is important to know thy travel companion, so I did not feel this was the right time to suggest we drive back to the airport, park and go look inside for Hertz as I had suggested twice before. Nor was it a good time to suggest Pierre calm down. Some things just have to run their course. So one more frustrating phone call to Hertz international (no understand English), then a call to the Riad where we are staying who say no problem they have free parking outside the Medina (the Medina being a walled of section of the old city with dusty cobbled narrow winding roads is NOT made for cars) … Which of course we can’t find so end up paying for parking before trekking to the Riad…upon arrival I explain our situation, at this point my husband is radiating annoyance with life in general and I think it best he speak to no one.
I cannot fault Riad Kniza, we are seated around a beautiful calm pool, served tea, fragrant oils and calming music fill the air and soon the savage beast that was at that stage my husband is soothed. Parking sorted (one of their helpful staff walked us back to the paid parking, showed us to the free parking and got us back to the Riad), bags unpacked we order a light meal to restore us and retire to our room. After “roughing it” in very good but simple accommodation our room seems like the height of decadence and luxury. Dot does the dance of joy upon seeing a huge ‘modern’ bath with proper (unbreakable!) shower head and reliable running hot water. Pierre does likewise upon seeing the internet speed and reliability. We spend the night in restoring body and mind.