A few weeks back I posted a big travel diary about one of my favorite vacations in Italy thanking the people who made that trip so amazing. Today’s blog post is about my most memorable holiday! Partnering with American Express Travel to celebrate the people behind the scenes that make our vacations so wonderful by going above and beyond to create memorable experiences, this post is dedicated to the Journeymakers that made my vacation in Marrakech, Morocco truly amazing. They are the ones that provided the best comfort, tours, stays, tips, adventures and even camel rides! Without them I really would not have had the incredible time I did.
My most amazing vacation ever was in Morocco a few years back. We had booked a last minute trip to Marrakech, and at that time I would have never guessed that a few days would become such an adventure and celebration of the senses! A few days in Marrakech became a visual dream of vivid colors, scents, architecture, street cats, and an amazing road trip to the Sahara including a Camel ride. We met some wonderful people during this trip who really deserve our thanks for making this journey so great because without them all these magical views and photos would not be possible! These are some of the people that we met, I still often think about and that I really want to thank.
Our Travel Agency Tour guide
When we booked our trip and flight we didn’t expect a tour guide to be included in the trip. (Actually, we had not expected anything but a hotel so when we arrived at the airport in Marrakech we were very pleasantly surprised that we were being welcomed by a young man holding a sign with our names on it working for the travel agency.) Our luggage was packed on a car and we were taken to our hotel where our guide checked us in and talked to the staff. We were late arrivals and the hotel’s restaurant had already been closed, but when we came in, our guide asked us if we were hungry, talked to the staff some more and they opened up the restaurant again. Our guide was a young Moroccan who had lived in the Netherlands. He was super laid back, easy going, friendly and really became our holiday fixer! I think his dual nationality made him the perfect link for travelers in Morocco as he perfectly understood our needs as well as the local culture.
I remember seeing him sitting on the terrace every morning talking with tourists and taking notes, he would make a little round talking to all of us, suggesting sightseeing tips, explaining how to negotiate prices, talking about the rates for taxies, asking if there was anything we needed, he would go to his guests in other Hotels too and of course go to the airport for pick ups and for seeing people off. He was always there, not only for us but also for everyone who had booked through our travel agency. He knew our names too and was very chatty about everything; in a way he was kind of hippie-ish with his long hair, henna tattoos and sitting at the terrace twisting his hair with a no worry attitude—not what you would expect as a “organizer” at all. Talking about his henna tattoos, he had flower henna tattoos on his hands that were so cool that I asked him where he got them so I could get them too. No need to say that within a few days all girls in my hotel were sporting the same henna tattoos on our hands. We had a trend-setting tour guide 😉 Besides just being there and being amazing! (his tips where really golden for having a good time in Marrakech) he also booked us an amazing camel riding trip to the first sand dunes of the Sahara!
A guide in the Souks
Marrakech souks are known for its swirling labyrinth of vendors selling herbs, yarns, dyes, rugs, shoes, streets full of tanneries, tapestries, woodwork, lamps, cats, more cats, you name it. It’s an exotic abundance of colors, scents and textures. Plus Marrakech really is invaded by street cats, which makes all this colorful chaos even more fun. I could spend a full day walking the side streets and alleyways and still not see it all. We found a “guide” (better said, the guide found us) who offered to give us a tour of the souks and we decided to give it a go. I’m so happy we did. Our guide took us to the streets where they dyed yarns, shops full of those adorable Moroccan slippers, vendors of rugs and tapestries, a herb store and so much more but what I love the most is that he showed us various Riads, traditional Moroccan homes with lush indoor gardens, fountains and gorgeous woodwork. He told us about architecture and took us to different styled Riads; some minimal and some super luxurious and some just so beautiful I can’t even describe it. My favorite place was this pink Riad, my dream house. It was such a dreamy beautiful place with tortoises roaming freely. I just loved sitting there soaking up all the details. I don’t think I would have ever seen this place wasn’t it for him and I’m so happy and thankful I did!
We had booked a little road trip to Zagora for a camel ride and stay at a Bedouin settlement through our travel agent. We really didn’t expect much, just the trip to Zagora and the camel ride plus sleepover in the tents. A Belgium couple staying at our hotel came too, making us a party of four. Our driver was waiting for us at the Hotel, loaded our luggage on the car and our travel agent was there to see us off. Our driver didn’t speak English at all, only Arabic and French, but luckily our Belgium travelers spoke French plus our driver was exceptionally good at non-verbal communication! We drove through the Atlas Mountains, which alone is already worth a trip and had rest stops at different restaurants and stopped for overviews. The drive alone to Ouarzazate is a recommendation too! Better said, the sight of Ouarzazate alone is already a recommendation! In Ouarzazate, we stopped at a restaurant where they were already waiting for us; everything was taken care off so well, we went to the film studios and went to what I can only describe as a hidden village in an Oasis where we were awaited by a friend of our driver who invited to his home. After this we went on to Zagora, stopping along the way at rest stops.
It’s hard to explain, but our driver was so much more than a driver; he went above and beyond to take care of us, made sure that he stopped for the most magnificent views and even went in to check a coffeehouse for an unplanned restroom break in the middle of nowhere. (I always have to go at the most inconvenient times.) He was very picky too of where to stop for going to the restroom. He went in first to see if it was safe and okay for me to go and waited close by.
Invited to Someone’s Home in the Fint Oasis
Our driver took us to a hidden oasis near Ouarzazate, called Fint Oasis, a retreat in the middle of nowhere surrounded by rocks and dirt roads in where the Oasis and village doom up like a hidden gem in an Indiana Jones movie. Beautiful palm trees and greenery in the middle of nowhere, with simple red clay houses scattered around. We were invited into a home where we got mint tea and flat bread. The home was so simple but magnificent with beautiful rugs, pillows and carved clay walls. Our host was so nice, he showed us pictures that previous visitors had sent him, gave a tour of his beautiful home and gave us a much welcome dish. I’m still lusting after his collection of rugs and pillows, his home is such an inspiration to this day and his welcome was so warm and inviting.
Our destination for our road trip was Zagora for a short camel trek towards a Bedouin settlement in the first sand dunes of the Sahara where we would stay overnight. The first thing I noticed was the big (and very famous) “Timbuktu” road sign and it was hot, oh so hot, I don’t think I had ever experienced temperatures like this before! We were told to stock up on water and taken to a local store where they sold shawls and headscarves for protection against the sun and sand before we went to our waiting camels.
The handler and our host was an older man with a white beard dressed in blue robes with a matching turban. He was the best and calmest man ever. He helped us on our camels and we started our trek. I think it was a trek of about 2 hours in a bare, rocky and sandy landscape in scorching heat where my camel was very mischievous. My camel went left instead of right, stepped down in rocky holes instead of around it making me seriously squeal many times because I really thought we would fall. He loved walking next to other camels instead of in line, causing many little camel bumps and camel crashes. There were even times I really thought my camel would take off running with me squealing on him! Our host was so patient with us (my various squeals and the camel’s many mischievous) and continually made sure I was okay and the camel would behave while talking with my mother along with the others in our group about life in Europe, life in Morocco, his family, raising children etc. He was very open, sincere and interested; it felt like we were first and foremost his guests, new people he was getting to know and not tourists going on a trek.
We arrived in a settlement of big black fabric tents. Our host got us hot meals in the biggest tent full of tapestries and rugs and showed us to our sleeping tents. The evening was spent around a campfire with singing, dancing and drums with a mix of other travelers and Berbers. There were no showers and no working bathrooms, and the heat was so excruciating in the clothed black tents that many travelers slept outside the tent until a (little) sandstorm made it’s way and forced everyone to seek cover. I had to go to the non-working bathroom in the middle of the night (I told you I always need to go to the restroom at the worst times) and ended up with sand in my ears, nose, mouth, eyes and hair and got no further than a few steps before I had to crawl back to the tent! CRAWL back! The camel trek and the staying in the Bedouin tent were awesome experiences, but at the time I really thought it was the most horrible and rough experience ever! It is really one of my favorite memories and I really cannot thank our host enough. He was so personal, so sincerely interested and took such good care of us, we really felt like guests and the experience really felt authentic even though the Zagora camel/Bedouin encampments are the biggest tourist attractions in the area. He made it feel incredibly special.
Time to thank your own Journeymakers!
American Express Travel launched a Journeymakers website, a place dedicated to those (like the people I wrote about in this post) who made our vacations so memorable. Here you can share a social postcard to thank the people that made your vacation so amazing. Who were the people that helped to make your vacations so wonderful by going the extra mile? And what would you love to say to them?