More amazing scenery of unusual rock formations, stony desert with more southern African looking trees and intermittent valley oases took us the long way around to Agdz in the Jbel Sahro mountain range and then on to Ourzazate and to L’Escale camping where again we were the only campers – did we smell?
We did feel sorry for the businesses with practically no tourists anywhere that we could see. Everyone was hoping for a good high season crowd and they all asked us to tell everyone that Morocco was a safe place and we told them we would as we encountered nothing negative and the police check points and military presence made us feel very safe. The campsites locked their gates at night like all of the campsites we had also visited in Greece and Turkey.

I said to Maurice earlier in the day that the scenery around Ourzazate reminded me of the film “Salmon fishing in the Yemen” and when looking up on wikipedia where it was filmed – low and behold it was filmed in the high Atlas mountains around Ourzazate! What a coincidence. I couldn’t believe how many films had been filmed here in Morocco. Close to us was Ait Ben Haddou where the training arena for “Gladiator” was constructed and other such movies as “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Babel” and the “English Patient” were also filmed. Apparently a lot of the old village has been reconstructed for the various films but it had beautiful view across the river to the town and surrounding hills.

It was still hot 38 degrees and very hazy which gave the mountains a lovely soft aura. We were a bit apprehensive about the extremely winding mountain road (Tizi n Tichka) from Ouarzazate to Marrakesh which was THE only road to Marrakesh 170 kilometres away. It ook us about four hours as trucks had also to use this route and it was impossible to pass on most of the road. There were however large road works established to widen the road and we found it a long but very pleasant drive with magnificent views of the surrounding hills and not at all scary!

We had a bit of trouble finding the campsite we wanted as they had changed hands since our book had been written and strangely the address shown was their postal address in another location entirely. Anyway we eventually rang them and they gave us clear directions to the campsite and 5 star guesthouse which was about 12kms out of the city near a new Oberoi hotel which had been three years under construction and had another year to go. The campsite was a couple of kilometres down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere which was lovely as it was very quiet and peaceful with only the sounds of birds in the morning and the Muezzin five times a day.
Manzil La Tortue was surrounded by a huge wall and had beautiful grounds, perfumed walkways,a large pool,restaurant and beautifully tiled facilities. We really landed on our feet. Wifi was a bit iffy but worked on occassions.
The owners and staff were very welcoming (we were the only campers again and the first for the season) and we were brought complimentary fresh rolls to the van every morning and Abidoul a very cheerful Moroccan took us to the bus stop on the main road whenever we wanted. It was very convenient and only took half and hour and the last stop in town was the main square of Jemaa el Fna which was very close to the Medina and many sights.

We found a lovely old fashioned “Patisserie des Princes” in town where two older waiters complete with bow ties served us lovely french style pastries as well as msemen – firm pancakes served with rosewater flavoured honey – delicious. The main square was vast and surrounded by horses and carriages for “romantic” trips around the city. I don’t know how romantic it would have been with so many cars, motorbikes and scotters as well as horse and carts and bicyles vying for position but it was a kind of organized chaos. There were snake charmers, monkeys and birds with which to be photographed during the day and at night the square changed into a place where tourists and many locals gathered to look at the miriad of street sellers and food stalls which appeared at night.

The Medina was well ordered and very large with countless alleyways displaying lighting, leather goods, carpets, local sweets, spices and everything else you could imagine. The Mellah or Jewish quarter wound off in another direction and they were not so inclined to barter. For those who didn’t want to barter at all their was a large artisan centre with similar goods and slightly higher prices.

We walked through the local souk with it’s variety of shops and butchers’ shops (which were not allowed to be photographed) where the meat looked excellent quality. We continued on to the Bahia Palace with it’s beautiful architecture and tiling and where most doors were painted with ornate designs. It was a tranquil haven away from the traffic.

There were many parks around the city (as with most cities and towns) with fountains and benches and some with manicured gardens.

We had lunch at the “Grande Cafe de la Poste” an old French colonial hotel building which had been converted into a lovely cafe/restaurant with excellent service and great food. A modern plaza with upmarket shops was opposite. “Jardin Majorelle” was in the vicinity so we had a nice time wandering in Yves St Laurent’s former garden which had been donated to the city.

We stayed at “Manzil la Tortue” for a relaxing day which turned into a frustrating day with the computer. We had wanted to book a few things but the wifi did not co-operate.

On the 3rd September I had booked a cooking course at the “Amal” association and restaurant. It was started by a Maroccan/American woman who helped a street beggar out of poverty and to start her own business. This had since grown into the organisation where two years ago they rented the current premises and opened a training school and restaurant.

I caught the 8am bus into town, had a coffee and had about an hour’s walk to arrive there for 10am.
A nice young English and an Irish couple were also there for course the and we had a great morning with a tour of the facilities of the training school by Ouamima and shown the kitchens and preparation areas. The NGO catered for women from 18-40 who were either divorced, single mothers or widows who could not support themselves. They picked their candidates carefully as they wanted them to be able to place them in jobs after six months. An employed chef made the international dishes and taught the women how to make these. They opened for lunch and dinner but during the afternoon they gave the trainees courses in French and English and other essential skills for all aspects of working in a restaurant.

We each made a different tagine – mine was fish and vegetables and the others were beef and vegetables and chicken with preserved lemon and olives – all delicious. The chef also gave us his arancini balls for an entree before we ate our handiwork.

My afternoon was then spent at “Hammam Zania” having a very thorough scrub, steambath and firm massage. From there I went and met Maurice at the Patisserie des Princes before walking through the maze of streets in the residential area behind the Medina to find “Latitude 31” a lovely courtyard restaurant. Excellent food and service again and although we were the only early diners, we enjoyed some music at least and the sound of the fountain next to our table.

We caught the last bus back at 9pm and by that time the main square was lit up and hundreds of people were eating at the stalls and wandering around the medina and it’s hundreds of shops.

We had another relaxing day with lunch around the pool at the campsite and went up to their rooftop terrace to see the sunset. Like many of the other big cities Marrakech was very clean and there were many parks and gardens dotted around the city.

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