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How to survive Morocco (during Ramadan) as a wine-lover

July 13, 2016

 

Kellie Scott (left) and friend watch the sun go down in the Sahara Desert

 

I have just spent eight days touring Morocco during Ramadan.

Translation: I have just spent eight days in Morocco when when booze is difficult and in some places impossible to get your hands on.

It’s not that I have a drinking problem or anything (deny, deny, deny). I just enjoy a drink. Especially on holiday.

Perhaps I only have myself to blame for not conducting enough research, but there were several people who told me before taking off “it’s fine, you’ll be able to get some from alcohol caves, cool bars etc etc”.

So yeah, day two in a dry hotel eating at dry restaurants, I asked my tour guide if we could visit one of these alcohol caves.

“Sure, if they’re open,” he tells me.

Well they weren’t, so it wasn’t until the fourth night of our stay we reached a hotel that served alcohol, and coincidentally a restaurant that night same night also.

But the surprising thing was, it didn’t matter as much as I had feared.

After flying into London on the Emirates’ A380, fresh after a comfortable sleep (with a side of movie watching and delicious meals), I spent a week before catching a ride to Marrakech, Morocco’s capital.

My first impression of this city was its dry, but breathtaking landscape. Everything is orange.

We were taken to a five-star hotel where we enjoyed two enormous pools, WiFi in reception (this is important as not all hotels had a reliable connection) and clean rooms.

I was thankful for choosing a tour with Travel Talk with my girlfriend who joined me on the trip, as I’m not sure where I would have begun on my own.

Morocco is not a place I would recommend doing sans organised group, unless you’re a super experienced and confident traveller with Arabic as your second language.

After a good night’s sleep we headed to Menara Gardens (this is basically a dry paddock with a few local flora) and Ait Ben Haddou.

This second stop was much more impressive, where we climbed Kasbah ju Jardin and learnt about how the Moroccans did things in yesteryear.

The views are spectacular and we were lucky enough to witness a pink sunset.

No alcohol here – but a couple of Hungarians had smuggled in palinka. which: “in small amounts is a medicine, in large amounts a remedy”, as the Hungarians say.

The following day we visited Quarzazate and ended up in Merzauga where we spent the night in the Sahara desert. A definite highlight of the trip.

The hotel is a Game of Thrones like castle, yet less maintained, with broken air conditioning and you guessed it – no booze. But the traditional Moroccan food was keeping us occupied – my favourite the tagine with beef and prunes.

Some of the travellers woke early to ride the camels, an extra I declined for concerns it didn’t align with my views that most animal tourism ventures don’t usually work in the favour of animals.

Then onto Fes, a major city that lights up at night and is a real look into the urban life of Moroccans.

We spent two nights here, and yes, the hotel had alcohol (at certain times).

Here we got some relax time and a chance to see a traditional show with dance, music and even a magician. The food there was amazing, glorious tagines, endless salads and a pie which apparently contains chicken but possible pigeon – a commonly eaten meat.

 I also learnt that hedgehogs are on the menu, after spotting one in a cage at the “Old Fes” market.

The market also introduced us to the mosaic factory and leather tanning hub.

It’s true what they say about the smell, so you shove mint so far up your nose it may never come out.

We did a drive-by through Rabat on our way to Casablanca and I can confidently say: nothing to see there either.

Casablanca wasn’t the prettiest city I’ve seen, but it was cool visiting Rick’s Cafe where the film was shot. We had an overpriced cocktail and were in bed at a reasonable hour.

The next morning we were treated to a tour of the Hassan II Mosque, the largest in the country and located by the sea.

Up to 105,000 worshippers can gather together for prayer; 25,000 inside and 80,000 on the grounds.

At that point it was back to Marrakech, and this time we would actually be exploring the city ... cue peak culture shock.

The market’s there were extremely overwhelming, busy – even in Ramadan – and everyone wanted a piece of you. A local guide showed us to a chemist where we could buy spices and healing products, which were surely overpriced but we were just happy to be away from the bartering.

We also saw a palace, it was beautiful, but probably the third for that trip. You can only see so many palaces.

As we headed back to the car to return to the hotel for our final dinner together and goodbyes, our tour guide was stopped by police and taken away. Were they rounding up the ”usual suspects” as they did in the film?

Luckily we had already spotted our driver and our guide did return hours later – he had been arrested for what we believe was smoking during Ramadan.

We all drank to his return, because we finally could.

 The mosque in Casablanca

 

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