I first travelled along the whole coast of Morocco in 1963. My husband and I were bold (or naive?) enough to buy a Volkswagen bus and install a fridge and a play pen (there were no sophisticated camper vans in those days) and leave from The Hague, The Netherlands, to drive along the coast of Europe as far as Algeciras, where we would cross to Africa (Tangier) and from there would drive (camping all the way) to Alexandria, Egypt, and on to Cairo. From there we would have the bus transported to Khartoum, in the Sudan, whence we were returning after annual leave.
It was a unique experience. We were the very first foreign car to drive the coastal road of Algeria (wonderful overhanging rock formations and huge craters in the road) after the 7 year war, but were received as friends as soon as it was clear we were not French. During the whole journey our passport to friendship was our blue eyed son of 14 months who was just walking and chattered happily to all and sundry.
I loved Morocco. I found the people so friendly. I ate couscous for the first time. The large ants were crystallized in the honey they gave us. I swam fully dressed as it didn’t feel good to put on a swimsuit. I vowed to go back.
Now, living in Tarifa, the southernmost point of Spain, I wake up every day to look across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco. It beckons. Tangier is only 35 minutes away by ferry. When I was a child I used to go across the Woolwich ferry with my grandmother; later in life we often took the ferry from Flushing (Vlissingen – NL) to Breskens (Belgium) with my sons. Now I take my grandchildren from Europe to Africa. It sounds so much more exotic to tell my friends I have just popped across to Africa for lunch.
With my group of friends from Tarifa, we fly from Sevilla to Marrakech, and start our annual adventure tours from there. I have been addicted to Morocco since our very first visit, but it is so heart-warming to have a group of friends who have become equally addicted. It is a very varied and very beautiful country and has far more to offer than just a tour of the Royal Cities (however fascinating these are). We are seven (f) and go in two four wheel drive cars with two Berber drivers/guides (who are now our friends). We are ‘off-route’ nearly all the way and stay in small, local auberges with 3 to 4 rooms. These are simple and simply authentic, family owned, the family cooks for us – or we cook with them so we ‘learn as we go’. They are clean, and usually have hot water. The scenery is mind-boggling. The rock formations dating from ‘for ever’ have incredibly geometric patterns, and the fossils which you actually see being extracted from the ground are just beautiful. The vast expanse of desert gives a sense of peace; your mind empties itself as you contemplate the dunes stretching endlessly ahead, and sleeping in a tented camp is a a great experience (even in a sandstorm). We buy our daily picnics from tiny local stores and our drivers find us unique spots to enjoy our lunch. Other than local transport (overloaded trucks full of animals or/and people) we seldom pass another vehicle.
When we join our Dar Cilla guests for a drink on the terrace, and look across to the twinkling lights along the shoreline of Morocco, only 14 kms away, we are so often asked what it is like in Morocco, is it safe, is it worth going? Our enthusiasm has been catching and many guests have since travelled in Morocco, following our advice. We have wonderful books (made after our own trips) and slides on the bar on the roof terrace to show them. Initially, we just indicated where we had been, and recommended areas. However, such personalized, small group tours are absolutely not easy to organize yourselves if you do not know the country. So then came the question ‘could you possibly organize something like that for us?’
As a result, we now really enjoy to plan personalized tours, (www.travelmorocco.org) using our own trusted guides, for those guests (or friends of guests) when we are sure they have a spirit of adventure and are not looking for tourist attractions or tourist hotels, but are travellers who will revel in the delight of the emptiness and authenticity of this fantastic country, and be happy with the hospitality and creature comforts to be found in remote areas. OK, there may not be a bed-light (or the electricity goes off very early) and the toilet just may be a hole in the ground, (the Moroccans find this far more hygienic than our western-style toilets) and you may eat either tagine or couscous day after day, and they do not sell/serve wine, but it is this very back-to-basics which is so relaxing. If you have the right mind-set, we would love to organize such a tour for you. It is a time-consuming business, but Martina (who is now not only a lover of Morocco but a real expert) will go into every detail (she is a perfectionist as most of you know) to make sure it is the ‘journey of a lifetime’ for you.
Is it safe? It feels very safe, especially with our guides. I travel to Morocco very often on my own and have never felt threated (OK, I am not 25 and I am not very blond and wearing a short skirt and a flimsy blouse). It is a peaceful country to date and of course we all desperately hope it will remain this way, and that foreign infiltrators from tumultuous neighbouring countries will not stir up trouble. Over the last ten years there was a terrorist attack in Casablanca, and a bomb went off in the main square in Djemma El Fna in Marrakech. Remember there were also attacks in London and the USA.
Anywhere in the world you could be in the wrong place at the wrong time. You can always check with your Embassy if you have any doubts. If we have any doubts (or inside information) we should not dream of recommending a tour.
Remember to ask for our books on our travels when you are here. If these don’t convince you, nothing will – or it is just not your style of holiday!
Now is the moment you should look at the reviews from a few of those who have done such tours...