Thursday, 24 April 2014

Highlights of Morocco and Gran Canaria: Two Contrasting Places - One Sunny Holiday!





A labyrinthine expedition into the souk markets of Marrakech's old town had us re-emerging into the daylight clutching armfuls of Eastern treasures, blinking and squinting into the sun. I couldn't have been happier, and I even couldn't wait to get home to accommodate my new found delights, but we had a whole travel adventure ahead of us to enjoy first..

Hotel Pullman Palmeraie
We stayed at 5 star hotel Pullman Palmeraie, in the peaceful Palmerie area outside the city, which smells of rosebuds on arrival, and is set in the most beautiful exotic gardens.

Scarves on sale in one of the many souks
As we got deeper and deeper into the souk markets, bargaining and haggling became more and more addictive and fun. Prices that are 'impossible' suddenly become possible with a casual sweep of the hand and a warm exchange, and the regular offerings of items like rusty taps when we originally ventured inside to look at jewellery!

The fruits of a day's hard work of haggling and bartering

Camel ride in the Palmerie
A camel ride through the palmerie of Marrakesh had us making friends with a local young man from the ancient and traditional Berber community. His sweet face lit up at our talk of life in England, and in very good English he told us all about his Berber lifestyle, including his approaching wedding, and his choice to marry just one girl for fear of having too many women's desires to fulfil!

The camel riding was a fantastic experience, they are so high up, and surprisingly comfortable!

Atlas Mountains - Ourika Valley

 A rickety bridge crossing
We took a Grand Taxi into the Atlas Mountains to the Ourika Valley to trek to a waterfall and admire the dramatic scenery. A highlight apart from this was actually our taxi driver Abdaslam, who was exceptionally accommodating and helpful, and ended up becoming our personal driver and tour guide for the rest of the holiday!

On arrival in the valley the traffic became so blocked that we weren't moving for around half an hour. A local guide came by and offered to take us up to the waterfalls and through the Berber settlements, which we were glad of, as we had no idea where we were going. We simply left our belongings in the taxi with Adbaslam and met him at the end village when we had filled up on a delicious tagine and plate of chips.

Ouzoud Falls
Our second trip to the Atlas Mountains was to experience the spectacular Ouzoud Falls. Again we let a guide take us around and tell us about the local area. Along the hour's trek through olive groves, down rocky slopes and over streams and rivers, were stunning views including a number of sheer drops over the waterfall edge to see the permanent rainbow shining in the water spray. The whole area of settlement including the restaurants at the top, the shops and markets, and the guides, is a Berber 'business operation' where they all work together and share their earnings. Even the little boat trips at the base of the falls are run by the local Berbers and the boats themselves are made of what look like barrells and dining room chairs - but somehow it wouldn't look right any other way!

Monkeys at Ouzoud Falls
At the end of the trek we came across the famed local wild monkeys, and were lucky enough to see some mothers with their babies! With the knowledge that they were a safe distance from us, they strutted around under the trees showing off their young - it was incredible.

Spices at local Berber Market

On the 2 hour drive back to the hotel, Abdaslam took us to a local Berber market. It was fascinating to see the difference between the polished goods of the city souks, and the raw materials being sold at this Nomadic Berber market in the middle of the countryside.

Bahia Palace

On another visit into the city we stopped to admire the Bahia Palace. The incredible wood-carved and mosaic detail all around the various halls and rooms was stunning, and hard to take in.

Mosque in Marrakech near Djemma El Fna

Fresh Orange Juice in Djemma El Fna - main square. 50p!

Favourite Restaurant

Eating out is a delight in Morocco, with sumptious tagines spiced with exotic flavours available at every opportunity. This was my favourite restaurant, hidden around a corner and seemingly only known to locals. It was recommended to us by the staff at our hotel.

A Moroccan man in a fez sat and played local style music, just adding to an already atmospheric experience.

Richard and I before our delicious Tagines

Richard dressed traditionally by a lovely Berber man we met!

Our first experience of Gran Canaria's local life was our visit to picturesque and colourful village Aguimes.  

Aguimes Town

Easter Church procession in Aguimes

A church procession for Easter went by the main street just as we were approaching so we stayed to watch.

Flying down the Maspalomas sand dunes

The enormous expanse of sand dunes at Maspalomas had us entertained for a good while!

Teror Town - typical wooden balconies

Another of my favourite pretty towns was Teror, with its typical Canaria wooden balconies. There were some interesting little gift shops where Jess and I found we hadn't exhausted all of our trinket-buying opportunities in the souks of Marrakech afterall!

Driving in the mountains

Driving through the mountains there are some stunning views, including the famous Roque Nublo rock landmark, and we really enjoyed the novelty of 'being in a cloud' even though it meant no sun, and much colder temperatures!

View of mountains from Artenara

A quick fitness stop!
On the way to Artenara to see the cave dwellings we stopped and saw that there were some random gym facilities by the side of the road - so we indulged!

Casas Cuevas - Cave Dwellings

The cave dwellings at Artenara were fascinating - inhabited since before Columbus times, and with sweeping views over volcanic mountains of the island. Information and displays about the craft and trade that took place here is interesting and the local guides are happy to show you around. Entrance is free but a donation is appreciated.

We met an adorable local lady who didn't speak a word of English, working at the cave site. She was cracking Almonds out of their shells by hand with rocks, and let us all have a go too. In Spanish, she told us all about the island and local life - between us I think we managed to gather at least 45% of what she was saying. She was lovely anyway!

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