Updated: Apr 10
Before my husband and I met we both experienced life through traveling. (I worked in Italy and Caribbean cruise ships and my husband took 2 years traveling in India, America and Australia). It was obvious we both had adventure in our hearts; which was part of our attraction when we met.
Becoming a mum was scary, especially during holiday times when my husband wanted to get away for a break and I freaked-out with the stress of 'responsibilities' and two lives to keep alive! I used to dread these times as it was by-no-means a holiday for me. The preparations, risk assessments and what-if's were off the charts. So I settled with hotels / apartments abroad and UK camping trips (Camping was as wild as I got). The routine of holiday time became a box ticked of surviving the society expected challenge to be away. Don't get me wrong; it was great to spend time together and we made the most of every trip but all this time, effort and money for what? A relax? ha ha. That's when we began to challenge our holidays more.
I knew it was down to my stress and control over the wellbeing of my girls. I also knew that if I wanted my children to grow in their values of what they have; they needed to see, feel, experience the good, bad, ugly and beautiful - It was so scary to admit but a massive lesson for me to grow as a mum too!
Eventually I am at the beginning of my best break free holiday ever! This was totally out of my comfort zone, full on fears but it was the most amazing experience that changed our lives, future and outlook forever.
Marrakech 1st April 2015
Wow, what a fantastic start to our holiday! Upon arrival the airport was a beautiful design of space and arches. Very modern, clean; nothing to what I imagined Marrakech to be like. The taxi was a white van that was made into their version of a luxury ride. Brown leather armchair seats, cushions and carpets fixed where back seat were. It was fab!! Far more comfort to what we have in the UK, not sure it would fit with our regulations though ha ha.
The taxi journey was a bit scary at times with streets going into alleyways that looked too narrow for the van to fit down. There were shop fitters, sellers, tourists in the way too. The further we got into the old town it began getting tatty, drunks falling in the road, old fruit being sold by poorer looking people. And our taxi was still entwining through the back alleys. - At this point my stress began to hit the higher point of my 1-10 scale, as I knew I booked a luxury Riad to get us settled in. So I began the scenario we might be set up for a robbery as there would be no chance we would know where we are and the streets where beginning to be less populated. We turned a corner and the taxi stopped at what looked like a bombed shack dead end of a place. I thought he said his friend wants to speak with us (In my head this meant he was to sell some carpets) A man opened our door to which I continually closed it tight with a slight panicked voice of 'We are not going anywhere except RIAD 64". To my embarrassment but delight, the man opening our door for the 6th time was our concierge from Riad 64.
The girls where wide eyed frightened to think we were staying in a shack of a town house, then Hackeem (Our concierge) opened the door and we entered the most beautiful oasis courtyard. A walkway of candlelit paths opened out to beautifully coloured plants, lush trees and coloured lit fountains. WOW! We definitely stepped into a new world.
Our room was on two levels, two single rooms on upper floor with couch, dining table, fireplace, dressing tables, wardrobes, huge floor to ceiling mirrors - That was the girls’ floor! Our floor went down six steps into a super king sized bed, wardrobes, table, chairs, mirror, and two bathrooms... Sorry to bore listing things... but it was amazing!! Although tired from traveling (with delays) we had booked an arrival meal; To which we were not hungry but didn't want to insult the kitchen staff as apparently they had been preparing and waiting for us for 2 hours)
The hotel seemed empty but for us but everything was set up to impress. Candles, music, water, wine and a huge table under a huge chandelier ... Just for us!!! I did feel like royalty ... and I loved it. The effort that went into our meal and care was unprecedented. Course after course of home cooked traditional food came out, all tantalising our taste buds. 1.30am and we finally gave in eating, drinking and took ourselves to the roof terrace where the stars, pool and lounges where perfect to chill and enjoy our first day adventure. No stress within any cell of my body - A magical evening to start our adventures in this bazar yet intriguing city.
(If anyone is interested in what food was served; my mother-in-law always asks. 1st course meal was Moroccan soup, cheese pastry triangles and a salad of ham, peppers, tomatoes with oil shredded up -quite refreshing surprisingly. 2nd course was beef with aubergines, potatoes, carrots, and spices. Caramelised chicken, spiced chicken. Our desert courses where a mixture of cake pastries and biscuits with a huge dish of caramelised oranges. Delicious. Even my youngest daughter stated that her taste buds were 'zooming' from the different tastes :)
Got an amplified alarm of prayer at 6am from the mosque next door to us! It was quite funny, as I was in such a deep sleep I jumped up thinking someone was in the room dictating the chant to us. I ran up to the girls floor thinking they would be freaking out, but to my amazement they were fast asleep and didn't hear a thing - It went on for 10mins, then another one! After lots of coffee we took stock and discussed our next move in the comfort of the Riads roof terrace; shocked at how hot it was. We had to come to the realistic adventure of our holiday which was to explore Marrakech... it was time to venture out of our luxury oasis and face up to my fears of accepting the unknown mayhem of life for everyday people of Marrakech. Which was the point we wanted to start our holiday here. Having two blonde daughters I must admit I thought the worst of every situation and I am sure that my husband did too. We put on a brave face on and told the children to 'Make a scene' if anything happened.... I was so wrong! I am embarrassed by my ignorance that my prediction of Marrakech was dirty, dangerous and filled with mithering arrogant men. I could not have been more wrong.
Walking the narrow maize of streets, no one was interested in us, we didn't get hassled and when we did ask for directions the men and women were very kind and helpful. Yes, there was the odd market seller wanting our attention but so what; we were polite in our replies and carried on. Wow this was becoming enjoyable. We even hung out in local cafes to watch the entertainers in the main square. Getting our bearings but sight seeing was long, sweaty and tiring. I was thankful for our oasis Riad which gave us a fantastic beginning and best of both worlds with its luxury food, wine, facilities...girls playing in the pool :) This really was the best of both worlds. What i cherished after our first day my eldest (12yrs) stated with shock "Mum, I can't believe a place like this exists in our world". It was how she imagined Bethlehem to be like back when Jesus was alive - How fab! Point of holiday; experiences - a success already. Our next destination and last known bit of luxury is coming to an end, making the most of here and now.
This morning after breakfast (Which was cake with honey, eggs and a variety of breads with spreads: chuffed it's different every day but still can't eat much). Husband set up car hire and over night stays in Sahara with Hackeem (Sunday and Monday). Car getting dropped to us at 9am tomorrow for us to journey to Quarzazate (We will be travelling over High Atlas Mountains near a film set backdrop used in films representing Tibet, Ancient Rome and Egypt) - Will be taking lots of pics :) So, it's our last day here but we are all a bit slow in getting going today.
Midday before we eventually left. Visited Badia Palace (Not far from where we are staying). Hard to imagine what it was like before its ruin, but it's huge. Sun was blasting so we were shade-hopping most of this visit. My youngest (9yrs) loved the 'Selfie' exhibition... She wants to set one up in her school. Got a horse and carriage to the new city (Which is not very new, just knackered looking buildings... which are newer). Stopped at Jardin Majorelle that was bought by Yves Saint Laurent to preserve its beauty and is gifted to Marrakech. This was a surreal spot, stunning in colour and design. My eldest said it was better than Monet gardens in Paris! Now that's a statement! She loved it. Sat and watched the world go by in the main square back in the old town before heading back for a siesta ;) girls where far to full of energy to chill so siesta didn't last long. Went to roof terrace and tried to run some of the girls energy off with pool games etc. Ended up leaving them to it and ordering a bottle of red to chill on the loungers... Well we are on holidayJ.
Set out at 9pm for evening meal and to find the Henna tattoo women. Storm of thunder and lightening broke out which was fab; as everyone seemed to get really happy and animated (It reminded me of when we have the long cold, wet winter then a day of sunshine hits bringing warmth and everyone thinks it's summer). It lashed down but thankfully we were eating in the market so undercover but street entertainers went home. Square seemed empty. Two women grabbed us and gave us the usual ...pick a picture for Henna tattoo... Oh that costs £60..ok to you £4. I got it down from £60 to £2 ...The ladies looked at me in disgust, we went to walk away and low and behold they agreed. I must admit we were the only ones stupid enough to be there in the rain; at least they had a customer. Headed back stopping to buy some tat and spices.... It was great in the market streets as everyone was selling at actual prices not stupid tourist stuff. Bring the rain everyday; it soaks sense into these people.
Our onward trip - Woke up excited for our next destination. Car got delivered.... Fiat Punto (Gutted)... Reluctantly I gave Ian the first drive (ha ha - yeah right! There was no way I was driving out of the mayhem alleys in the Medina... We wanted to live!)
Most of the day was driving; at least the Punto had air conditioning. Hours passed as we drove, hitting the hard, deserted long tarmac roads, eventually we arrived near Ouarzazate at the film studio we were advised to visit.... This was so bazar... No one was around. I thought it had closed down. Eventually I found someone to ask if we can enter for a visit - it was as if they had never been asked this before. People fumbled around to get some tickets together then told us to drive down a track road for 10 minutes ...??.. Very weird.
...It was like a film set 'safari'. We had to drive through wasteland to reach each set. When we got there I expected someone to show us around.... Nope... We just took ourselves around and guessed what film set it was from - The good part is we were the only ones there and so re-enacted our own movies with these huge dramatic sets ha ha. It was great! Like a playground we jumped and swung on everything possible. Ian was not impressed with the health and safety of stuff falling (They were all temporary sets).
First film set on our weird 'safari' was Game of Thrones, next was Tibet, then The Mummy... There is no chance this could happen in the UK. The danger of these sets collapsing on us added to the excitement (Not to husbands sense of humour though). Back at the main building where we originally arrived, a man was waiting excited to give us his personal tour .... Of the Empty buildings and weird left over props!. This place was huge but really eerie as not a soul was around. We were honoured in a way as rich and famous people pay fortunes for a private visit. Thinking we were going to see the film clips as promised...he shown us on his mobile phone.... Yep! This just added to the word weird.
We continued to Quarzazate and booked into an apartment in the 'hood' (We couldn't find the hotel we wanted from Lonely Planet book) .... Next to another mosque... We wouldn't recommend it so not even going to say where. The good thing was there was a fabulous real Kasbar. We felt we were locals by this time and wondered in ignoring the bantering of 'I show you around' etc..... Our motto.... Walk with purpose!... It didn't go well. We were in people's houses, down blocked pathways - a disaster. Luckily they are savvy to arrogant English tourists - A local had followed us. With a smile, he asked if we wanted help to find our way out. We were thankful as he got us out and into a fab restaurant.... Again, we were the only ones there and couldn't fault the fuss and care we got. Food and service excellent. (Accord Majeur. A French/Italian restaurant. Recommended in Lonely Planet). Quite a chilled day altogether.
Sahara here we come! Can't praise Ian enough as the drive out of Medina was bad enough but nothing compared to the mountain passes... I had to close my eyes and sit on my hands so I wouldn't squeal dramatically when the car dipped to the edge with the washed away overhangs of road while busses tried to pass.... Not fun, but we kept stopping to distress. The mountain range differed in its appearance in every turn. When we peaked at the top of High Atlas Mountains there was snow on the slopes. We couldn't resist stopping to play in the snow with flip-flops and factor 50 on - bonkers! Down through a valley that passed dried out riverbeds...One road only.... To Sahara... YES! Can't wait. Although the roads were stressful at times, the views were spectacular. At first the mountains had the grandeur similar to Grand Canyon, then opening up to smooth mounds of grey/green lumps. Next turn shown a harsh landscape of black shard-like rock… Eventually turning to the sunburnt red rock that you expect in the Sahara. After 4 hours or so of climbing various mountain passes, crumbling villages and scrub land the flat planes opened up for us. (Surprisingly the quality of road surface was excellent - except parts that had been washed away in the spring floods of course).
This is nothing what I expected. Heading South, the road followed the mountain river which created a beautiful Oasis lush landscape to one side, while a hundred yards away from it were ruined Kasbar's, deserted towns, run down villages and vast landscapes. Locals where still living in mud buildings, farming with donkeys and walking in the dead heat of day with crops on their back. A scene you would not imagine in 2015! We reached our camping destination in MHamid. (Hamadu du Draa) Although this place suggests its camping apartments (I presume you can camp too)
Stay was lovely. Again hospitality was amazing; it had a pool that the girls played in all day. The cats and dogs (which are everywhere in Marocco) loved the girls and insisted on attention; much to their delight :) It even had Wifi!
Happy Easter!! Chilling by the pool when a knight in shining armour walked with jewels unknown in this part of the world.... Chocolate!!! Yes, hubby had been to the local town and brought back some chocolate- Snickers, Mars Bars and chocolate biscuits.... Heaven!
There were not many guests at mealtimes, so it was nice to meet a few holiday couples from Germany and a French gentleman who was on holiday, on his own, without his wife (strange).
Ian chilled with owner, drinking wine and trying a hooker-pipe... Funny, even in Sahara he's 'out with the lads' :)
Obviously there was no problems getting us up this morning, the anticipation of going to the Sahara Dunes is killing me. I AM SOOOO EXCITED! The stress of us 'dropping off the radar' is in the back of my mind, as we have no way of communication to home. No will ever find us if we 'go missing' (Yes I know I am a risk factor junkie but to let go is to experience...Which I am doing... just breath ha ha)
Got a driver (Who doesn't speak English) and a 4x4 then started our bumpy drive to my wonderland. 2 hours later! We are still in scrubland with occasional red sand. This is so bazar, nothing for miles... no Dunes either, not even in the distance ... It's going to be a long day (Apparently you can get 4 and 5 day trips here... Now I know why).
Looking in fascination at how different I imagined this place we came across planes of stones ...for miles. (It was like we were seeing on a huge scale, how nature makes sand) Then in the distance golden Dunes popped up sporadically. YES!... A few stops for fab pictures of camels... and Nomads. (Nomads actually living out here!!!!) THIS IS SO AMAZING ALREADY. Reached our camp - it was fab. 10 Berber tents facing each other with a large fireplace in centre. Large structured building which had nice toilets, sinks, showers - proper plumbing! (I have no idea how this works out here.... just pleased it does) Immediately had the urge to run like a child up a sand dunes and pretend to be the Turkish Delight woman in the 70's / 80's advert. - YES WE ARE HERE... It is stunning!
I cannot put into words the actual beauty of this place. Piecing blue skies with velvet looking moulds of smooth wave lapped sand dunes. I love this place! The driver transferred luggage to our tents, then it was back in the 4x4 driving to have lunch at an Oasis....Oasis My arse! Maybe a hundred years ago, but a trickle of spring with dead Palm trees. Lots of unfortunate frogs down a well that their entire life span would be in that well, was not what I would call an Oasis. Still it must be the deserts version; which I respect and will go with the flow.
We continued to another beauty site... a desert cemetery ... Nice. Then finally reached our destination for lunch. It was near a huge tree (That was alive). They had three large permanent tents erected for shade. Inside one had nicely dressed tables and chairs with bows etc (dressed as you would see a wedding). Another tent had the floor cushions, carpets and loungers (Looked like a relax setting) and last one was for shade and storage. What's strange is that at every location we had been there was a brick permanent hut as someone is there all the time ... i suppose lives there, just waiting to serve tourists when they arrive. - Yet again, we are the only people here and all this fuss is on us...I am beginning to feel royal... no, seriously though - This is making us very humble. I feel honoured to see and meet these people. I feel honoured to help collect water from a well. I feel honoured to taste their fantastic food made from basic and natural herbs. Although no one has spoken a word of English since we arrived in the Sahara. Our communication is great to each other. A rumble is heard as we are chilling and protected from the heat that gets louder and louder. We jump up thinking it is an earthquake to see wild Donkeys running past - probably to drink at the Oasis ha ha. Seeing wild Donkeys in the Sahara is a sight and sentence I never thought could exist.
Our food was divine, the company very friendly. They have such interesting stories and we even had exchanges of our hotel 'apples' for their camel milk. - My girls were not too keen on the warm camel milk :) - A true purchase holding more worth than money out here... food.
Onwards to our camel trip - AMAZING! Even when we were waiting in the tent for the midday heat to subside we enjoyed the impromptu guitar singing and dancing - instigated by my youngest ha ha.
An unforgettable camel ride... IN THE SAHARA!!! What an experience for us as a family.... Yes, our own private expedition again which made us humble to our bones and thankful to everyone involved.
A rickety drive back collecting scraps of wood to burn on the fire later. WOW! What a day. Enjoyed the base camp toilets and showers and had a fabulous night of entertainment - Making bread in the desert sand and enjoying how insignificant we are on this planet to how far we have come as a loving and fulfilled family :)
Woke up at 5.45am so we could watch the sunrise on the dunes. It took bloody ages and it was freezing. We even had thick blankets around us: all cuddled up to try to keep warm... eventually at 7.30am the sun was in the sky :) I have to admit that the sunset was much more spectacular (and quick). It was funny as all four of us we were messing about to entertain ourselves with the tremendously slow morning developments and the Nomad whom cooked bread for us was asleep stretched out with a light cover over him near us... He sleeps outside! ... Ops I think we woke him earlier than he wanted.
The language has been challenging at times as not many people speak English but everyone speaks French. Hubby has done the best in translating, my eldest freaks out slightly when we put her on the spot... Bless. My youngest doesn't need the language she is very animated and everyone understands her :) Coffee was warming me up and the heat began warming the sands, life was amazing again. This is my version of bliss. It dawned on me - this is it. We have to start our journey back to reality. This is the peak of our holiday... (Which didn't seem like a holiday more of a life experience) I found myself becoming emotional. I began to panic. I knew I would not remember every detail my eye could take-in from this holiday. I knew I would not meet the lovely people again or experience this heightened joy for life... Looking around, I sat and enjoyed what we had.... OUR experience! No one on earth would ever have the same journey we have had. This is our freedom and it is amazing! My children are communicating and doing cartwheels down the dunes with our driver and his son. I am writing poetry - Something I haven't done in 30 years. My husband and I are in admiration of each other. We couldn't be happier.
Leaving this place to return to MHamid. (Hamadu du Draa) was still hard for us all - strangely silent in the car but ready for the next part of this adventure.
April 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th
I found out that the French gentleman we met briefly on our first evening meal at MHamid was a paedophile - he was caught giving money to young boys for sex. This was disgusting to hear but we openly discussed it with my girls - Another real life lesson.
During my inspired Sahara visit I had written a poem, today I had written another one. I decided to number them under the heading 'A Secret Poem'.
I gave the first to Hasan (He's the owner and runs the Sahara tours. The second I hid at the side of the road near a sign 'Desert Warning' If these poems ever get found or asked for... its a bonus and I would be delighted. This is a little secret from me to the finder. A moment in time of my communication to someone else. (I've enjoyed writing them but am aware the finder may not know what it is or be able to read English - So I set up a page on my website www.gillianbeattie.com).
I watch in envy as we are leaving for another family eagerly await their trip to the Sahara... We had our next adventure... The coast!
Hubby had a break from the wheel so I drove us winding over numerous mountain ranges eventually stopping at a small village - The Lonely Planet book is a godsend on this trip!
We were tired and hungry from driving all day.
This place I wasn't too sure of at first but they couldn't be more welcoming. I have to say everyone we have encountered on this trip has gone out of his or her way to be nice (No matter how little they have, they have shared it with pride).
This was a ruined Kasbah and the owners renovated the centre part into a Riad and are renovating the rest through donations from travellers. Local people where already living there and helping rebuild it - a fab project. Settled in, had a sleep woke up alone so went exploring around. Found hubby and girls helping build a wall around the back of the Kasbah - talk about make yourselves at home :)
Evening dinner was AMAZING! Yes I know I am going on about food a lot but it it's important to Moroccan people that you enjoy their meals and hospitality - OH MY GOSH we certainly have on this trip! They seem to make the meals pieces of art that form fireworks in your mouth. Well this meal by far was the best we have encountered... And that's saying something!
Met other travellers too. Yes... at last.. People! We are not alone as tourists in this massive country. (A bit sarcastic and exaggerated but you get the gist) Coincidently, I got talking to a family that own a dance project place in London... so we hit it off straight away. (My dance projects are on website www.gillianbeattie.com) Feeling yet again blessed for another fab experience it was on the road and a fuss of hubby as he didn't feel too good :(
(At least is was only one of us that ended up with an upset stomach - I think that's good considering the places and new foods we have had)
Next day; onwards to the coast. A four-hour drive.... Morocco is huge! We arrived in Agadir (To my husbands dismay as he didn't want to go to a 'tourist' part but with him being ill I took charge and knew he would have appropriate facilities to ease his health and comfort... So I got to decide :). I was so chuffed. After our expeditions with the locals, staying at Riads, run down apartments, huts and negotiating the wild life I booked us in a hotel apartment with pool. YES! This looks an ace place to relax and recoup. Hubby was thankful for a big comfy bed with nice bathrooms. The girls and I were thankful of short walk to the promenade, beach, local markets, shops, zoo and of course the pool with loungers to chill. Alcohol freely available in bars and restaurants (When its not available you crave it).
The perfect end to a perfect holiday. I even created and hid more poems... Ha, I think I am having a mid life crisis. Bought lots of junk with our rubbish bartering skills. (Girls 'Ice' watches from Marrakech have stopped... I think youngest daughters watch goes backwards now... ha ha).
Since this journey, as a family we have grown together. Experiencing, solving, helping to get from one point to another. Accepting situations for what they are, realising our worth to each other and those around us. Everyone we met on this trip came from a different background. It made it unpredictable and interesting; we were learning together. It brought confidence in my girls to speak up. (Even at school they are putting themselves forward for projects and being aware of what is happening around them) It made me confident that my girls are capable and i didn't need to control everything... my stress has gone which has made us ALL happier lol.
I would suggest a 'Be Free' holiday to everyone. Invest in a travel book and take it from there. You're in charge. Make those weeks of breaks we have in the year count - You only live once!
I am proud to post that the 'Secret Poem Treasure Hunt' has taken off. Two books have been published and I am currently writing children poetry books and short stories.