We knew that we wanted to get out of Marrakech somehow, for at least a day trip. While I’d normally try to take a bus somewhere, or maybe the train, because I believe public transit is a great way to see a city, I was too intimidated by the language barrier to attempt this. Many people speak a little English, but French and Arabic are the main languages. So, we decided to go on an excursion. Each of the Riads offer excursions for €40+, and that wasn’t an option for a cheapskate like me. We ended up going on an excursion through a company that individuals can sign up for. Basically a bus takes you around to the shops and restaurants of the friends that run the excursions. I’m sure there are kickbacks involved. We negotiated the price down to about US$20 for each of us for a trip to the Ourika Valley. We were told we’d see a Berber home and 2 of 7 waterfalls in the Ourika Valley.
We woke up bright and early and tracked down the tour. It was a little nerve wracking because the guy we negotiated in just left us standing at a café with no explanation. About 10 minutes later some other people were deposited, until there were 15 or so of us. We headed to the valley by way of an herbalist/argon store. They bring you on a tour of a garden, show how the famous argon oil products are made, and then bring you into a room to check out some products. No obligation, looking is free, as always. We hung out there for about 20 minutes waiting for the next part of the trip.
Next we went to a Berber house. It reminded me of the homes in Central America quite a bit. Same type of building materials, same sort of layout. The plumbing was a bit different though. This house was right next to a river and they got running water by digging a ditch and diverting the water through the house that way. The water powers a type of grist mill, some type of washing machine, and then goes through the kitchen where it creates a pool that acts as the kitchen sink. I never did ask about what they do to answer the call of nature, but my guess is more of an outhouse type situation.
We hung out at the house for about an hour, and then headed on towards the waterfalls. There are cafes all along the water, and they deposited the tour right in front of one. Everyone sort of mindlessly wandered inside, including us, until we decided we didn’t HAVE to eat there. We walked a little farther and saved about 40 dirhams (5 bucks), although some others in the group got a much better deal. Speaking Arabic really helps with the bargaining.
Next we were lead up to the waterfall. It’s definitely a tourist attraction for Moroccans and foreigners, so there were many groups walking up the trail. This trail is not really suited for multiple groups, which leads to lots of bottlenecks, and it takes a lot longer than it should to actually get to the waterfall. That’s one complaint. The other is that when going on a guided excursion like this there isn’t enough time to go to the other waterfalls. If we had gone on our own we could have gotten there earlier and left later, giving us time to move beyond the throngs of people. That being said, it was still a beautiful location. It’s no wonder it’s such a big tourist draw. The second waterfall is beautiful, and getting to look out at the Atlas Mountains is very calming. If you’ve got a bathing suit (or not, many people took the plunge in their clothes) you can get your picture taken being pummeled by the waterfall. I, myself, would never do that, because being the nerd that I am all I can think about is the kind of debris water can carry at that speed, and how much it would hurt falling on your head.
On the way back to Marrakech I conked out on the bus. That’s one of the benefit of an excursion; you don’t have to worry about the other people on the bus, or missing your stop or anything. Randy took a lot of cool pictures on the road to the waterfalls that give a really got a good feel of the countryside.
After the trip we made my last purchases in the souks and then went to the square. We had some great sandwich things that we saw the locals ordering at Hassan’s booth in the square. His was so good he had TWO numbers (each booth is numbered). As we mentioned there are about 100 booths that all serve the same thing, so finding one that stands out to the locals means it must be delicious, right? It was! Last night dinner, win! Got some ice cream for dessert (double win!), and headed back to the Riad because we had an early flight the next day. We’re sad to leave Morocco, but glad to be heading to Paris! Next I’ll tell you about haggling in the souks (‘cause I’m sure you’re dying to know!).