Micki and Charles have traveled the world together since 2003. Recently their two little adventurers, Cole and Jordan, have joined them on the road. From hot air ballooning through Turkey to snorkeling with sea turtles in Mexico to riding camels in Morocco, they prove that you can have great adventures with your kids. Please enjoy this week-in-the-life of Micki and Charles and family as they do their best to navigate souks and camel rides in Morocco.
This post was originally published in 2013. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
Day 1: Sleeping With Strange Men
There’s a man I don’t know at the end of my bunk, speaking kindly in a broken mixture of French and Arabic.
The train pitches and rolls as he gestures, with an apologetic smile, at the sleeper bunk across from me where my four year old is snoring.
We’re sleeping on an overnight train from Tangier, Morocco to Marrakech.
There are four of us on this journey: my husband Charles, me, and our two kids. Cole, eight, is tucked in on the sleeper bunk above me, probably dreaming of Pokémon and ice cream. Our little girl, Jordan (who’s four) is sprawled on the bunk across from me.
Ah…in my haze I realize the man is asking me to S’il vous plait move my little one from the bed he’s reserved. In my haze, I respond in groggy Spanish, Lo Siento, forgetting which country I’m in at the moment, and forgetting that I should be using my pitiful French instead.
(See also: How to Learn Another Language)
It’s been a long day, a very long day, with an itinerary that saw us go from our month long stay in the white, sun-drenched village of Nerja, Spain to Tangier, Morocco on a complicated and tiring itinerary of taxi-bus-bus-shuttle-ferry-taxi-train.
I cuddle Jordan in next to me, clearing the other bunk for our new companion, and we fall asleep to the rocking and pitching of the overnight train as it clatters toward Marrakech.
Day 2: A Study in Contrasts
From what we’ve read of the chaos of Marrakech, I’m expecting to be bombarded with touts and taxi drivers when we get off the train.
But the train station is shiny, new, and … quiet. We pass a bustling coffee shop that wouldn’t look at all out of place in a mall in Seattle as the kids run ahead, shaking off the confines our 6 foot by 8 foot sleeper compartment.
We decide to hit the rooftop terrace and enjoy the shining sun and delicious chocolate banana crepes before flagging down a taxi and making our way to our riad. After a long wait for our room to be ready and more cups of delicious Moroccan tea than we can handle, we all decide to take a nap for the rest of the afternoon.
It’s early evening by the time we emerge from our room, having exhausted all the snacks in our backpacks, and ready for supper. We make our way through the souk looking for a place to eat that we had heard about. The kids and I pick at our bland vegetarian tagines, but Charles fares much better with a tasty lamb tagine.
Next is Jemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakesh’s famed night market. Calling it chaotic doesn’t even do the madness justice. I stand on the edge of the crowd, catching glimpses of jugglers and dancers and snake charmers and merchants as the crowd throbs and weaves around them like one giant organism. Standing on my tiptoes, I can’t even see across the tops of people’s heads to the other side. The kids and I stay on the outside edges while Charles pops in and out to see the sights.
Day 3: Camels and Sore Bums
Up at 6:00 am to start our two-day tour of the Atlas Mountains.
Idir, our guide from Sahara Desert Kingdom, and our driver are waiting for us in a Landcruiser close to our riad. Charles, ever curious, peppers Idir with questions about Moroccan life and customs as we wind through the Atlas high mountains. Idir, who speaks fluent English, French, Berber, Arabic and a smattering of Spanish, seems to have an inexhaustible knowledge of all things Moroccan.
We spend the day learning about Moroccan customs, the mountains and it’s history. As we wind our way to our camp for the night, we pull up beside what looks, for all the world, like a camel parking lot. In the fading light, a couple of dozen camels are lined up in neat rows, with their legs tucked primly underneath.
Jordan launches herself out of the truck and hops on a dromedary camel, her four year old self tiny against the mammoth animal. The camel doesn’t even bat an eyelash as Charles clambers in behind. Cole and I awkwardly climb on another camel as it stands up, and we’re off across the Moroccan desert, single file.
It turns out that camel riding isn’t the most comfortable mode of transport, especially with two people sharing a camel. 20 minutes in, our whole group is wondering what we’re doing in the middle of the Sahara Desert riding a camel when a perfectly good SUV is just down the road. It’s a unique experience though, and the kids are loving it.
After about an hour we crest a large sand dune and we see our home for the night, a bivouac of nomad tents set among the dunes near Zahora. Bowlegged and stiff, I wobble toward the cushions set up between the tents, where a steaming pot of sweet Moroccan mint tea awaits and a small feast is prepared in our honor.
Day 4: Movie Stars and Ancient Caravans
I’m desperate to sleep in, after spending a good portion of the night under the stars beside a roaring bonfire in the desert, but Cole and Charles bound off to watch the desert sunrise at the ungodly hour of 5:30 am. A few minutes later they’re back in the tent, murmuring about golden skies and rabbits hopping among the dunes. We sleep in a bit more before it’s time to hit the road again in our Landcruiser.
It’s barely noon, but the Moroccan sun is blazingly hot. Our first stop at the cool oasis of Zagora in the Dra’a valley is a welcome relief. On the way, our driver makes good use of the Landcruiser’s 4×4 as we drive off-road along the ancient camel caravan route between the mountains and the river.
A couple of hours later, we’re at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ait Ben Haddou. It looks familiar, and it should, as it’s been used as a backdrop for many Hollywood blockbusters, including Gladiator (2000) and Prince of Persia (2010) and parts of the Game of Thrones TV Series. In times past, it was a fortress on the old Salt Road caravan route, which brought slaves, ivory, gold and salt from sub-Saharan Africa.
As we walk the ramparts of that ancient site the realization of just how far we are from home starts to sink in. We’re almost transported back in time but the unrelenting baking sun reminds us it’s time for an ice cream break.
We slowly weave back through the mountains toward Marrakech as the sun slips, golden, out of site.
Day 5: Exhaustion
We sleep until 11:00, pulling ourselves out of bed only to enjoy the fresh breakfast in our new Riad, Dar Ourika.
I can’t imagine anything better than just staying at home for the day.
We’ve decided to spend our last few days in Marrakech in a new riad. At $116 a night, it’s a bit expensive, but we splash out for the Royal Suite, with two bedrooms, and an enormous private sitting area with a fireplace. There’s a 15-foot tiled ceiling with a skylight, a private terrace, and a bathroom with a tub large enough that I can barely see the top of Jordan’s head when she’s soaking up bubbles.
Day 6: Lost in Translation
It’s early evening, and we’ve been wandering around Marrakesh’s souks for hours, mesmerized by the winding maze of narrow streets and vendors. Each section of the souks has its own specialty, with dozens of stalls of woolen hats, carpets, clothing or baskets all jumbled next to each other. My favorite is the spice section, with piles overflowing with colorful turmeric and paprika, and bins piled high with sweets.
Eventually, we make our way back to the main road by our riad. And by main road, I mean that it’s wide enough for two pedestrians and a scooter to move side by side (barely). Now, all that’s left is to make our way back to our riad. That may seem simple, but the back alleyways in the Medina are a cobbled, convoluted narrow maze, with street names and numbers missing.
We’re only about 50 meters from our riad, but it’s going to take all of our navigational skills to get back. Google Maps doesn’t even bother to try mapping the complexity of these little passageways, so we’re on our own. Luckily, as we make our way through the alleyways of the Medina, Cole and Charles see a familiar box of kittens curled up in one of the corners, and we find our way back to our riad.
I’m now of the opinion that Moroccans must have the best spatial skills of anyone on the planet.
Click here to see a video of our journey through the Medina, trying to find our riad!
Day 7: Ola, Seville
Today, it’s time to say goodbye to the chaos and charm of Morocco, and fly to Seville, Spain.
We get in one more delicious Moroccan breakfast and then grab our things and go looking for a cab. After a few minutes haggling with a taxi driver we settle on a price only to be driven a few blocks and then dumped into another cab.
We finally make it to the airport and enjoy the air conditioned comfort it has to offer. Morocco was an amazing adventure and we’re all glad we had the chance to see it.
That being said, it’s been a long week.
After spending eight months traveling through Mexico, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Morocco and Turkey, Micki and Charles and their kids are back in Canada for a little adventure at home. You can follow them on The Barefoot Nomad or get their updates by email.