Craning my neck, I could just make out the tinted glass windows of the black cars. A drone hummed in the air like an expectant mosquito. I could see a huge camera perched on the side of the adjacent building.
Before we knew it, the take had started. A red ute flew around the corner, chasing a couple of Moroccan taxis. Men and women in suits and dark glasses swarmed the medina.
No way – it wasn’t possible. Had we stumbled onto a movie set in the middle of Marrakesh? Were the laden donkeys and smoking food stands perfectly placed props?
A quick Google search confirmed it. Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson were in Marrakesh filming the fourth movie in the Men in Black franchise.
Morocco proved full of these surprises. I spent two weeks touring the North African country, delighted by its friendly locals, delicious food and photogenic landscapes. With a bit of planning, I would urge families to seriously consider visiting with kids. As far as North Africa goes, it is a fun and low-stress introduction to the madness of medinas. People are friendly. The tourist attractions of major cities are easy enough to navigate. Teens especially will fall in love with the sensory assault of Casablanca, Rabat, Fes, Marrakesh, Essaouira and beyond.
Few people can say they’ve eaten a camel burger! Thanks to a homemade lunch in Fes, I now can. Whether you feel adventurous or want to take things slow, Morocco is a taste sensation.
You’d be hard-pressed not to have a mint tea at some point. Part of a custom of welcome and hospitality, the hot drink is surprisingly refreshing. You will easily find tagine on most menus. Beef with prune and chicken with lemon are probably the most common. Vegetarian options are not at all difficult to come by. I ate some great vegetable couscous, often with small Moroccan salads on the side (more like condiments). My gluten-free friend struggled a bit more. Usually delicious flat breads are served for breakfast and not all restaurants understood she couldn’t have flour. It was handy to have our guide to help explain.
I also tasted thick, nutty Argan oil. I ate Turkish pomegranate (a sweeter variety that is paler on the outside) straight from the tree. Yes, I even tried a prickly pear after seeing crates and crates of them in every marketplace. They have to be peeled in a special way so that the outer skin – covered in very fine spikes – doesn’t come in contact with the fruit.
There are plenty of supermarkets if you need some familiar snacks.
Morocco knows it looks good from all angles. Go mad with selfies and panoramas – you’ll want to capture all you can of the bright colours of Moroccan streets.
Our guide in Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca showed us a funky optical trick. If you take a photo of someone inside the huge door frames opposite the entrance it creates a beautiful silhouette. You’ll also want the obligatory pic of mounds of red and yellow spices. Inside the souks (markets) you should ask the permission of vendors before you snap their wares. Brilliant mosaic walls and doorways make great photos as well.
The leather tannery in the Fes medina also adorns many an Instagram page. From above, the dyeing pools look like honeycomb. I was grateful for the mint leaf our hosts gave us to combat the smell of the hides. I didn’t make it to Chefchaouen, but the blue-rinsed walls are another popular photo spot.
One minute I was standing at an ancient Roman mosaic in the ruins of Volubilis, the next I was hiking in the Atlas Mountains. One minute I was seeking shade in Todra Gorge, the next I was gasping for air in the icy Atlantic Ocean at Essaouira. From desert to sea, the variety of landscapes beg constant attention. It is hard – even for the most reluctant of travellers – to tire of looking out the window!
My highlight was most certainly a night spent in the Sahara. We plodded at a slow, rollicking pace into our camp on camelback. The sun was setting at the same time, which made it all the more atmospheric as the lights of the town disappeared behind sand dunes. I stayed up late to watch the desert stars, seated in a cool breeze atop the biggest dune I could find. We were lucky, our guide said, that there had been rain a week before. It had washed away the dust and insects and left us with cool, fine sand between our toes. The best way I can describe the peaceful vastness of the desert is by comparing it to sitting by the ocean, minus the sound of waves.
I got lucky with my Marrakech movie set. But it was not the only famous film spot I saw. You’ll find a replica of Rick’s Café in Casablanca, taken straight off the reel of the eponymous Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart film. The picturesque dwellings carved into the mountainside of Ait Benhaddou have featured in Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Indiana Jones and more. Grown-ups will recognise the fortified, cannon-dotted walls of Essaouira from Game of Thrones.
Souvenir shopping is a piece of cake in Morocco. Everywhere you look, you find beautiful, intricate handmade designs. There’s something extra special about taking home a piece of woodwork or jewellery that you’ve seen made right in front of you.
In Meknes, I watched a pair of earrings being made from silver thread beat into metals. In Fes, I watched men chip away at mosaic tiles, then lie them all out by memory upside down. Later, a shop owner taught me how to wrap a scarf around my face for our upcoming desert visit.
A group of local women graciously let me make a fool of myself separating lambs’ wool with two scraping palettes. They then wove and loomed the wool into gorgeous carpets. Our guide explained regional differences in the patterns. Some were traditionally used in caravans (camel trails) to double as maps showing mountains and rivers.
In Essaouira, we visited a silver merchant. I then saw the impressive artistry of a wood-turner and carpenter – I was particularly taken by the trick boxes, which I simply could not figure out!
Intrepid Travel offer some excellent family-specific itineraries (designed with kids in mind) to adventurous locations like Morocco. Read about our journalist Allie’s family trip with Intrepid in Vietnam.
Morocco left an impact on me more acute than many other places I have travelled. There is something about how sensory it is that roots the sights, tastes and smells firmly in my memory.
Naturally, I saw Men in Black International as soon as it premiered in Australia. I like to think that I recognised the car chase from my Marrakesh medina. I can’t honestly be sure. Unfortunately, it lasted all of two seconds. Despite taking great delight in telling anyone who’d listen that I was ‘an extra in Men in Black,’ and ‘nearly met Chris Hemsworth,’ I was of course nowhere to be seen.
But you never let the truth get in the way of a good travel story, right? And a trip to Morocco is guaranteed to be full of stories.
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