A Morocco Luxury Desert Camp is one of the 10 most desired world travel destination. Morocco is located just south of Spain and a quick flight from Europe. Known for its colors and style, Morocco is visually stunning and memorable. The Sahara desert and the big city of Marrakesh are perhaps the most recognizable. If you don’t count Casablanca from the classic Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman film.
An apéritif is usually served before a meal to stimulate the appetite.
A digestif is served after a meal, to aid digestion.
After vacationing in Europe every year for the last, how many, I can’t remember…. I was thinking of something a little different, or maybe quite a bit different. Europe is sort of a fairy-tale land. With it’s castles, lush winery’s and Michelin 3 star restaurants which I lack the patience for. Maybe I eat too fast or just don’t like to wait in-between courses.
If I really wanted to get away from it all I would want simple and empty to contemplate life. I can’t think of a place with less than the Sahara desert, a tent, a camel, and hopefully water. While surfing the internet for ideas, I stumbled across a luxury camp site that was all inclusive. Unlike the Euro visitors norm, it seamed more private than the more commercialized ones. https://www.desertcampmorocco.com/. Started looking into it and yes, this is where I go next.
Since the Sahara Luxury camp is the ultimate goal on this trip. Before getting there, it is important that I acclimate myself to the country, people, and weather. May is the month which fits into my schedule but may not be the best time to visit.
First of all Ramadan is going on and summer heat is starting to pick up. I did some research on Ramadan in Morocco. Found out that the locals don’t care too much if you eat and drink during the day. However, it is a little more difficult to find places that are open during this holiday.
Second average temperatures in May at the camp range between a low of 68 and high of 90 degrees. That’s not so bad if I can manage a fan for the tent. A quick email to the camp website and yes, a fan will be provided.
Going all the way to Morocco and not sampling some other cities would be a shame. Fes is a Medieval walled-in city in the north. Marrakesh has a newly opened YSL museum, first fashion designer to have their own, so quite important.
Hats, or better yet the perfect hat for the Sahara desert! Well the perfect most practical hat may not be too fashionable, so let’s talk about Marrakesh. After finding the perfect Cavalli suit in blue, I was thinking a Panama hat would be a nice topper. Thoughts of Casablanca, the movie, not the place. A little research and found that Rick, may have worn a straw hat but it was not a Panama hat. Same basic look and materials but the panama hat has a larger brim.
So much confusion out there as to where to get a Panama hat. Probably because Panama hats are made in Ecuador. It took endless hours searching around the globe for information and truth about these hats. I found Panama Hat Direct and began my correspondence with them. Asking for a comparison between the quality of their hats and the quality of Brent Black’s offerings. I was trying to justify the prices that can top $20,000 for one hat. I thought a $5,000 hat was expensive! As an accessory for one trip it’s insane. I did find Brent Black’s website very informative and well done.
Dear Mr Stevens,
Thank you so much for your interest in our hats.
Let me tell you the quality between our hats and his hats is exactly the same. He gets his hats from Montecristi, Ecuador, we have our hats from the same place. His hats are made with the same type of straw as our hats are made. Finally the weavers are the same that are weaving our hats so the quality is exactly the same. The difference is that he is living in Hawaii and we are living and working directly from Ecuador. The source of these called “Panama Hats” This is what our website says about it:
Well, the simple answer to that is that we make less on the sale of each hat. Many factors are involved with our ability to offer them at lower prices. Our location in Ecuador where the hats are made. Our hat shop which is located in Ambato, Ecuador, as well as we have an office in Montecristi. So our operating costs are much lower than other places- and by the way… that is where we get our name “Panama Hats Direct”!
The product is made by the same weavers in the same town as any other genuine Panama hat company. The finishing details will be different between each company, but we are not left behind in quality in any way!
If you go for the Fino Fino grade hat, you will have one of the finest hats around guaranteed!
Hope I was able to answer your question and please let us know if you have any other doubt.
William Ramirez (manager)
This was it. After three weeks I received my hand made custom formed Panama straw hat. The quality was, well nothing like I have ever seen before. Website pictures cannot show the detail of the craftsmanship. The fine thread that the straw becomes to make this a fantastic topper! I went with the Fino Fino and cost was about $345 delivered.
I have had some Moroccan food here in the States. There has been a bit of a fashionable energy about Tangine and the exotic flavors offered from the African cost. So much excitement for me, that I booked a cooking class for three hours on Sunday at the Riad Fes. This with done with a bit of research and excitement on my count. Moroccan food is supposed to be loved and appreciated world over. The main food Capital of Moroccan food is Fes. The Riad Fes has a celebrated woman chef who teaches a class.
After my private tour on Friday I was itching for some fresh fish. Fes is not that far from the sea. When I flew in from my connection in Lisbon, it seamed to be about 10 km. In reality it is 200 km from the nearest port of Rabat. But still, fish seamed to be a decent request, but last nights dinner left me wanting.
I stopped in at a beautiful courtyard in a Riad close by the Riad Fes and inquired about dinner reservations. I explained my needs for seafood to the head waiter. He summoned the head chef to work out the details. Apparently fresh fish tonight was not an option. She would be happy to personally go to the fish market in the morning and buy what I craved.
I was so happy to hear about this type of service and was more than willing to pre-pay. I opened my wallet and held out a fan of bills and told her to take what she needed. Was about $50 in Dirham. Anxiously waiting for the next evening dinner, I went back to the hotel and made reservations for tonight fair. Riad Fes has a sister hotel in the new town Hotel Sahrair Fes. The restaurant Amaraz turned out to be my best meal and food experience in Fes. Drinks were done right, and the shrimp tempura appetizer was to die for.
The next day was spent exploring the city and playing with the time-lapse video on my camcorder. After a non stressful day, I had a massage at the hotel. Pretty in-expensive, then wen to the pool and had a few drinks. The pool is located in the center of an atrium and did not get any direct sunlight. Even though the temperature in Fes was quite hot, it was a bit uncomfortable to swim.
After a long shower, I proceeded to dress in my new Roberto Cavalli suite. Blue silk and wool bled was the perfect compliment o my Panama hat that I spent months researching and ordering. The much anticipated moment arrived. I was sitting next to the waiting pool at restaurant when the head chef came out and welcomed me. Soon there after a plate covered with a brass dome lit up the table. The waiter removed the cover as if he was unveiling a masterpiece at a museum charity event. When the plate was unveiled, there it was…
the smallest whole fish I had ever seen cooked and displayed at a table. With a disappointed look on my face I was still hoping for some remarkable flavors. Maybe smooth textures to excite my senses. Non came. I believe the fish was frozen, the flavor of pan fried in oil with maybe a little onion and salt. If I made this dish for a guest or even myself, I would be ashamed.
All the hype and expectations and often leave a bad taste in your mouth, especially when traveling. Travel time is very precious. We pay for every hour, every minute that we are away. Wasting a hour or two laying on the couch on a Sunday afternoon at home is fine. Sometimes even rewarding. A missed opportunity for an amazing meal, drink, or view can lead to a state of depression that is not easily remedied. My next thought and action was to cancel tomorrows cooking class.
Moroccan food is ok, just. The Moroccan salad is basically stewed vegetables, not bad but not a staple for my plate. The Tangine, again is stewed, whatever they throw in there doesn’t matter. It taste the same and could possibly be three to 10 day old. I love food. I spend a lot of my time preparing for my meals with research. Sometime shipping in special spices that are not available at my local Whole Foods or local market.
The kabobs I had were very tasty but he cuts of meat were poor quality. The chicken kabobs were fresh and one issue I have with American chicken is that it has all been frozen. All in all don’t go to Morocco for the food. Go for the people and the different cultural experiences to grow as an individual by tasting someone else’s city.
I arrived in Fes on May 10th at about 3:30 local time. The Ramadan holiday changed the clocks in Morocco so there was no one to pick me up at the airport. Taxis and the guys who approach you in front of the terminal were not to be trusted. I asked one of them the cost. He quoted me three times the cost of the transport the hotel provided. My phone refused to dial local number (US numbers no issue). A man from our flight offered to call our hotel for us and then offered us a ride. The hotel apologized and we had our transport about 20 minutes later.
The Riad Fes was in the old medieval city that is stilled walled in. The hotel was beautiful with mosaic tile everything. When I walked in the lobby we would often see bloggers with their photographers taking pics and then moving on. The cancellation policy for the hotel was 3 weeks advance notice. One month out, I checked the rates and the Riad was sold out.
The first night I ate at the hotel. I complained about my rooms AC two or three times. Had issue with the safe as well as constantly asking for ice for the room. Something about ice in Africa – an impossible task. I went to sleep assured that the AC would somehow cut on and I would be shivering in no time. I took a sleeping pill, woke up sweating and went into the hallway, which is not air-conditioned. to find it cooler than my room.
At breakfast I had a conversation with the front desk manager. By noon I was in my new 2 floor suite with an amazing balcony and fantastic AC! Slept well that night only to realize the next morning that with Ramadan I woulkd have to get up at 1:00 am that night to go to the airport at 2:00 in order to catch a flight a 4:20 to Zagora (edge of the desert).
In Fes I hired a travel guide to show me some sites. I was clear with him up front that a 5 hour tour was not what I had in mind. The streets there are about 3 to 4 feet wide and they transport everything by donkey. Yes, saw LPG cans moved up and down the streets by animal… Occasionally someone will zip by on a moped or motorcycle so I had to be alert. GPS or Google maps do not work in the city and it is very easy to get lost. The guide seemed more interested in visiting his friends shops than anything. I had cut the tour early and went our hotel pool. The merchants were too pushy and prices were outrageous for poor quality.
My flight from Fes to Zagora went to Casablanca (worst airport) to change plains. The next flight stopped at some airport in the middle of nowhere. About 10 people got off and 13 got on. The next stop was Zagora where only 6 people, including me, got off. There was nothing at this airport, no cars, no other plains. It was extremely hot and I started to think I should have stayed on the airplane to try the next stop or go back. The flight is only once a week. After exiting the airport and passing through a passport check, I got my luggage and my driver, Ayoub, was waiting for me. Big relief!
We drove to the town of Zagora to meet one of his friends so that he could sell me something. Starting to see a pattern. Anyway nice enough but I was anxious to get to the camp. After driving 2 hours Ayoub stopped at a Riad somewhere and I ate lunch. No AC and no alcohol served because of Ramadan. No fans to blow away the flies because they are too cheep to turn the electricity on.
Ayoub suggested that after lunch I swim in the pool at the Riad because it was too hot to go to the camp at that time. It was too hot to sit at the Riad. I asked Ayoub to take me to a shop to buy some desert clothes that would be cooler to wear. The shop was his uncle shop and I bought about $200 worth of cooler clothes for my two days in the desert. I then went back to the Riad went swimming and put on my new garb.
After 3 or more hours of driving in the sand, no roads, we arrived at the desert luxury camp! It was about 7:00 pm. I left at 2:00 am. The camp boss offered me a cocktail and then told me to hike up a dune that looked like it was 2 miles away. I obliged him and set off on a trek in thick, pure Sahara desert sand. When I arrived at the top of the dune, he pulled up in a Toyota 4×4 with 4 American ladies and a mini bar. We sat down, had a drink and watched a truly spectacular sunset! Then I hiked down the dunes and made ready for dinner.
Dinner was nice but I was expecting more kabobs than Tagine. I had a few beers out of a cooler that appeared to have some dirty ice but paid no mind to it at the time. Went to bed about 10, took a sleeping pill and woke up about 2 am to profusely vomit all of that night’s Tagine and Moroccan salad. After emptying my stomach and wiping my mouth, I looked up and saw an incredible sight of stars that looked so close that you could touch them. I turned the other way and was blinded by the brightest moon I have ever seen. Absolutely spectacular! I crawled back into the tent wet a towel to placed it on my stomach and laid beside a stand fan to try and get some relief. The high that day was 120 and the low was just above 100 degrees, unbearable!
At about 6:30 am I started throwing up any water I managed to drink. I told the camp boss and he called my contact in the UK. By the time I finished packing Ayoub and our Toyota Landcuiser were outside my tent with the AC blowing maximum. I drug myself into the truck and buckled up for a 5 hour trip to a Riad Caravan in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. There I had AC and a wonderful meal, first food I had eaten all day.
The next day I told Ayoub that I need to get to Marrakesh as quick as possible. I showed him on my phone the route and the time of 3.5 hours. He obliged and while driving nearly twice the speed limit a lot of the time, it still took us 4.5 hours.
When we arrived in Marrakech we stopped at a supermarket to get some supplies for my room, water, soda water, cheese, and snacks. The corn chips over there are very tasty. A short drive over to the Four Seasons and I was happy and sad to say goodbye to my travel companion, Ayoub. My upgraded room was not ready so I went for lunch and I finally got a wonderful large green salad with shrimp. Then I went to my room, started to unpack and shake the sand off my toes. I noticed that it was not very cool in the room and I was concerned. I called the front desk and they sent a technician, he came and left and I though problem solved. After finishing the unpacking process, about an hour later, the room was still not cool.
I called the front desk again and they sent two technicians and a ladder. After about 20 minutes of them messing about the guest relations lady showed up and tried to convince me that the AC was working and it just needed time. “how much time,” I asked and she said, :go to the pool and have a drink and it will be cold when you get back, about an hour.”
After 1.5 hours passed it went back to the room and it was not cool. I called her and she showed up in a golf cart to take me to 3 other rooms for me to move to. I thought If I had to pack up again, I am changing hotels. The other rooms were not as nice and were smaller. She asked me which one I would like, and I said I would think about it and get back to her. I immediately called Amex Platinum Travel and explained the situations.
As a treat I was going to stay at the Mandarin Oriental on my last day there. I found out on the phone that they were offering a special 3 nights 4th night free. I jumped on that offer and told them to book it! The not-very-nice guest relations lady called the room and asked me what I decided. I told her that I spoke with Amex and they booked us into the Mandarin Oriental.
While I waited for their car in the lobby the lady kept bugging me and finally said she didn’t believe me, that I was going to the Mandarin Oriental so I called Amex and let her talk with the travel agent. Then she was super nice, offered me free drinks, took care of my pool and lunch bill and apologized, I am putting in a formal complaint with Amex and Four Seasons for how we were mistreated.
Marrakech was nice, more spread out than I imagined and the roads there were in much better condition than we have here. I spent most of my time at the hotel, but went out once a day on an excursion and also for dinner. I had my own pool on my balcony so I got to listen to my music and drink my drinks without interruption. The room was huge and I sometimes I got lost.
I went to the YSL museum and gardens. YSL was the first designer to put a woman in a man’s suite! Changed women in the workplace forever… I also visited the souk to shop and I was going to eat there. I stopped by a café that had Donor Kabob and it looked and smelled amazing. There seemed to be a bit of a wait and the flies got to me so I decided to cab it back to the hotel and grab a salad.
I left Marrakech without any delay with a nonstop flight to Lisbon. The night before I left, I asked my butler to arrange transportation. I didn’t realize that it was free and he said they would arrange quick pass. Sounds great. Holy shit! As soon as I pulled up to the airport there was a bag handler dressed in the hotels garb and a man in a suit. The man introduced himself and walked me through check-in, security, immigration, customs, and then said his goodbyes (for free) I tipped him and the porter but worth ten times that… I timed it, took 15 minute to get to the gate from the parking lot.
Landed in Lisbon only to find about a 45 minute wait for a taxi, just a very very long line. Hotel was ok and in a very good location. Still had issues getting enough ice to the room. Ended up asking for a “large” bucket of ice. Went to a touristy spot for dinner arranged by hotel, and didn’t care much for it. Texted my friend Peter in London for recommendation for next night and was excited to go to the old town and experience a bit more real life.
I was supposed to have an uneventful flight home the next day but the pilot claimed he saw a dent in the side of the plain and wanted to have it measure, photographed and then sent to Boeing for analysis. I think he was hangover form the night before and wanted to wait his required 8 hours between drinking and flying. We left 4 hours late, an undisciplined 2 year old was kicking my seat and yelling the whole flight. I did make my connecting flight and arrived safely home at 10:00 pm. Slept, went to work the next day and life goes on…