Mark Gillett

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Morocco Magic, Mohamad, and Chez Max

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I have visited Morocco many times in the last 10 years and each time it brings beautiful surprises, more great people, peace and shere awesomeness.

My latest trip was no different except the madness of my previous trip was exchanged for some more leisurely and exploring activities. I booked a car through Carrental Ltd who were so pleasant to deal with unlike those detestable mass booking sites. Ghizlane was actually a human being who dealt with me on the phone and greeted me at the airport with the car.

Arriving felt so warm. Obviously the weather was but the feel of Morocco and the hospitality is so comforting. After the usual queues at the customs and the officers deciding its time to chat with a colleague in the next booth, I got through to the arrivals lounge in about 45 minutes. The smell of North African and Middle Eastern countries is unique and it always takes me back to my first visits in the early 80’s to Abu Dhabi. Morocco is not different. The only infuriating bit is the way these countries are portrayed in the media or by ignorant beings who rarely step out of their little worlds even when travelling to them.

I was met by Ghizlane and her smiles who handed over the car and I had a few hours to waste before I collected Gabi.

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Stairways like this are all round the house

Chez Max is a beautiful maison d’hote in a tiny berber village 25km south of Marrakech. It came to me thankfully though the “favour bank” and I am very grateful to Max for the introduction to his Moroccan world. Driving off the main road and up a gravel trail, you would not believe there could be such an hidden gem. Little berber children waving as I passed old Moroccan dwellings lining the roads and reaching far deeper than I could see through alleyways and paths. The village must be hundreds of years old. I arrived at the house and proceeded through a traditional big wooden door into what can only be described as a “little bit of heaven”. A dark hallway led through to a small garden area with seating. Adjacent was the dining area and the bedrooms behind a courtyard beyond that. It was so tranquil and just what I needed. There are six such rooms of “varying standards” but all seemed to be of a very high standard. The bedrooms all with en suite were large, uncluttered and beautifully decorated. I think the bathrooms are perhaps the best i have seen…

Dining Room

Dining Room

The decor was the creation of Max Lawrence the owner (and owner of Lawrence Of Morocco) who’s history in Morocco is evident. The house was built so tastefully using local materials and a mix of art deco and Moroccan styles. It acted as their family home for many years and Max’s style has made this beautiful house somewhere to truly relax and enjoy the beauty of Morocco.

Mornings are gently (yes, gently) brought on by the local cockerels, neighbours and rising sun. Unlike most cockerels and neighbours, these seem to have that peaceful Moroccan nature too. An early trip to the roof top opens up a vista of mountains and berber roof tops, animals, neighbours waking and a warm sun on the skin. Our stay here was hard to move on from!

From the roof top

From the roof top

The original plan was to visit Essaouira on the coast but with spending an extra night at Chez Max we decided to head straight for the desert and a race that a good friends was organising. Merzouga was our first stop and this was in some ways a strange experience. I have only known this town for the finish of the Marathon des Sables, but now I was seeing it quiet and devoid of runners. Actually how it should be! The dunes are so grand and powerful Towering a few hundred meters in height they sit on the edge of a huge sand sea in the Sahara desert. I finished my race here in 2006 and made 8 more trips back since then so it was all very familiar and brought back many memories! We stayed overnight and then headed for Zagora to see Mohamad.

Mohamad Ahansal is perhaps one of the greatest ever desert runners to date. Maybe the title of GOAT also applies. His running was spurred on initially by his brother Lahcen who won the MDS 10 times and Mohamad has one if 5 but also in a more competitive era with greater competition arriving from Europe and around the world. Both brothers are without doubt Legends in Morocco. Just mention their name and most people smile and chatter about their abilities and fame.

Over the last years Mohamad had taken his race discipline to the business world and is now organising his own races. One being the Trans Atlas Marathon  and now the race we were visiting, The Ultra Trail Morocco Eco Sahara. This latest edition is run in

Runner Tents - Pure luxury inside

Runner Tents – Pure luxury inside

the Zagora region of the Sahara and Mohamad’s homelands. We arrived at the encampment where the 40 or so runners were being looked after in true Moroccan style. The race itself is organised with real discipline of a great athlete. Everything from food to toilets is taken care of.  The trail is 109 km and the fastest runner will run in around 11.5 hours.

While in camp we all had a date palm tree to plant on the land as part of Mohamad’s Eco commitment. It was a beautiful time and one I dedicated to my late father. He spent his life planting and it seemed so appropriate as I have spent so much of my life in deserts.

Our whole Moroccan experience was just magical and I can’t recommend it enough as a destination. Flights are not expensive and travelling around the country is so easy. There are the normal market hassles but no where near like they are in places like Turkey or Egypt. Marrakesh has to be visited if you’ve not been before but it can quite easily be missed out if you have been. In ten years I have grown to love Morocco and there is so much more to see.

Written by markgillett

November 6, 2015 at 1:43 pm

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