When I was asked to organise a double hen week in Marrakech and Essaouria by my sister and a good friend last year, I knew there were a few challenges ahead!
How would I source beautiful but reasonably priced riads (hotels) and interesting but female-orientated activities? How easy would it be to cater for all budgets? Would my email inbox be cluttered with questions and “reply all” messages on a daily basis? How would managing the hen do impact on my ability to run my web consultancy business? And the thought of keeping an eye on 11 attractive ladies in the hectic souks of Marrakech made me quake in my boots!
Thankfully, as I sat on a train to London one day and tweeted that I was reading Peter Mayne's "A Year in Marrakech", the reply I received from Splash Morocco adventure tours’ Andy Robertson laid my worries to rest. Andy offered his help if I ever visited Morocco, so we had the chance to meet last November when I planned a 5-day research mission, staying at his riad.
While there, I researched accommodation and posted pictures on Flickr for the ladies to see. Andy advised me on the best restaurants and hammams (Middle Eastern wash houses/saunas) to consider, and gave me more information on the trips he could organise. Although tubing or white water rafting may not have appealed to all my ladies, I knew that a day in the Atlas Mountains sipping mint tea, riding camels and eating a fantastic lunch probably would.
On my return to the UK, I set up a Facebook group called “Ali and Jenny’s Magical Marrakech Hen Do”, invited all potential participants to join, and posted a link to the Flickr riad images as well as information on flights, costs and rough dates we were looking at for the holiday. The girls had a lot of fun posting video links to relevant music (Marrakech Express, Midnight in the Oasis), film footage (Absolutely Fabulous Morocco special, Sex and The City 2), and then suggested a short break in Essaouria to extend the trip. Andy booked a lovely riad for four of us there too.
As the departure date of April 2 approached, I started to post vital information to the group such as exchange rates, packing essentials, and little pieces of advice I’d made note of when I’d been in Marrakech. As Andy was also a member, he was on hand to answer last minute questions, post updates on the weather, and generally be our “fixer” in Morocco.
Our holiday was spectacular. Despite the heaviest rain in years when we arrived in Marrakech, we still did the mountain trip and loved every minute of it. Witnessing chocolate coloured rivers and waterfalls shrouded in mist is a rare opportunity in country that is normally so dry.
The Marrakech riad was beautiful and when a handful of hens decided they wanted an authentic hammam experience rather than one of the more tourist-orientated luxury options. Andy arranged this too at extremely short notice and it turned out to be one of the holiday highlights.
A few of us had fun “checking in” at the Hotel Mamounia and Jemaa El Fna on Facebook to let our friends and loved ones know where we were (and of course to do a little bit of gloating!). I also posted key images from the week on my Facebook wall, such as two of our ladies in full Ab Fab style regalia, and a great shot of the entire group before we went our separate ways.
The final leg of the trip involved a 3 hour cab journey with the lovely Omar (again, booked by Andy) to the beaches of Essaouria. After another night in Marrakech and some last minute post-shopping baggage weight issues (thank you Ryanair), we returned to the UK last Saturday.
A very old friend of my mother’s was in Morocco many moons ago and her stories have made me realise the extent of which social networking and the Internet has changed the face of travel.
She says, “When my husband and I toured Morocco, we were backpacking Europe. It was a 6-month trip during our 70's hippie days. Before going into a remote area such as the desert, we'd find a public telephone, usually at the post office in the centre of town, and I'd call my folks to let them know not to worry if they didn't hear from me for a while. Telephone calls were quite expensive back in the day so we'd just talk for a minute or two. Telegraphing was another means of communication.”
Paulette and Dick Harris plotting their route through Morocco in the early 1970s
I myself remember travelling in Australia and New Zealand 8 years ago and emailing lengthy updates to my friends and family, as it was before the days of blogging. My poor mother was so worried about me that I had to call her every day to reassure her that I was okay. How I wish Facebook had been around in those days!
Some would say that travel was much more fun, impulsive and interesting when technology was limited. Others would argue that these days the web and social media enable one to experience and share far more than you could in the past. I would say we are now in the fortunate position of having the best of both worlds.
But back to the hen do. Without Twitter, I would never have met Andy. Without Facebook, communications between the hens would have been far less effective. And does anyone really book a holiday these days without consulting Trip Advisor? Thank you World Wide Web!
Where we stayed:
Riad Quenza, Marrakech
Where we ate:
Meshoui lamb stalls, Marrakech
Fish grills, Essaouria
- Bring toilet paper with you when out about - the toilet attendants aren't generous with it!
- Change is often a problem in Morocco. Try and always have some handy for tips and buying cheaper items like drinks
- Bring hand sanitiser in your handbag
- Take money out from the cash machine at Marrakech airport - you can't always get the currency in the UK and you can't leave Morocco with it either
- Pay half at the most for what you're quoted when in the souks - but preferably a third. There are some great deals to be had if you have the energy to barter
- Women should try to cover their legs, upper arms and chest within reason. Remember this is a Muslim country so it pays to be respectful.
- A travel magazine carried the following etiquette article on Morocco: "Knock on the door with the tips of your fingers (loud is rude). Call Assalamu alaykum (Peace be with you). Wait a respectful interval. One Muslim etiquette guide estimates this to be the time it takes for four cycles of prayer (about five minutes). You may knock up to three times. If you're invited in, step over the threshold with your right foot."
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