Morocco

(writing 2/27/2021) We went to Morocco in November of 2018

We booked an amazing trip via http://www.moroccoaccessibletravel.com/ and they were wonderful! I found them through Cory Lee’s wheelchair travel blog. They made everything possible and were there as a resource if anything went wrong. For me, managing details is overwhelming (cognitive issues with ME/CFS), so not having to worry about plans while traveling was essential. We just picked before we left home and were able to gently adjust with our driver as we went. Our driver, Khalid was the sweetest most helpful person ever. I was still nervous about what my chair could do and after this trip I got so much more confident because we did EVERYTHING. On a financial note you can get a lot for your money in Morocco, and the travel company gave us a good range of thrift and luxury to chose from.

a girl in a hat, two men and a red haired woman in a wheelchair, all smiling.
market, Marrakesh

We started in Marrakesh, then went on a day trip to Essaouira, the ancient city of Aït Benhaddou, the Sahara desert, Fez, Casablanca, and back to Marrakesh by way of some Roman ruins. The travel company had guides and accessible hotels for each location who met us there, and Khalid had all kinds of special extra things to show us along the way.

Marrakesh was lovely. There was a moment when the folks at Riad Nashira thought that a board would be enough for my 350lb chair to get down a short flight of stairs, but I said no way and they let us change to an upstairs room accessible by the elevator. They actually built a very sturdy ramp for me to get in the front. Do not underestimate what the Moroccan people will do to accommodate you! They are some of the kindest most hospitable people of any country I’ve ever been to. Often before I could ask (or refuse!) there were 6+ guys ready to carry me and my chair (500lbs)!

There is so much to see in Marrakesh! The market, the old city, the Palace, the tombs, the Gardens, the Yves Saint Laurent Museum, the square (they will put monkeys on you there)… It was lovely.

Essaouia is a very special and beautiful place by the sea that makes a good day trip from Marrakesh. It has been a cultural stew for centuries, with people from Europe and all over Africa coming in an out of it. It also has a long history of religions living side by side- with Jews, Muslims, Christians and people of many other religions living side by side in relative harmony. There are so many cats (who are very well treated- better so than in Marrakesh). There is also amazing woodwork. We went to what was billed as the best woodshop in the city and got an inlay table made by an old master.

On the way there we stopped and got to hold goats who were climbing a tree by the side of the road. On the way back we stopped at a woman’s co-op that specialized in Argan oil products. My regret is not getting more body oil. That stuff works on dry hands like nothing I’ve ever seen! The old women there had hands like teenagers.

We drove across the Atlas mountains (gorgeous and reminiscent of the Southwest in the USA) to Ouarzazate, which is a small movie town near the ancient city of Aït Benhaddou. They filmed Game of Thrones and Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears and other things there.

a man and little girl spreading their arms at the top of a mountain range
Highest point in the mountains
an ancient city built with red clay
Ait Benhaddou

We stayed at the Berber Palace, which was a huge and very nice hotel where they put up people making movies. No accessibility problems there at all. From there we were able to take a day trip to Aït Benhaddou. That was amazing. The travel company connected us with guides who had a special reclining chair on a steel structure with a big wheel with poles for people to carry/guide it up the crazy paths to the top of the city that no regular wheelchair would be able to handle. It held me in a reclining position and had a wheelchair headrest. They were amazing. Again, such kind and hospitable people!

a Berber weaver's studio

On the way to the Sahara desert Khalid brought us to a weaver’s town where Berber weavers showed us how they made their rugs. I could not bring the chair all the way in, and there was more upstairs that I couldn’t see, but from my chair I went directly to the carpeted floor where they made me comfortable with lots of pillows and filled me with tea while they explained how they made their rugs and the symbolism behind the various patterns. We bought two lovely Berber rugs which were shipped back to San Francisco for us. I was doing very badly that day and my husband said “I looked like death warmed over”, complete with blue lips. They seemed very concerned and kindly gave me an extra pillow for the road “for comfort”.

The trip to the desert was crazy. We drove to a small town on the edge of nowhere where they loaded my wheelchair into the back of an SUV somehow. I still don’t know how they fit it. I needed the bathroom before we left and the only bathrooms involved standing (something common in more rural areas). That was very difficult. Thankfully I can stand for short periods but I was doing pretty badly that day so it was a real challenge Then the SUV took us into the Sahara desert. My kiddo and husband went off to ride camels for a 45 min trip across the desert into camp, while we went the long way in the SUV.

two camels in the desert, one in the foreground with a special accessible saddle and a woman on it, another in the background with a little girl on it

It was absolute glamping at Mimas Madu (the tent had running water). At night there was a wonderful performance by Berber musicians and dancers alongside a feast. There was even a camp cat, because cats in Morocco are EVERYWHERE. The wheelchair was more or less doomed though. My tent was farthest from the dinner tent and the chair was getting stuck in the sand (even though they hard-packed some paths). My chair got me around the dinner tent, but to get to my sleeping tent I had to walk a few feet, rest, walk a few feet, rest/crawl my way. They were willing to carry my chair and/or me back and forth but this felt awkward, so I left my chair by the dinner tent and made my way slowly. They did have a special accessible saddle for the camels that supported my torso- basically strapped me fully in. That helped me be able to take a short camel ride to and from camp.

I would like to note for those concerned about cultural appropriation in my head covering that when I wore a scarf on my neck (it was cold) I couldn’t go a few minutes without someone coming by to “put it on right” by wrapping it Berber-style. When I explained the concept of cultural appropriation they were horrified at the idea that there would be limits imposed on sharing their culture with others.

On the way to Fez we first saw a rainbow, then passed through a forest preserve that had monkeys. On a good day you apparently just hold some fruit out the window and they all come out to say hi, but it was hailing, so they were all hiding. We also passed through the town of Ifrane in the mountains that looked completely Swiss (it was built by French colonists to avoid the heat). It was very surreal to go from the desert heat to the hail in the Swiss-looking mountain town in a single day.

Fez was fascinating. An ancient city with the oldest continuously used university in the world. The market is an amazing labyrinth. It is especially known for its metalwork. The guide from the accessible travel company knew all the wheelchair safe routes through it. It would be fun to get lost in without a chair, but with a chair having the guide to point the accessible routes was pretty important. The one thing I regret is losing business cards of craftspeople there who ship internationally! We bought a few lamps but I wish I’d gotten more.

There was a slight hiccup on arrival. The person (newly) in charge at Riad Myra swore that the only way into the hotel was to carry me in my chair down a flight of stairs in the pouring rain! I called the the travel company and they insisted there was a ramp. It turned out there was a ramp, but they didn’t want me entering the less attractive “back way”. I had almost booked another hotel before I found out. Thankfully I did and it was totally fine after that. Also the Riad changed who was in charge for the remainder of our stay to the former manager (I later learned) and he was much more experienced and put himself totally at our disposal. After that our stay was excellent.

courtyard at the Riad Myra

Riads are the hotels made from the traditional, beautiful houses built around courtyard gardens. I highly recommend staying in them. I suspect most are not accessible, but the travel company knew which ones were. At Riad Myra they also have excellent cooking classes. My wheelchair barely fit through the kitchen door, but I made it!

Riad Myra has a Hammam I got to experience. It’s a steamy, completely tiled room where you are bathed by an attendant (quite an experience). You get rinsed, scrubbed (vigorously in my experience) with various things, massaged, washed and rinsed again. A cultural experience to be sure.

An enormous Mosque seen from the inside.

Casablanca I do not recommend. It is more modern, with tons of cigarette smoke, pollution, and noise. It is not the romantic city from the movie. It does have the extremely impressive Hassan II Mosque which is a feat of engineering (the whole roof opens). It was an amazing example of blending cutting edge technology with ancient techniques. I’m glad we saw that, but otherwise I wish we’d done something else.

A ruined Roman arch with trees on each side

We stopped at the Roman ruins of Volubilis on the way back to Marrakesh. The “ramp” to the museum looked absolutely impossible, but they were willing to spot my chair and it turned out it worked fine even though it looked terrifying. Some of the ruins were not accessible. It rained and I got stuck in the mud, but not only did the museum staff haul me out, they gave my wheels a little power wash!

a girl and her father in front of a fanatical Moroccan building with a red neon sign on top that says Chez Ali

The last night in Marrakesh our driver Khalid surprised us by taking us to Chez Ali, which is sort of a Disneylandish cultural heritage place outside the city. There are camels and camel rides, dancers and musicians from all parts of Morocco performing in troupes, a feast and a huge outdoor horse show extravaganza. Mixed with neon. It’s strange and a mashup of cultural preservation things and pure tourism, but definitely worth seeing. A great send off. No problems with the chair there.

a picture of a huge screen across a window pierced with geometric patterns in an airport
Marrakesh Airport

The Marrakesh airport was no hassle at all and was absolutely gorgeous. I had more trouble with the connection in Frankfurt. On the way there they almost didn’t get my chair on the plane in time. On the way back we had to wait 4 hours for the chair! I was glad we had booked an airport hotel for the layover on the way back or we would have missed our flight.

picture of a white cat with a orange tail that almost glows in front of a green/grey metal door
cat in Marrakesh

And here is a gratuitous Moroccan cat, because I deprived you of many fantastic cat photos.

Published by Mary Corey March

I am a contemporary artist living and working in San Francisco. The root of my work is exploring both the individual person and humanity through identity, relationships, diversity, and commonality. How do we define ourselves and each other? Where do we draw the lines and what happens _on_ those lines? How to we frame our experiences? How much of our humanity can come through in a data format? Through our symbolic images? Our words? Our definitions? Our bodies? These are the questions I delve into again and again. In May of 2017 I became disabled with ME/CFS. I have since continued my artwork with the help of assistants. I am in a wheelchair outside of the home.

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