Four years ago, pre marriage and new small, we decided to take our then eight-year-old on holiday.
We were going to go to France and flight prices went through the roof – cue good old skyscanner – type in ‘everywhere’ and see what’s cheapest....
And so began the adventure: £200 return for all three of us for 10 days in Marrakech... yes please!
We work in the outdoor industry so I have to say I was excited by a bit of north African trekking. We took some advice and found an amazing fully-adjustable scaled down backpack and walking poles and we were set to go.
The decision was for hubby and I to let the boy take the lead. We booked two nights in Marrakech and then two nights in Imlil in the High Atlas. After that we booked ahead using booking.com, even booking two different Riads in different towns while we decided where to go (Many places offer free cancellation up to 24 hours ahead).
On arrival in Marrakech we hopped into our very posh looking pre-booked taxi and put our faith in the owners of the Riad we were to stay in. It was late at night and we entered the hustle, bustle and general chaos of the old town, the taxi stopped and someone opened the boot and walked off with our bags – rushing to catch him, he stopped at an unassuming door in a wall, the door swung open into the most beautiful and peaceful courtyard - complete with small pool - I had ever seen.
I am not going to dwell on the city experience too much, there is plenty written about this incredible place - just don’t forget to drink your bodyweight in orange juice!
After a 1.5 hour taxi ride (closed eyes most of the way) for about £11 for all three of us, we arrived in the little mountain town of Imlil with its steep hills and winding paths, checked into our Riad and walked into town to explore. Within minutes we met a mountain guide and agreed to meet him early next morning to have a day guided walking for £25.
The breakfast in the Riad was beautiful home made bread, cheese, honey – enough that we could make sandwiches for lunch as well – it was so well set up for walkers.
We walked for about seven hours, had tea with our guide's elderly uncle – who invited us into his home, allowed us to sample our first Moroccan sweet peppermint tea and pointed out his prize cow in his shed. Many tourists tell of being made to pay, and tip and trade for experiences like this, and perhaps without our boy, this would have happened. However, everyone was so gobsmacked to see a little one out walking, smiling and skipping around the mountain. He taught the guide how to use a compass and awestruck by the village communal oven where he saw children his own age making bread for their families.
That night we ate in a road side café overlooking the river for about £2.50 each and our son still says it was the best Tagine he has ever had.
Our next stop was back to Marrakech to catch a bus... the taxi back was not quite as easy as the one there... it needed to be jump started and we stopped at a stream to fill the radiator, then again to tie down the bonnet – it was certainly an adventure.
The bus to Merzouga took eight hours over the most sketchy mountain roads I have ever travelled - it felt like we might fall off the mountain at any moment. The ‘services’ were a roadside butcher with pigs hanging in our faces as we got off. We arrived late at night and found our hotel – it had obviously previously been a very affluent hotel – big pool, nightclub, three dining rooms... and about 10 guests.
After some haggling we secured a driver, translator and 4-wheel-drive jeep for three days. We travelled the date valley, ate fresh dates from trees, visited film sets, saw where Gladiator was filmed, rode camels, stayed in tents in the desert and had a go at off-road driving, with all meals and a stop at a friendly hotel where we could shower, eat and swim in the middle of the day. All costing so little I was gobsmacked.
Our most expensive accommodation was our last night were we ‘treated’ the boy to a 5 star resort with water park... we hated it, every second. It was loud, the food was bland, the animation team awful and all we could think was of the poverty outside the walls, and the beautiful locals we had spent our time with.
If you ask our son what he remembers from the trip - -the first thing he will tell you is off boys living in the mountains carrying the heads of recently slaughtered goats to the ovens like prize possessions.
I plan to return this year just he and I to complete a two day summit of Jebel Toubkal, and I really cannot wait.
I have sewn the seeds of travelling, exploring and taking risks – brilliant.
Other than the resort hotel, the most expensive nights' B and B for three of us was £32, each Riad or hotel had a pool and our three day ‘package’ was somewhere around £300 for the three of us.
We spent under £1000 and had the trip of his lifetime.... so far.
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Written by Kirsty Darlington
Kirsty is an Outdoor Professional, she has dedicated her career to getting as many children and young people enjoying their time outdoors as possible. As a mum of two boys, she hopes to open their eyes to the wonders of travel and exploring both locally and further afield.