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20 July 2024
Alan Morris in a hot air balloon, above Oulad Chrif, Taza, Taza-Al Hoceima-Taounate, Morocco, Africa.

Today, we went on a hot air balloon flight over the desert before exploring Marrakech on foot.

Hot air balloon flight.

We woke at around 3:45 am today. We quickly dressed and prepared to leave for our flight over the desert in the hot air balloon. At about 4:15 am, we left the Riad, walked the short distance to the point we were told we would be picked up from, and stood outside the closed cafe to wait. Several taxi drivers who were out and about early in the morning stopped to see if we needed a ride, but we turned them all away, hoping our ride would arrive soon. It picked us up just after 4:30 am, and after picking a few more people up in Marrakech, we were soon on our way out to the desert to where the flight would leave.

When we arrived, we were given mint tea and a number, corresponding with the air balloon we would be going in. I was approached by a man who would video and photograph our trip using a drone and a camera, and I agreed to purchase the video and photos he shot. It would be a great souvenir and not something I could do. We were soon ready to climb aboard and approached the large basket. Lisa climbed in straight away, but because I had trouble raising my right leg very far, I had trouble climbing into the basket. After I readjusted my stance I was able to climb aboard. After a short time, everybody was aboard, and the balloon began to rise as the air was heated by the big burners above our heads.

We quickly rose into the sky, watching the ground shrink below us. It was an amazing climb, and far from being cold in the basket, it was quite warm as the burners fired up to heat the air in the balloon to keep us climbing above the desert below us. The view was slightly spoilt by a few morning clouds but these didn't last for the whole flight. At one point, we reached 1400m above the ground, and we were surrounded by clouds. It did feel damp, and I could feel the odd rain drop before the pilot let us drop below the clouds again. He explained we couldn't go any higher because the cold, wet weather affected our ability to climb and that it was also dangerous because we couldn't see other balloons that might be close to us.

As we dropped down, we could see another balloon rising below us, and the pilot fired the burners up so that we would rise again and float away from the other balloon with the wind. It was strange as I watched the ballon directly below us as we rose and moved away from it. When it was safe to do so, the pilot let the balloon sink and the pilot in the other ballon fired up his burners, and the other balloon rose next to us and kept climbing into the cloud we had dropped out of.

We floated for around an hour before returning to Earth. As we descended, I saw the chase vehicles racing across the desert to meet us. We floated over the tops of some desert buildings, and as we came down, children came out to follow us on their bikes. They chased us through the desert, and as the ground got closer, it felt like we were picking up speed and racing towards the earth. I don't think I was alone in thinking we were too close to some electric cables stretched between pylons as we came down, but the pilot judged it perfectly.

Just before we landed, the pilot told us that we should all duck down in the basket and assume the landing/crash position when he counted to three. I was filming as we raced closer to the earth, but I assumed the landing position as soon as the pilot began his count. We landed very gently and unlike my previous flight in an air balloon, we remained upright when we landed.

As we landed, the children from the surrounding homes watched us climb out of the baskets, hoping to get some change from us. As soon as we were all out, they ran off to the next balloon coming down. I was very impressed by how quickly the balloon ground crew folded up and packed away the now-deflated balloon. It was soon taken away, and we were in a minibus, being taken back to where we took off. We were all met and were then given mint tea, and a breakfast buffet was laid out for us to have something to eat. I was talking to one of the guys in our basket, and it turned out he was born and lived a short distance from where I was born in Walthamstow. It's always strange how people's paths cross, proving what a small world we live in.

Once we had finished breakfast, we posed for a few more photos before getting back onboard the minibus. We were driven back to the medina, where we were dropped off near our Riad. After briefly stopping back in the Riad to freshen up, we explored the medina in Marrakech some more.

Photos from our hot air balloon flight.

Hot air balloon flight video.

Medina in Marrakech.

Once again, we got lost in the medina and spent hours walking through the different souks. At one stall, I looked to buy a Moroccan football shirt. After haggling for some time, we agreed on a price of 40, and I thought I had a bargain. When I handed over a 100 DH note, the stall holder looked at me, and I looked at him. I asked him for 60 DH change, and he explained that he had given me a Euros price. This worked out at roughly 400 DH, so I declined and left him holding the shirt he had already wrapped up for me. I wondered why he thought I would assume he was giving me a price in Euros when the Moroccan currency is Dirham. He tried reducing the price further but only down to 25 € and I didn't buy it.

We came out into the Spice Square, where, strangely, the stalls were mostly selling hats and baskets. It was getting hot, and we stopped at the Cafe Des Epices. We tried a couple of different teas and sat for a while, chatting about our day. When we left, Lisa paid for the tea, but we were also charged a table tax. The table tax is a not-so-subtle way of ripping off tourists and getting more money from them. It is not mentioned on the menu, and I will not be going back on my next visit to the medina.

We continued our exploration and soon came across the Almoravid Qubba, also known as the Qubba al-Ba'diyyin or Qubba al-Barudiyyin. It is a small monument in the medina of Marrakesh. It was erected by the Almoravid dynasty in the early 12th century. We took a few photos here and moved on, passing by the Marrakech Museum in the Dar Mnebhi Palace and then continuing towards the Jemaa el-Fnaa.

We walked around the large square, which, during the day, seemed to be mainly full of stalls selling fruit juice. We saw the occasional snake charmer sitting on the ground but didn't get too close. Not because we were worried about the snakes but because we didn't want to be bothered by people asking for money for a photo. We also saw a few poor monkeys chained to their owners being thrust upon people so that the people with them could demand money for photos. We avoided the monkeys as well, and I hope that very soon, this barbaric way of making money is stopped altogether.

By now, my feet were killing me, and the heat was getting to me. I had a water bottle, but finding an empty seat was more difficult. We eventually found a bench with a little shade at the southwest corner of the square for me to rest my legs and catch my breath. After I had rested, we went to get something to eat. We stopped at the Sky Bar restaurant, but the prices were aimed at the tourist market, which we weren't looking for. I talked to a waiter and recognised an American accent although he was Morrocan. We started talking, and he told me he taught himself English by watching TV, mainly American channels, which is why he had picked up the American accent. I told him the prices were high, and he told us to go back one street from where we were, and we would find the local cafes and better prices.

We left the street the Sky Bar was on, walked a little further down the road, and came to a small restaurant opposite the Academy of National Education on the main road, which had a similar-looking menu. Instead of paying 110 DH for a beef Tagine, we only had to pay 45 DH. The meal was very good, and we sat there watching the world go by for a while after our meal. When I felt better, we started walking back to our Riad.

The temperature was rising, and I was finding walking more difficult as we continued to wind our way through the streets of Marrakech. With no access to Google Maps we again got lost. We knew which way to head in, but I was taking more stops over shorter distances to get my breath back. A man riding a donkey pulling a truck carrying building supplies offered us a taxi ride at a price, which I declined. However, seeing how much I was beginning to struggle, Lisa hailed a real taxi and negotiated a fare back to our Riad. The taxi seemed to go a long way around to get where we wanted to go, but as we had agreed a price already we didn't care.

When we returned to the area our Riad was in, we stopped at one of the local cafes for some food. We had a tomato and onion dish with bread to dip and grilled chicken cooked in a beautiful herb crust. It tasted great, and we enjoyed it with some more mint tea. When we had finished the meal we walked back to the Riad, only stopping off to get a bottle of water on the way. We passed by the local teenagers who were always on the street and alleyway near the Riad and who always greeted us. They were very nice, and I never felt threatened by them. One poor lad only had a Manchester United shirt to wear. I mentioned this to him, and he asked who I supported. When I told him I was an Arsenal fan, he ran back inside his house and minutes later came back down with an Arsenal tracksuit to prove that he also liked Arsenal.

When we got back to the Riad, I sat outside in the courtyard reading my Kindle for a while before going to bed and falling asleep very quickly. 

Photos from the medina in Marrakech.