ahhhh, the Travel Splurge. It's a magical experience that takes a gigantic bite out of your carefully saved travel budget. It's an over-the-top-once-in-a-lifetime-experience (OTTOILE) that you would never consider at home. Maybe you booked it completely spontaneously but more likely, you bookmarked the site and returned over and over again before finally pulling out your credit card.
Mady and I spent one absolutely unforgettable splurge day in Marrakech. Any one of these amazing activities could have qualified as a Splurge on its own, but all together on the same day? It was a complete OTTOILE!
It must be noted that I needed to do a bit of persuasion to get Mady to agree. It all started with me finding a hot-air balloon tour online during one of our marathon planning sessions. I was determined to go but heights is definitely not Mady's thing. Mady has been successfully working to reduce her fear of heights since we met and barely blinks now, but at that time, she was intrigued but a bit anxious. Eventually, her sense of adventure won out and we booked the trip together... and then other things got added to our day to make it a truly spectacular day.
Usually, the only time a Splurge is regretted is the day the credit card bill is paid, and that pain recedes... thank goodness. As it turned out, Mady's concern about her fear of heights was a complete non-issue. She reported feeling very secure and solid. So if your fear of heights is holding you back from booking a hot air balloon ride, go for it with less trepidation!
Of course, as with all things marvellous, there is always a catch. In the case of a sunrise hot air balloon ride, that catch is that you have to be in the air before the sun actually rises. That is waaaaay too freaking early in the morning. We woke up to stumble bleary-eyed and caffeine-deprived to the end of our souk where our car was waiting to take us to the desert site where we would take off. It was still dark when we arrived at the Berber village and there was no sign of activity except for an elderly man rocking a fussy little baby on a chair outside his doorway. We were handed a strong cup of coffee and a croissant by a local woman who suddenly appeared smiling from a dark corner. As we gratefully regained our humanity, the flight team quickly and efficiently got to work.
There was great attention to detail and safety as every bit of the balloon and rigging was carefully inspected by the captain and crew as the various pieces of the apparatus was attached.
The deflated balloon is spread on the ground, the passenger basket is laid sideways, and the propane heaters roar to life. In the early stages, there is much checking and rearranging of the balloon fabric to ensure proper inflation. The heat and light emanating was much more intense than I had anticipated.
And then, it was time for us to climb aboard just as we began to see light on the eastern horizon. One of the crew told us the sun would be showing over the Atlas Mountains within about 30 minutes as he loaded us into the basket.
There was a total of six passengers including a solo traveller and a family of three. We were all shown where we were to stand and when to load into the basket, which slowly became upright as the balloon inflated.
Our pilot, Mohammed, introduced himself and following safety instructions, gave us a lively explanation of how he was operating and steering the balloon, as well as explaining the traditional way of communal Berber life in the desert villages below us.
This little cutie was an absolute delight. Deeta was thrilled and excited about everything. She even got to talk to base camp using the Captain's walkie-talkie. We all fell in love with her a little bit.
The sunrise was spectacular and we were all very happy that we had woken up for the experience. We drifted back toward our landing zone and watched the ground chase team follow us and anticipate where we would land. This is obviously part of the crew's experience that they really enjoy as we were greeting with much laughter and waves as they worked to "catch" our basket and guide us to a soft landing. As we landed, another group took off. They were going to get a lovely experience floating over the desert, but they missed the sunrise. I think that's a mistake.
The crew quickly gathered and sorted the fabric and began to take off the riggings. They would be transporting everything back to the starting point and doing the whole process over again several times that day. The tourists were trucked back to the village for a traditional breakfast.
It was soon time to move on. We were more than a little astonished to realize it was only 8:00 am. Next up, a camel ride! (Please note, we are always concerned about the ethical treatment of animals and research thoroughly) This was a small family-run operation, which raised their own much beloved camels. It was clear to see the affection between the handlers and the animals. We enjoyed a leisurely ride with charming commentary.
Babies stay close to their mothers for the first year and follow along as their camel families move through their days. This "train" of camels offers tourist tours in the morning but are cargo carriers in the afternoon. Young camels are trained to wear a lightweight modified saddle for part of the day. Weight is added as the camel grows stronger.
This particular youngster had us laughing hard. This demanding toddler was hollering at his mother, complete with stamping feet and snorts. Then suddenly, he just collapsed to the ground, hollered once and then fell completely dead asleep.
Following our ride, we headed back to our ryad quite stunned to discover it was only mid-morning. There was still a lot of day left. Mady had the brilliant idea that we should book a hammam massage. Our amazing host, Aziz, arranged everything for the afternoon. Finding we had a couple of hours we decided to return to the medina.
The medina is a bustling maze of passages, souks, and kiosks. Passageways are crowded with people, stray animals, and the occasional motorcycle. The main plaza is a vast open space that includes all the above plus cars and trucks whizzing by with no discernable traffic routes, rules, or safety precautions. The market is remarkably clean considering the crowds, with plenty of sweepers around.
I was particularly drawn to the spices and oils. I really wanted to buy a tajine pot and some glassware, but I couldn't figure out how I was going to carry it around safely for another few weeks. My next trip will include a plan to ship a box of purchases home.
We returned to the ryad and enjoyed our hour-long Hammam massage. Between steaming, scrubbing, oiling, pummelling, and massaging we were completely boneless and unable to do much of anything for the rest of the day. We chose to lounge by the pool, read, nap, and generally do nothing until dinner and an early night.