Meet Hassan, a well-groomed, kind young man who was our guide for two days in Marrakech. On our day trip to the High Atlas Mountains, Joel Zack, CEO of heritage Tours Private Travel, joined us so we had both Joel and Hassan. Poor Hassan had to cut his teeth on guiding a group of travel advisors AND he had “da Boss” along, too! Geez!
Guiding a group is a learned skill and guiding a group of travel advisors on an educational tour could be compared to trying to herd a swarm of bees. We want the “honey”, the essence of our destination, in quick, concise bits. We ask questions, lots of questions about culture, history, current events, best places to see or avoid and we are not an orderly group. Blink and you’ll miss the advisor who just had to duck into the shop to bargain for “that to die for” pashmina. Drone on and half the group will be through the museum waiting for you to catch up. No, guiding travel professionals as your first group experience is trial by fire! Add having your employer tag along to really make a guy sweat, figuratively and literally. Hassan did okay, actually more than okay. He could have been a little more informative, a trait we were confident he’d mature into.
Next day paired us with Hassan sans Joel. We knew he’d be more relaxed, but that wasn’t the case. Somehow we skipped the sightseeing and headed straight to the Medina for some serious shopping. We were told we’d see the snake charmers and people expecting to be paid to have their picture taken. Didn’t happen! Instead, we followed Hassan, whose walking pace qualified him for an Olympic event. Our stroll through the souks was like watching a movie in fast-forward. We did spend a significant amount of time at one shop (fact-all guides in Morocco have relationships with certain shopkeepers-get used to it!). Understand when you are buying things in the Medina, you are buying because you like it not because it is old, antique, extremely rare or valuable-none of those descriptors may hold true.
Michael and I tried to buy a few things at “the shop-the best shop-you can trust this place” but we failed to agree on price. Leaving the shop, we continued at breakneck speed, the souks appearing through peripheral vision, a kaleidoscope of color. Darting down James Bond style alleyways, we found our way to Riad Joya, our lunch destination, gem of calm and a wonderful place to stay right in the center of the Medina.
Our luncheon was delightful and we felt fortified for the afternoon sprint! Bravely, I asked Hassan to slow the pace down, which he did. We could have shopped more but the whole group decided to use our regained strength to stop at the convention center and register for PURE Life Experiences, the reason we were in Marrakech.
Registration was a breeze for those attending PURE and we returned to the Four Seasons. Because I had scheduled a private shopping tour while the PURISTS did what they were here to do, I wasn’t particularly disappointed with the adrenaline inducing dash through the Medina. However, I was concerned that Hassan might behave like this with our clients-not good!
When we got out of the multiple personnel transport vehicle a/k/a the van, Hassan told us he had an emergency in the family and had to say good-bye to go to Fez. We learned that his uncle was in the hospital and had only a few hours left. Was this why we moved at Mach speed? Most likely! Joel’s company is known for its quality guides and in-depth immersion into Morocco.
Our guide the next day, Jalil, was excellent! He shared wonderful stories about Morocco, past and present, and suddenly Marrakech and its culture began to make more sense to me. Three days later I returned to the Medina with another guide, Aziz, an absolute delight and a seasoned veteran guide with Heritage Tours. Aziz regaled me with stories about Marrakech. We ambled through the souks on this trip and I managed to find some mementos to send home. When I asked about Villa des Orangers, where Michael et al dined one night when my body said, “Stay at the hotel and rest!”, Aziz arranged for me to have a private site inspection.
My morning with Jalil and the 2 1/2 hours with Aziz turned my discomfort with Marrakech into a fondness for the quirkiness and intrigue of this destination. It turned my “been there, done that” into “I will probably return someday, armed with my new found knowledge and my list of preferred hotels. Thank you, Jalil, Aziz, and thank you to Heritage Tours, who seamlessly provided us replacements for Hassan, and such high quality replacements, too! These types of situations, a guide suddenly departing or maybe a client not meshing with a guide, can dampen or even ruin a client’s journey. How our partners in-country handle the situation makes all the difference. Heritage Tours proved it knows its stuff, is professional, and our clients would have been totally unaware of any changes or hiccups in the itinerary. To borrow a phrase from one of the major credit card brands, our relationship with Heritage Tours is “priceless”!
The moral of this story? First, this experience underscored a fact I already knew, the importance of a superior guide. Also, I accepted a new self-discovery, I no longer enjoy a diet of unpredictability, that this travel advisor prefers to have certain constants-a welcoming place in which to rest my weary body and a host who honors my desire to experience a destination while avoiding the rough edges.
If you have been following my hectic travel schedule of the past several weeks, you’ll know I’ve been to China on two separate occasions, to Morocco and London. Thank you, Joel Zack, for sharing your passion for Morocco with me. Thank you,Guy Rubin and Nancy Kim, of Imperial Tours, for the ultimate, personalized experience in China, twice in a month! You are simply the BEST. Nothing more need be added.Xie, xie (thank you, in Chinese).
And as Toto wrote in a note to Dorothy, “Done with Oz, took the shoes, and going back to Kansas!”
Posted via email from Travelingking