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Three months in quarantine in Morocco

What the country has to offer in times of a pandemic.

I am scheduled to begin a month-long assignment in Morocco on 5 March. Amidst the growing global alarm over Covid-19, my brother strenuously urged against travel. He warns, “By 15 March this will explode, there will be a pandemic, airports will shut, flights will be cancelled, you will be stranded- maybe for months. Don’t travel!”

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My 72-year-old mother, who has medical complications, is meant to travel with me and she is violently opposed to the trip. However, Morocco’s grandest ultra-luxe resorts, which I am on assignment to review, assure that Morocco is perfectly safe. The travel industry, including tour operators and the airline we are booked on, urges that if all travel writers stopped travelling and the media announced advisories against travel, tourism would collapse with terrible economic repercussions.

Moroccan odyssey landscape

So, I land up in Morocco, coercing my mother into the trip, to crusade for its tourism. Ironically, just after I land I find myself attacked by a tour operator, who says the common cold takes more lives than Corona virus, but the “sensationalist media” is inciting trip cancellations, engendering economic harakiri. “The media is more dangerous than Corona!” He barks.

Nevertheless, we spend a splendid 10 days luxuriating in Marrakech’s pleasure palaces. Mother’s anxieties intensify but I am absorbed in Marrakech’s vertiginous pulsation of bazaars, the romance of riads, sultry hammams and groomed gardens, whilst tour operator Cristian Martinus, owner of Sun Trails has me discover architectural jewels, like the fabled Bahia Palace, Pasha’s Palace and Saadian Tombs, with their mesmerising splendour of mosaics, intricately sculpted ceilings and doors, splendid artefacts and inner courtyard gardens lavish with orange trees.

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moroccan odyssey MYKOLA IVASHCHENKO

Many parts of the country are still beautifully conserved.

Then, precisely on 15 March, things “explode.” Just as my brother predicted. Flights are cancelled suddenly. Morocco goes into lockdown. Hotels shut, expelling guests. Homelessness looms. We transfer to Casablanca. Here, a humanitarian young Moroccan, Ali El Hajouji of MyTravelKeys.com, is helping stranded tourists and rescues us with an apartment in Casablanca’s chicest quarters Anfa.

Moroccan odyssey horan christian

Surprisingly, of all the Moroccan cities I visited, Casablanca I enjoy most, even if I know it only in the context of the lockdown. I manage to go on long evening walks before the evening curfew and explore elegant neighbourhoods. If a city can enchant you even during a lockdown then there is something to be said about it and indeed its people who sustain us for three months, ensuring we want for nothing.

Moroccan odyssey four seasons

Most remarkable is Ali who says we are like family and hosts us graciously, waiving months worth of rent. Moreover, the Indian Association provides us home-cooked meals, personally delivered by the Association’s secretary, whilst the charitable AINKD Association assists with sundry and other requirements. Confinement in Casablanca is a period of inviting introspection. We have come to regard travel, luxury, liberty and life itself in such limited ways that being stranded in a lockdown can actually be a refreshingly liberating experience.

Ali El Hajouji Mytravelkeys

Ali El Hajouji from MyTravelKeys.com

When lockdowns keep extending and flights don’t resume, we finally write to the Indian Prime Minister (my mother is an Indian citizen and we currently live in India), who speedily organised a repatriation charter.

We are finally home after three months. Now that we are safely back, and after a good night’s rest in my own bed, I am able to reflect on the design highlights of the trip. For those interested to give this destination a visit when the lockdown ends, here are some spots worth checking out.

(Related: How hotels are re-thinking their old approaches)

  • Moroccan odyssey quarantine

    Dar Faracha, Skoura

    From the people behind Bab Ourika, the much-acclaimed eco-conscious rustic chic luxury haven in the Ourika Valley boasting perhaps the most gorgeous cascading gardens in the Atlas Mountains. Dar Faracha, sensitively decorated, is a private villa that can be rented out.

    It remains Morocco’s best-kept secret. You can use it as a base from which to explore the incredible surrounds of languid rose and almond-tree valleys, lush hushed palm-groved oases and stark canyons descending into the vast Sahara. The less adventurous won’t despair to linger close to home and venture out but for gourmet picnics- comprising veggies from the property’s own organic gardens. Visit their website here.

This article was originally published in Home & Decor