Simanaitis Says

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THOUGH MEMORABLE, my visit to Morocco resulted in very little original source material. The press kit, expense report and passport of the era have all gone missing. I have only two photos (one of which is lost to the ages in storage) and a little carved stone box. Oh, and the then-25-year-old guidebook that accompanied me.


Morocco, by Robert Boulanger, translated by J.S. Hardman, Hachette World Guides, 1966.

Clear in my memory is an overview of the trip: BMW was introducing its E36 3-Series. Journalists congregated in Munich, then boarded a charter flight to Ouarzazate, Morocco. Ride-and-drive of the new cars was from there to Marrakech and return, with an overnight in between.


Morocco is in the northwest corner of the African continent.

Though my old passport hadn’t expired, I had to get a fresh one because the existing document had a visa stamp from South Africa (a country with which Morocco wasn’t speaking at the time). Customs officials met us at Ouarzazate with card tables on the airport tarmac.


Here I am being welcomed by a Berber chorus.

Ouarzazate is in south-central Morocco, on a 3800-ft. plateau south of the High Atlas Mountains, on the northern fringe of the desert.

Our accommodations there were at a Club Med (no longer listed at We also got a tour of the Ouarzazate Souk (marketplace), a dazzling collection of tiny shops selling everything from curios to the town’s world-famous carpets.


Ouarzazate Souk. Image by Theroiane.

Unvisited during our stay were the sites of many films, including Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Man Who Would be King (1975, a real hoot with Sean Connery and Michael Caine) and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011). Atlas Film Studio, said to be the largest of such operations in the world, is 3 miles from Ouarzazate on the road to Marrakech.


Ouarzazate to Marrakech is a distance of only 130 miles, but extremely entertaining miles.

What with BMW using the route for its multi-group world introduction, it was rumored that the company had underwritten the cost of repaving the 130 miles of extreme twisties separating Ouarzazate and Marrakech.


Sighted along the way. The road to the Tizi n’Tichka Pass.

I co-drove with old friend Ron Wakefield (his Hudson is a star at Our accommodations in Marrakech were Winston Churchill’s favorite, La Moumonia, a fabulous hotel that has recently undergone even more elaborate refurbishing (see


La Moumonia, Marrakech.

A high point of Marrakech sightseeing was Djeema El Fna, a gathering place offering “storytellers, buffoons, wrestlers, acrobats, jugglers, snake-charmers, dancers, musicians, etc.” Hachette’s Morocco sure got that right. See for a video of this 11th-century happening.

More’s the pity, Djeema El Fna was the scene of a terrorist bombing in 2011. When I was there, the principal hazards were pickpockets and kids hitting me up for change.


Djeema El Fna, late in the afternoon.

Back at La Moumonia, we partied heavy into the night at poolside. I remember sleep being shattered just before dawn by an amplified call to prayer emanating from a minaret of the Koutoubia located next door to the hotel.


An early postcard of La Moumonia with the Koutoubia in the background.

This early wakeup call has a funny story associated to it. A particular driver pairing proved ill-suited on the way to Marrakech. The next morning, the early awakener bluffed his way into a set of keys and hit the road solo—leaving his notoriously aggressive co-driver to awake late and find himself carless. I recall BMW had to arrange a charter flight back to Ouarzazate so he could catch the Munich return.


From the Ouarzazate  Souk.

My one souvenir of the trip is a little box of carved sandstone, purchased with only the most gentle of haggling in the Ouarzazate Souk. I believe the shopkeeper felt sorry for me as an easy mark. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014

2 comments on “MOROCCO, CIRCA 1991

  1. Thom Cannell
    April 2, 2014

    Thanks for kindling. Memories of morocco from 2006 Dakar rally

    Thom Cannell Cannell & Associates Mobile 517-896-3098 Sent from my iPhone


  2. Bill Urban
    April 2, 2014

    Dennis, thanks for one more great travel story. Readers may also enjoy this story about another Marrakech trip: After a Casablanca conference in ’43, Churchill persuaded FDR to accompany him to “the most lovely spot in the whole world”, “the Paris of the Sahara”, Marrakech. They stayed at the home of the American vice consul. Soon, “Churchill had ordered FDR and his wheelchair carried up a narrow three story tower in order that the president might take in the Atlas Mountains at sundown, when the distant snow-covered peaks slowly faded from white to rose to blood red.” When FDR left for home the next morning Winston “accompanied him to the airfield, dressed in velvet slippers and his green and red and gold dragon dressing gown.” (From The Last Lion, vol. 3, William Manchester and Paul Reid.)

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This entry was posted on April 2, 2014 by in Just Trippin' and tagged , , , , , .
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