Being More – Hussein Belaid

With a passion for culture and literature, teamed with a desire to traverse the land at speed on different kinds of motorbike, Hussein is the perfect guide for those who want to see Morocco differently. We asked the man with the million dollar smile about his background, what he loves about epic and what drives him.

What’s your background Hussein? What were you doing before landing at epic?

“I’m originally from a little town called Ouazzane in the North of Morocco, but I’ve lived most of my life in Marrakech so really I would describe myself as a Marrakchi. It’s a city I am so fond of, from age five onwards I started to capture some aspects of Marrakech and its medina, especially on the route to school in Bab Laksour and playing in the Aguedal gardens.

I love studying, I did my major in English language and 19th & 20th Century literature, followed by a professional master’s in hospitality (my parents wanted me to work as a butler – but it didn’t really appeal). I did another master’s after that in foreign applied languages and media, it was then in 2018, I met Carla, the MD of Morocco, I loved the sound of the company and Epic enabled a balance of study and work – very lucky really!”

Tell us a bit about your passions

“I have a lot! Languages and culture are one obvious passion, it’s also how I met my wife, we were both undergraduates majoring in French and English literature. Most of our conversations revolve around what we’re reading, she reads even more than I do. I am always eager to learn about Russian literature which I think of is really profound and it has something really unique, it’s classical literature per se.

And then there’s the bikes – once you get me on that I won’t shut up! I got into biking when I was a kid, riding my uncle’s rusty old bike (when he would take a nap) he knew about it and we had an unspoken of rule, that went like this: drive super safe and never ever drive without a helmet. I follow that religiously to this day.

The bike I have now is a roadster Kawasaki W800 Special Edition 2011, 800cc I call it; ‘The Raven’, it was built by the Japanese in 1970 to prove to the Triumph Factory that the Japanese are able to combine aesthetic features with excellent performance. Its a bike I’d very much like to keep with me always. I feel super happy when I ride it and it fills me with a great joy I can’t pin down… especially on twisting mountain passes and the highways.”

‘The Raven’

What’s your role at Epic?

“I have a double hat role really, I work part for Epic and part for Marrakech Insiders as a sidecar driver, driving Epic clients and giving them a different perspective on Marrakech, the medina and beyond. I’m continually working on polishing my people skills, meeting so many different international people on the bikes has really helped with that, its critical to working in travel.

Another occasional role consists of finding new products (riads, activities, venues) and sourcing artisanal items to surprise and delight our travellers and Epic clients. I’m always curious to find new things to do and places to go, the other day on an evening walk in medina, I found a small shop, owned by a Moroccan artist who writes 17th century Arabic poems on hides, it’s really magical, it made me think of the poets in the old days who used to accompany the caravans and sit around bonfires reciting lyrical poems and ballads.

Some artisanal items can be pretty hard to find…recently I had to source some camel-leather artifacts: I couldn’t tell what in the world camel-leather looks like… so had to look in every corner I know, eventually finding someone who told me how to distinguish between camel and cow leather hides.”

What are the highlights of a typical Epic day?

“I love being part of the team here, its a diverse bunch of local and international people, so you can share experiences and there is such a good vibe generally.

Another priceless highlight is meeting strangers from all over the World, on an Epic full sidecar day, you get plenty of time with them. A few of our travellers are celebrities, but I treat everyone I meet generally as a VIP; whoever they are – they are all united by their desire to discover more. I aim to bring the country closer for those interested in the history, culture, and our way of life in this corner of the world. Most Epic travellers are pretty smart and many have read extensively about Morocco, a few come along with stereotypes they’ve heard or read about, in that case I can gently correct any preconceived points of view which could be misleading. I love it when my passengers talk about what they’ve seen with me or learnt, I like to think I help to open their eyes to a different perspective, while we’re all enjoying flying around on a motorbike and sidecar!”

What do you think everyone coming to Morocco must see or try if they can? 

“The food, try the different dishes from this diverse country, if you travel through food you are likely to get a great grasp of the culture and the people that shape this kingdom I’m blessed to call home. Of course I’m going to recommend the Sidecar tours too, the Dar El Sadaka tour never disappoints, and going for a day in the Agafay desert with lunch is really special.”

What are your favourite places to hang out in, in Marrakech on the weekends?

“There are a lot of places I like in Marrakech and the medina, I do like Café Clock and Mandr: the first because it’s a cross-cultural cafe with storytelling evenings, music jam sessions, there’s always something going on and it’s a really fun and lively vibe there. Restaurant Mandr, the name stands for “View”, has superb views over the medina and the Koutobia gardens, I like watching the day drawing it’s curtain to a close on the 12th century Koutobia mosque.

For an authentic local food experience, you can’t beat Lalla Fatima’s soup stall. I remember her mother, she had that same stall from 2006 till the moment she died, then her daughter Fatima took over. Eating there feels like you’ve been invited by family, no white tables but delicious simple affordable street food that tastes heavenly.”

What makes Epic different?

“Epic stands out in the Travel market both in Portugal and Morocco, two countries I love and constantly dream about exploring more. What’s different about it is the way it pulls together magical trips and experiences that are transformational on so many levels. Epic is good to staff too – this year they’ve brought in an incentive – you can win £500 to travel within one of our countries on a project of your choice.

We have continuously supported a local charity in Morocco by the name of Fiers & Forts, part of our annual meeting was held there, we did a football challenge with the orphans which I really enjoyed to the point of crying (out of happiness truly). The visit reminded me of dear friends of mine who grew up in an orphanage in Marrakech and with whom I used to play sports: basketball, volley, handball, rollerblading, football. Almost all of my friends (a family of 400 people) are from the orphanage. I think of them all as family and so do they. It does fill me with pride to see them now leading very successful lives be it as CEOs, highly ranked officials, travel agents, and superb teachers and family men and women…. the day brought back beautiful memories and I left F&F I wishing the same to the kids, it’s a charity that saves lives and lights pathways, that’s how I’ll wrap it.”

Football day at Fiers et Forts

Finally can you teach us a useful word in Darija (Moroccan Arabic).

“El Mouhim – It’s a word that literally means ‘essentially, or anyway’ which we use to summarise most of our conversations with. You say it before you get onto another matter, or you can say it to someone as a joke to imply it’s time to finish or you’re going on a bit!”