Trip to the Sahara Desert

I know I should write as soon as I get home so I don’t forget all the details but I got busy.  Better late than never.

Our hotel arranged for us to go on a 2 night/ 3 day trip to the Sahara desert.   Everyone suggested that we take 3 nights and after doing it, I can see why.  It is so far.  But if that is all you have you MUST do it.  It was my favorite part of Morocco.  Marrakesh was so busy, the rest of the country is much more laid back.  My suggestion is that if you get any motion sickness take medication.  There are a lot of twist and turns the whole time.

Our driver picked us up early in the morning.  Almost as soon as you leave Marrakech you only come across tourists and trucks.  The Tizi-n-Tichka Atlas pass is nerve wrecking.  A lot of twists and turns, made worse by construction and by trucks that think they should pass on non-passing zones.

As soon as you go past the Atlas you see a marked difference in the scenery.  It is definitely desert.   You can see lovely Berber villages dotting the landscaping.  There are cactus everywhere and you can see the fruit that we ate in Marrakesh.  You will stop every so often at places where your driver will get a free drink and you are encouraged to shop/eat there.  I hate this type of thing but I was glad we weren’t driving ourselves.  The scenery reminded me of mix between southern Utah and Cappadocia.

The first big stop was at Ait Benhaddou.  It was so amazing.  It is an old fortified village where many movies were filmed.   All the movies filmed there came back to life.  The Kasbah is over 1000 years old but you can clearly see why they built fortified cities.  Plus they were filming while we were there.   I have to say this was my favorite part.  It was so beautiful and so cool.  I felt like I was on the scene of Prince of Persia.  This is what the image you have when you say Morocco.  And it is true!!

I have to say the lunch we had in Ait Ben Haddou was the worst and the most expensive in Morocco.  What could we expect from a tourist trap.  I am so glad we went there.  It was amazing.

We drove on to Skoura and the Valley of Roses.  It amazed me how all the towns are built near rivers.  All of a sudden you see a river, then you see hundreds (sometimes thousands) of palm trees.  Then it all goes away, you are back to the desert.  So much life in a small area.

That night we slept in a small riad in the Dades Gorge.  We got there in the dark and it was serpentine.  The riad was not very fancy but the people were so welcoming.  They fed us probably one of the best tagines we had in Morocco.  And we ate the best fruit salad ever with lots of pomegranate seeds.  It was really cold and the heating in the riad wasn’t very good.  They put a gas heater in the room to get it warm but we had to take it out of the room for the night so we wouldn’t die of carbon monoxide poisoning.  Be prepared to be cold if you go in November.  How I miss my central heating when I am away, also be prepared for an adventure.

Dades Gorge was beautiful in the daylight.  Our ever patient driver, Rashid, would stop at the best spots to let us take pictures.  Then we would drive on.

The second day is also long.  We stopped at Todgha Gorge.  It is really narrow and it has beautiful cliffs.  I think it would be an ideal place for a rock climber.  Because it is so narrow it seems like all the tourists congregate here.  I would say it reminded me a lot of some place in Zion National Park.

Finally we get to our destination Merzouga.  Before getting to town you see some Berber tents and some camels running around, but as soon as you get to Merzouga you can see the difference.  It is almost as if someone drew a line and in one side you have fine sand and on the other side rocky desert.  Merzouga is what of think of when you say Sahara Desert.  It was amazing.  There are several riads on the edge of town facing the dunes.  You get settled in these hotels, they give you some tea and then send you off.  We didn’t have to wait much to get up on our camels.  We traveled about 1 hour by camel.

Now I can say I rode a camel.  I wouldn’t want to do it again.  I felt like I was going to be thrown off every time they went up or down.  Their gait was also really weird.  But were in the Sahara desert and I needed to do it.

We got our camp and we climbed a dune to see the sunset.  It was very difficult to climb the sand dune but I made it.  My son enjoyed sand boarding down.  We settled in our camp.  It was several tents together with a brick building that served as the dining hall and a small out house.  We ate another tagine.  I have to say it was not my favorite.

After dinner the staff builds a fire, sings Bedouin songs and plays drums.  We had a fun group from Germany that also sang some songs.  Come prepared to sing some camp fire songs.

Being the Sahara desert under a full moon, listening to drumming, watching the sand dunes move, the camels in the distance and the silence was one of the special experiences of my life.  It is not something that can be recreated anywhere and I am so glad that we were there.

Sleep was not so good.  We each had our own bed, we each had about 3 or 4 blankets.  But it was not enough.  It was so cold.  It was the coldest night of my life.  I felt like I was at Klondike Derby, minus the snow.  It got really cold, probably in the 20s.  A big change from the 70s that we had during the day. So be prepared.  Thankfully, we are up very early.   Up early enough to see the sunrise.  One more magical experience.  Finally you ride your camel back to the riad, eat a really yummy breakfast and take a much needed shower.  You are back in civilization.

We went back a different way than which we came.  We still drove through some really cool villages but we stopped to see the kasbah in Ouazazate.  It is really old but the interesting part is more the outside than the inside.  Across the street there is a very dorky Motion Picture Museum.  It contains several props from cheese Italian movies that were filmed there.

Our driver chose the best restaurant for lunch.  It was inside this super nice riad.  We ate outside by the pool and I didn’t ever want to move.  The food was good, the prices were fair and it was an oasis during our long trip.  We could have stopped in the studio but we were exhausted and just wanted to get to our hotel.

The trip was amazing.  The stops fascinating.  However, the journey was really long and exhausting.  We got very tired.  I even got sick from all the juggling around.

If you go to Morocco you can’t miss these sights.  They are Morocco to me and I am so glad we visited them.



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