Journey to the Sahara Desert

This is my second trip to the beautiful country of Morocco. We didn’t have much time on our first visit there so the idea of going to the Sahara was moot. For this trip though, it’s our priority so we made sure we had enough time for it.

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My friend, Jess, booked a tour with Viaje en Marruecos for €220 pp. We’d be with them for 4 days and 3 nights. They’d pick us up from the airport and even bring us to the riad that we’ve booked at in Marrakech. So apart from having a jeep just for the 3 of us, the package included every breakfast and dinner during that time as well as the accommodation. Pretty great bargain me thinks!

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Arriving early in Menara airport, I told my friend to make sure that I get picked up. I have no intention of getting lost nor of being hassled looking for our riad. He (our guide/ driver) was there after a minute of waiting. He then proceeded to ask me where we’re staying. “Hotel Kenzo” I answered. “Where? Do you know the address?” Silence on my part with a simultaneous shrug of shoulders. “I dunno” I eventually blurted out. “My friend sorted everything… we should be able to check it in google” I added as an excuse.😅 He was incredulous that I’d go to a place with no idea as to where I’ll be staying. He eventually got me to my destination. hehe He said that he’d pick us up at 8 in the morning the next day.  I went to our room to catch up on much needed sleep while I waited for my other travel companions who’d be flying from Barcelona and Madrid.

Day 1

The next day, after a hurried breakfast – we just can’t bring ourselves to get out of bed any earlier. We are on vacation after all! – we met up with him at the car park. A quick stop to a cash point that we passed by and we were off!

It was sunny yet cold. I found the landscape totally captivating as it’s different from what I grew up in (more coast as well as mountains covered with trees – life in the tropics) and where I currently live (cloudy London). But once we got to the High Atlas Mountains, its zigzagging road was enough to remind me that as ironic as it sounds since I travel often, I get car sick easily, also I was seated behind the driver (yes, I’ll use that as an excuse and a valid one at that, I think!). To make sure that nothing comes out – and to hopefully get through this in a more dignified way… I slept! Having said that, every time we’d pull up so we can check out the views (and take pictures of course!) I’ll be up for sure!

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We went to see Ait Ben Haddou, an old moorish citadel. Now popular in Hollywood as on site location for many movies (Gladiator, Game of Thrones, etc). According to our guide, even from hundreds of years ago, traders from Mozambique (or it may have been another exotic sounding country) would travel for weeks til they get there. Trade. And then head back home. I was imagining caravans of camel traversing truly long distances, camping at night, moving at a pace that we’d consider slow now.

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We passed by the Valley of the Roses too! But since it was winter, it was endless shrub after shrub -all leafless. I’m certain it’s beautiful in spring! Wish I can go back and see that for myself. Eventually, we arrived in another beautiful valley – looks like I’ll be using this word often to describe the landscapes we’ve passed by in this trip. There was this red mountain, devoid of greeneries that looks liked it’s been carved to look like humongous fingers. Coz of that, they call it the monkey fingers mountain. I’ll have to google that bit if it’s true!

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Less than 5minutes drive away – still amazed by what I was seeing – our jeep pulled over a roadside hotel. Looks like we’d be staying the night here – woot! I made up my mind then to wake up early so that I can go out and take pics the next day. The sun had set on the last bend and was too dark now to explore the area.

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We were led to the receiving area were various biscuits,  nuts, and mint tea greeted us. I can’t get enough of Moroccan tea – I seriously love it! I was trying my best not to finish the ones in our teapot – alas, to no avail!😂

They then carried our bags to our room with us following behind. As is the case with us now, we drew lots to see who’d get to sleep on the big bed. Never had luck with any draw that I already put my bag in one of the single beds before even choosing one. As is the usual, it wasn’t me. 😐😭

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Dinner was kinda hit and miss. The entertainment was alright though – the local guys were playing instruments and singing songs that I have no idea what it was about but  interesting nonetheless

Day 2
Attempting to be up early again, we were still the late ones for breakfast. Looks like many of those who have arrived last night alongside us had gone up and left – or at least have already eaten. Even with my conviction to wake up early the night before…. nah.  It just felt so warm and snug that I just can’t bring myself to get out of bed any earlier! Anyway, I’m not so keen on sweet breakfast which is what French breakfast kinda reminds me of (bread, jams, butter, honey, coffee) only now, with Moroccan twist (pancake, eggs, fresh orange juice, sponge cakes for dessert).

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Later in the day, we’d be at the Sahara desert so Jess and I decided to dress “appropriately”- flowy trousers as well as light coloured tops. I wore sandals too. First destination was a panoramic view of the valley we were in. It was a short drive there but the view, I found, stunning! We were pretty high up and you can see the road snaking along the edge of the mountains – and to think we were down there just a few minutes back! I noticed two things simultaneously, first was the view and second was the fact that it was soooo effing cold – and to think I only had sandals on! As soon as our driver thought we’ve spent enough time there, the other people we’ve caught up with have already gone again, I ran to the jeep… rummaged through my bag which was at the back… and put on my (warm) socks and changed to my sneakers. Thought I’d have frostbite!😱

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Next destination was this gorgeous gorge. We were instructed to get off the jeep, walk towards the end of the gorge and that he’d meet up with us there. They’ve made it so that we can appreciate the view/ experience. I felt so minuscule walking between towering mountains! And because of this, we were walking in a very windy path! I was torn between walking quickly to reach the warmth at the end of the pass and taking my time to take pics and to gawk at the view! I was pretty sure I did lots of gawking! Haha

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It was then quite a drive after that. Punctuated by lunch in a local cafeteria/ eatery. Jess was insisting that we eat at places were only locals would go to. Food served was fast, cheap, and huge in size. Toilet was like the ones I’ve encountered in China – ones on the ground and you’d have to squat (if you’re a woman). To dry hands after hand washing is with a literal paper! After a satisfying meal (I love their bread!), it was time for us to get back on to the road.

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We stopped for a while in a shop where we bought some scarf to use as head wrap. While there, the girl behind the cashier asked for our names and quickly fashioned henna tattoo design around it. As touristy as it looks, she then kept putting clothes on us – matched haphazardly at that – and voila! We’re dressed locally of sorts. Hehe a few souvenir pictures in them and then we took them off and went on our way – that last stretch of drive before the Sahara!

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Our driver/guide then proceeded to ask whether we’d like to go swim in the lake. A question I found a bit odd since we’re headed to the desert but I saw in front of me a vast expanse of lake. I said I’d have loved to but didn’t think to bring a swimsuit with me.  Then he chuckled. The lake I had in view was gone! They then pointed out at the one on the right – the one I saw was at the left. I blurted, “is that what they call a mirage? Are we seeing one now? Awesome!!!” Though what instantly came to mind were scenes in movies where people would race towards an imagined oasis to quench their dying thirst away only to find that isn’t the case. I would be filled with despair if that ever happens to me *knocks on wood* it was then explained to us that this naturally occurring phenomenon is caused when light is refracted through air at different temperatures.

DCIM101GOPROGOPR5669.After we made a turn away from the paved road, the jeep pulled over. We were then told to go on top of the jeep for the last bit of travel before we get on the camels. It was so fun!!!! I mean, we were screaming kinda non stop (I was taking pics and my friends would suddenly put their weight on me scaring the wits out of me coz I’m on the edge!) but it was interlaced with laughter and excitement too!

Desert camp experience to follow here.

Heading back seemed anticlimactic now that we’ve seen what we came to see 😐 the drive back was long yet beautiful! Our guide asked if we were happy, an emphatic yes from everyone! Then he turned to me specifically and told me that he’d make me happier… he drove off road, pulled over, then asked us to follow him. He poured some water over a big rock and I saw them more clearly – fossils!!!!😱😆

Before heading out of the town and starting off the long drive back, our guide made true his promise to Jess the day before. He got us a “traditional” pizza so we can have a picnic. A couple of hours down the road, a lone tree here and there breaks the monotony of the barren desert landscape. He parked the car beneath one and got our food and some drinks out.

Upon settling it on the bonnet of the jeep, he sliced it with a dull knife and gave us a big slice each. We then sat around in a loose circle atop a few piles of rocks and ate heartily. It’s a Moroccan Berber flatbread stuffed with onions, olives, and herbs and meat. I found it gorgeous and ate 3 slices! I was really hungry!😍 while we were munching away, a few cars passed us by with their passengers waving at us. Another vehicle even pulled over right next to us. The other driver seemed to know our guide and they chatted a bit. We offered him food and he happily took one and wrapped it away ready to eat later on. His passengers however politely declined saying they’ve already eaten at one of the restaurants back from the town we came from. After some time, we got back on to our jeep and we were off! Passing by a landscape that’s starting to become familiar but never tiring to look at and kept leaving me in awe! <3

 

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