The long road to the dunes of Sahara
At the footsteps of the mountains, we said goodbye to the fresh, cool air and to the beautiful people living there and we set out with small steps to meet the desert. Sorin obviously took care of everything so we wouldn't really miss anything worthwhile seeing and as such we also ticked the impressive alpine road that goes over the Atlas Mountains. Serpentine and bare, dry mountains – every place has its charm.
We have to stop in order to shoot some pictures and to cool ourselves in the cold outside wind!
Aït Benhaddou. Aït Benhaddou is a Ksar – a type of medieval fortified fortress. Inside the Ksar there are many Kasbahs, merchant houses. Even though generally speaking this isn't something totally new, as Europe and even Romania is full of medieval fortresses, the curious thing about the Ksar is that it is entirely made out of clay. Taking into consideration the low amount of rain you can easily say that the builders of old did an excellent job.
The location is perfect because from the top you have a fantastic 360-degree view of all the surrounding desert fields.
It is even more interesting to visit it during spring because then a river is flowing in front of the fortress and you can catch some fantastic shots in the reflection.
Inside the fortress, you can find lots of souvenirs and plenty of merchants full of stories and trade skills. You have to stand your ground if you plan not to spend a lot of money.
We were taken by surprise by a sympathetic youngster who has told us many stories about his talismans, about how his people used them to navigate the desert and how they could read the stars with their help.
It is like a small bazaar only a lot quieter than the others we have seen, but still, you can find anything here from art to adornments, from scarves and apparel to ceramics.
Ouarzazate. Time flies and even though it is hard to leave all the small wonders we make our way to our accommodation. If you reach this area then Ouarzazate is a nice city to spend the night in. As a side note, in Ouarzazate you can also find the Atlas Film Studios – we would have liked to visit them but as a group, we took it to a vote between the kasbah and the studios and well.. you know the winner already.
In the resort where we slept, we also had dinner – the food was good overall but the highlight of the evening was the waiter who took our orders in a continues laughter, full of jokes, looking slightly intoxicated by some hashish. The man was pure therapy for the group as there was no chance on Earth you could keep up a serious face when he started laughing at about anything you said. He was epic.
We had a deep and relaxing sleep and the next morning Karina took the time for some yoga by the pool.
Todgha Gorges. On our way to the desert, we have seen glimpses of the Moroccan world and how it unfolds, day by day. As we said in previous articles, people are not too friendly with cameras, so we took advantage where we could, and where we couldn't we caught a drop of their everyday life on the move.
Hmm, we do not think we could get used to living in their world.
We finally reached Todgha Gorges. Woooow, such a big canyon, and wooow, so many scarfs!
The girls found a cute Tuareg man… and because of this, we all bought scarves from him. You can't argue with women! 🙂
This is the best place to get yourself a scarf for your journey in the desert, riding a dromedary. You don't want to go on your ride without one might it be only for pictures or protection against the sun, sand. It was hard to pick one color when there are so many!
Everybody has a scarf so… Sahara, here we come!
Sahara with dromedaries, Tuaregs and… rain
Who said that it doesn't rain in the desert? Just our luck! After some time we have finally reached a small hotel-kasbah where we left all our luggage except for the bare minimum needed for one night's sleep. We hurried up and ate something and then we went and met our dromedary friends that would help us cross the desert. And yes, they are dromedary – one hump – and not camels even though most people call them like the later. As a side note, Africa only has dromedary and Asia is the place with camels. Camels also come in two types, domestic (Central Asia) and wild ones (Mongolia and North-West China). So we're good here, right? We'll end the side note now and resume our story.
The starting point of our desert hike was close to the hotel in the village of Merzouga and it is there where you can find dozens of dromedaries and Tuaregs equipped with everything a curious tourist could ask for.
We left at sunset out of two main reasons, to avoid the hot day sun and for photography.
Without too many introductions and explanations we set out! It is a bit strange until you get used to the funny-bouncing walking pattern of the dromedary. When it goes up a dune the shock absorbers kick in just like you would be riding a smooth tank but when it goes downhill hold on tight as it can get unstable! It is like a rodeo from 2 meters up. Clearly, it is not a perfect moment to take pictures, so hold on tight to the metallic handle of the saddle.
The experience was excellent! We have really enjoyed the two hours of riding.
It was excellent to have our friend Iula up in front and to see him get muscular cramps from sitting too tensed on the dromedary's saddle. Even though Iula is an excellent photographer he didn't even try to get his camera out of his backpack. Priceless, we would pay to see him again!
We had a great sunset but something that was even more amazing was the sea of clouds that was rushing towards us. The sky seemed like it had a great storm ensured for us, with lighting and the sorts. We never imagined what followed!
We were close to the oasis where we were following to spend the night when the storm caught us. At first, it was only strong winds but soon after sand was flying everywhere. Karina lost her scarf as she didn't secure it well enough and she remained without any cover. When the storm started she had sand everywhere, her mouth, her eyes, her ears, her teeth and it is the kind of sand that has tiny particles that get in everywhere! She couldn't look around as the dust cloud engulfed everything.
When we reached camp at the oasis the Tuaregs sheltered us in a tent and all we could see behind was dust and that it was simply pouring outside. Never in our life would we have imagined that we would be tracking through the Sahara desert and that it would rain. It is a unique feeling and one that brought sheer joy to us.
It started to slow down after about 30 minutes and we made a run for it to the big tent where our dinner had already been prepared and was waiting for us at candle light. While we were eating together with the other tourists the storm outside died out and our Tuareg hosts made a cozy camp fire where they performed traditional dances and songs.
It is something you need to experience on your own! Towards the end of the night, they even invited us to a jam session where they gave us their instruments and tough us how to play em'. You can imagine how awful and out of tune it sounded. I think the poor people got terrified by our lack of skill.
We went to bed not too late after because in not so many hours we wake up even though it was still night outside. We left on a hike during night time just before the sun was about to rise with the destination point set out on the highest dune of sand that was close by.
We must tell you that it isn't as easy as you'd think to climb on sand. The ascent is really demanding and even though we only climbed about 200 meters vertical relief it really exhausted us. Apart from this the feeling of climbing barefoot in the smooth sand and to step on the virgin ridges of the dunes is something we will not forget all too soon.
We are on the border with Algeria and we are happy that we made it on time to catch the first sun rays. We have clear skies and the distant clouds have a long way until they will reach us.
It is very tranquil and the air is still cool. Great feeling. Three, two, one and here is the sun!
We stayed there for a while taking picture after picture after picture. Who knows when and if we will ever do this again.
The descent was really fast – if going up is killing you then the descent is more than a bliss. Ahh.. yeah… we also met this fantastic couple: him, paragliding, her… as a joke brought her ice-ax up on the dune!
The Tuaregs offered a snowboard which Alex took advantage of and carried it all the way up in order to go for a ride. He said it was more pain than gain as the sand is hardly as good as snow, but hey… he needed to try it out!
It was starting to get pretty hot so we went to get our dromedaries and set out to the hotel where our breakfast was waiting for us. Hunger… so much hunger!
All in all, this was our experience in Morocco through our eyes. Thank you again, Solaris Travels for all the hard work, the patience and the great vibe of the expedition! We warmly recommend these guys with all our hearts especially after we have seen firsthand what they have to offer!
We got back home with less money, some debts, but full of emotion. In the end, that's what truly is important and we are very happy we went on this trip!
Morocco, it was wonderful meeting you!Hope to see you again!