A Night in the Sahara

You can’t leave Morocco without visiting the sand dunes of their part of the Sahara. The golden sea of sand that change hues with the sunlight will forever stay in your memory. I was lucky enough with a couple of friends to witness its grandeur with the best weather possible. There are many packages from Fes but it does cost a lot because, well, it’s really far. The cost can range from 150 to 250 euros but the itineraries and coverages are mostly identical. The key is, of course, to search and compare prices on the web (be wary of the reviews) and if you’re already in Morocco, to haggle nonstop because apparently, that is quite a Moroccan pastime. We had ours for 160 euros which is not so bad of a deal. You can find the details in this link: Fes 4×4, although our lovely chauffeur told us he’s starting a new tour company by himself so I’m giving him a shout-out: Morocco Car Services.

We were stationed in Fez, at a riad, where our chauffeur picked us up and brought us back safely. Here’s where all those bucks took us:

Ifrane. They marketed this place as the ‘Switzerland’ of Morocco but we found it to be like a clean rich suburban neighborhood.

Azrou. As a brief stopover, this is where you’ll see cedar forests and the wild monkeys which all hid from us disappointing our enthusiastic tour guide.

Midelt. This quaint town with plenty of restaurants (read: Tajine) to refuel for the long ride to the desert. The lunch is not part of the package though but everything in Morocco is cheap. If it’s not, your chauffeur can do the talking.

Ziz Gorges. This picturesque gorge towering over the Ziz river is like an apocalyptic Martian desert journey with abandoned Berber stone cities and wild dates along the valleys. This does deserve another post and probably an overnight hiking journey.

Merzouga. As the edge of the Sahara in the Moroccan side, this city hosts mini-resorts where you can prepare for your camel ride to the desert camps. Also, more importantly, here’s where the showers and the toilets are. We did an overnight stay in the desert so on our way back, here’s where we also freshened up and dusted off all the sand. They also have a free buffet breakfast and a pool and it does resemble a 4-star service.

IMG_6982
First time riding camels with this bunch. It’s fun but super painful in the groin! Although who would mind when you have this view? (Photo courtesy of @phil_gotico)

Sahara. From the mini-resort, we rode camels through waves of dunes before the sunset approaches. IT.WAS.MAGICAL. Like you thought your classic windows wallpaper was photoshopped, it is not. The vibrant orange hues that change with the amount of light throughout the day is just divine. We really wished magic carpets were real. I mean camels are cute but they’re a pain in the groin. We stopped on top of one of the dunes to rest after probably a 30-minute camel ride and waited as the sun slowly buried itself on the curvy horizon. It’s definitely a must see before you leave the world. Then at the camp, we had a sumptuous feast of salad and chicken in spices and enjoyed a night around the fire, under the stars, with other guests, and the locals in their drums, seemingly high from whatever they are smoking in the desert. It was so fun. Then we had to wake up really early to catch the sunrise which gives another spectrum of colors to the tapestry of sand we were walking on. It was an unforgettable journey, to say the least.

Rissani. Carpets! Carpets! From the mini-resort on our way back, we had to stop in Rissani because our chauffeur is overselling these carpets that he says are famous. I don’t have space in my luggage so I was completely uninterested, but they are really colorful and pretty authentic souvenirs. The prices are, as always, arbitrary. Shopping in Morocco is a psychology game. You need a haggler in the group to get a good deal. We weren’t confident hagglers, so we left empty handed. And they made us feel bad afterwards because they served us tea and laid out all the merchandise to lure us. Like I haven’t seen ‘nice’ transition to a disappointed facial expression that quick. But yeah, our chauffer reassured us that they don’t take it personally, it’s just how they react so the trick really is to not overthink, grow a thick skin, and move on.

 

Moroccan souvenirs you can take home: ‘magic’ carpets and ancient bug remains.

Fossil Shops. On the way back from Merzouga, fossil shops dot the road. I love fossils because they remind me of my childhood encyclopedia days but the shops also kind of destroyed them for me. Somehow my dumb self used to think the fossils I see in books are super rare and are discovered only in a handful. Here, they are literally quarried in mountainous quantity! Like after this, I can see another trilobite fossil and I’d be like, that’s just a Moroccan bargain. But yeah, the quantity they sell is immense and surprising together with minerals and precious stones.

IMG_9338
An abandoned Berber stone village engulfed by wild dates and vegetation, sandwiched in between plateaus forming the Ziz gorges. Postcard perfect!

Not too shabby, right? Even though traveling through Morocco can be a cultural shock, the landscapes in the countryside do compensate for that. It’s Mars in the movies with some vegetation… and camels. Really cute (smelly but cute) camels.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s