The Sahara

Part 2 of our Moroccan Adventure (part one here: Morocco, Marrakech, Souks and Sunshine…).

The next morning we were off for our desert adventure. We were collected from the Riad at 7am and taken to a meeting point where an hour or so later we started our journey. We headed across the Atlas Mountains towards the Ksar of Aït-Ben-Haddou. The ksar is  mainly a collective grouping of dwellings. Inside the defensive walls which are reinforced by angle towers and pierced with a baffle gate, houses crowd together – some modest, others resembling small urban castles with their high angle towers and upper sections decorated with motifs in clay brick – but there are also buildings and community areas. It is an extraordinary ensemble of buildings offering a complete panorama of pre-Saharan earthen construction techniques. This world heritage listed village is also a Hollywood A lister, having appeared in (Brenden Frasers) The Mummy, Jewel of the Nile, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Prince of Persia, and most recently Game of Thrones just to name a few. As we were taken on a tour through the village, our guide proudly announced that last year running water had been connected to the village and next year they expected to get electricity. Sadly we were on a tight schedule and had little time to wander around the village and take in the eclectic scenery of donkeys, chickens, carpet makers, souks, children and women going about their daily lives as we were herded off to a restaurant in the new village for lunch.DSC_3039Our stomach’s full, we dozed on the bus as we continued to head west towards the Sahara. The landscape changed and we passed through mountains which reminded me of contour lines in geography class. We finally passed Zagora and found ourselves in a long valley of date palms, another hour and we were on the edge of the Sahara Desert. We said goodbye to our driver and hello to the camels. Most of our tour group stood around, obviously not wanting to be the first person to have to fumble their way onto a camel, but the moment the guide called for someone to be the first I was already standing next to my camel ready to jump on. Our journey was to take a bit over an hour, and I quickly fell into the rhythm of the camels movement… to be honest the movement kind of reminded me of being on top while having sex.

DSC_3141Half an hour in and my ass was killing me. I was wearing a tight pair of jeans that had rubbed against my skin along the stitching as I bobbed up and down. The older Danish woman bobbing up and down beside me quietly complained that her hips hurt and a women her age should not be in this position for so long. Finally the sun had set and we had arrived at our camp for the night, a ring of 12 sleeping tents and one food tent encircling a fire pit. Guada and I bunked up with a Columbian mother and daughter, we threw our bag into the tent and headed to the food tent for mint tea and to await our dinner.

Once our group had all settled into the food tent one of the guides joined us with a tray of glasses and a pot of mint tea. He poured us all glasses of tea and we went around the group introducing ourselves, our guide was genuinely interested in everyone and would try to say foreign phrases he had learnt from previous guests. After the tea was finished our guide cleared our glasses away and the men served us a communal dinner of soup, and chicken and vegetable tagine. We ate until we were full and then were served fresh fruit; the fruit was just delicious and we could not get enough of the oranges.

DSC_3090Finally the food was cleared away and we all moved outside to the fire pit. While some of our guides lit a small fire the others grabbed their drums and krakebs and started playing. After the first song was over some of the drums and krakebs where passed among us tourists as we attempted to keep in beat with our guides. After a while one of the older guides and an old eccentric Italian man jumped up and started dancing around the fire, they quickly encouraged others to join them and I found myself laughing and dancing as we circled the fire.  Eventually the many of the tourists started to disappear and head to bed, we sat for a while and talked to our desert guides about the stars and their lives. Our guide had grown up a Bedouin, travelling in caravans through the desert most of his life…. He said desert life had become much more difficult in recent years and so he and his family had settled in the village 6 years earlier. He missed the desert and they still went away for periods at a time, but it was better for them to be in the village.

Eventually we drifted off to bed, but we were not prepared for the cold desert night… Along with the 2 blankets each we found in our tent, Guada and I wore everything we had brought with us. For me that was a turtleneck sweater, t-shirt, and long sleeve shirt, with jeans and summer pants over the top; my winter jacket zipped up and hoodie pulled close around my head; shoes on and my bed socks on my hands like gloves. We were still freezing but somehow we survived the night. The next morning we had breakfast and mounted the camels just before sunrise for the trek back to our awaiting buses. Not everyone was keen to climb back on the camels, and for some of us it may have been smarter if we didn’t. However again I mounted my camel and we set off the way we came. Within 10 minutes I was regretting my decision. This time every time I bobbed up and down on the camel it felt like my ass was being smacked raw. But I refused to admit my defeat and battled on. As the sun rose over the mountains we stopped to admire the sunrise and to take selfies. Finally we arrived back at our bus, we dismounted our camels, bid our guides goodbye and loaded back onto the bus.

DSC_3201We left the desert and traveled back to the town of Oaurzazate which we had passed the day before. We were guided around the old city and the Taourirt Kasbah by a local guide enjoying an education in the the history and traditions of clay architecture before being deposited in a restaurant overlooking the old Kasbah to enjoy lunch.

DSC_3209

After lunch we leisurely made our way back to Marrakech, stopping here and there in the Atlas Mountains for photo opportunities or to stretch our legs. Finally just before 7pm we were dropped at the gateway to the Medina, grabbing some street food as we walked back to our Riad.

Finally I was able to peel away the jeans I had worn for the last 2 days and enjoy a long, hot shower. On peeling away the jeans however I discovered that my desert adventure had left its mark, the rubbing of my tight jeans as I bounced up and down on the back of the camel had left a 2 ½ inch cut on my my ass….DSC_2823

The adventures continue in ‘Agadir and Hamman’.

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