2 sisters, 10 days, 3 airplanes, 1 train, 2 buses, countless taxis, 2 lovely camels and numerous steps
One and only Morocco
Our travel started in cold and rainy Ireland with a direct flight to Marrakech where we were greeted with lovely 25 degrees and an hour long wait for the custom to let us in. I arranged the whole trip online so some of the things could have been better planned but we are all more likely to remember things that were totally unplanned and random.
The drive to our Riad (a large traditional house built around a central courtyard, often converted into a hotel) located in the heart of Medina was an adventure by itself. After a short drive on the main avenue we entered the Medina streets that are small and to us looked like an unsolvable labyrinth. Our driver didn’t speak English and our French is limited to Qui and Merci so he simply stopped in the middle of a tiny and un-lit street and said in broken English: “Get out“.
Bear in mind, for both of us this was a first trip outside of Europe so there was a tiny bit of fear involved – after all it was 1 in the morning and there were no people on the street and no sign of our Riad. At that moment a young man came by and said he works for the owner and will take us to our accommodation. He took us through several narrow streets and showed us the entrance that looked shabby as the rest of the nearby houses. But after entering the door we were welcomed by a traditional charming inner yard with a small swimming pool. We booked through Booking.com and the price for two people (Breakfast included) was 100€ which was a moderate price compared to other places we found in the city.
On our second day, Muhammad took us to the souk and explained a bit about how to find our way around it. Honestly, it didn’t help at all. From the start we realised that maps are not going to help at all so we just enjoyed getting lost and admiring beautiful items in the souk. From exotic spices, beautiful cashmere scarves, colourful pottery, Aladdin looking lamps, and millions of carpets. Merchants calling us in all languages possible to come and take a look at their products was something we were aware it’s going to happen but it didn’t make it any easier. Avoiding the scooters from all angles and directions. Smell of the street food. Freshly baked bread being sold on the street and by street I mean literally put on the floor. It’s a lot to take in so we made stops to enjoy the freshly made orange juice in the sun just overlooking people wandering around, from other tourist that were equally stunned as us, to local people who were just walking around certainly thinking how lost and silly we all look.
To sum it up our first day was just us getting lost around the souk and absolutely loving it.
The following day we ventured on a 3 day adventure from Marrakech to the Sahara, which again started as an adventure itself because there were dozens of mini buses and drivers that were talking loudly in Arabic trying to figure out where to put us so all the buses are full and that all the people end up on a tour they choose. It lasted another half an hour and we were relieved when we finally got into the right bus and started our adventure. This tour was the highlight of a journey for both my sister and me since it gave us plenty of stops that showed us a small insight into the Berber culture. I would definitely recommend booking it, we booked online week in an advance but you can book it on site or through the people working at the hotel or Riad you’re staying at. The price was approximately 80€ per person, included breakfast and dinner (we booked with Viator.com).
The tour started in the wild Atlas Mountains with the highest mountain pass in North Africa at 2 260 meters, with charming rural Berber villages scattered around on the most unimaginable places.
Our first longer stop was Kasbah Ait Benhaddou, a fortified village that seems frozen in time. Once had a crucial role due to its location on the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech. Today, there are only several families living there and the village is used as a set for numerous movies such as Gladiator, Prince of Persia and Game of Thrones.
We were passed off to a guide and although this wasn’t included in our tour price, it was only a few extra dirhams which I didn’t mind giving to a local in exchange for some folk tales.
The following morning I was woken up at 5 in the morning by the sound of a prayer. Our hotel room was on the 3th floor and it had a balcony overlooking the village so I came out and enjoyed the beauty of the words I had no idea what they mean and enjoyed the sun rise over the village.
We spent an afternoon drinking tea and learning about carpet production from local Berber man and wandering around their village set in a lush green valley next to spectacular gorges. Our guide was a young man called Rashid Kus Kus and the picture you see beneath was taken after we arranged a marriage where I was promised I wouldn’t have to work all day in the field, just couple of hours.
Later in the day we continued driving towards the desert and the last 3 hours all we could see the surrounding landscape getting flatter and flatter, the rocks getting smaller and smaller. Something I noticed during the hours and hours of sitting in the bus is that there were small groups of people gathering in the fields or oasis, either family’s, young or older groups of people, just sitting and spending time with each other.
After our arrival to the desert we were greeted by our guides and got acquainted with our camels and started our jumpy journey towards our camp. Riding a camel was such an amazing and scary experience at the same time. Their hoofs are wide and perfect for walking in the sand. But even for them it’s tricky to go down the dunes so they slip every once in a while and me – I have mini heart attack every time they do.
We made a stop to admire the sunset, our guides pointed towards the high dune and said we should go there to have better view. I felt for each step I took forward I went two backwards, but it was more than worth the hard work. I didn’t even think to take more pictures because all I could do was just sit down and enjoy the beauty and serenity of that moment.
Our night in the camp was full of good food, laughter and good music. We spent the night sitting around the fire listening to traditional Berber music while drinking – what else but tea! Afterwards, the guides showed us each of the instruments and encouraged us to try it, so I did manage to make a few sounds – all I will say it’s harder than it looks like.
After having an amazing dinner, we went outside of the camp to see the stars, and by stars I mean millions and millions of them scattered on the sky. But to able to see them we had to climb the dune again, and I swear it was 40 m high – or it felt like it was. I went out with my sneakers but after only a few steps, both my sister and I, had so much sand in them that we just took them off and walked barefoot. It was very windy and the particles of the sand got everywhere, from our eyes to our hair – and we might have swallowed some it too.
Eventually the fire went down and I found myself lying in the tent, listening to the wind howling and sand scratching the tent ‘‘walls‘‘. Even after months have rolled on it doesn’t seem quite real. It’s one of those memories you don’t trust inside your head – it’s too perfect to be real. Sahara captivated me in every sense and I can’t wait to return to her again. In the same time it made me respect the Berber people for their ability to live and travel through her for centuries and making such a special relationship with her which is still evident in the love and respect that even younger generations have for the desert today.
On our return in Marrakech the unpredictable Moroccan nature gave us another surprise in the form of 10 centimetre snow on the Atlas Mountain which was incredibly magical since we spent the morning in the desert at 25 degrees. Due to the amount of snow the road through the mountain was about to close so our driver started to drive like a crazy person. Somewhere in the middle of the mountain we had a minor car crash – everyone was fine, except the ventilator of the bus. As a result of that, we had to spend half an hour on snow without jackets and we almost froze to death. But all ended good and by the night time, after 12 hour drive we were back in Marrakech.