The white sun of the Moroccan desert. Encounters with Nomads and Berbers.
The trip to Morocco was very intense: Marrakech, Essaouira, Rabat, almost a week tour of the Kasbahs, the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara. But first things first, and this post would like to dedicate the excursion to the Atlas Mountains, Berber villages and the Sahara, the vast desert, which is definitely on my list of the best trips.
We booked a standard tour from Marrakech for 5 days. (We could do 4, but it’s a tough 10-hour drive up and down the serpentines from Marrakech. It is better to take 5 days – not so stressful).
There are a lot of tour operators in Marrakech that offer similar excursions. We booked in advance at a British lady Liz Williams on the site of her agency marrakech to desert , and were very pleased. During peak seasons is definitely better to book in advance, especially on New Year.
The tour costs 22866.29 rubles (or 5,500 dirhams) for 4 days. It includes SUV rental with a driver and guide, overnights in hotels and breakfasts, + Sahara camel tour and overnight stay in the camp in the desert. Mustafa, our guide, spoke excellent English and explained everything in detail, and most importantly fun without being boring.
Tickets to museums (they are usually very cheap), lunches and tips are paid separately. With tips just a problem, you just have to give them at every step for any service.
Day One: You are picked up from your hotel in the morning and begin your journey through the Atlas Mountains to the desert. The Atlas Mountains are rugged, with virtually no vegetation. The driver will stop to admire and capture this brutal landscape, as well as the road of continuous serpentines.
Tour the Atlas Film Studios where such famous films as “Cleopatra”, “Gladiator”, “The Mummy”, and many others were shot. It’s fun to watch and climb the scenery of Egyptian pyramids with views of snow-covered mountain peaks
We also drove through a valley where the Damascus rose blooms in spring. At the beginning of May there is even a festival in honor of the rose. Girls, I highly recommend damask rose creams and oils. Your skin afterwards is velvety soft and you can feel the fragrance! It costs much cheaper than in Moscow. We also drove by small quarries, where the rocks, which show fossils, are used to make various interior items: tabletops, dishes, chessboards. If you are not afraid of overweight luggage, a dish with prints of ancient creatures of eons ago BC can be an unusual gift for friends
Up to the sand dunes our path lay across a stony, reddish desert where for many kilometers there is nothing to see, nothing living – a real wasteland. Only occasional Berbers in their brown jellabas with hoods (floor-length robes), looking like Jedi knights, herded scrawny goats and camels, trying to find scanty plants that had burned in the sun.
Through this brutal beauty our SUV drove up to the beginning of the dunes. Here, in a small cottage camp, we left our suitcases and stocked up on water, because there is no water where we went on camels through the dunes. There is no electricity either. We were told there would be a bio-toilet if we were lucky, but there might not be one….
We climbed onto grumbling camels and paddled across the Saharan dunes. This picture of a bright yellow desert, a nomad guide with a turban on his head, and our shadows on the dunes is a photographer’s dream.
Our guide Bakkar (a nice guy, a separate story about him) stopped near a high dune so we could watch the sun from its top. At sunset, the bright yellow desert begins to turn pink… Anyway, it’s better to see.
As dusk fell, our caravan arrived at a camp set up in a small oasis at the foot of a large dune. The guides had prepared a traditional Berber dinner of tagine. We ate it by candlelight and washed down with wine we had thoughtfully purchased in Ouarzazate. (With alcohol in Morocco is strict, and on the way to the desert so even beer in restaurants can not be found), so it is better to ask your guides to stop in almost underground liquor stores in Ouarzazate, where you can stock up on alco for the entire tour.
You’d think a candlelit dinner in the desert, singing and dancing to tattoos by the fire, would be much more romantic… but what’s there… When darkness falls on the desert, a real date with the universe begins.Keep in mind Lermontov’s famous line, “I go out alone on the road…”
The heavens are solemn and wondrous!
The earth sleeps in the glow of blue…
And indeed there is such total silence, the Milky Way and so many stars, that indeed “star speaks to star,” and “it’s solemn and wonderful in the sky! One begins to understand what Lermontov was writing about then.
This state of meditation and almost catharsis comes to you if you move a little bit away from the camp and climb a higher dune in the pitch darkness.
At dawn, the sleepy tourists, falling into the sand, try to climb to the top of a hundred-meter dune to see how the desert wakes up. When the sun has gilded all the dunes, the caravan gathers for the return trip back to civilization.
It’s cool to “roll down” from this huge dune.
Day 3. Visiting Nomads.
Our tour company Authentic Morocco (full name Authentic Journeys Morocco) adheres to the idea of so-called social tourism, when you do not just travel, but also do something kind, useful. For example, if desired, tourists can collect a small amount of money to buy a poor Berber or nomadic family goat, sheep or something else useful for the economy, come to visit this family and present.
In our case, after paying for the tour, there was no more money left for goats and sheep. My man wanted to trade me for a couple of camels… But no one would take it (just kidding). So we just bought some groceries, bread and went to the nomads for a picnic.
Buff…That’s a tough life they have, I want to tell you.
Their “house”, which is actually a small tent, is set up in the middle of the desert, not far from the dunes and …for many, many kilometers is practically a scorched wasteland. We were in winter, but during the day there was a terrible heat, thin air, and it seemed like a mirage was about to appear. And at night, it’s freezing. We slept in the desert under several blankets.
So we exchanged the bread we brought with the bread of the Nomads, baked in the sand. Very tasty bread, by the way. We made a salad somehow from a part of purchased products, and gave the other part to the hostess. We listened to the guide’s stories about nomads and looked at the owners of the hut. The hostess and her daughter, 12 years old, also squinted at us, but they were not ashamed to eat with us, and it was not their custom. Women darning clothes in the other end of the hut. The head of the family was herding goats and sheep at the other end of the desert in this heat. Children of nomads usually remain uneducated, and seldom visit cities in their entire lives.
The aforementioned desert guide, Bakkar, is also a nomad, born in exactly the same hut, and can’t read or write at 25. But he is a smart and talented fellow. He mastered the English language perfectly by ear. And how he sings and plays the drums. He even sang to tourists from Japan a song in Japanese. In my naivety and ignorance, I asked him what country he wanted to go to. And he answered with a benevolent smile, meaning “oh, those silly tourists”, that first he should go to the city and see the ocean or the sea, and then he’d start dreaming about other countries. In his 25 years he had seen practically nothing but the desert, well, small villages where they buy food.
There is some charisma in this guy, which attracts people to him. Many tourists, and the owner of the tour company, have already offered him to take him to Marrakech or Rabat (and other countries invited him to stay for free), but he keeps saying that there is no time…
Now, thanks to work in tourism, he was able to move his mother with her brothers from the hut to the house. But he is still saving up for something and still has no time… or he is afraid of the city and the sea… in the desert every dune, every grain of sand is familiar to him.
After lunch we looked at the “black desert” of volcanic rocks. Then they took us to a concert.
And here’s another luxury camping option in the nearby dunes. For those who can’t enjoy contemplating the stars in the sky without showers, toilets, and other signs of civilization. The facilities here are up to the standards of a four-star hotel. Bathroom with Moroccan mosaics, a huge bed with featherbeds, even sometimes gets 3G. It’s perfect for an exotic honeymoon. The campground is designed for just two or four people. A night in such a campsite costs 200 euros. The price includes dinner and wine.