I am sure that every one of us has been asked questions to which there is only one correct answer. Let say after a meal at a restaurant, the waiter comes to your table and ask if you would like a dessert, you say “yes”, no matter what you’ve had as a meal. “No” would be an appropriate response. Besides, what kind of savage who doesn’t finish their meal with something sweet.
So, it was only natural when we were in Morocco and we asked ourselves if we wanted to visit the Sahara, we both said; “AWYISSS, heck YISS!” (read: Yiss means Yes, overenthusiastically Yes), proceeded by (a failed attempt of) Camel Walk dance.
Okay fine, it was me. Nico is too Canadian to get over-enthusiastic about anything (but hunting).
After reading blogs, books, and even trying to calculate how to get to go across the desert from Fes to Marrakech, we decided to take a private tour. We used the service from the Tour of Peace for a 5 days and 4 nights trip through the desert via Erg Chebbi Dunes. This desert trip has become the highlight of our whole Morocco trip.
We visited a lot of places, saw things that we have never thought we would see (like a forest full of macaques on the brink of the Sahara Desert), did things that we have never thought we would have done (gotten peed on by a kid (a kid like a baby goat kind of kid, not a human kid)), and experienced so much more in this unforgettable trip. I will divide those little
scandals stories in separate posts. But first, let me roundup our itinerary:
Day 1. Fes - Ifrane - Azrou - Midelt - Ziz Valley - Erg Chebbi Dunes
We were picked up at our hotel in Fes first thing in the morning and started our desert trip with our own driver and a personal tour guide, on an air-conditioned, non-stop Berber music, Toyota 4X4. Yeah baby, it’s a private tour.
Our first stop was Ifrane, a city that's known as the Switzerland of Morocco because it is way cleaner and more organized compared to the other cities in Morocco, plus, in winter, this beautiful city is covered with snow and becomes a ski resort. Yep, snow in Morocco, not far from the desert. What the what?! Apart from that, and outside the snow season , the only other attraction is the lion rock. Roar ?
Then we passed by Azrou, where the cedar forest full of monkeys is. This area is also called as the lower Atlas, part of the Atlas Mountain, the biggest mountain chain in North Africa.
We had lunch at Midelt and continue our way through the Tizi N Talghamt pass (some kind of a highway). One thing I didn’t quite get; the desert is vast and empty so they could’ve just made the highway straight, at least for the weak-bellied dainty ladies like myself. But nooo, of course they made it curvaceous like a string of dried instant noodle instead. My lunch exited me through the same hole it got in not long after we hit back the road…
My mood was better when we arrived at the Ziz valley area where I got to see my first oasis with my very own eyes. Pretty spectacular, I mean look at that lush green area in the middle of the dry and dead surroundings.
Erg Chebbi dunes
Then finally we got the glimpse of the desert on Erg Chebbi dunes from afar. Erg, is actually what we commoners know as a desert; a large sea of sands. It was beautiful, with an hint of a post-apocalyptic look. We spent the night at Merzouga, a small city near the Erg Chebbi dunes, then something magical happened; a rainfall. Well, okay, it's not magical, but still, it's rare. I thought rain never falls in desert area. But as with most things, I was woefully misinformed.
After 7 hours of interesting ride, we finally arrived at our hotel Auberge du Sud. This hotel, located about 15 minutes off the road from the highway, is surrounded by those dead-looking dunes. However, it has a pool y’all! A frickin’ blue-fresh-water (okay, a bit chlorined) pool, overlooking the vast dunes. I had mixed feelings about this. It’s seemed like to be a waste of water, considering how dry it is in the area, but at the same time, my afternoon swim was heavenly!
Day 2. Merzouga - Khamlia - Hassie Labied - Desert camp
Second day into the trip, things were getting more and more interesting. We didn’t ride that far in distance today, but we did a heck of a lot. Our driver, which I forgot his name (yes, I suck with names) was a Berber (nomad), and our guide, Youssef, was from Erfoud, a small city next to Merzouga. They were very knowledgeable about this area and Moroccan culture. They took us for a tour of the dunes to visit the surroundings.
Our first point of interest was the black volcanic rocks of fossils. Our driver seemed to know every corner of this desert (if desert has corners that is) like the back of his hand. Honestly, I am awed by his amazing skill of inability-to-get-lost.
I mean look at this, all you see is sand. Tanned color dry sand everywhere. Left and right. Front and back. How do you know where to go??? Traces? Forget that, wind blows every now and then, smoothen all the traces you left.
Since we were already in the desert, might as well we visit a real desert nomad home, shall we?
Apparently, visiting a nomad’s home like we did is a way to help them, financially. They served us tea, nuts, a place to relax, and at the same time we get to learn and understand their way of life. In return, we left gratuities on the table once we were done.
Khamlia and the Gnawa music
Next, we went to Khamlia Village to enjoy some psychedelic spiritual music of Gnawa, performed by the local boy band. Apparently, they have released a few CDs for the past years. Local celebs!
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a human-made oasis to see how the irrigation works in the desert, at Hassi Labied area. The oasis is divided into few rows of squares for the families that live in the area to farm.
After the long day, we headed back to our hotel to have a nap before we headed out again for a 3 hours of camel trek far into the desert and camped in a bivouac in the middle of the dunes.
Okay, that was our first 2 days of the desert trip. I will continue the story in the next posts, because otherwise this page will be too heavy to load. See you in the next post(s)!