Camel trekking

Upon waking all we could think of was what was ahead. We prepared ourselves eagerly and waited at the camp gates in anticipation for our ride. We were aware of the difficulty finding our campsite (turn left 5 times) but became concerned as we were still left standing 20minutes after the allocated pickup time. Finally our ride arrived and from the 4wd stepped our guide, Mohammed in his Berber poncho and his genuine smile. As we squeezed into the car we were met with anxious faces and glowing smiles from a family of four Americans who we were about to embark on a journey with.

Our journey began winding our way through the Atlas mountains offering us views of green valleys, snow capped peaks and villages, old and new, with the former eroding back into the mountains from which they'd been built. We stopped briefly to learn how villagers would use nuts from the Argan tree to create oils and pastes which were then used in the production of food, soaps and cosmetics. After sampling and purchasing, we sat to share a meal offered by Mohammed consisting of Morrocan bread and a selection of Argan dips; Amlou (Almond dip with Argan oil), Argan oil and honey mixed with Argan oil, everyone of them delicious. This gave us a chance to meet our new companions, Charles and Vicky with their two daughters Anna and Laurel, sharing stories of our travels and getting advice on places to see.

We continued the journey through the mountain range appearing on the other side into a barren landscape of dirt and rock. This turned out to be a perfect place for Mohammed to take another break, in the middle of nowhere setting the stereo blaring with Morrocan tunes then getting us all out to dance for no other reason but because we could. Many smiles later we were on our way again headed for Ait Benhaddou, a world heritage site and location of movies such as Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator. Being lead by a local Berber we were introduced the the design and building methods of a traditionally Ksar and the building methods used. This allowed us to understand why the buildings would disolve into the landscape when the residents moved to a better kasbah... very eco-friendly. We enjoyed lunch in the local hotel which was an oasis itself offer amazing food, crystal clear (but cold) pool and the amazing company of our fellow American friends.

We continued on, entering the Dades Gorges made up of "monkeys fingers" consisting of melted rock formations, where we arrived at our hotel for the night. The hidden treasures of this place never ceased to end and our hotel was one of them. Each room was endearing in their own way offering a balcony view  of the local stream meandering through the high gorges of the area which were bathed in ranges of orange, red and purple as the sun subsided. After a refreshing shower we went onto the lounge to await dinner listening to the locals boisterously but very happily chat to someone on the phone, passing it between each other, often in mid sentence or so it would seem. Dinner was served on a round table by the fire where we shared bread (a typical and delightful custom) while sipping mint tea. After another amazing Moroccan dinner we were entertained by Mohammed, and others, to a traditional drumming presentation. This was antastic and we were all happy to leave it at that. Mohammed, however would have none of that and insisted passing various bongo drums around to our group where we showed how inapt we were with our rythm skills. Not to be detered, Mohammed then pulled us up to dance to out of sequence, inept drumming where we all out did ourselves in being the most unco-ordinated... I won!!! The night ended after a lot of laughter, fun and smoke (woodfires aren't so great without ventilation) for a great night sleep filled with absolute silence in our remote oasis.

Our hotel was so silent that upon waking I thought I might be dead. Then Kayla farted and wished I was. The day improved as we spent another Morrocan breakfast, consisting of shared bread, condiments and conversation. It turns out Americans are as boring as us when it comes to breakfast, only having cereal. We continued our journey to the Todra Gorge, a brief visit which contained another small hotel in a surreal location perfect for a hot summer stay in North Africa (or a cool winter visit) and rock climbers, of which there were many. Leaving the gorges everything went flat except for the moutains in the distance, being surounded by the Atlas and Anti-Atlas ranges, both offering their own vistas against the wonderful blue sky and the more immediate landscape that changed from grey rock to black dirt and ending in golden sand. 

At this stage, not only the country, but the citizens also started to change. Berber villages were pointed out along side barriers they had made to slow the advance of the Saharan sands. We entered the final village we would witness as we arrived at Mohammeds home. This for us was unexpected, as we were invited into his home for lunch. After removing our shoes and sitting in his lounge, we were offered the best food and mint tea we had yet tasted, while the family kids watched Tom & Jerry (him and his brother shared a house) on his smartphone. The invitation into his home was so sincere it was humbling, ending with him letting us know from this point forward we were forever welcome.

On the final leg of our trek the dunes of the Erg Chebbi started to appear. Remarkably, the desert surrounding turned black and leaving the road to cross this dark surface we were abruptly stopped by Mohammed. It wa time for another random dance in the desert, all of us madly covorting with no one else but ourselves to see. Just as randomly, Mohammed jumped back into the car, set it into gear then jumped back out chasing it around the flat landscape. After the fun ended we drove to the edge of the golden dunes, donned our turbans, mounted our camels and begun the trek into the desert.

It took us awhile to figure out the most comfortable way to ride. going up and down some of the largest dunes we had ever seen, but once we got in the groove the journey became quite peaceful and scenic in a way only the Sahara can offer. A short 90minutes later we came upon the nomad camp site where we would be spending the evening. After waddling away from our camels and stowing our gear it was time to explore. We ended up perching ourselves ontop of a dune overlooking the camp, with a view of the surrounds while we awaited the sunset. Our time on this journey had been impeccable as it turned out tonight was going to be a full moon and when the sun disappeared the dunes were lit up by the glow of the moon. The experience was magical.

As the temperature dropped we headed back to the camp to be served dinner cooked by the 3 nomad hosts then once again treated to them playing drums, this time around a camp fire under a full moon. Just like the previous night we were asked to participate and although we were a lot more relaxed and willing to try our skill level hadn't changed. Our hosts graciously gave us an alternative to open mic night to comedy night instead, asking us all to tell jokes/riddles. Once again the nomads out did us and the night was enjoyed by all, even the cat in the fridge. We retired to our tents and slept cosily to be awoken at 5am for breakfast and the departure back. We retraced our steps stopping to witness the sunrise in the Sahara then continued to greet Mohammed who was waiting to return us to Marrakech.

12hours and a couple of stops later we were back at our campsite ready for a hot shower. The shower was luke warm but refreshing and our beds a welcome end to an amazing trip. 


After the dramas of Marrakech we had searched for a riad in Essaouira that had onsite parking and was away from the medina. This turned out a lot easier due to Essaouiras smaller size and we arrived safely at the riad where we were pleasantly surprised by a charming little hotel offering excellent service. Our room had a nice rustic feel to it and after the 50th time wacking our heads on the small doorframes we learnt to duck. The terrace on the roof was also a nice area for us to relax and our initial experience in this new city was very positive.

After stowing our gear we walked the short distance from the riad down the beach to the medina. Relaxing at a cafe we were entertained by enthusiastic Morrocan buskers and just enjoyed the slower pace of the area. Having never actually walked through a medina or it's accompanying souk (market), we were amazed at the variety of wares on offer, from whole beef carcases, fresh spices and clothing. We were also frequently kindly offered hashish, opium or anything else that tickled our fancy. No wonder the city was so laid back... After a quick taste of what the medina had to offer we retreated back to the medina for an early night.

The next day we were met with our complimentary breakfast on the terrace which was simple and delicious. After an easy morning spent on the terrace we headed back into the medina to spend the day exploring. We were amazed at the number of shops selling all kinds of artistic items, from woodwork to leather, each one handmade locally. By this stage we had become quite familiar with the myriad tajine dishes on offer and were definitely fans of the aromatic Morrocan stews. We returned briefly to the riad to freshen up and research camel trekking before heading back to the medina in search of a highly recommended vegetarian restaurant. After searching without success, being misdirected by a local and finally finding the restaurant we decided it wasn't what we had been looking for. Thankfully along the way we had passed one of the many small restaurants on offer, this one being filled with customers so we headed back to it starving for food. We were rewarded with the best restaurant we had been to since entering Morroco. As we sat studying the menu, which was filled with amazing local choices, Morrocan music was played throughout and we could hear the Call to Prayer from the local mosque. We worked our way through the best 3 courses and were grateful for stumbling across this little jem.

Our final day in Essaouira was spent relaxing at the beach cafe, drinking beer and wine while watching the kite surfers strut their stuff. The following day we reluctantly headed back to Marrakech after luckily being offered a spot on a camel tour (that had been previously fully booked). Upon arrival at the caravan park we decided to head back into the Marrakech medina for take two... this time by taxi. It was an amazing spectacle but our initial impression didn't appear to be too far off when certain locals started giving us incorrect directions and then shadowing our movements. We quickly found our own way back to the main square and sat down for a well earned dinner watching a couple of locals getting into a fistfight. We headed back to the campsite for an early night, dreaming of the tour we were about to embark on.

Tarifa to Marrakech

Our drive to Tarifa was full of hope. We loved our time in Spain but yearned for a different country with a warmer climate. Tarifa turned  out to be a small little town that we could explore while we waited for the ferry. We had a fantastic lunch in a small vegetarian restaurant, wandered the small streets and read about the different whales and dolphines that lived in the waters off the cost.

We then headed to the port and waited with anticipation for the ferry that would take us over to Morocco. Once aboard we relaxed on a choppy but enjoyable 35min trip to Tanger not knowing what we were heading into. Once we disembarked from the ship we followed the other cars into the customs area and soon learnt that everyone was in it for the tip (we had been informed about the hustlers and felt well prepared). Upon arriving at this check point we were kindly directed by an official to the right window. He then proceeded to request the registration papers for the car and Glenn's passport which were then taken off to get processed. In the meantime another local offered us mint tea even when we refused. Not wanting to be rude but unwilling to drink the "gift" we quickly discarded of both drinks which we were then told we had to pay for. FInally the first "official" returned with our papers and we were once again prompted for payment, which we obliged only to find out that all the man had done was take the papers to the counter for us and fill them in. By this stage we were becoming a lot more wary so when a police official escorted Glenn to register our stay in Morroco, he questioned the official as to his role and the response was that he was just going to fill in another form for us which Glenn politely advised he was capable of doing himself. Even so, on the walk back to the car the gentleman still requested payment for a service that both Glenn and himself agreed was never given.

This turned out to be the most sedate part of our entry into Tanger. Upon leaving the port we entered traffic mayhem where lines on roads came and went, traffic never stopped and we were surrounded by a city of tooting horns. We quickly learned there were new rules for using roundabouts in Morroco. Initially we were cautious giving way to existing traffic on the roundabout until the horns behind us advised us that this wasn't necessary as multiple cars went around us and entered the roundabout anyway. We quickly followed suit and were lucky to make it out of there alive as we participated in a game of chicken, seeing who was going to stop and let the other continue around first...

Our next, in what was becoming a series of adventures in Morroco, began when we plotted a route to Rabat asking Google/GPS to bypass tolls. This it did with it's usual finesse and the route was only going to be 20km more than with tolls. Unfortunately some of the roads in Morroco contain more pothole than bitumen requiring us to take the alternate route at 40km/hr. It was, however the best way to see the locals as we drove through villages and past shepherd after shepherd. As we drove waving to the locals we were surprised at how happy they all were and how eager they were to wave back. The most memorable being a shepherd who couldn't get his hands out of his pockets quick enough to wave back with both hands and a beaming smile in the middle. We them came across our first town of a reasonable size and were amazed that horse and cart or donkey was still one of the main modes of transport only outnumbered by minivans filled to capacity... plus one more. We drove past stalls selling the freshest looking fruit or cooking amazing smelling food and alongside the road all forms of pottery, most notably tagines, could be bought for nothing. 

5 hours later we got to Rabat, continued on down the coast to Casablanca and camped for the night. Overnight the wind started blowing and in the morning it was gale force. The downside to this was that the city became filled with plastic bags gathered from the many open rubbish piles around. Unfortunately we weren't staying long enough to help clean up. As we exited the city we were met with a traffic jam due to a road block up ahead and everyone began honking as if this would clear the road. After determining that it wouldn't, the locals took matters into their own hands and created a detour by driving across to the oncoming traffic lanes and designating it as one of their own. Chaos insued as well as a lot of giggling from us as to the absurdity of the situation and the fact that we would randomly honk our horn to join in with the mayhem . Not to be phased we too decided to join the locals at first by swapping to the other side of the road followed by making our own path down the median strip until we broke free onto a clear road ahead.

As we entered Marrakech we were met with our first sand storm which, while mild for the locals, was a first for us and reduced the visibility to only a few meters ahead at times. Thinking to spoil ourselves, especially due to the low cost, we thought to spend a night in a riad. Upon finding one that was well respected, reasonably priced and offered parking at a location "nearby", we plotted the course in Google maps to lead us to the riad. As we drove, entering into the medina (the old city) the streets started to become a little tight for our liking but we persisted as other cars ahead of us didn't appear to be phased (plus turning around didn't really appear to be an option). Things came to a halt, however as we came down a street that had an angled T junction and required us to fold in our mirrors to get through. At this stage things went from bad to worse.

The two routes we could take would apparently get much thinner according to the crowd of local kids around us. This resulted in multiple locals trying to help us first maneuveur the car around in the T junction to drive back out. This failed and started to make matters considerably worse, irregardless of the confusion that was being caused by so many helpful people offering different instructions to help resolve the situation. Our next step was to try and position ourselves so we could then reverse the van back down the way we came, through the thin street requiring both mirrors folded in and a hundred conflicted instructions being simultaneously broadcast to us. At this stage we were saved by an American who was staying nearby who take charge of the situation and started to get us back down from where we had come. Unfortunately, some of the local kids didn't appreciate him telling them what to do (sometimes necessarily forcefully) and the situation started to become tense. At this point we were jointly saved by a local Muslim man and the American, both offering calm and helpful advice even if they didn't always see eye to eye.

Finally we got the van reveresed far enough back where we could turn the van around, pausing briefly beforehand to allow the annoyed and frustrated backed up foot/horse traffic through. At this stage we discovered that during the chaos someone had stolen one of our iPhones off the dash plus making matters worse the kids were now agressively demanding payment for the help they had offered. Under the sound advice from the Muslim and American (and after thanking them both) we left the city following the path of entry.

We headed back out to an Ibis hotel we had seen on the way in determined to stay somewhere reasonable after the stressful day we had had. To add insult to injury they decided to charge us almost as much for one night as we had paid at the previous Ibis from a night, breakfast and dinner because we hadn't booked it online, something we were unable to do after the phone had been stolen. We were then also emailed from the riad the following day to demand payment for not showing after booking. Thankfully after explaining the situation they graciously waived the charge. Needless to say, at this stage we weren't to fond of Marrakech and without further ado hit the road for Essaouira on the coast.