Ksar el-Kebir - Although many tourists believe that Marrakech, Rabat, Fez and Tangier are the must-see areas of Morocco, after living and working here for over two years, we must disagree. In our experience, to truly know Morocco you must go where the locals go and see what they see, eat what they eat, drink what they drink, and share hearts, stories and bread. Our journey from Marrakesh to Merzouga satisfied all of our senses in these respects in just four short days.
Ksar el-Kebir – Although many tourists believe that Marrakech, Rabat, Fez and Tangier are the must-see areas of Morocco, after living and working here for over two years, we must disagree. In our experience, to truly know Morocco you must go where the locals go and see what they see, eat what they eat, drink what they drink, and share hearts, stories and bread. Our journey from Marrakesh to Merzouga satisfied all of our senses in these respects in just four short days.
The tour provided diverse, breathtaking landscapes and spectacular vistas, from tall to flat, luscious green to crystal snow to shiny sand, and colors of mud red to naval orange. It also gave us the opportunity to see how the people lived a bit differently according to each terrain by way of what crops they grew, clothing they wore, livestock they raised, the style of the houses and food offerings. This is the short story of our wondrous adventure.
Our three person private trek began in Marrakech where our travel guide/driver picked us up in a nice, comfortable and air conditioned 4X4 vehicle. We first travelled the Tizi n’Tichka Pass. Then we visited the old Kasbah of Ouarzazate and Aït Benhaddou, where many American films have been made: Gladiator, The Mummy, Prince of Persia and Lawrence of Arabia among others. The Kasbah was an historical living and working community with structures constructed and connected by red clay and mud. We could feel the history of the area and it was easy to see why film makers flock here for a bit of the “real thing.”
Further east, we travelled through the lush Dades Valley and towns that provided picturesque trips through time. We saw people sowing fields, tending to and harvesting crops and delivering them on donkey back. We watched as others simply contemplated life while watching their goats and sheep munch on the green grass. The smell of fresh bread was in every town and life was bustling about. No wonder this breathtaking and surreal valley has captured the hearts of people for centuries.
Our evening stay at nearby Dar Essyaha provided us an overlook with a Grand Canyon-like view, gushing waterfall and snowy mountain-tops in the background, a complete, traditional Moroccan chicken tagine dinner and in the morning, breakfast complete with steaming mint tea and milwee, a Moroccan flat bread. The staff was happy to share the local customs.
The next day started in the briskness of the Atlas Mountains, but ended in a warm sea of sand. We first traveled the Road of 1000 Kasbahs (castles), followed by a winding drive through beautiful palm groves. The next stop was the stunning Todra Gorge where we exited the vehicle to slowly and fully experience the true wonder that Mother Nature had created by walking through it – enormous, colorful rock formations with a bubbling, natural stream running through. It was hard to imagine that such glorious rock formations could be made from a simple flowing stream. We were reminded of the Moroccan saying, “Drop by drop, the river rises.”
Our senses peaked and back in the vehicle, our guide left the paved road and drove us through rocky and dry terrain until we came to the home site of a true nomad family, complete with the family’s goats, sheep, two donkeys and many bees. The home itself was a shabby tent built from tattered materials gotten or found and surrounded by a makeshift stone wall. The hospitality this family, who had next to nothing, showed us was very humbling. We were treated to homemade spiced goat butter and buttermilk, freshly baked bread and hot tea. While waiting for our fare, we had the opportunity to meet the children, watch the animals roam, romp and graze, and see the interaction of the family members with one another.
Having said our goodbye, we then drove leisurely through small but interesting towns watching the local styles change from town to town and seeing the fresh produce and hanging meat available along the streets, along with the live chickens and other livestock, most simply roaming about. Then we hit the dry desert landscape and ultimately, the Erg Chebbi sand dunes.
During our thankfully short but very surreal camel trek, we saw a massive sea of sand with nothing else – – nothing. To end our introduction to the desert, we arrived at a small and intimate camp, complete with Berber tents and beds for our night’s sleep. We were welcomed with tea and treats, the option of sandboarding and through personal experience realized the difficult and task of climbing tall sand dunes while sinking quickly up to the knees. But, the task of the dune climbing was richly rewarded and well worth it to view the incredible sunset.
After a glorious sunset, we ate a wonderfully prepared dinner of rice salad and tender chicken and, of course, more tea. Then our hosts serenaded us with local drum music in front of a huge bonfire where we sang and danced until we could do so no more. Before bed, we used the complete lack of light pollution as an advantage to view the stars. With the help of a star gazing tablet app, we were able to well see the visible planets and constellations. In the morning, with the stars gone, the sunrise over the dunes, along the Algerian border, was a most wondrous sight and one which we shall never forget.
The following day offered new adventures. We continued to enjoy the scenery of tranquil dry and rocky desert terrain. We stopped randomly on the side of the road to see and touch fossils embedded in the rocks. Then after lazily easing towards the land of date palms we ended in an oasis (literally) where we sat on a blanket listening to the slow wind in the palm fronds, and enjoyed a Berber pizza (flat bread baked with chicken, eggs, spices and vegetables inside of it) and tea made from herbs our guide pulled from the ground right then and there.
Travelling on a bit more through scenic valleys and oases with amazing views, we continued onward across the small volcanic Atlas Mountains. Once back in Ouarzazete, we were treated to a relaxing evening of great accommodations, and hearty dinner and breakfast at Dar Chamaa. On the final day, we headed back through the breathtaking High Atlas Mountains and Tizi n’Tichka Pass and bitter-sweetly to our final destination in Marrakech.
In retrospect, there is nothing that we would have changed. We who have called northern Morocco home for over two years were given a very candid and amazing view of the south. The kingdom of Morocco is very diverse and beautiful and it has so much more to offer than a camel burger in Fez or snake charmers in Jamaa el Fna.
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