The Door of the Desert

I don’t care what I do in Morocco as long as I get to ride a freakin’ camel in the freakin’ desert! How’s that for emphasis? In order to reach that goal, Chris and I booked a small tour from Marrakech through the High Atlas Mountains that would ultimately take us to the Sahara desert. We found a guy in the alleys of the square who ran a tour agency. There was no one in his office so we decided to get some information from him while he was free. He told us we could take a three day-two night tour through that Atlas Mountains, across multiple different towns and villages, and eventually spending the night in the Sahara. Marrakech is all about bargaining and we were able to bargain down to a pretty decent price; much lower than I imagined the cost was going to be. The only catch was that we would have to leave the next day, which was a little sooner than we had planned, but we decided to go anyways! 20131026-194154.jpg 20131028-030708.jpg We left the next morning at 7 am. A guy picked us up from our riad and took us to the main square where we met up with a few others who would be joining in on the tour: two women from Germany, a French couple, two Brazilian couples, and three friends also from Brazil. Chris and I nabbed the whole row of seats in the back all to ourselves! I was sure to take a motion sickness pill before I got on though. I saw pictures of the mountains we’d be driving through and I felt queasy just thinking about it! Soon after everyone was gathered in, we hit the road! We drove maybe an hour or so before the driver stopped on the edge of a cliff. I guess this was an opportunity for us to take our first photos of the High Atlas Mountains! 20131026-195327.jpg 20131026-195350.jpg We continued on and sometime in the afternoon we arrived in the city of Ouarzazate. Ouarzazate is in the middle of a barren, sun drenched land, and besides the solitary trees in the basin of the grounds, the city was void of barely any other vegetation and water. A city filled with buildings made of stone and dirt. There was evidence of a river that streamed through the quarters but the water has long left it’s presence. I think the river runs during a certain time of the year. Interestingly, this city is also known as the “Hollywood” of Morocco because many famous and popular movies and tv shows were filmed here including one of my favorites of all time, Gladiator. 20131028-025654.jpg 20131028-030259.jpg 20131028-030725.jpg We had a tour of the old quarters of Ouarzazate and walked in and around the place the people here called home. Even though it was quite hot out, walking through the quarters cast tall shadows and the interiors of the buildings were surprisingly cool. We then walked to the the roof of the highest building in the quarters! Along the way, the guide told us how the buildings were constructed and what the people do here as part of their daily life. 20131028-031214.jpg 20131028-030407.jpg 20131028-030417.jpg After the tour, we had lunch at a nearby restaurant. I ordered chicked tajine. Tajine is a traditional Moroccan dish served with tfaya sauce, semolina, and vegetables. The chicken, vegetables, and sauces slowly roast together in a unique cone pot and served hot on a pan. It’s kind of like pot roast back at home. It did the trick and then we made our way to the more modern part of Ouarzazate. There we picked up a spanish couple who joined us on our tour. Now our van was packed and hot! The driver thought the opened windows would be better than an air-conditioned van! It was hard to convince him to turn the a/c on because his English wasn’t the best. He spoke only French and Arabic. And because of that language barrier, Chris and I sweated our tails off in the back seat squished with our new spanish friends. 20131028-030213.jpg As the day started to dim, we stopped at another mountain along the Atlas to see the valley far beyond. 20131028-030521.jpg 20131028-030622.jpg We eventually arrived at our hotel for the night about an hour’s drive away. The place was better than I imagined for what we paid. It had the theme of an ancient civilization, like the old Egyptians or Aztec. After dinner, which consisted of more chicken tagine, Chris and I went to explore around our stay for the night and climbed to the roofs of the building. We figured we would be able to see a night sky like unlike any other, but the moon was so bright that it whited out most of the stars and constellations. No worries though because we still had the Sahara sky tomorrow! After a goodnights rest, we woke up, ate breakfast at our hotel, and went back on the road further along the atlas. We arrived at another city, similar to Ouarzazate, but it was here we visited a family who made carpets by hand. The guy who showed us the carpets mentioned that it’s normally a woman’s job to make them but for the time being, some of the woman were busy doing something else. He was able to tell us a bit about how they make the carpets. For the longer pieces, usually there is a person on each side weaving the wool of a sheep. 20131028-030900.jpgEach carpet also should tell a story. For all of the carpets he displayed, there was a different story within each pattern and design. They can take anywhere from two weeks to six months to make, depending on the size and the intricacies of the details. In addition to telling us all about his carpets, he also welcomed us with mint tea. I must say, I’m not a huge fan of tea, but all the tea that has been offered to me in Morocco has been some of the best tea I’ve ever had! They use home grown mint leaves here, so my tea always tastes like spearmint; crisp and refreshing! 20131028-030841.jpg We went back outside and noticed the path we took to get to the carpet room was bloodied. No doubt, the locals here have just slaughtered a sheep. In Morocco, it’s tradition to sacrifice many a sheep for supper later on. It’s a sign of gratitude and praise, especially when families host other members and guests. We were in Morocco during their holiday week where it’s customary for families to sacrifice sheep by first cutting open it’s neck and then rinsing out the blood. Besides the bones, barely any other body part goes to waste as a meal. We followed the blood trail to another road where there was a helpless sheep lying on the ground surrounded by a few locals. We walked over and found that the sheep’s neck has been severed, but it was still flailing around it’s hind legs. The locals then started to rinse out the neck area with water. We went back to the van before we saw what happened next, but I don’t think the locals are phased at all by this. It’s normal here and part of their tradition. 20131028-030115.jpg We drove a little further down through the Atlas to a gorge lined up to the oncoming desert. The mountains here were tall and almost perfectly vertical! We could see people rock climbing in the distance. Our guide told us that it takes six hours to rock climb to the top! We walked through the gorge, following the narrow stream that flowed in the center. The source of the stream came through a hole in the gorge, further beyond than we could walk. There was a herd of goats there following the stream towards the deeper parts for a drink. But the whole time I was thinking how cool it would be if you could zip line across the gorge! I think it would be absolutely possible someday in the future. 20131028-031022.jpg 20131028-031038.jpg 20131028-031044.jpg 20131028-030028.jpg After the gorge, we drove a couple more hours deeper into the desert. We finally arrived to the Sahara! I was eager and anxious because the Sahara desert part of our trip was something I highly anticipated during my whole time away from home and it was finally about to happen! 🙂

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