Hellooo again! I’m writing this after a gloriously sunny weekend with Rachel, spent being tourists on the Costa del Sol. In my last post I left off at our arrival in Erfoud…I apologise in advance for the overuse of ‘incredible’ and ‘amazing’ in this post and for the length.
DAY THREE (ERFOUD & THE SAHARA DESERT)
This day was the day we had all been waiting for! After a huge breakfast buffet at our beautiful hotel, we piled onto the bus to go on a quick trip to a local town called Rissani. Here we visited the mausoleum of a famous Arab (the name of whom escapes me right now, I was too busy taking photos, oops!) which was decorated in all of the traditional Moroccan mosaic patterns. We then headed to an old mud-walled fortress which housed over 1000 people inside tiny little winding alleys. It was so strange to be walking around this old community and to see televisions in people’s houses! We were then taken to the local carpet market where the local Berbers (the second most largest ethnic group in Morocco) made us traditional Moroccan tea and showed us the beautiful carpets that they make. Apparently, every Berber family has their own design, sort of like tartan, so they were able to identify which carpets came from which, most likely, nomadic family. They also had scarves and jewellery, so I tested my haggling skills and bought a ring.
After this, we were rushed back to the hotel where we met with our 4×4 drivers who were going to take us across the dunes onto our next destination in the middle of the Sahara, Merzouga. Needless to say, our driver was absolutely crazy! The minute we hit the sand, he started taking us off road, going in a completely different direction to the other drivers, hanging out of the door while driving and doing donuts in the middle of the desert, but it was so fun! We made a stop at a place where we were able to search for fossils (the Sahara used to be completely under the Mediterranean sea, millions of years ago), before heading onto an oasis (i.e. a few trees in the middle of the desert). This is where it really sunk in that we were in the middle of the SAHARA DESERT. You could look around and see only sand and dunes for miles – it was incredible. What was even more amazing was the number of houses and nomad camps that we passed where young boys ran out to try and sell us things: people actually live in the desert and survive!
After a quick pee stop for our driver (“Berber need pee pee”) and a stop to admire our first proper view of the sand dunes, we arrived at the base hotel for our camp, the Hotel Nomad Palace. It was surreal to see an actual building in the middle of the desert, after having passed the other houses and ‘restaurants’ made of carpets, plus it had a POOL! We had a few spare hours to eat and relax in the heat by the pool before we had to get ready to go to our camp for the night, by camel…
With our turbans on (not so fashionable, but protected us from the sun and sand) and our overnight bags (turns out camels can’t carry suitcases too…) we chose our one-humped camels (technically called Dromedaries, but I’m going to keep calling them camels for simplicity sake!). Of course, me being me, I was at the back of the entire group, but luckily I had a nice camel. It was slightly scary getting on as they lift their back legs first so you are thrown forward and are left hanging horizontally before it actually stands up! Once we were all onboard we were led off on trek by a local man who knew the routes across the dunes like the back of his hand – amazing, as the dunes change every time there is a sandstorm, although one of the Berbers later told us that they also use the stars and even GPS, if they’re really modern… After about an hour we stopped in the middle of the dunes to watch the sun set over the Sahara – an incredible experience which can only be told through photos… We got the chance to talk to some of the camel leaders who managed to propose and offer all of their father’s camels to several of our group. What surprised us the most was when one of their mobile phones started ringing, I mean we were in the middle of the desert, how did he have signal??!
As dusk fell we got back onto the camels for the last stretch to the camp, where we ‘parked’ our camels to rest for the night. Our camp was amazing, it was literally tents (jaimas) made of carpet in the middle of the sand dunes, yet there was some electricity, we had beds and there were actual toilets and showers! Darkness soon fell – I’ve never seen a sky so dark! Before the moon came up we were able to see millions of stars, it was breathtaking!
Our hosts had cooked us a delicious traditional Moroccan meal of Tagine and cous-cous which they served in the ‘dining room’ tent. After dinner, they built a small bonfire in the middle of the circle of tents and brought out their drums so they could perform some traditional songs and dances for us. Before we knew it they had dragged us all up and we were dancing (including the conga line!) and singing under the stars in the middle of the desert. Absolutely surreal. When some people decided to go to sleep, the rest of us headed up a dune with some of the guys. It was pitch black except for the moonlight and our eyes soon adjusted so we were able to see the ‘sleeping’ camels (apparently camels don’t actually sleep, they “relax”, or so a wise old berber told us). We soon found ourselves doing the limbo under an unravelled turban and rolling down sand dunes into the darkness (and being pulled back up again by said turbans). We spent quite a while talking to one of the older Berbers who was happy to answer all of our questions about their lives in the desert while he buried our legs in the sand (apparently Europeans do move TO the desert, cumin cures everything and a sand bath would cure our rheumatism…). After a couple of hours we headed back to sleep so that we could get up early to watch the sunrise, although the tents were so cold that I literally had to snuggle with Rachel!
DAY FOUR (MORE SAHARA & FES)
We got up at 06.30 after about four hours sleep to watch the incredible sunrise (and moon set) over the dunes. I can’t even begin to describe the peacefulness of this experience, you’ll just have to look at the photos below…
When the sun was well above our heads, we all tiredly packed our things up and went to get back on our camel transport. Although a beautiful and peaceful journey, it was no mean feat, as riding a camel turned out to be the most painful thing ever and we couldn’t wait to get off them at the hotel! We had a huge breakfast at the same hotel before we had to end our Saharan experience and get back on the bus for our 10-hour return to Fes.
Our return journey took us on the highway through the desert and the local town of Merzouga, before we eventually ended up in the Mid-Atlas mountains. It was nice to see them in the daylight this time (although the treacherous driving was even scarier being able to see the cliff-edges!) and we were also able to make a few stops including to see a huge oasis, which apparently contained over 4 million trees, as well as in Azrou to see the monkeys which are the same breed as those pesky ones in Gibraltar.
After around 10 hours we finally arrived at our hotel in Fes, a slightly grotty one with mouldy walls but we were all so tired that we didn’t care . After a very Moroccan meal we just showered (which left hugeeee amounts of sand in the bath after) and went to bed.
DAY FIVE (FES – TETOUAN – SPAIN)
On our fifth and final day we woke up to grey skies in Fes again, so were grateful when we were told we would be making an unscheduled stop in our guide’s hometown of Tetouan, which is located very close to the Spanish border in the north of Morocco. After a morning of travelling, we arrived in a rainy Tetouan where we went around the medina (much nicer and cleaner than the one in Fes) and were then taken to a Moroccan herborist shop. The owner demonstrated some of the typical Moroccan products such as Argan, almond and rose oils which apparently have a trillion healing and beautifying properties, so of course I ended up buying some to bring home!
After our whirlwind visit to the city, which I much preferred to Fes, we headed back across the border into Ceuta to catch the ferry. We ended up having to wait forever for our late ferry (it was Easter weekend) and then had a very bumpy crossing back over to mainland Spain, where we had to make some sad goodbyes to our new friends and get on buses back to our various Spanish hometowns.
If you’ve managed it this far, I’m sorry that this post has been so long and rambling, but I just wanted to try and get across what an AMAZING and INCREDIBLE time I had in Morocco. It was such an experience being able to see such a different culture and to be able to spend that night in the desert with some amazing people.
It was truly once in a lifetime.