In search of the Sahara

Prior to coming to Marrakech, we hadn’t even thought about going to the Sahara Desert. Since we decided to spend two weeks here to “rest and relax” from three months of travel we had plenty of time to slow down and take it all in. A great side effect from settling in for a couple of weeks is the unexpected opportunities that have presented themselves.

After doing a little research and a little haggling we ended up booking a 3-day/2-night excursion from Marrakech to the Sahara Desert for only 600 MAD a person, around $60 American. After spending a lot of time together with other people that booked the trip, we learned most people paid around 900 MAD ($90) per person; we got a great deal for sure! 

DAY 1

It was an early morning the day of departure, up at 5:45, breakfast at 6:30, out the door by 7:00. When we arrived at the Jamaâ el Fna, we were put on a van and we waited. Quickly we learned we were on Moroccan time, which means, no time schedule. Finally, the large van was filled with 19 people and we were on our way!

From the beginning the entire eclectic group clicked. We made friends fast and the laughing began. We were a van filled with like-minded, well-traveled people from all over the world. Countries represented were America (us), Canada, Sweden, Spain, Sicily, England, and Australia.

On the way to our first destination we stopped a few times for photo-ops, bathrooms, refreshments and to just stretch our legs. This was much needed because there would be a lot of driving during this trip. The Sahara is on the other side of Morocco. We noticed that everyone was selling geodes on the side of the road for next to nothing! Kevin knows a lot of designers and clients would fill a suitcase full of them.

After stopping for lunch we headed to Aït Ben Haddou, a Berber city 235km east of Marrakech. Berbers are the tribal people of Morocco. The homes that you see will hold up to 20+ people form a single family. We then took a moment to soak in the sun and enjoy the signs of the city from afar before crossing the “Berber Bridge” to make our way into the city and explore her many winding streets.

Inside the city there were many local families that owned shops and markets. We were invited into a man’s home to watch him demonstrate making sugar art.  He painted sugar with pigments on paper and then cooked it over and open flame to reveal the art.

Back in the van and on the road to Taourirt Kasbah, our next destination. Taourirt Kasbah is a UNESCO world heritage site and is mostly in ruins. We did not go inside, however, after reading many reviews about the place, it’s probably best we did not waste our time. The highlight of this stop was we a local street musician stopped by our group and began to play a song for us. “How are you, how are you,” the title we gave the made up song, became our theme song the rest of the trip, we could not stop laughing with joy.

Our final pit stop was in the Valley of the Roses. It was not the time of year to see anything bloom, however, we were greeted by a beautiful sunset. By this time, we were all a little worn out from a long day of driving. We enjoyed the super moon rising as we made our way to the final stop of the day.

Our accommodation for the evening was a hotel nestled in the Gorges du Dadés. There was almost no light, and you could see the starts very clear. We settled into our chilly room and headed to the bar, time to relax! At the bar and during dinner we began to get past the introductory small talk and have more in depth conversations. As one of our van mates put it, “The universe knew what it was doing when it put us all on the van together.”

DAY 2

Today we got to sleep in until 6:30am, a real treat from the day before (we got jokes). After eating breakfast and enjoying the views from the rooftop of the hotel we headed out for another day of adventure.

Our first stop of the day was in the village of Tingher. Here we toured through a four-family community farm to get an understanding of how they work the land and make a living. Community farms are normal throughout Morocco.

After strolling though the farm, we made our way into the town. While in the town we were invited into a local rug makers home to share tea and learn how his Berber family have been hand making rugs on a vertical loom for generations. Each rug can take up to 6 months to make by hand. The quality and craftsmanship was unreal. Kevin was in designer heaven!

Following this, we decided to purchase a few Keffiyehs, a headdress Berber people use to protect themselves from the sun. This would be needed for the Sahara Desert later. We learned how to properly wrap around our heads and headed to enjoy a fantastic lunch on a great patio with the best of company.

Now that our bellies were full we drove to the Gorges Toudra and took a short hike between the towering walls of rock. The driver said this was like their Grand Canyon of Morocco. It was beautiful.

With the Gorges Toudra in the rearview mirror, we journeyed on to the much anticipated Sahara Desert. You could visibly see the landscape changing with every kilometer we drove closer. When we arrived, the mood was nothing short of ecstatic. We put on our backpacks, hopped on our camels and rode off into the sunset over the Sahara Desert. An incredible experience.

An hour and a half passed before we made it to our camp site for the evening. We unloaded into the tents and explored around before dinner. Dinner was a family style traditional Berber dinner with chicken tajine, bread, rice and after dinner fruit.

After dinner we decided to hike up the tallest dune next to the camp to see the desert at night. The dine was a lot taller then it looked and the hike was hard because of the unstable sand but euphoric when reached the top. Because of the light form the super moon, we were able to see the desert go for what seemed like forever. This was one of those moments to never forget.

The hike back down was a lot easier with the momentum of gravity. We gathered with the rest of the group around the fire and listened to the two Berber men playing songs for us. We were all having such a great time, we even got up and dance around the fire while clapping our hands to the beat. The perfect ending to a fantastic day.

DAY 3

We woke up to see the sunrise. We decided to hike back up the tall dune to get the best view of the sun showing its face for the first time today. It was so peaceful and picturesque.

With the sun in the sky it was time to gear up, hop back on the camels, and head to breakfast.

On the 12-hour journey back to Marrakech we retraced our path that lead us to the Sahara. We made a few stops along the way through the twisty and mountain roads, but all-in-all we hunkered down and powered through to get back to Marrakech.

Our journey to the Sahara was long and it was full of all sorts of wonderful sights along the way. This was a journey we will never forget.

We are two en route to search for more journeys