Morocco: part deux to the desert and Maroccywood
09.02.2012 - 13.02.2012 18 °C
Insh'Allah - we learned this Arabic word from our great tour guides Hassan and Mohammed during our five day trip around the south of Morocco. Translated it means "God willing" and covers a multitude of situations..."we may make it off-roading through this snowy valley....or maybe not", "they may have a helmet that fits Angus' head when we go quadding...or maybe not...", Max's camel Yogi may or may not make it down the steep sand dune - once, not so much- Insh'Allah.
Hassan and Mohammed were the perfect Insh'allah guides....they kept us on a schedule but allowed us to stop and explore as much as we wanted and answered every one of our questions with patience and great information.
On day one of our tour, we were picked up at our hotel in Agadir in a white 4x4 Toyota Landcruiser. Hassan ably hoisted our very heavy bags into the roof rack and off we went.
Our first stop on the road was a photo opportunity at a tree filled with goats. These goats are eating the kernels of the argan trees. This is the first step in the making of the highly-prized Argan oil. Our guide book explained that before modern times, the Berbers of Morocco would collect undigested Argan pits from the waste of goats. The pits were then ground and pressed to make the nutty oil used in cooking and cosmetics. The Argan oil which I purchased in Essaouira was likely harvested directly from the tree and processed with machines...cutting out the middle man, so to speak.
We spent the first night in Ait Ben Haddou which has a very beautiful and well-preserved fortified village with several kasbahs. This sight has been
used as the backdrop for several movies, including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator and Alexander. Apparently, later in season when things warm up, it can be inundated with visitors trying to capture the perfect picture. Happily, our mid-February tour allowed us to have these sights basically to ourselves..and the sun shone every day!
On Day 2 we drove to Ouarzazate (Mohammed told us to say "where's it at"). We were suprised to learn that one of Morocco's largest industries after tourism is film. There are several film sets in the desert surrounding Ouarzazate which we toured on quad bikes. Afterwards, we went through the Moroccan Museum of Cinema and saw film sets and rooms from movies such as Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven as well as very old projectors, editing equipment and costumes on display. Max and Angus wanted to borrow some of the chain mail and swords for desert LARPing.
That evening we stayed right in the Dadès Canyon where we were the only guests at the Kasbah de la Vallée. The rooms had effective heaters, but most of the public areas were a little breezy and solidly single digit degrees celsius. The relative chill was made up by the friendliness and hospitality of our hosts as well as a few fireplaces.
On Day 3, we drove through the very steep Dadès Gorge and then went off the road through the snowy Todra Gorge. At one point, we got out to walk when the 4x4 began slipping in the direction of a rather steep precipice. Hassan didn't seem the least bit perturbed and ably steered the truck to lower ground.
We drove through beautiful red and orange-coloured mountains and the sky was an amazing blue. We passed several Nomad families living in tents made of tarps, cloth, plastic. They ran out when they heard the truck and we stopped and gave them fruit and money. We have no illusions that there lives are likely challenging, but the children looked amazingly healthy - no pasty faced, germ free, protected middle class North American children here.
On this night we stayed at Auberge Le Festival, a hotel which is made from the same mountain rock which surrounds it. It is the only building in sight, with great mountain views in every direction. Our cave room was cozy and magical. We went for a hike just as the sun was setting and then went back to our cave to read before dinner. When we came out at 7:30 pm to walk to dinner, there were two lit lanterns waiting for us to help us on the walk to the main building. We enjoyed a great dinner of the chef's special Moussaka and the after dinner star gazing was wonderful.
The cave was naturally warm, so you could light a few candles before bed, warm up the space, then extinguish them for the night - perfect.
We said good-bye to our Hobbit House and drove the next morning to Erg Chebbi where our dromedary trek began. We named our four sturdy steads before we set out: I was on Gingembre, Angus rode Bingles, Max commandeered Yogi and Nils brought up the rear on Girts Ankipans. Omar was our guide and he walked in front of us for the two hours that it took to reach the camp. I had been warmed by a few people about the discomforts of camel riding but Gingembre was kind and had a wide mid-section for optimal comfort. Max was not as lucky as Yogi fell to his knees several times and required sharp words from Omar to rise again. In true English Patientesque fashion, the light and the colour shadings of the dunes were suitably stunning. We could really anticipate Ralph and Kristin greeting us as we crested one of the mini sand mountains.
We were only ones at the camp so we were very well-taken care of. We enjoyed huge portions of rice salad and vegetable tagine and then seven berber men entertained us around a campfire with drumming and songs. It was cold when we settled into our tent but we had several pounds of blankets covering us so we were comfortable in our toques and fleeces. Omar woke us at 5:30 am the next morning so that we could see the sunrise. We had every bit of clothing on but the wind was biting. At one point, naughty Yogi fell right over. Max did a great stunt man move before he was squished. Luckily, the trek organizers took pity on us and send a car out to pick us up after we had been riding for an hour and a half. We were all very thankful to get under a warm shower in the hotel spa !
Our drive to Fès took us through snowy mountain roads and through a forest park where we saw some barbery apes.
Most of our adventure has been self-guided, so it was a real treat to have five days of our lives well-planned and propelled by the very friendly and professional duo of driver and guide. Thank-you very much.