Desert camp in the Sahara

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At the Berber desert camp, the drums rhythmically rocked us to sleep. Our hair and clothes were full of sand after trekking 1.5 hours through the blood-orange Sahara to reach the camp. The mountains of sand stretched far and wide as we clutched our camels who faithfully followed their berber guide.

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Immediately we fell into a deep slumber, feeling the motions of our bodies rocking back and forth on the camels, watching the candlelight flicker against the bright colours of the tent canopy.

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It was an early morning for us in order to catch a sunrise ride, and by the sounds the camels were making, they were not happy campers! Even less so when my saddle detached and I found myself sliding down the camel’s neck, madly cling on before hitting the firm golden sand.

I limped up a knife-edged dune with Joel to behold the rising sun and the procession of camels illuminated orange in the morning light. We felt as though the desert was both barren but with a sense of majesty and peace about it.

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This was starkly contrasted by the return to the vehicle and Salah’s death defying stunts. He decided to take us on a remote desert road where I wouldn’t have believed life could have existed. As usual, you find that humans have this supernatural ability to adapt to the most inhospitable terrain possible. Yet, as always, Lachen and Salah appeared to be on the social scene in each town, even acting as couriers of cash village to village! Here is an example of some of the varied terrain we travelled through:

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Joel and I did not tire of Salah’s outrageous driving, singing and Berber outbursts. Even funnier was Lachen’s embarrassment!!! Again we were struck by the Berbers own way of conducting affairs, as Lachen spotted a man on the side of the road and called for the car to be pulled over, He proceeded to pay this man 100 dirham, explaining that he borrowed it 10 months earlier. They must have memories like elephants and more than their fair share of integrity.

We passed through the towering Todra Gorge and onwards to Ait Benhaddou. We felt like tossed spaghetti by our arrival, and it was with shaky legs that we complied with Salah’s sudden request to climb upon the bonnet of his beloved car for a photograph!

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Joel and I devoted our last burst of energy to exploring the Kasbah of Ait Benhaddou. It looked like the winner of the world championships of sandcastle building – an adorable town built higgilty pigglety on top of each other by the banks of a river. The town glowed golden in the afternoon light as we haggled with shopkeepers over rugs and berber goods. One of the shopkeepers even tried on Joel’s top for size – contemplating swapping some goods for it – a true nomad!

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Rug-less we retreated for dinner, and an extremely humorous conversation around late into the evening with Lachen and Salah – mainly centering around Salah’s wife being displeased about his roaming of the river to find “Sahara women” all afternoon!!! We genuinely connected with both of them and our cheeks were all hurting as we fell victim to the early start and collapsed into bed still chuckling away. It was most certainly these moments of being fully immersed in their culture (prayer time and all) that made this a truly unforgettable trip.

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Into the Sahara

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Today we were up even before the chorus of cocks had a chance to start their morning vocal warm-ups. A long drive was ahead and we had a desert double date booked in for 6pm and camels do not like to be left waiting.

Something to mention about the Moroccan way, is that although everyone is ‘ready’ at the time they say, they then stand around for a good 10 minutes chatting about secret Berber matters. Now picture a tranquil, quiet valley, moon out, stars shining, sun still asleep and, added to the mix, a bit of Salah (our driver).

Even at 5am, Salah arrives on the scene with a booming voice looking (and sounding) like he had just consumed 3 Red Bulls with a triple shot espresso chaser. There was certainly no danger of him falling asleep at the wheel. Lauren, Lahson, and I all took the opportunity for some extra shut-eye with Captain Crazy (amkhelaw = Berber for Crazy) driving us over the mountainous terrain.

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We passed through village after village and round corner after corner. We felt like two bruised apples rolling around at the bottom of a fruit bowl. The only way we could endure the rally driving was to pretend that we had just swiped in to a 3hr roller-coaster marathon at Disneyland. Salah was born to drive and drive fast!

About 4hours into our journey, there was a long discussion that ensued between Salah and Lahson and the only word that kept popping up was, ‘Total’. We both woke from our Disneyland dream and asked Lahson what Salah was all fired up about. It was all about petrol. Petrol? (we enquired) Salah could tell that the last petrol station had mixed the petrol with water. The word, ‘Total’, kept popping up as that is the only brand you can trust in Morocco.

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So, after a stop at a Total petrol garage (of course) the landscape started to change quite dramatically. We cashed in our figurative Disneyland tickets and swapped them for helmets as we now felt as though we were part of a land speed record attempt. As we flew across the tarmac, the mountains flattened into a thirsty and parched land. The houses looks like giant sandcastles, varying slightly depending on what type of bucket their maker used in the construction process.

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Although it was a ‘travel’ day, we still saw some sights that certainly aren’t on any tourist agendas. At one point, we came across a truck which had tipped onto its side due to an absolutely ridiculous packing job of heavy rubber piping. Well, Salah and Lahson were not going to miss out on this roadside action. They left the car running, shouted something in Berber and latched themselves onto the side of the truck like two leeches tugging with all their might.

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Finally, after 10 hours of driving we had arrived at the mighty Sahara. From afar, I mistook the sand dunes to be another mountain range. Yet, as we drew closer, they looked like giant egg whites that had been beaten into angry, orange peaks.

A quick turn around was needed, so we got adequately dressed to enter the Sahara and met our camel companions. Little did we know, that camels are notoriously known to be uncomfortable. I can substantiate that rumour, as I felt like I was sitting on a groaning, spitting, moving animal carcass.

However, the sun was setting, the wind was up and we journeyed into the Sahara.

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The High Atlas – Trek day 5

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This morning we woke up in yet another berber room with a berber rug snuggled up to our chins. We could hear the soft chirping of the birds on the terraces out our window, and the laughter of children accompanying their mothers to harvest hay. Ahmed was on form as usual “TEA! GOOD, YEAH!”. Poor Joel will likely never put his lips to a mint tea again after having been forced to down many a cup by Ahmed despite bowel protests. After a sad goodbye to our smiley faced berber friends, Ahmed and Harriet, we were on our way. Continue reading “The High Atlas – Trek day 5”

The High Atlas – Trek day 4

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Dear Susan,

You may have heard it said, ‘get back on your horse’. Well today, it was my day to do just that. One slight amendment to the saying however.. It was time for me to get back on my ‘Mule’. Fondly coined ‘Harriett’ now got another minor name change to become ‘Harriet the Chariot’. More about this later.

Again the sun decided to turn up and cover the surrounding mountains with its golden embrace, which simultaneously signals the hundreds of roosters to have a good old Cock-off! I tell you what, not even the most sophisticated of ear plugs would drown out the mighty to and fro of the Moroccan cocks. They are desperately trying to be noticed and one up each other with an even louder rendition of ‘get the hell up!’ So, thanks to the mighty cock crescendo we rose and had our breakfast on the upper terrace. We were surrounded by a Swiss couple, Spanish couple, Belgian couple and a unique Scottish lad of 20yrs young who grew up on the most remote of islands. All of them, including the wee Scottish lad, spoke in excess of three languages. There were foreign words flying all around that terrace like a pinball machine. Sadly, it was both Lauren and I that felt like the battered pinball as we sat there and conversed in our ‘safe’ English language. Continue reading “The High Atlas – Trek day 4”

The High Atlas – Trek day 3

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Dear Mum,

Well today started with the crowing of not one but many cocks. Joel remarked they were having a cock-off. Sadly the night had brought no respite for Joel and it was a downcast face that met me. I ate breakfast alone and we fast established that Joel was in no state to tackle a 6hr hike. Soberly we made plans to return to Imlil and the pharmacy. Lasson was sweet and empathetic and he and Ahmed did not hesitate to change the plans. Nothing is straightforward in Morocco, yet everything is simple. The simple fact that there is a bus that runs along the nearby (thankfully) road. Yet the not-so-straight forward part is that every bus/taxi is RAMMED…..like people hanging out the door type of rammed!

Joel bravely decided to attempt the walk to Imlil, however didn’t make if far until being placed by Ahmed high and lofty upon Harriet. Joel and his bowels bounced up and down, whilst I turned my eyes to the local life by the winding river. We have learnt from Lasson so much about how the Berbers live, and it really is beautiful. I watched women in colourful shawls bending over the reeds by the river, collecting feed for the animals. They gather it together into a parcel three times their size, and trudge back to their closest village. Not a man to be seen, except for when the ground needs to be ploughed – they come out of the woodwork for the manual labour. There is usually a smile, a wave and a ‘bonjour’ as you pass – unless of course you are trying to take a photo, then the guard comes up. We have become experts of discreet photography. Continue reading “The High Atlas – Trek day 3”

The High Atlas – Trek day 2

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Dear Susan,

Etched into my mind is the 4:50 call to prayer. The ‘etching’ is due to moments that shall not be contained in this book. Unfortunately, the vividness is trapped inside of my mind. Let’s just say that  I spent more time with the bathroom than with Lauren on this particular night. With that past, we awoke to our ever friendly guides who had prepared a lovely breakfast. With stomachs full (mine not so much) we ventured off on our day of trekking.
The landscape constantly changed throughout today; firstly, we were treated to a cliff-view of the lush valley below. The river is the main artery that connects all of the Berber villages; it is their life-source. Crops for humans and animals alike are all grown along the river. To the children it is their equivalent of a theme park – the best ride is a water fight followed by a weekly hair washing ritual in the icy snow melt. Continue reading “The High Atlas – Trek day 2”