I know, I know…this recap is taking me forever. But really, I’ve only been back for 2 months! Cut me some slack–I WILL get you all through this safe, sound, and satisfied.
Day 5 – Midelt
Our drive from Fes that morning was a gorgeous one up through the Middle Atlas mountains. Higher altitude fog hung in the branches of pines that steadily appeared as the road ascended.
We were told to be on the lookout for a particular kind of monkey that inhabits the forest. The name escapes me now but is also irrelevant because we didn’t see any.
Lacsen, who only spoke Berber, told Moha, who translated, “tell them it’s Sunday–the monkeys have the day off.”
In all honesty, I can’t remember what we were supposed to do in Midelt once we arrived, or what there really was to do. But the journey and the unexpected interactions with the locals on the way and at our destination were what made it one of the most memorable for me.
If I learned or was reminded of anything this day, it was that love and joy are universal languages. You don’t have to have all of the right words or the correct dialect. A smile, a high five, and a good attitude will get you pretty far.
- Moha coordinated lunch at a personal friend’s home on a farm along our route. They served us tea in the blossoming apple orchard where a talkative young cow told us all about her easy life. Then we were ushered inside and served a traditional couscous dish with chicken and vegetables and a type of gelatinous dessert similar to flan.
- Auberge de Jaafar Kasbah was our overnight stay in Midelt, which had great views of the mountains from all of the rooftop terraces that I took the liberty of exploring.
- That early evening, we took a one mile (round-trip) walk to a river canyon that truly reminded me of northern Arizona. I climbed and scaled a few boulders to get a better view and heard “there goes the Arizona mountain goat!” called out behind me.
- Just as we were leaving, the overcast skies finally burst open, sending down quarter-sized raindrops long enough to dampen the dust and our clothes. I took a deep breath and the one word that came to mind was “petrichor.”
- We passed some boys (who would have been in school any other day) playing soccer on a flattened field of dirt. They called out to Moha, inviting us to join them. Before I knew it, I was happily inhaling desert dust, running in my Chacos sandals (miraculously not breaking my ankles) while kicking a ball around with children who could only say “Madam!” and give hand gestures. I loved how into the game they were. I loved their easy laughter, and how excited they got when I yelled “selfie!”
Day 6 – Merzouga (Sahara Desert)
We took our time driving to the desert this day. Moha tried to time it perfectly, and it turns out he did a marvelous job.
The skies were clear. The mountains were visible. The river flowing through high desert rocks was a brilliant turquoise.
I can’t remember where we stopped for lunch, but it was an oasis. The resort with a lunch buffet was tucked in the heart of the seemingly endless date palm valley. Literally, the back gate opened right to a jungle of palms that flourished along the river.
Four of us went exploring through the groves; I left my phone behind to charge and didn’t miss it at all. The canopy of trees kept us cool as well as the little irrigation creeks I passed my bare feet through.
Our next stop was at a fossil factory. Here, fossils and crystals found locally are carefully chiseled, exposed, polished, and displayed for sale.
The owner gave us an overview of the process and then we had a short time to browse. He was very friendly and quite knowledgeable on all the types of crystals I admired.
The next thing I knew, we were in the van approaching more and more golden sand, when suddenly Lacsen took a left and headed into the vast desert with no goal in sight.
But, lo and behold, a building did eventually appear. Just outside sat two rows of placid camels ready to escort us to our camp.
I’m just gonna say it.
As glad as I am that I rode a camel in the Sahara, riding a camel in the Sahara isn’t glamorous. With no stirrups and being seated a good six feet off the ground while they squish and sink their way into the soft sand, it’s actually a bit of a workout for the rider.
However, the hour passed quickly and the scenery was too fascinating not to enjoy, once I mastered my balance and was able to hold my camera steady.
As planned, we arrived just in time to watch the sunset…
- We learned that Morocco banned the production of plastic bags a few years ago, but is still working hard to clean up the country from their pollution.
- Lacsen’s eclectic playlist introduced us to gnaoua music, which set the perfect tone for the landscape outside our windows.
- I was observing the method of tying my new scarf into a turban when Lacsen silently motioned for me to hand him the cloth. In about 10 seconds the look was complete with just my eyes visible and yeah, I’ve never felt cooler.
- My thoughts while climbing in Erg Chebbi to see the sunset: These are not dunes; these are sand mountains. I can’t believe how out of shape I feel. Get up. You have to make it up this hill, Anissa. You did not come all the way to the Sahara to sit halfway up the dark side of a dune.
- No joke, and no shame, I took more selfies up there than I have in my entire existence.
- WE. SLEPT. UNDER. THE. STARS. A few of us anyway. Although the sand was soft, we used mattress pads and wool blankets, because yes, it was chilly.
- For fun, I had named my camel Clyde. Later on, Tanja asked me to tell her a story while we waited for the expected meteor shower. I started off with “Once upon a time there was a camel named Clyde…” and then the others added lines like a mad lib game and the rest is history.
- I walked barefoot on dried camel turds. What happens in the desert, stays in the desert.
- The first words I heard upon waking was Tanja next to me groaning “…pain…every where…” which became the phrase for just about everything after that (cats…every where, flies…every where).
- We awoke at first light and walked to a clearing to view the sunrise. One of the camp keepers poured tea for us right there on the sand.
Day 7 & 8 – Todra Gorge
I’ve made my love for green landscapes pretty obvious by now. But I have to admit, the golden, untouched, serenity of the wide open desert is something truly magical.
After making our way back out of the desert via the same mode of transportation that took us in, we ate a breakfast of boiled eggs, yogurt, and spongy beghrir pancakes. We also sang Happy Birthday to one of the Australians on our tour, courtesy of yours truly on the bongo drum.
If there’s any museum worth visiting in Morocco, it’s this one.
This mini fortress was built in the late 1800s, with walls made of clay and straw that still stand today. Although the town is still inhabited, it mostly thrives on tourism. Visitors can climb original stairs to every level and view countless preserved artifacts from hundreds of years ago.
Afterwards, we started gaining elevation and made our way to Todra Gorge–well ‘grammed for its extremely narrow passage through tall canyon walls.
We’d reached the halfway point in the tour by this point, and I really felt the itch for independence.
So as soon as Wendy and I dropped our bags in our room at the Maison d’Hote Kasbah Restaurant Tabrihte, I plugged in my earbuds and set out.
I first wandered through the abandoned kasbah buildings surrounding the premises. Then I found a dirt path that led down to the river. We had crossed said river earlier on a rickety, patched bridge to get to the hotel.
Sitting there by the water lined with prickly pear cacti and gazing up at the red rock walls all around I was reminded of Havasupai in the Grand Canyon.
It wasn’t too long, though, before I heard thunder rumble and felt the wind pick up.
I’d just made it back to the second level balcony when the clouds burst open and I decided to stay out there in it. I needed a shower anyway, and rain is always good for my soul.
About half of our crew joined a morning hike up the gorge for a total elevation gain of 2,000 feet.
The views were definitely spectacular. But what was extra special about this journey was the experience of having tea in an actual Berber nomad tent.
Of course, neither the mother or her kids could speak English, so she communicated through our guide.
I do wish she would have joined us for tea regardless of the language barrier. But the nomads are naturally shy and prefer to be independent, just as they roam from place to place to graze their herds or make trades with other villagers. The little boy, adorably clad in an old Messi jersey, was slightly curious in us outsiders, but his older sister was fiercely protective and wouldn’t let him get too close to us.
After departing from her camp, we noticed rock formations way down below. We slowly made our way down the mountain, though the wind tried very hard to hinder us. When we finally reached the rocks, I realized one of the shapes was the Berber nomad freedom symbol.
Another hour or so later and we were back in town, meeting the rest of the group for lunch. I guess I was too hungry to take a picture of it, but it consisted of a pureed lentil soup that they recommended we pour oil in, then a delicious, lightly cooked vegetable salad.
Following that, we went downstairs to the co-op to receive a demonstration on the creation of Berber carpets and then many people in our group bought rugs while I held my wallet tight and enjoyed my post-workout food coma.
- While waiting for my lunch of chicken skewers, I meandered down to the bird pen to say hi to the peacocks and turkey. We then discovered two only-a-few-weeks-old mutt puppies. They were cuddly and curious and I wanted badly to take one with me.
- Upon entering the outskirts of Todra Gorge, I spotted my name on a hotel sign. The next day Lacsen made a quick stop for me to take a picture under it.
- I was standing in the rain shower when Moha called out from a doorway, “You don’t mind getting wet?!” To which I replied, “Well I’m not a witch, so I won’t melt!” not stopping to think if he’d ever seen The Wizard of Oz.
- Speedy was our main waiter’s nickname.
- Cats are everywhere in Morocco, and the locals seem to take care of them. But in this restaurant specifically was an endearing black and white mama cat with her orange kitten who lounged all day on the dining couches and knew nothing of personal space when it came to dinner time.
- While drinking tea in the nomad tent, our guide spoke to the large misconception of how women are viewed and treated in Moroccan culture. He was quite clear that mothers are regarded even higher than fathers as they run their household. This, among some of his other opinions, were surprising to hear.
TTFN, Ta Ta For Now! 🙂