The alarm on my phone rung at 6. I was not asleep for at least half an hour, woken up by my growing excitement. After all we were going to visit the desert today – even more, we were going to spend the night on the desert, with the Berbers, in the tents! My head was filled with pictures of enormous dunes, caravans of camels negotiating their way under the hot sun and a few colourful Berber’s tents, sitting in the middle of nowhere. The Moroccan desert – our home for the night.
It all sounded very romantic – the desert, the sunset, the camel ride and the fire after the sunset. The evening spent with Berbers, listening to their music, talking about their life, sharing few thoughts with other travellers. A night in the tent, listening to the desert playing its own song. Early morning to see the sun rise and the breakfast the Berber style. Picture perfect.
I remember sitting in our riad, talking with the owner’s son about the trip. He showed us beautiful pictures with the caravans of camels, the sea of sand and unforgivable sun, which could burn your skin so easily during the day. During the night the temperature could freeze you without a mercy. The sunset bathed the desert in gold and the fire in the middle of nowhere looked incredibly tempting. Although I was aware of the distance we have to cover during the day (more than 350 km one way), I decided that an opportunity of seeing the nature at its finest was worth it.
We have started very early, leaving Marrakesh from Jemaa el-Fnaa in a quite comfortable minibus. The driver however was the most dangerous driver I have ever seen in my life, and the crossing of the stunning High Atlas Mountains and the Tizi n’Tichka pass (2260m) became a gamble with our lives. He was practically flying through the twisted mountain roads, cutting through like he was transporting bags of vegetables, not people. Hazardously overtaking on the bends, almost touching the barriers with the side of his car, putting his foot down on accelerator when any sensible driver would rather slow down. Every time we stopped for a break I felt like saying a small prayer in appreciation of being alive.
On the first day of the trip we have visited Kasbah Taourirt in Ouarzazate. This historical monument was made famous when the Hollywood film industry decided to shoot a film – Lawrence of Arabia nearby, in the ancient Berber village of Aït Benhaddou. We wandered through the quiet city, exploring one of the most incredible Kasbahs in Morocco. Our guide took a good care of our little group, telling us the story from the times when this strategic location was controlled by the Glaoui from the Saharan Caravan Route to West Africa and finding out who from our small group have already tried hammam.
After lunch, served in the local restaurant (the only one available in the area, where the tips were added to the bill), we travelled further, to reach Zagora and the desert. We arrived and met the camels, waiting for us patiently, sitting on the ground. Holding my small suitcase in front of me (which was very very uncomfortable, but unfortunately no one told me it is impractical to pack your stuff into a suitcase you cannot carry on your back), I climbed on my camel and we started heading towards the desert.
My bum was more than sore after the 1 and a half hour journey. Taking the photos during the ride was incredibly risky, but I have managed to snatch few beautiful shots and did not land under my camel, which was a great achievement. My technique was simple but deadly – desperately holding my suitcase with one hand I was taking the pictures with the other one, relying completely on my legs to keep myself in the saddle. It worked quite well, to my astonishment.
I have been on the desert before and I know, that firstly the landscape can be similar to the savanna. That people build roads cutting through it. There are palm trees and other plants growing around. That the desert can be a building side, with a heavy duty machines sticking around. That there is more rocks than sand, and the desert has many faces, not only a romantic sea of sand one. My point is – if someone told me, that the vision which was planted in my head, the dunes, the romantic drive on a camel, while the sun slowly disappears and the night approaches, the open fire in the middle of the Berber campsite was an illusion, I might think twice about taking that trip. I am not trying to say that the whole trip was an utter and complete waste of my time, as I must admit – the sun rise next day was stunning and incredibly beautiful. However – there was no open fire in the evening, some people were promised individual tents and beds above the ground, not the mattresses we slept on and the dunes looked rather poor. I almost thought they were created with the help of a heavy duty machines, resting on the side of the road.
On a plus side – the food in the evening was great and the Berber’s tent looked amazing. I have met fantastic people and seen beautiful parts of Morocco, climbed Kasbah ait Benhaddou and learnt about its fascinating history, made wonderful photos and rode on the camel through the desert, slept in the tent listening to the wind howling through the night, brushed my teeth outside the tent, holding my mineral water bottle in one hand and my toothpaste between my legs, managed to put my contact lenses back without any irritable grain of sand. In other words – I have survived, even thought I was not so sure about that when we were cutting the distance with the crazy driver. But would I go if I knew that the pictures I was showed earlier were a white lie? Probably not.
These trips are very easy to come by, just ask your host in the riad or hostel – they will help you with organizing one. Alternatively, there are a lot of tourist points in Marrakesh so you can book it yourself. If you can, go for a three day excursion, it suppose to be much better! I did not have enough time to consider that unfortunately. Do not pack your staff in the suitcase – just get a comfortable back pack – I learnt it hard way! Get a lot of 20 dirhams – this is the usual fee for the guides, so be prepared. Bare in mind that you are paying for the transport, dinner at the camp, camel ride and the breakfast – anything else you need to be prepare to pay for, such as fee for the guide, lunch and any entrance fees, tips for the Berbers and perhaps tip for the driver. And do not buy overpriced scarf – you do not need it at all! Other than that – try to have as much fun as you can! After all – this is another adventure!