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We wanted to do a camel trek in the Sahara and were really disappointed that we couldn't book one in advance before our trip. All the travel companies we contacted were either full, or wanted more than $400 per person. But in Marrakech we visited Sahara Expedition (online at ) and booked a 3 day/2 night trip for the astonishingly low price of 950DH ($118.75) per person -- Woohoo! Let the adventure begin! 😊
Roadtrips are always fun, even if they involve hours and hours of driving through desolate valleys and barren lands in the scorching heat with no A/C! Our roadtrip adventure began at 7am as we boarded a minivan and headed southeast through the Atlas mountains on zig-zagging roads up and down the sides of the mountain range. We passed green fields, remote villages, donkeys pulling heavy loads, herds of sheep and goats, and caught glimpses of Berber women washing clothes in streams and children scampering up hillsides to check us out.
Along the way we stopped at several breath-taking viewpoints and roadside stores. At one of them, David attempted to purchase a beautiful copper and silver pipe. His offer: 20DH ($2.50). Response: 300DH ($37.50). The seller
even added that the price included a piece of hash which he pulled out of his pocket and showed David! HA! David again offered 20DH but the owner took the pipe from his hand and walked away--not even a hint of willingness to negotiate.
We piled back into the minivan and continued the drive along the "road of a thousand kasbahs." Gorgeous. Every few minutes there was another sandcastle village popping up from a hidden niche in the valley or appearing from the side of a mountain. We stopped at the most well known kasbah, Ait Benhaddou, also a UNESCO site and location of movies such as Alexander (2004), Gladiator (2000), The Mummy (1999), Jesus of Nazareth (1977) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
Ait Benhaddou is excellently preserved and definitely a must-see while in Morocco. To enter, you hop along sandbags in a river (see video) and are escorted around by a local who explains what life is like living in the kasbah without the modern conveniences of air conditioning, plumbing, or electricity. The highlight of the visit came after we finished the tour and our guide, Muhammad, invited us into his home. We followed him down a
dusty path and into an open courtyard surrounded by walls of mud. His sister, youngest of the twelve children, was in a smoke filled room cooking lunch but popped her head out to say hello (technically, bonjour!). Muhammed proudly showed us his donkey, goat, and chickens. Then we followed him up mud stairs past decaying meat strung up like clothes to dry, and into a large room with carpets on the floor. In the center of the room hung a movie poster for Gladiator, the biggest movie production that has ever come to Ait Benhaddou. Muhammed boasted that he was in the movie, albeit as an extra, and it obviously had a big impact on him. He offered to make us mint tea, but unfortunately our time was running out and we needed to begin heading back towards the minivan. We made a quick stop at a shop selling wooden door locks. After an explanation and demonstration of how they worked, we talked the owner down from his "set price" of 250DH ($31.25) to 200DH ($25) for a medium sized lock. As we exited the kasbah, wiped sweat away from our brows, and hopped across the river, we couldn't help
but think of how surreal this place was... like a giant sandcastle in the middle-of-nowhere.
Back on the road again. At some point, we stopped at the valley of roses. This valley is supposed to be in full bloom in May and the rose fragrance is supposed to be so thick that you can cut it with a butter knife. We saw lots of rose bushes and a handful of blossoming roses, but nothing special at all. Perhaps we came right after the harvest. Perhaps it was a bad year. Perhaps the driver didn't actually take us to the valley of roses (no joke).
Back on the road again. The driver pulled up to an empty store outside a town and informed us that this is the only place to buy alcohol (remember that Morocco is a Muslim country!), and our last chance to purchase water because there were no supermarkets in the Dades Valley. David tried a Moroccan beer which was alright and we purchased our water, which was warm because the store didn't have a refrigerator. Then we arrived at the hotel, nestled at the bottom of Dades Valley. And we parked, you guessed it, at
its neighboring supermarket with cold, cheaper water for sale. We understand that Moroccans take you to the shops where they get kickbacks, but this time the driver flat out lied to us. GRRR.
The hotel was very quaint and bordered a river running through the valley. Our room was basic and clean. We took a shower then took a little walk around the area before coming back for dinner. They served vegetables and couscous tagine and a plate of chicken as well as yummy mint tea. After a good night's sleep, we ate a basic breakfast (bread, jam, butter, and tea), and piled back into the minivan for more driving.
A few hours later, we arrived at a Berber village. We entered by walking through their farmland where a guide explained what they were growing and how they irrigated the fields. We followed the guide through the verdant fields, past women shouting at us because they thought we took their photo, and into the village. We were guided into a room where a local served us mint tea and spent two hours showing us carpets and explaining how they were made. He explained all the different styles, sizes,
Kasbah Ait Benhaddou
Unesco World Heritage
colors, and techniques. In fact, the carpets this man was trying to sell were made by his mother and his sister. The biggest and most complex of them took his mother over nine months to make (and cost well over $1,000)! After demonstrating how they make the carpets, hearing the spiel about differences in carpets, how colors are made and what they stand for, blah blah blah, we sat in silence while nobody attempted to buy one. Awkward! But in all fairness, the cheapest and smallest carpet was 1000DH ($125).
Afterward, we walked back to the minivan and drove for a few more hours in the blazing heat until we arrived at the Todra Gorge. The Todra Gorge is definitely one of the most dramatic sights you can see in Morocco. The cut through the mountain is sometimes as narrow as 10 meters beneath 300 meter tall walls. We walked into the Gorge for about 30 minutes then returned to entrance for lunch. Along the way, we stopped at a shop where our guide tried to sell us turbans for the "set price" of 50DH ($6.25 each). This seemed like a rip-off to us, so we departed from the
group and visited the next shop and tried to buy two turbans for our desert trek for 60DH ($3.75 each). It seemed like the deal was going to happen but then our guide appeared, shouted something to the seller in Arabic and the price jumped back to 50DH for one, 100DH for two. GRRRR. After lunch, we secretly visiting the turban stall and talked the seller down to 60DH for two of them!! Almost half-price what everyone else in the tour group got! We wrapped our turbans on our head and jumped on the minivan excited about the next stop: camel trek through the desert. WOOHOO! 😊
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