I think most people (if not everyone) has a list of things that they want to see or do before they die. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to cross some of those things off my list in the last couple of months. This is the first of many posts highlighting some of my most memorable experiences abroad. We are starting off with a desert trek into the Sahara.
Making the decision to go
When Natalie and I decided to go to Morocco, we typically researched different places to go and see. I came across tons of suggestions about going to the desert and honestly just thought, “We can do that?!” The Sahara was like a mythical place out of a book to me. A place only recreated in movies. Growing up in Canada, I’ve never seen a desert before so the prospect of being able to go to this magical place was exactly the kind of adventure I was looking for. When I mentioned to Natalie, it wasn’t even a question and price wasn’t a factor. We were going to the Sahara.
We booked a desert trek from Camel Excursions and probably annoyed all of our friends by constantly talking about how excited we were. The plan was to be picked up from our host in Fes and driven down to Merzouga while stopping in some other towns on the way. Then we would ride on a camel for about an hour into the desert and spend the night in a nomadic tent. The next day we would take the same trip back to Fes. I had no idea what to expect. What will our guides be like? What will camel riding be like? I mean, I’ve ridden a horse before. What will the desert be like? Will it meet my expectations? Will it be as magical as I dreamed? Will we be able to sleep in the desert? Will I be scared or anxious?
On our way to the desert
Picked up in Fes
The morning we were to be picked up, we had a great breakfast prepared by our host at Palais Mokri and then met up with our driver. He gave us a little history of Fes as we drove through the old city into the new. Our first stop was in Ifrane which surprised me. This little town didn’t look like the Morocco that we had seen for the past two days. In fact, it looked very European in architecture.
There is this lion statue that crowds of people were taking photos of, but Natalie and I just wanted to walk around and look at all the buildings. Ifrane is actually a ski town where the King goes yearly to enjoy the slopes. When we were there, there was no snow. It was hard to imagine this little place covered in snow but every winter it is covered in a thick white blanket.
The Ziz Gorges
After about 15-20 mins, we were off. We stopped in Medelt for some lunch before continuing into the Ziz Gorges. This was probably my favourite part of our drive down. We stopped multiple times in a few different locations around the gorges. The lush trees walled in by the Atlas mountains created an eye-catching contrast.
Our last stop was at Ziz Valley. It went as far as the eye could see and contained thousands of palm trees. Most of these trees grew dates which the Berber people would harvest every year to provide for their families. Along the two walls of the valley, you could see small villages where the Berbers would stay while working but since harvesting season is over they are all abandoned. It was so interesting to me that they just pack up their families and leave.
Merzouga and into Erg Chebbi
Finally, we made it to Merzouga, it had been about 8 hours since we left Fes. We were greeted with a smile and some tea. They had us wait in this small building and we entertained ourselves with the local kittens that wandered around.Then we were off to meet our desert guide and camels.
Trekking into the desert
Riding a camel wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be but definitely uncomfortable. Natalie was constantly screaming. I think our guide found it entertaining. The camels were very well behaved and treated well. All of the guides that were part of the desert trek were of Berber descent and some of them had even lived a nomadic lifestyle growing up.
When we got to the camp, we just hung out with our guide. It was really interesting to hear about his life, he was young and lived in a village “close” (about an hours walk) to Merzouga. We also got to try sandboarding. Now I don’t snowboard, and sandboarding was no easier but hey, when would we ever get another chance to try it? I think falling on the sand was softer than snow.
There were many groups there. I think in total there were about 15 people staying in the camp that night with about 5 or 6 Berber guides. They prepared us some amazing and delicious food. More tajine than I was capable of eating and the flavours were unlike anything I had ever tasted. After everyone’s stomachs were full, we sat around and listened as they played us some traditional songs on these drums they had brought. At that moment I thought, “This can’t get any better.” And it did. We met these two women from Italy; a Mother and Daughter pair; who wanted to see the moon. So the four of us plus our guide and another went to the top of a sand dune to watch the moon ascend into the sky.
Not lost in translation
The night sky was incredible. We had the milky way just above our heads. Lying in the cool sand and burying ourselves to keep warm. We all just laid there, talking to each other and solving riddles that our guide had challenged us with. The funny thing is, no-one could really speak each other’s language. The Italians knew only a little English. Same with the Berbers, however, they could speak many other languages, including Spanish. Natalie is bilingual and speaks Spanish and English. And then me with my small Japanese vocabulary. But somehow we just understood each other. I can feel those same warm feelings now just thinking about it.
Watching the Sunrise
Before we knew it, it was 5 am. Should we go to sleep or just stay up to see the sunrise? I wanted to see the sun creep up in the distance amongst the mountains of sand but at that point, I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. So I went to sleep and set my alarm for an hour later for when we woke, climbed the same dune, and enjoyed the rays as they lit up Erg Chebbi.
To say I had a good time on my desert trek into the Sahara is a huge understatement. It is something I will remember for the rest of my life. Check out what we did the rest of our time in Morocco here.
Thanks for reading