I have been traveling Morocco for a couple weeks, when I decided I needed a break from the hustle and bustle of busy city life. I wanted to travel deeper, and farther, for a more remote experience. I normally don’t want any part of organized travel, preferring to blaze my own path, but I committed to a 3 day/2 night trip to Merzouga, a small village in southeastern Morocco, near the Algerian border, from where I would ride a camel further into the Sahara desert, and away from civilization. It was a big trip into the desert, so I thought I would leave this trek to the professionals.
I left Marrakech early in the morning, and awed at the twisting, winding roads through the Atlas Mountains, which range across the northwestern stretch of Africa. Each turn provided a stunning view of picturesque scenery, surrounded by Berber villages whose homes match the color and texture of the mountains they are built around.
We made a stop off at the Kasbah of Ait Benhaddou, a communal housing compound where only eight families currently live. It is a fortified city, or ksar, and now a UNESCO world-heritage site. It is probably a familiar site to most people, as it has been in many films, such as Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia. It was interesting to see the construction and architecture of the the 11th century structures consisting of salt and lime to harden the mud and straw walls and ceilings.
We spent never-ending hours riding through many different kinds of deserts. There were deserts bordering plateaus, situated between large mountains. There were many steppes with miles worth of dry scrublands and very few trees. Occasionally you would come across huge formations that looked like they were gigantic drops of rocks dripped from high above. There would be ancient cities nestled into the little towns that crumbling apart due to the extremely hot and dry climate.
We spent the first night in a dingy riad in the Valley of Roses, although we didn’t see or smell many roses. Our hotel was situated right across from the Dades Valley, and it had an intense view of a tall wall of rock, seemingly towering over our balcony. Only in Egypt, and maybe parts of Jordan, have I seen such dry rocky land before. Huge formations would stagger out of the ground and up into the sky; beside them would be little oasis’s. The villagers and their rock houses that matched the land settled in these oddly lush nooks. Oftentimes I would have to blink away the impression that this view was not a mirage.
After 2 days of pretty strenuous, and white knuckle van travel, we arrived at the base camp to start our journey, via camel into the Sahara Desert to spend the night under the stars, surrounded by golden dunes, in a small Berber camp. You can read our perspectives on that journey HERE!