A morning of travelling saw us united with a group of fellow tourists as we made our way into the Sahara to spend a night under the stars. Mostly made up of Spanish speakers, Australians and Brits our group led by driver Mohammed, began the 8 hour journey into the desert. Taking us through the Atlas Mountains, a range that stretches around 2,500 km through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, the roads wrapped the mountain edges with drops thousands of feet deep either side of the road. It was quickly clear that Mohammed knew these roads well as he kept up the pace twisting left to right consistently steering with just the one hand. We regularly passed rock slides that didn’t seem to halt traffic, in fact we shared the road with workers as they mechanically set out to shore up the mountains edges. Although feeling somewhat safe with Mohammed’s road knowledge behind the wheel, there was evidence throughout the journey of cars that had met an unthinkable fate, ensuring that any fears we had from these winding roads remained in our stomaches.
We stopped often, not necessarily for the inevitable toilet breaks, but because it was a sin not to take photos of the constantly changing terrain around us, a wonder that Morocco can be proud of. We drove for hours through various landscapes, changing from dark, almost black stone, to red, creamy browns and inevitably sand, as we approached the outskirts of the desert. The flora too kept surprising us, at one point our view was covered with all deciduous trees, then rare bushes within rocks and lastly and most amazingly – breath-taking palm groves which we passed through on a number of occasions.
Along the way we did wonder whether the two-day rendezvous was really worth such a long minibus journey with less leg room than RyanAir planes (if you can’t recall your last RyanAir flight, I’ll remind you it’s the last uncomfortable travel you had, which you put up with for the low price… Oh well, it’s worth it in the end, isn’t it?). And to be honest I still can’t tell. I believe with travel it often takes a long time after your return home to figure out how you actually felt about each experience and what in turn it has taught you – that’s the joy of adventure, at least to us. Once we did finally stop, to the joys of our minds which demanded stimulation, we were greeted by the sight of the Ksar Ait Ben Haddou (you may recall the first town where Daenerys arrived in “Slavers bay” and gave freedom to those held against their will, that’s it!). Without the CGI it maybe isn’t as amazing, but it is still worth visiting, especially if you are a hardcore GoT fan. For instance you can stand in the exact position as Daenerys did while she conquered the city as her own (but don’t let the power go straight to your head). After starring in awe at the foot of this small piece of Moroccan Hollywood, we began our climb into the Ksar, a Berber village made up of a collection of family houses – Kasbahs, clustered together. It obviously is one of those places which makes you reflect upon the fairness of the world, the widening gap between rich and poor. You wonder through with your group, walking inside of people’s homes where they’re simply sitting on the floor in the dark, weaving. For them it’s become a way of life, letting a group of strangers into their home all day everyday and in return they just ask for a simple donation or perhaps that you buy a handcrafted souvenir that’s displayed on a makeshift stand on the outside of their kasbah. Whilst in the house you remember the last time you stressed about the decor of your bedroom, which suddenly seems so unimportant as having your bed would be a luxury to the simple people of the village. At the same time we walk across what is probably their bed so we can ‘experience’ the Berbers way of life. As we all once again boarded the minibus a still silence fell over us, bearing in mind how the place is used for western, ridiculously expensive, entertainment you certainly leave Ait-Ben-Haddou with your own reflections.
We briefly stopped, literally as Mohammed said ‘FOR QUICK PHOTOS’, in and around Ourzazate – city sometimes called Oullywood or the Hollywood of Africa, where many filming studios are placed. Leaving with little experience of the city itself we hurried on towards the Sahara where we arrived sometime after 7pm. We more or less stopped in the middle of the road along the desert, got out of the minibus and got introduced to our camels and their guides. Us two and a family from Venezuela/San Francisco hopped on the camels and, led by two Berber men, headed away from the rarely passing cars, towards tones of endless sand…
Find out how we did on the rest of our Sahara Adventure in part two!