It became apparent very quickly that we were about to eat our way to the desert.
We had hired a 4WD and driver for the next six days to take us through the Middle Atlas, Sahara desert and High Atlas to finish on the Atlantic coast. We were rather pleased to find our driver Abdul spoke reasonable English. He’d been a bus driver in the past so could pretty much guess the itinerary we had planned. We were also hoping that his earnings from our trip my help to pay for the dental work he was clearly in need of.
Our first stop was Ifrane, a rather surreal little place. It’s a lovely little ski village with swiss style chalets – obvious why it’s earned the reputation as ‘little Switzerland’. A brief walk around and coffee and we were happy to be back in the warm car.
On our way out of Ifrane we spotted a couple of the Babarian apes that inhabit the surrounding forest. Abdul gave us an opportunity to walk along the road in the hope of spotting more but alas we were unsuccessful.
We were now starting to spot the nomadic berbers. You’d generally see a shepherd with a flock of goats or sheep and not too far away a tent (generally covered in plastic sheets in a bid to keep out the rain). Abdul encourages us to stop at one to meet the family. Only the women and children were home in the extremely sparse accomodation. It was rather concerning to see one of the little girl’s hands and feet wrapped in fabric. It looked like they might have been to assist recovery from burns or infection but Abdul informed us that it was because she’d had them tattooed with henna.
This driving business was making us hungry so we stopped in Zaida, a smoky town serving tagines from charcoal fires at the front of the cafes. You had the option of taking a tagine already cooking or having a chunk of meat rom the carcasses hanging behind the bbqs sliced off and bbqed. We went with the former. Our curiosity got the better off us so we felt compelled to ask about the piece hanging low from the carcass. The mention of viagra told us our intuition had been right.
Back in the car and on through Midelt, the apple growing town, before arriving on the Ziz Valley. The scenery was amazing. Running through the valley between the gorges was a wonderful channel of date palms. The prospect of staying amongst that was quite exciting.
We were greeted at the Gite by the lovely host, Mohammed, who couldn’t do enough to please us. We were invited into the garden for tea and the most divine dates we had eaten on the trip – we found out the next day they’d been picked straight from the palms! We retired to a salon with cushions that were draped with berber blankets. We’d had a few wines with our dinner so our giggles lured Abdul into the salon to join in the frivolity.
Mohammed offered to take us on a tour of the mountain opposite the accommodation. It was a bit of a climb but we made it up with great views of the valley and the little fortresses that had been established by the various governing parties of the region to guard their ownership of the valley. Morocco exports its best dates but the local demand is so high they have to import them for local consumption. We tried a couple of ways down the mountain before we found one that wasn’t too hair raising and then had a brief walk through the Palmaraie for Mohammed to show us his palm climbing skills. Then we were back in the car ready for some traditional berber stuffed bread (like a calzone) in Rissani before finding our desert camp.
Unfortunately a bit of a sand storm had whipped up by the time we arrived at the camp meeting spot so the host of the camp warned us we may not be able to get a camel trek in that afternoon but should be fine for the next morning. She also let us know that the best time for admiring the stars was 3am…ugghh!
After getting the rundown on how the camp worked we ventured off getting a few thrills as the driver launched the 4WD over the dunes – it was here we started to get an appreciation of Tania’s lung capacity.
The camp was amazing. We each had our own bedroom with sitting area and allocated bathroom. There were seating areas dotted throughout the camp and an enclosed dining room for our meals. ..and there was weefi!
Not long after settling in we were told the camel ride was on! We each chose our camels while we waited for the driver to arrive, Mussafer was my pick as he’d been eyeing me off since we arrived to them. Took Tan a moment to realise that wasn’t a guy arriving in an Uber but the guy who would lead our trek. Next step …riding the camel. There were plenty of squeals from all of us but there’s no points for guessing who’s was the loudest!
The trek was amazing, following the ridges of the dunes until we stopped to watch the sun setting. We didn’t last the whole sunset as the whipping sand was really challenging even with our desert scarfs. We were happy and contemplating another ride for sunrise.
After dinner we were treated to some gnawa North African tribal music. We danced, we drank, we laughed, we drank until it was just Leigh, Tan and I left with the 10 musicians (who were also the cleaners, drivers, waiters, cook hands). I couldn’t resist and eventually nabbed the recorder to give a rendition of Wee Bonnie Boat. I thought it was pretty good but the staff all just stared at me no doubt wondering how I could create such an aweful noise from their precious instrument.
We caught Leigh napping while surrounded by three of the musicians beating out their racket but she slipped back into consciousness just as we were lining up the camera for the shot of the trip!
And then there were two… You know you’ve hit the jackpot with your travel buddies when the person who had set the ‘toilet door must be shut when in use’ rule finds it quite acceptable to clear her teeth in your private bathroom as you’re relieving yourself on the toilet. Just saying….
Karen woke us at 4am for a bit of star gazing. The stars really were amazing – you felt like you could reach out and touch them. But that lasted about 5 minutes before we all retreated back to our big beds doona laden beds. We all declined the sunrise camel ride in lieu of our comfortable beds.
It had been a wonderful couple of days. It was now time to move away from the Algerian border and back in the direction of the coast.