I knew that if I came to Morocco I wanted to go to the desert, as I had never been to one before. I spent a lot of time researching various companies, tours, and excursions, and Camel Trekking with Omar kept popping up on Trip Advisor with positive reviews. So, I took the plunge and booked a three-day excursion for Michelle and me, at 150€ each.
I was told to meet our guide at the train station on a specified date at a specified time, and then he would use our names to pick us up. It seemed easy enough, because picking out a curly-haired blonde and an Asian without headscarves in North Africa shouldn’t have been so difficult, but after some confusion about which train station (hint: there’s only one!) and some scrambling phone calls after waiting for 25 minutes, Camel Trekking still had not arrived. Our Airbnb host, who woke up early and hailed a cab for us, called the company, spoke with Omar, smiled, and said, “See girls, chill out. He was so Moroccan about it; it sounded like he was sipping coffee on his couch. He’s coming.” Finally, our guide Ali came and found us, asking me if I was “Sahrah Vilgis.” (As Michelle puts it, close enough.)
So, if staying with a random Moroccan-American dude wasn’t sketch enough, Michelle and I followed Ali and climbed into his SUV, where we met Hassan, our driver, and our traveling companions, a Portuguese couple named Sarah and Edgar. I would say that one of the most meaningful parts of this trip included riding in a car with three different nationalities, countless languages, and diverse life experiences. The ride, although excruciatingly long at times, was never dull (well, except maybe for Hassan, who only spoke Berber). During the ride, Ali taught us loads about Moroccan history, starting from the Berber civilization to French colonization and beyond. Before coming to Morocco, both Michelle and I thought that Moroccans identified as Arab; however, about half actually identify as Berber (including Hassan and Ali.) Luckily, since both cultures are Muslim, the coincide quite nicely. Ali also told us about Morocco’s experience with the Arab Springs. He explained that people in Morocco prefer peace with a monarchy than a revolution with a democracy, which I found to be extremely interesting even if I (silently) didn’t agree with him. Finally, Ali told us a bit about his family and growing up in a Berber community. He lived in a tiny village where girls, such as his sisters, get married as early as 15 (though the legal age in Morocco is actually 18.) There are dowries involved, as well as a three-day celebration where the bride is veiled until the final day. He simply stated that the king is never in these villages and there really is no control when it comes to the laws. So, as long as everyone in the village is on the same page, than it really is no one else’s business. Finally, Sarah and Edgar asked Michelle and me many questions about gun control, Obama, and September 11th. There was also an awkward two-hour block about the existence of God between the two Muslims and the two Atheists in the car. (Michelle and I sat that one out.)
The 3-day trek included 660 kilometers (about the distance between Minneapolis and Chicago), with stops in the Atlas Mountains, Valley of Roses, Dades Gorges, and Merzouga. I for one did not know how green Morocco actually is.
The first stops included various Berber villages and along routes in the Atlas Mountains.
Aït Benhaddou is known as the route of a thousand kaspahs (houses made of clay and straw which are natural coolers during the scorching 140 degree summer heat). This specific backdrop of kaspahs have been featured in various films/tv series such as Gladiator, The Mummy, and Game of Thrones.
The Dades Valley, where we spent the first night, is known for its “monkey fingers.” The next morning, our first stop was Torda Gorge.
Finally, after another day of site seeing, we arrived in Merzouga, around 18h00, where we were greeted by Youseff, our guide for the night. He led our 1.5 hour camel trek into the Sahara. I must say, the views were incredible and unlike anything I had ever seen. The sand was orange, soft, and clean, despite the frequent camel poop droppings. Our camp was already set for the night and was quite comfortable. We had tanjine dinner, star gazed, and Michelle played the drums. We were able to wake up early enough to see the sun rise and make it back to Marrakech before dark.
Looking back, I can’t believe I did that. It was a truly incredible experience and one I would recommend to anyone taking a trip to Morocco. To view my friend Michelle’s take on the journey, click here.
Have you ever done a camel trek? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.