After the northern leg of our Morocco visit – Casablanca and Rabat to Meknes and Fes, we wanted to head south to see us some real desert and then go westward to Marrakesh. To do that, we first had to go through the Middle Atlas Mountain range.
There isn’t a train that does that, and though we considered a bus, we decided instead on hiring a car and driver. So civilized! If there’s a patron saint of travellers, they were looking out for us that day. We’d had such great luck with our driver in Meknes, we backtracked from Fes to hire the same guy.
We drove south – through the Middle Atlas mountains, where we had some pretty bad snow squalls I hadn’t expected (it was late May) – to the desert. But our driver persevered, slipping and sliding, until we made it out the other side. He spoke no English, and we had no Arabic, so our schoolgirl French came in quite handy. We were able to learn a few things about Moroccan industry and crops (saw lots of olives growing) and culture and music and history. In honour of our Canadian heritage, our driver unearthed his Celine Dion cassettes for our listening pleasure. Despite this French-Canadian serenade, it was a lovely drive through the country.
We eventually made it to Erfoud, where our driver helped us hire a 4 x 4 (aka: a “quatre-quatre”) to bring us even further into the Sahara – to Merzouga, where the big sand dunes are. The first thing the three of us did was walk out in the sand:
Merzouga is right on the edge of the Sahara, and close to the border of Algeria (still closed and under dispute). It’s stunning. And I remember noticing how silent it was. All those graceful waves of golden-orange sand cutting a silouette into the deep blue of the sky. The light was incredible.
We also visited a very nice, fresh-faced young man who gave us mint tea and told us histories (in his flawless Parisian French) of “les tapis”. I know I took two of those lovely Moroccan carpets home from that trip (you can see one of them here).
The next day, we set out for Marrakesh, stopping along the way in a wonderfully photogenic little town called Ouarzazate. It’s not hard to see why it’s a big Hollywood filming location favourite – from Lawrence of Arabia and The Mummy to Gladiator and Game of Thrones. The place to go is the Taourirt Kasbah, now a restored historical building that you can wander around in. It’s amazing.
And of course there were things for sale. Check out those lively carpets set against the terracotta walls.
We had another brief stop in the High Atlas Mountains. Certainly no snow here, just wide, gorgeous vistas with layers of rusty reds, orange and green. During these two days of driving, I began to understand the whole oasis thing – the bright green lushness that ribbons along the bottom of the valleys where all the water is.
And finally, Marrakesh. This is where we parted ways with our fab driver and enjoyed the sunshine on our hotel balcony (with pool) and a fully stocked hotel bar. In our couple of days there, we spent some time wandering around the souks (where you could buy almost anything) and the Djemaa el-Fna, the city’s main square:
We started with a civilized cool drink on a balcony, looking out onto the largely empty square, and ambled up to minaret (in the distance above). The real action, however, happens when the sun goes down and the temperature drops to a reasonable level. The street vendors come out and the entertainment begins. I ate delicious dates and almonds and fresh squeezed orange juice, and any number of grilled foodstuffs. It’s very lively.
Our budget accommodation was adequate – clearly well past its glory days – but it had a bar in the lobby. We hadn’t had much alcohol on our trip (it’s not really readily available in many places), so we took advantage and had an evening of slight overindulgence. The wine they had was pretty terrible, so I switched to beer, which was cold after a hot day in the sun. A fine way to end our time in Marrakesh.