Returning to Marrakesh – Morocco

The third morning was upon us, when we woke up into a quiet morning in Mergouza. We had a long drive ahead of us, straight through the desert, towards Agdz and Ouarzazat.

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Those roads are fast to drive. There are almost nobody there and they are in relatively good condition and cornerless. Before long, we were in the half way of the days journey. That was a lot of desert. We spotted something that we named immediately as “copy-paste-mountains”.

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Some ctrl+c ctrl+v action here?
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Endless road. 

It also became apparent, that no truck or taxi over there moves without being fully loaded, up to the limit.

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If something moves, it moves fully loaded.
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Stripes!

Every time there is a bit of water in the desert there is life, too. The road we took brought us through many spots of greenery. Before I had a little bit childish vision on oases. You know, the two palm trees and a pond? Apparently they can be even full forests of palm trees heavy from dates, surrounded by fields of mint.

While driving by one of those oases, we started to hope, that the next hotel would be in such a place. We got lucky, our navigator, still acting up, directed us to a small road, disappearing into the shades of the oasis.

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We pulled up to a hotel, which was located inside a beautiful garden, next to a quiet road. Dates, oranges and grenade apples hanging from the trees, just waiting for picking. Paradise, might one think.

 

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Fresh grenade apples, straight from the tree. Not too many things better than that! 

 

We got our room from the back of the garden, attacked a few grenade apples and headed for a walk, deeper in the oasis. That particular oasis was used for farming and donkeys kept passing us by. The coolness of the air in that valley after a hot day on desert was so refreshing!

We reached the edge, and saw an old looking town and decided to have a closer look. We took a few steps towards the village and got immediately a man attached to our side. Introducing himself as a Berber, who’s family still lived in that ancient town of Berber merchants. He told us about the history and renovation while we approached. Apparently he was trying to sell us a guided tour around the place, even though we did not ask for one.

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That guy was surprisingly difficult to get rid of. He kept offering us just a small tour of half on hour, even though the sun was already close to setting. After all he gave up on his pleas and guided us to the riverbed and a trail that would take us back to our hotel. That trail brought us into the middle of rather beautiful gardens. We were off to bed early, since the next day would have to bring us all the way, over the High Atlas to Marrakesh. Meaning quite some driving.

The morning came, and brought a bird along. A bird that had for some reason gotten interested about pecking on windows. He woke us up with the banging with the first morning light. It would not quit, so we had to get up and start preparing for the last day.

We were up and running on the road well before 9, very happy about our loose timeline. No rush for the flight, plenty of buffer. Or so we thought, before getting stuck behind a slow, very slow, truck and other people, slow just for no reason, on a mountain pass. And donkeys. Donkey seems to be still the main transportation method in many mountain villages. At least we had plenty of time for sightseeing. Well, I did, Waffles eyes were tightly scanning the road.

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Sandy mountains as far as the eye can see.

 

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Another piece of endless desert road.
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Hey transport. Full.

After all that we were getting stressed and hungry. So we stopped at a small Cafe Hassan, run by Hassan, a Berber. He was extremely happy to get tourists as customers, served us orange juice and tajine.

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Food. Definite plus for Morocco!

At some point that man started also get a bit… invasive… Wanting to take photos with us and getting pretty close to the skin. For my Finnish sense of personal space that was too much. Hassan did, how ever agree on pointing us the route up to a hill close by and guarded our car in the meanwhile.

Soon we noticed, that our time buffer was running out. We run too, down the hill, hopped into our car after shooing off our host and off to the serpentine again. As we drove, the minutes got shorter and shorter. Closing up to Marrakesh and we had only half an hour to spare. And the city center in front of us. Also, mister Murphy decided to pay a visit. GPS died, again, right inside the city walls. Panic.

Chaotic driving in random directions followed. We seemed to fit the crowd in that sense. I don’t know if anybody had a clear direction or destination in mind. Then, after a corner, we saw an angel, dressed as a police officer. He directed us towards the airport, through couple of corners.  After all, we managed to catch the plane, with only minutes to spare.

A sum up. Hm, I don’t think I will visit Morocco again, any time soon. The country is beautiful, yes and the food is good, also the people are friendly up until a certain point. But seeing so much nature being spoiled with trash, and animals treated as they are treated there, it makes me sad.

You can’t really relay on people either, since they very often are after your money, if they offer help. And as a blond western woman, you do get to feel the sadder side of the different culture

 

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Sorry Morocco, but this did not turn into a love story.
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The Shades of Desert – Morocco

Morocco welcomed us with warm wind, smells of spices and the calls for prayer sounding from several minarets. I had, for the very first time, stepped onto another continent.

We were sent off, cramped into a tiny piece of a Suzuki, pushing through the center of Marrakesh. Our GPS had obviously an identity crisis of some sort, so we experienced some of the most frightening traffic moments of our lives. We drove through the darkness, through Medina, the heart of Marrakesh. Or so we thought. The narrow streets were busy, crowded with people, bicycles, donkeys, horses and what ever you can imagine. All just moving to random directions, at random speed. When ever someone notices that you are a lost tourist, you will be offered help. Few quick advises and immediate request for money. Somehow not the region you want to stop and spend time at.

After a lot of chaotic slalom through traffic and quite some fear and panic, we made it out. We found ourselves on the N9, driving towards Ouarzazat, it was pitch black. No streetlights, no reflectors of any sort, so it was still pretty stressful to drive. We were lucky to have our first hotel located right at the side of the road.

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This was our hotel. Half of it was taken away by the river. Good thing it was dark when we arrived, so we could not see the mess it left behind.

We had our dinner and a bit of wine before admiring the clear, starry sky and heading for bed, to rest for the first full day of Morocco.

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The morning came and we headed for the Atlas mountains. First passing through a few villages in a valley. It was a lot less nerve wrecking to be on the move in the day light, compared to the darkness the night before. We had to stop often to take photos, since the scenery had a habit of changing into new and beautiful things after every corner. The good thing was, that we were in no hurry. It was a trip of 300 – 400 km across the High Atlas scheduled for that day.

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The N9 from Marrakesh towards Ouarzazat is very touristic, and the road is lined with all sorts of sales huts. People are selling mineral stones and pottery, all sorts of handcrafts and of course food. We stopped by a smaller hut and bought maybe the best freshly squeezed orange juices I have ever tasted.

Our hotel numero dos was situated close to one of the famous gorges, in the village of Tinerhir, or Tinghir. That hotel was a very nice place to stay. Located in a back alley, almost inaccessible by car, hence very peaceful, and we were the only  guests. The owners of the place were the friendliest people we had seen so far during the trip. After visiting the Toudra gorge and the city of Tinghir, we sat for a moment with them. Playing some songs with a guitar and learning things about Morocco and the Berber culture.

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Our room! @ Auberge Chez Aissa – Tinghir
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Fresh Moroccan mint tea.
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The street leading to the hotel.

Next morning, after a hearty breakfast we were off again. Headed for the Sahara desert, the heat and the dunes. Merzouga was the village we were aiming for. Having heard that it had been built only for tourists made us a bit suspicious on what we would be finding there.

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Road slicing the desert.
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The clouds repeating the pattern of the hills.
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Short climb on top of a hill of sand rock gave a nice overview on the desert.

Slowly moving down from the mountains, the landscape turned more and more into desert. I was completely surprised how many different shades there could be in the desert. Late in the autumn, there are even bits of green in the dusty brown, black, orange, even pink ground. We also got to learn quickly, that when ever you are approaching a town, there will be a growing amount of litter, scattered over the desert. Such a pity.

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I guess we were close by a village.
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If you survive the traffic….
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…Keep in mind, that there still are camels to come!

We got the first glance of the high sand dunes early in the afternoon. We knew we were almost at our next destination, nested right at the foot of the dunes.  We found again a very nice hotel, run by a friendly Spanish lady. We settled in and she guided us to the dune and showed us where it was easiest to climb, leaving us to it.

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Contrast was the word of the day.
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Lounge in Berber style, can be found from Riad Merzouga.

The dunes faced us majestic. They were surprisingly high, smooth piles of sand. Glowing in the sun with deep orange with shades of pink and gold. We started to look for our ridge to climb, after dogging the Bedouins selling camel rides and pushing a jeep full of Dutch people free of sand.

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Dune!
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Another!
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The short moment before darkness.

It was soon clear, that that particular dune was filled with all sorts of touristic attractions. Camels, sand buggies and motorcycles were all over the place. As well as a band, stuffed into an oasis. Not something we wanted to see. Never the less, the dunes were impressive and the setting sun kept giving them new colors, while the evening approached.

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A word on Berber kitchen: Marvelous!

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That night we took the advantage of the terrace on the hotels roof. There was almost no light pollution present, so we decided to try and capture the desert stars.

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Under these stars I am leaving you this time. Next post will be covering our return journey, through the desert, oases and mountains. Hang on there!