We departed from Marrakesh and began our journey to the Sahara. Rainier had set up the next 5 days through a company called Luxury Desert Camp Morocco that would host us during our time in the Sahara, as well as take us to our next destination post desert. Nick and Bobo run a Luxury Desert Camp in the Sahara, but they also offer so much more. They truly want incoming visitors to feel the culture and hospitality of Morocco. They offer multiple day trips and we chose we chose a 5-day option. We were provided with a personal driver that stayed with us the entire duration. Our five days included a pick-up in Marrakesh, 1-night stay in Aït Benhaddou, 2 nights in the Sahara Desert, 1-night stay in Todra Gorge and then final drop-off was in Fes.
This was a little more expensive because we really wanted to experience everything Morocco has to offer. It was truly a once in a lifetime, incredible experience. We were told that our driver was not a “tour guide” but he would share details about the country and any questions we may have. His name is Ali and he spoke English extremely well. We truly enjoyed this opportunity to ask questions about the food, culture, anything we had seen, learn about the different cities from a local and hear stories. Through Ali we were educated and understand the culture, more details of things we had experienced in Marrakesh, and a lot about the Islamic religion. So much of the culture is focused around Islam. Without understanding the religion, it’s challenging to truly comprehend the culture.
The drive has some amazing views as we headed through the Atlas Mountains, seeing the hidden Bedouin towns that are camouflaged into the mountains. The valleys and following the “green”. Most of the drive you follow a river and you can see how the green landscape follows it as well. There are villages strategically along it.
Our first night stop was outside of the town of Aït Benhaddou. This was a really interesting stop for a couple of reasons. The area is very unique since the town is divided by a large season. In the dry season you can just walk right across the “river”. It is an amazing visual as you approach the city. The other reason is because its been the location of quite a few major motion pictures and television shows; Game of Thrones, The Mummy, The Gladiator, Alexander, Babel to name a few. The list goes on..
We stayed at one of our FAVORITE riads on this drive. Kasbah Ellouze was a massive castle-like location located not far from the Ait Benhaddou. It was something out of a story book with how unique it was. The place is run by an older French couple that were the absolute sweetest. The staff made us feel extremely welcomed with the infamous Moroccan Mint Tea. We learned there was only a handful of couples staying so it felt like we had the place to ourselves. This place had great surrounding views and really cool relaxing areas. Rainier and I did what we do best, plan our next steps on our journey to Egypt.
The next day, we were due to head to the Sahara Desert. Along the way, we stopped through the village that is known for making area rugs. It was run by a local cooperative to ensure women in the area that were making area rugs were properly compensated and taken care of. We were shown around the compound and were advised the step by step process to making a beautiful area rug. We watched this sweet old lady show she weaves the beautiful rugs. We then were shown where they dye the yarn and advised how it was all hand dyed using natural materials, such as lavender, indigo, turmeric, etc. It was quite the sight! We were then brought to this room with their finished rugs to have some Mint tea. As I mentioned before, we really planned on not buying anything because we didn’t have any room in our luggage. This was only our first stop! So here I think that this was working out perfectly… until the sales guy looked at Rainier and told us “We could just ship it to the US!” I basically had to drag her out of there before she got any ideas!
Our next stop was to pick up some sandwiches and skewers before we hit the desert, the last town shown on the map – M’Hamid. Before we left, Ali asked us if we wanted to get a Moroccan turban advising it would be really beneficial while we were in the desert. He brought us to a local show to get fitted. I don’t think Rainier and I would have done this on our own. We weren’t sure if it was really appropriate or a sign of disrespect, but Ali emphasized that it’s not like that. It was one of my favorite experiences looking back on Morocco. As we left the town behind, Ali took us to a real ‘Oasis’! Rainier was in awe as he set up a picnic for us to eat our lunch under the palm trees with roaming camels around us. It was such a cool place to eat our lunch. As we packed up, we knew that the next two hours were going to be desert terrain. After an hour or so, Ali asked if we wanted to see some fossils! Of course we said Yes and he just pulls over, in the middle of the dessert, and points to a rock. Low and behold, we were standing in the middle of a preexisting lake. It even showed the lake on the map! Over the years it had completely dried up and we were able to make out fossils in the rocks all around us. It was incredible just casually driving along and stopping by to see this.
In just a few short hours, we would be arriving at the Erg Chigaga Sand Dunes in El Gouera… The Sahara Desert!