Having enjoying a pretty adequate rest in our room, we woke up the next day, feeling better than ever, eager to reach the desert. We joined our party for breakfast and hopped on on our mini bus to continue our tour towards camels and dunes. Of course, before fulfilling our goal of camel riding we would make some stops along the way to admire the Moroccan countryside.
Although all we could think about was our imminent encounter with the desert’s most eminent dwellers, there were actually lots of interesting things to marvel at along the way. We made a small stop near Tinghir (I think) in order to admire the view and I recall there were many children approaching us, selling handicrafts made of something that looked like reed leaves depicting camels. Poverty is a serious issue around the area and I’m not sure on what would a proper stance against such a sight would be. We simply bought a small camel a memento of a poverty stricken childhood and took some photos of the valley that laid down bellow our feet.
Another team of children greeted us on our next stop a small village in Todgha canyon. They were also selling small handicrafts and asking for money, but our guide advised against giving them anything on the grounds that these kids would probably skip school in order to pursue the life of a beggar. After a while most of them stopped following our group and we walked down the valley to the fields where we were given a tour that would complete its course inside a house, where we would watch a display of Berber rugs.
The fields were quite charming, split in half by a small stream that gave life to all those plants, but most of the flora was typically Mediterranean, so there was not too much that seemed exotic to us, since we, along with other members of our group, hailed from the European south and many of the trees and plants we saw were very familiar to us. What caught our interest was a small plant with purple flowers that is called hashish but unlike the well-known drug is simply a source of a pigment used in dyeing fabric or something. We also learned that the locals were using a time share system in distributing the water, as there were small channels carved all around the tiny valley and petite dams no taller than 50cm in height stopped the water from its route to the neighboring fields until it was the neighbor’s turn to water his field, who, I guess, would remove the small obstacle and place one between his field and the next person’s in line, thus entangling the water to a labyrinth of small channels watering his plants.
We passed through many old buildings before entering the house where a display of rugs would take place. We were offered tea and witnessed the process that produces the marvelous piece of art Moroccan rugs are. I was a bit familiar with parts of that operation as I had seen old ladies use similar methods in villages around my hometown. After a few of the girls tried their luck in carding and spinning the wool, which seemed like a very hard job, we were introduced to the world of Moroccan carpeting for half an hour or so. I have to say it was a rewarding experience and a very safe one if you consider what has happened to other people who had to face aggressive vendors in Moroccan shouks.
We walked through the valley, crossing the small stream once more, once again surrounded by small children selling handicrafts or asking for money to buy a foot ball. Once on our bus though we left them behind and made the short ride to the nearby gorge, where the stream had turned into a small river and many tourists locals and foreigners alike gathered around its shores bathing, attempting successfully to cast away the heat of the cruel Moroccan sun. After that visit we also enjoyed lunch – a very decent one compared to the one we had the day before – at a restaurant situated by the river shore, before venturing forth to a long trip to Merzougha and the Sahara.
The route took as across the regs that precede the orange desert dunes. There were only a few signs of human presence apart from the road while the shape of the Atlas mountains way far in the distance was majestic. We made one more stop at a convenient store in the middle of nowhere to stock up on water (we were told to have three large bottles per person) and we also bought another turban (I had already purchased one in Ait Benhaddou). We were impressed by the bags that we got from the store as they weren’t plastic (we were told that high temperatures make them inefficient and furthermore camels eat them and die as they cannot digest them).
Finally, the shape of some small orange hills started to form further away, as we approached the place, yet these hills grew larger as we approached them. We weren’t expecting anything like that, I was imagining the desert as a flat sandy area with much smaller hills, but these outskirts of the Sahara resembled a huge sandy wall. We were finally looking at a small portion of a vast area of nothingness that passes through so many countries and stretches up to almost 5 thousand km long crossing the entire North Africa.
Soon we spotted lots of camels and guides awaiting for tourists. We stopped at a hotel were we could take a quick shower and hanged around for a while. We were told to wear long trousers (I believe that’s to avoid the scratchy camel fur), leave any non essential baggage behind and pack lots of water (check out this list of camel riding tricks). After everyone and everything was set, we marched of to meet our camels…
Note: After successfully defending my thesis a couple of months ago, I have just finished with the last finishing touches and I’ll be done with this process by the end of the week. That means that I will now have more time at my disposal to run this blog. So, fingers crossed, I’ll finish posting about our trip to Sahara and after that I’ll start posting on our travels to Southeast Asia. In the meantime I’ll probably manage to get ready for this year’s trip.