Hello faithful readers! I’m sorry it has taken me so long to share our experience in Morocco. By now, many of you have seen the photos on facebook and have a general understanding of our trip. In short, it was one of the most fascinating (and terrifying) weeks of our lives…
We arrived in Marrakech on a Thursday night. It was gloriously warm and breezy, compared to the constant rainy weather we have been experiencing here in the Netherlands. We had a reservation at a riad (former colonial mansion turned guesthouse, sort of like a B&B), who had a driver waiting for us in the arrivals hall. Nice! Right away, we were met with warm, friendly hospitality. Even though our driver spoke about 10 words of English, we were relieved to have small conversation. Here is a picture of our room inside Riad Eden:
For our first meal, we wanted to get a true Marrakech experience, so of course, we headed to the main square, Djemaa el-Fna. As we walked down the street, I felt like we were in an Indiana Jones movie. So exotic and beautiful. And then… we are
slammed knocked on our asses by the commotion in the square. Snake charmers trying to wrap snakes around Jaro’s neck (he, like Indy, hates snakes), henna painters grabbing my unadorned hands, and then there were the foodstall guys. Every single one targeted us to convince/persuade/trick us into eating at their stalls. They all have the same tactics “Chillax guys, come to MY stall.” And it was EXTREMELY aggressive. Like, I can’t really describe it. To a normal American, it’s borderline harassment. We finally caved and plopped down at a picnic table. It helped that an English speaking customer raved that it was delicious. Normally when we travel, we ask what their specialties are and this was no different. Until, it was. Massive plates of tasty couscous, tagines, salads, olives, bread, and kebobs were thrust in our faces. So was the 500 Dirham bill. (11Dhm to the Euro). Almost 50 Euro for a foodstall dinner with WAY too much food. We thought it was going to be around 10 bucks. Yikes. Traveler Tip: When in a country like Morocco, NEVER let the staff do the ordering for you. You will almost certainly be taken advantage of.
Bedtime. Aside from my three nightmares of people trying to break into our room (very real and scary.. Jaro had to wake me up out of one because I was going nuts), it was very pleasant. The next morning, we woke up expecting to lounge around the riad and maybe explore a bit more before the bus ride to M’Hamid, aka the end of the road/edge of the Sahara. The internet (which, you know, is always accurate) reported that the bus was at 12:30pm and was 8 hours. WRONG! Try 11:15am and closer to 10 hours. Which, thankfully, our riad owner informed us. We had to hurry to the other side of the city, get our tickets, get some food and board. Traveler Tip: Never trust that the information on the internet is accurate. Despite that shortcoming, the bus was really comfortable, clean and, most importantly,body odorless.
Arrived at 10pm in M’Hamid. Since our kasbah was on the edge of town, the bus dropped us off there directly. As we started walking to the kasbah, a figure emerged from the shadows. Sadly, both our first thought was, “Is this person going to hurt us?” We were in the middle of nowhere! But no, he was a kind employee of the kasbah coming to greet us. After a delicious chicken and olive tagine, it was time for bed. This was our room at the Sahara Services Kasbah:
Slightly less glamorous, but hey, how much can you really do with a mud-brick room?
The next morning started our trek into the Sahara! We set off on ourtrusty steedswobbly camels, guided by a sweet Berber man named Omar. Again, about 10 words of English, but by the end of the ride, we were friends. He even taught Jaro how to wrap a turban. Then, we waited at a rest area for about an hour for our 4×4 driver to take us the rest of the way to Erg Chigaga, a 40 km stretch of humungous dunes, some even 300 meters high! By camel, to go the whole way would have taken 3 days. NO THANKS!
This is when we had official scare #1. As we were driving along, the driver (who spoke ZERO English.. none.. not one word), stopped and he motioned for pictures so we got out and started snapping away. After about 10 minutes, we were ready to continue on.
The car wouldn’t start.
After the driver fumbled around under the hood, he shrugged his shoulders. We were hours from town by car. As he tried to start it again, we noticed a lit up key symbol on the dash. Again, motioning, we try to explain for automatic start cars, you need to have the key in the car. Basically through sign language, we understood that there was a lot of excitement when he left town and forgot it.
You are probably all thinking: No cell service in the Sahara! No food! No water! Actually, we had all those things. But, as our driver started walking away from the vehicle, leaving us there, we started to wonder about our safety. It seemed like he was trying to get a signal (we hoped). So what do two Americans do when stranded in the Sahara?
Find some rocks and play bocce! …That was fun for about 5 minutes. Our driver came back and we managed to understand that he was able to call town and someone was going to bring the key. Then he wandered off again. After being stuck out there for around two hours, you start to wonder. “What if we are being set up?” “What if Algerian bandits kidnap us?” We were less than 30km from the Algerian border. Julie was starting to panic.
Then suddenly, two men on a dirt bike appear out of nowhere and start approaching our car. From the opposite direction of town. And our driver was still off in the distance. Jaro and I looked at each other and shrugged. We couldn’t help but have a mixture of hope and fear. We were completely powerless and totally vulnerable.
And then, one of men held up the key and smiled. We were rescued!
After quite a bit more rough driving (they call it the ‘Berber massage’ because you bounce around in the car so much), we made it to camp right on the edge of the dunes. It’s exactly what you would imagine and more. Awesome. We got all set up, were fed lunch and then set off into the dunes to play (and take incredible pictures). We even got to sandboard on the dunes, which was really fun.
While I look legit (see above), Jaro was much better at it than I was.
After watching a beautiful sunset, we headed back to camp and found out we were the only ones staying at it. A little unsettling; it would have been nice to be around other travelers, but what can you do? There were two men working at the camp, a chef and a host (more or less… he kept us company and spoke broken English while the chef prepared everything). We sat at talked with them under the stars. What incredible stars they were! Wow. I have never seen the sky look like that.
We then set off for bed and realized it was only 9pm. But since our day was rather exhausting, I fell asleep before the end of South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut that we had on the iPhone.
When we woke up the next day, we were so proud! We had just spent a night in the middle of the Sahara! And were alive! And not kidnapped! Traveler Tip: GO VISIT THE SAHARA DESERT. It was amazing.
Getting back to M’Hamid in the morning was no problem, except for a passing nomad group with around 100 camels that served as a roadblock for a bit. In a few hours, we were back at the kasbah and had the full day to explore the town. Since the only bus out was at 6am and we missed it, we
decided had no choice, but to stay in M’Hamid for another night.
More on that, along with official scare #2, coming soon in the next post.