Friday, 22 November 2013

Desert Safari

Having spent over six weeks in Morocco its a little hard to pinpoint our favourite place, as they were all amazing and different in their own way. But if we had to choose, without a doubt our desert safari trip from Essouira to Fez would definitely be the standout. For 7 days Louise, her parents and I were treated to an incredible and unforgettable adventure through ever changing landscapes where we learnt a lot about their traditional lifestyle and even got to participate in an Islam holiday. Without going into too much detail here is a short summary of our trip:
Day 1:
After a confusing game of 'find our driver', we eventually met up with Siad, who not only spoke perfect English but was also a great driver and always happy to answer any of our questions. Having driven past numerous Argan trees in our journey, we were really interested in stopping at one of the cooperatives where the local woman produce and sell Argan products. As interesting as Argan oil production is however, what really caught our attention was one of the methods used to collect the nut. For any of you who have never seen an Argan tree, it is a small evergreen style shrub, which grown a little over 2m and has many sharp thorns throughout its hard branches. So rather than climbing the tree themselves, risking painful scratches resulting in numerous spongbob square pants band aids, the ingenious Moroccons let the goats do it. That's right goats, I must admit I was a little confused at first when I saw a tree full of goats and had to get Louise to confirm that goats DO NOT grow on trees. But infact this is just the norm in Argan country as we continued our drive from Essouira to Taroudant we soon got use to seeing the goats hard at work.
Day 2:
Our second day was mostly a travel day, driving from Taroudant to Fint, a small oasis just outside of Ouarzazate. Along the way we stopped at a few different gorges to sample the local produce. The most notable stop was in a town called Taliouine, which is predominately known for its saffron. As Siad was going home for the holiday he decided to stop in and pick up a few grams for the family and after seeing the high quality and ridiculously low price of $4 per gram we all also decided to buy some. With the sun close to setting, our last stop for the day was at one of the most famous kasbahs in Morocco, Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou. Featured in numerous Hollywood blockbusters, like Gladiator, Prince of Persia, Indiana Jones and more recently Game of Thrones, the UNESCO listed site today is still home to 4 families who maintain the original structures just as they were 200 years ago.
Day 3:
Exploring the oasis with our local guide in the morning we then took a short drive back into Ouarzazate to go meet the owners of the tour company. After a quick meet and greet over a pot of mint tea, we were then back on the road, but this time it was only a half day of driving to our nights accommodation in Agdz. Along the way Siad pointed out numerous filming locations of some of the recent Hollywood flix, including the pass where Cate Blanchett was shot in Babel and the quite spooking looking petrol station from The Hills Have Eyes. Arriving in Agdz we were unfortunately informed that we would not be staying in a 17th century kasbah, but Siad did manage to organize for us to have lunch there.
Day 4:
Day four was a fairly busy day as we had a lot of ground to cover and plenty to see along the way. Our first stop took us to Dades gorge where we got to stretch our legs and follow the crystal clear water of Dra'a River all the way to its source. Next we passed through the valley of roses, and although it wasn't the right season to see them all blooming we did manage to stop in at a local cooperative and sample the large variety of rose products. Leaving the main highway we entered the old caravan route in search of some cave dwelling nomads. After about an hour of searching we came across one family who kindly invited us in for a mint tea and to show us around their home. It was extremely interesting to see how these people still manage to survive off the land considering how desolate it is.
Day 5:
Leaving the gorges, we continued our journey west out into the amazing Sahara desert. Along the way we passed some amazing wells that are stragically dug by each family running for over 10km and connected forming an underground aqua duct back to the town. Some of the channels had dried up long ago so we managed a short tour through the underground tunnels to get a first hand glimps of this amazing feat. After this we passed through Erfoud and Rissani, which is where the kings family originates before finally arriving at the edge of the Sahara. With the camels already prepared we all mounted up (Janice included) and headed out into the dunes for a spot of sand boarding and watching the sunset. Feeling pretty pooped from the long days drive and having to trudge up the sand dunes we were all extremely happy to find full size beds in our very plush Berber tents.
Day 6:
During the planning stages for this trip we got a lot of unfortunate rejections as our dates happen to fall over Eid ul-Adha, one of the biggest Muslim holidays. So when we finally got around to booking a trip we inquired about the possibility of being invited to Eid ul-Adha and luckily for us Siad's house happened to be along the route and he was more than happy to invite us to the party. Eid ul-Adha, for those who don't know, is similar to our Christmas where by the whole family gets together to celebrate the holiday. But unlike us where presents are exchanged and everyone eats and drinks too much, the Islam family gather together to sacrifice an animal, preferably male sheep, and feast on the liver and front right leg. Naturally this custom was a little strange to us, but Siad and his family were very welcoming and more than happy to share their sheep with us.
Day 7:
Our last day we woke up and said goodbye to one of the nicest hotels we stayed at during our tour. With the roads really quite due to the holiday, we made excellent time and were soon at our first stop Moroccon Switzerland. After all the barrenness of the desert it was quite a shock to see a place with rolling green hills, pine trees and European style houses that would not look out of place on the Swiss Alps. A little further down the road we also came across another unexpected sight, wild monkeys. Again this was something I didn't expect to see as I was under the assumption Morocco was all about tagine, camels and sand. After snapping a few quick shots of the cheeky monkeys we were back on our way again to our final destination, Fez.
Like I mentioned in the beginning, the desert safari was definitely one of the major standouts of our time in Morocco. The team at Desert Majesty put together great tours and are very easy and friendly to deal with. Our accommodation was first class and the meals were always traditional and tasty. We also could not have asked for a better guide and driver, Siad was extremely informative, professional and ever friendly. For anyone out there thinking of doing a trip do not pass up these guys as you will have an incredible time.
- Ryan -

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