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Thursday, November 3. Travel day into the Sahara Desert
It was a long day of driving but there were many stops along the way and the scenery changed constantly. We drove through the middle Atlas mountains, the low Atlas mountains, villages, apple orchards and desert. We saw many different views, homes, mosques, a military outpost near the border to Algeria and even close ups of barbary apes. After a stop at a grocery store for supplies we enjoyed a picnic on the side of the road for lunch.
The final destination was the Auberge Yasmine on the edge of the Sahara desert. THAT was a surprise! We certainly weren’t expecting the luxurious room with a walk in shower, 2 queen sized beds and a terrace on the roof. We had planned to do the 4×4 excursion into the desert in the morning but decided we HAD to take advantage of this beautiful place as we only had one night.
November 4 and 5
An early morning walk in the dunes was pretty much the extent of our exertions for the day and the rest was spent reading, relaxing by the pool and swimming in the very REFRESHING water.
We packed a small bag and mounted our trusty steeds for the journey to the Bedouin camp in the Sahara desert. Another surprise! A camel’s not exactly a comfortable ride but just over an hour is not too bad. The camp had solar power lights, a mattress on the floor of the tent and a real toilet!
Our hosts served us Berber whisky, olives and nuts for a snack as we sat around and chatted. Dinner was a beef tajine with pomegranate and grapes for desert. They entertained us with drumming and songs before we turned in for the night.
By 6 am we were back on the camels and heading back to the auberge where we had breakfast, showers and headed off for the Todra Gorge. We had a couple of stops on the way and the scenery changed again. Rocky desert with tiny tufts of green, buildings all made of the reddish sand, and the odd green valley fully used for crops and fruit trees like dates, figs and almonds. The Gorge is a huge contrast to the desert with it’s crystal clear water and lush crops.
Sunday, November 6 A thousand Kasbahs
We enjoyed a leisurely start this morning after a really good night’s sleep. It was nice and cool and the bed had super thick, heavy wool blankets.
Stops along the way included scenic views of the valley of a thousand kasbahs (fortresses). It being Berber country, thank you is now saha, rather than the Arabic shokrun or French merci. We passed the largest solar power station in the world. With 323 days a year of sunshine, this is the perfect place for it. In Aït Ben Haddou, Ouarzazate, is the gateway to the Sahara as there’s desert on one side and the High Atlas mountains on the other. They call it the Hollywood of Morocco as several movies were filmed here including Lawrence of Arabia and Indian Jones. It’s funny that it rained while we visited.
Our final destination was the Todra Gorge where, after checking into our hotel we set off on a walk. It’s a great place for climbers with it’s sheer cliffs of the red rock that’s found everywhere in Morocco rising a couple of kilometres in the air. The valley is full of fertile farmland where villagers share plots of land growing barley, wheat, corn, alfalfa and other vegetables.
Some of us visited a woman’s cooperative where they weave carpets out of lamb, sheep, goat and camel hair as well as cotton and agave silk.