The Atlas Mountains, Berber Villages and the Desert

Crowded roads, traditional dress, tajines, small children, donkeys, goats, mosques, beggars, Kasbahs, camels, rocks, rubbish and sand……

A driver collected us in the square close to our Riad and we began the drive up and over the high Atlas Mountains. Another sunny day with lots of clear blue sky, and people on the same route as us. The drive was spectacular, the mountain road winds it way precariously, continually climbing up over this rocky steep snow capped terrain. We had stops along the way to digest the natural beauty and harshness of the country the Moroccan people call home. We stopped in the tiny village of Telouet where we had lunch and wandered through an ancient Kasbah with a local guide. A short drive after lunch to our overnight stay at Ait Benhaddou passing the most spectacular scenery along the way. Berber villages built from a red mud brick made from a mixture of mud, straw and stones blending in to the red landscape. The Berbers live a simple life, animals are their wealth, donkey’s for transport, goats for milk and chickens for eggs and food. Some Berbers are still nomads and live between the desert and the mountains as the seasons change. There’s a Unesco protected Kasbah built in the 11th century in Ait Benhaddou, of course built on top of hill which we explored the following morning. This has been used as a location for films including Lawrence of Arabia, Prince of Persia, Gladiator and many more.

Our driver is Hamaal a 6ft 5in Berber dressed traditionally in a Jellaba, (an ankle length robe with a pointy hood) an imposing figure, he chatted along the way on our drive, telling stories and explaining the history and culture of the Berber people and stopping the car so we could jump out and take photos.

We stayed the next night in Tinghir and celebrated New Years Eve and Rhona’s 50th with other ‘Morocco Explored’ travellers. The tour manager had arranged a dinner and celebrations at the hotel where we stayed. Probably 30 or so tourists, locals and musicians all together to see in the new year and party loud and long! We had a great night, eating, drinking, singing, dancing and generally celebrating together. Fi had arranged a birthday cake for Rhona and everyone joined in to sing happy birthday and celebrate her special day!

In the morning we walked through the palm grove then headed out to our desert adventure. Again the drive was a tour through different landscapes, continually changing and always interesting. Off the bitumen and onto the sandy desert track, travelling on tracks in the rocky, sandy plain toward the hotel on the edge of the Sahara Desert.

After a quick lunch we were ready to climb onto our camels for the trek into the desert, the four of us were ushered to our awaiting camels, each sitting on the ground, groaning…one in particular groaning lots and foaming from the mouth…..this one ended up being Rhona’s ride…One by one we mounted our camels, me first on the camel at the end of the queue, then Fiona, then Rhona,( on the frothing one)…..and finally Larry at the front. You know something is going to happen..and sure enough Rhona’s frothing noisy one slobbered on Larry’s back…….Not a pretty sight…but a good laugh at Larry’s expense. And so we set off with the camel trek guide walking ahead and our camel train following…(Larry’s on the lead camel,his black coat covered in slobber).

The camels took us out over high dunes, travelling for about an hour and a half, taking in the spectacular sunset along the way before we, along with three other groups of camel trekkers, arrived at our camp. The camps are semi permanent tents grouped together with a central fire where the nights music, singing and dancing took place. We were shown to our tents, dropped our back packs and all met at the centre of the camp to get to know each other. The guides lit a campfire and prepared dinner whilst we sat around the fire talking. Night fell and the air cooled. Awesome tajines were served for dinner accompanied by red wine we bought into the desert with us (excellent planning on our part). After dinner we all moved back around the fire, the music started..bongo drums?…the guides were good musicians as well, and they had a great sense of humour. Solo performances were expected from everyone, and lots of fun was had.

Well fed and exhausted from camel riding, singing and dancing we slept the night away under a magnificent star filled sky. The return trip in the morning gave us the chance to see the sunrise over the dunes…a great experience for us all and well worth the early start.

We spent the remainder of the day driving back to Marrakech, our guide, Sala, providing interesting information along the way. Back over the High Atlas Mountains, treacherous narrow winding roads shared with pedestrians, buses, donkeys, motor bikes and hawkers, what a fabulous place! We all had a good laugh recounting New Year’s Eve party stories, camel trek stories and general catch up reflecting on the past few days.

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