Travel with Experts to
discover the Real Morocco

Menu

Marlise Potgieter

MAGICAL MOMENTS WITH MOROCCO DESERT TOUR COMPANY

I will start off by saying that this was a wonderful, amazing tour of some of Morocco’s highlights – it far exceeded my expectations and that of my travel partner. Ever-changing landscapes, unending photo opportunities, the warmth of the people and their traditions, the languages and religion and overall magic of this country came to us in full force during this comfortable and informative four-day tour taking us from Marrakesh to Fes (and eventually Meknés, in the case of this specific instance of the tour).

We felt overjoyed, relaxed and safe within minutes of meeting local representative Mohamed Elabdellaoui. Off we were the first morning in a spotless Toyota Prado via the road passes that run through the High Atlas Mountains at astonishingly high altitudes. We were introduced to our first kasbah, the uninhabited Glaoui Kasbah at Telouet, a little while later when we stopped to explore the walkways and intricate, splendid décor adorning the walls and ceiling of this mini palace that once housed a community flourishing from the local salt trade.

Lunch followed at the hotel where we were staying for the night in Aït Benhaddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to sheltering huge communities during its glory days, this impressive red mudbrick kasbah has also been the location for movies such as Hollywood blockbuster, Gladiator. After a peaceful sunset viewed from the top of “the hill”, we headed back to our cosy lodgings where we refreshed and had a heart-warming dinner of olives, bread, chicken tagine, turkey cous cous, grilled meat, vegetables and fresh fruit.

After that we slept for eight glorious hours before waking up on my 31st birthday with a sizzling hot shower and a hearty breakfast of omelettes served with olives, boiled eggs, bread, preserves, coffee and freshly-squeezed orange juice. Oh, the joy on my travel partner, Jinine’s, face when she finally laid her eyes on the lesser-spotted Moroccan les oeufs (eggs for the uninitiated)! She’s been craving eggs since first setting foot on the soil of this country and it has been a private joke from day two when we realised breakfast doesn’t necessarily come with eggs in Morocco. Invigorated by the far-and-wide searched-for protein-infusion, we set off with Mohamed and new travel “comrade”, Lynette from Melbourne, Australia, for Quarzazate, the gateway to the Sahara.

Interestingly enough, my 30th birthday the year before was celebrated in Istanbul, Turkey, a place I always anticipated visiting. This year I passed through a desert town in Morocco, Quarzazate, a place I first encountered in a book my mother bought me when I was in high school. The book was called “In the footsteps of Jesus”, and remember the impression it made on me. I specifically remember the description of the town that served as base for the crew as well as location for the film – the book was pretty much about the production of the film and written by the actor who played the role of Jesus in the film, Bruce Wilkinson. Anyway, there I finally was in this village that made a particular impression on me through an inspiring book many moons ago. And this on my 31st birthday. (Makes me wonder where I’ll be next year…)

Following a quick tour of a local film studio and a stop in Quarzazate to stock up on necessities and visit the spice shop, La Caravane des Épices, we headed on the Road of a Thousand Kasbahs to Skoura Oasis, sporting magnitudes of palm groves, and the exquisite Rose Valley where in spring it abounds with a wonderfully sweet scent and a full palate of colour. We visited in winter, so dried roses were the closest we could get to the splendour of spring, but nonetheless, it was perfect. Lunch was enjoyed at a local family’s residence and was rated as our best meal that far into the tour. But more was to come. Dades Gorge was next up, and at Tamnalt Hills, a bizarre rock resembling monkey feet (apparently), we halted for a moment to identify what we’re supposed to see in the rock formations. Alas, I gave up after a while as my visual capacity didn’t seem to carry me far enough to spot this! Towering Dades Gorge was beautiful however, especially in the late afternoon light. Perfect for the (camera) trigger-happiness that came upon us the moment we arrived in Morocco!

Then it was on to Todra Gorge, alongside the village from which the good man, Mohamed, our tour guide, originates. Here we stayed at the most charming guest house, Dar Ayour, apparently meaning “place of the moon”. From stepping into its front door, the place and its people just took us on this soulful journey of discovery. It was my birthday night, after all, so naturally I was in a great mood with no expectations, but a genuine openness to whatever was to ensue. And was I pleasantly surprised! Mohamed had arranged with the great people of Dar Ayour to bake me a cake (with my name on it), sing me a “happy birthday” song in Arabic, and give me a traditional gift – a gorgeous Berber knife. We were also served a delicious local red wine with a scrumptious customary meal. What a wonderful evening it was! Thank you, Moha, for your animated and entertaining nature – you made the evening a complete experience I’ll never forget.

After long hours of conversation next to a roaring fire, we retired to our room in the early hours for much-needed sleep. A few hours later we awoke, showered and had breakfast. And before we knew it we were ready to roll towards the famed red dunes of Erg Chebbi. But first, we were escorted by lovely Moha of Dar Ayour to a local family where we enjoyed mint tea and shown their craft – carpets. A few thousand dirham poorer, a silk kelim richer, and marked with Berber henna tattoos, we went to see Todra Gorge, at its best in the morning light – absolutely stunning! Then we departed for the dessert city of Rissani, where we had another delicious lunch followed by a visit to a stunning mosque and “special-pieces” shop where I succumbed to purchase another knife as well as a beautiful silver and ebony bangle (which has since sadly been lost, AND FOUND). Then it was on towards Merzouga where the mighty dunes of the Sahara awaited to envelop us into its magic splendor.

Swallowed and spat out, this piece of heaven seems to affect us all in different ways. After repacking “night packs” for our venture into the unknown, we confidently got onto our waiting camels and departed for a late-afternoon trek into the rolling dunes of this mystical land. What an amazing feeling to be carelessly approaching a place which is the seemingly remote, quiet in a way that would drive some people crazy – a place that really touches one’s soul. I did manage to fall of my camel, but only because the saddle came loose, but a landing into the soft sand of the desert pillowed my amazing fall from the smallest camel in the Sahara (it felt). Jinine got a fully grown “mama”. I was assured earlier that no tourist has ever fallen off a camel, but now I have my doubts. The alternative would be that I’m a freak. Anyway, within the first five minutes of our journey Jinine was renamed Fatima, and I, Aisha.

A magnificent sunset eclipsed a special day. A fantastic dinner comprising a variety of olives, bread, vegetables, a lovely Italian tagine featuring small pieces of lamb in a sweet sauce covered with fresh eggs. Drumming under the ever-reaching stars was next on the agenda, accompanied by mint tea, good conversation and singing. Ruru ajuru….or something to that effect…was the bedtime song.

It did get a bit cold that night, and I was delighted when my feet finally started defrosting in the morning sun. But we were up at 6:30, and sitting on top of a nearby dune by 7:00 to watch a very special sunrise. Photography is made so very easy with a natural backdrop being all the picture can actually handle. It’s magnificent, amazing and heart-wrenchingly beautiful. (I’m running out of descriptive words right about now, so kindly do forgive this author’s emotive over-usage of some.)

Off we went after a night spent in a traditional Nomad tent, and awaiting us after a camel ride back to Ksar Merzouga where a culinary spread awaited our hungry stomachs. A hot, refreshing shower cleansed us to the core for a full-day journey to Fes along the scenic Ziz Valley Gorge and cedar forest where monkeys are said to amuse visitors. We didn’t spot any, though. After that, preceded by a photo stop turning into a snow fight, we quickly came to realize the change of architecture with the landscape along the way. We arrived in Fes in the early evening. Mohamed dropped us off close to our abode for the evening, Riad Layali Fes. A very charismatic welcome received us at this palatial riad with a rooftop terrace that could host a memorable celebration!

Well, that aside, after an evening of intense talk and sharing with Jinine, we awoke to an invigorating breakfast served in the main courtyard. Mohamed had arranged for a local guide to accompany us on a half-day tour of Fes. This is something I have to recommend, especially if you have limited time in a city or site. A knowledgeable local guide can take you wherever you would like to go, whilst along the way pointing out areas and points of interest and elaborating on history, local belief and customs as well as insight into the daily lives of the locals. A visit to a tannery, apparently the largest in Fes, really did it for me. I loved seeing the craft and process that encompasses this meticulous process of transforming the skin of animals into objects of interest that delight the world.

Carmel, our Fes guide, was really an excellent choice, and I personally felt very safe and privileged to have been blessed with him. A medersa, in the middle of a maze of approximately 9 600 little streets, really inspired me with its detailed carvings and tilework. A place of learning, it has the spirit to completely transform avid students into thought-leaders. I was quite taken by it. We then met up again with Mohamed and Lynette and proceeded to a nearby look-out point with an uninterrupted view of the old city and a glimpse of the new.

Mohamed very kindly offered to drive us from here to Meknés where we were spending the night at hospitable Riad Yacout! We stopped along the way at Volubilis, an excavation of an ancient Roman city displaying the engineering prowess of times way beyond our comprehension. I have to admit, however, that the tour was way too quick and I didn’t gather half of the information I wanted to due to the limited time available to us. But it was beautiful and interesting nonetheless and the Roman surprise really did catch us unaware! We did have a tight schedule and Mohamed and Lynette still had five hours ahead of them to Marrakesh. We were safely delivered to Layla at the stunning Riad Yacout in Meknés, situated on the accomplished Place Lalla Aouda.

This last day of the trip, to Meknés, is not customary. Mohamed was kind enough to offer us the “extra day”, and we gladly obliged. I can recommend the tour to anyone, regardless of preferences. Mohamed can organise anything according to your specific requirements and is a reliable guide whose ultimate intention is to provide you with the best possible experience of Morocco. Book a tour, go have the time of your life, and then post a review to assist this quality business in soaring to new heights.

Shukran, Mohamed, for an unforgettable time!

If you would like to ask me questions about this tour, please send an e-mail to marlise_pot@yahoo.co.uk. To enquire about other tours on offer, kindly send an e-mail to moroccodeserttour@gmail.com.

Marlise Potgieter