Morocco: Camels, Markets, Deserts, and an experience of a lifetime!

After arriving in Marrakech, Morocco via plane we met up with our tour company who took us to our hostel in the heart of the city. Due to the small roads that are not big enough for cars, another man led us to our hostel, Waka Waka. Thankfully this man showed us the way because the hostel had no sign, and was hidden in the alleyways. The only way to know it was a hostel was from the smeared chalk writing of “Waka Waka” on a blue wall. This happening began my amazing adventure in Morocco.

We were greeted with tea and cookies in our authentic Moroccan hostel and shown our room. It was definitely not as nice as the hostels we were used to, but we just accepted that was part of the Moroccan experience. We were given directions to the main market, the Souks, and after navigating through small streets we stumbled upon endless shops selling scarves, lamps, jewelry, clothes, purses and anything you could really want. There were even butcher shops amongst the midst. I was entranced with all of the little treasures and wanted to buy them all. We had been given advice to offer one fourth of the price originally given and then try to find a happy medium. This negotiating process was hard sometimes because you did not want to insult these people, but you also did not want to be extremely overcharged. Through negotiating you could get the vendors down by as much as 50 euros for certain objects (bigger ones) or even 10 euros for smaller ones. Even if I felt as though I got robbed, it was ok because these people have a much lower quality of life than I do, so a few extra euros will help them out.
The market!

A man tried to convince me to buy this scarf by putting it on my head....not a good sales tactic. 

The center of the market had fresh squeezed orange juice for forty cents, snakes, monkeys, and women painting peoples’ feet and hands. It was overwhelming at first, but after an hour or so there I was comfortable with telling people no, and ignoring them. After getting dinner of Couscous and Tagine we headed to our hostel to rest up for the early wake up call the next morning.

Drinking some orange juice!

Got my picture with some snakes!

Drinking some tea before dinner!

We arose Wednesday morning excited to begin our trek to the Sahara desert, and after some confusion as to what tour company we paid and the ATM eating my Spanish debit card, we were on our way to the desert. (Yes, I cancelled my card and I will receive a new one within the next couple of days.) Unfortunately, our guide was not the best at telling us what we were taking pictures of when we made photo stops, so we made a lot of stops on our way but I cannot tell you exactly what I saw. After some hours in the car we arrived at Ait Ben Haddou, a UNESCO world site that is the backdrop for many famous movies. For example Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, and Prince of Persia, along with many others were all filmed here, and every movie set must be removed once the filming is finished to preserve the site. Also, a couple of months before the movie is filmed there is a casting of the local people to take part in the movie. The foundation of this village may date back to 757 and the 
architecture has a mix of Jewish and Muslim influence. People still live in the this village today.
Drinking some tea before dinner!

Ait Ben Haddou from afar

Eating lunch after our tour of Ait Ben Haddou provided a nice break in the day until we got in the car
Dades Gorge
and headed to our next destination, Dades Gorge. Dades Gorge was the last stop for the day and was home to our nice Moroccan hotel. This gorge is formed from the Dades River and was a nice end to our hectic day.

The following day we spent more time in the car until we stopped at a Berber house for lunch. The Berbers are an indigenous tribe in North Africa and consider themselves “free people.” They also know many different languages such as Berber, Arabic, Spanish, French, English and many others. At this specific Berber house there was many different goods that the Berbers have made and brought to this location to sell to tourists. The goods consisted of beautifully made rugs (selling for up to 2000euros), chests, drums, pottery and many other goodies. It was fun to walk around the house and look at all the different treasures. Here we also enjoyed desert pizza, which was similar to a pizza from home, it just had a top layer of crust and no cheese, mostly meat.
The Berber house with all kinds of goods for sale.
The Berber house with all kinds of goods for sale.

The next leg of our trip consisted of an adventure in the Sahara desert, the main reason I came to Morocco. We got dropped off by our tour van and two jeeps drove us to our camels. It was amazing watching the enormous, orange sand dunes get closer and closer. Once we arrived to our camels, two Berber men helped us mount the camel and then we were off into the desert. My camel, who I named Lionel, was one of the more mature, calm camels since he was the leader of the pack. After a two hour ride of pure joy, we arrived at our camp at the base of a giant sand dune. The camp consisted of five tents for sleeping that housed four people each, a main tent for eating, and a bathroom. The tents were built extremely well to hold up against the wind and were incredibly warm.
Our means of transportation

The Berber Tents, Where I Slept

Immediately we were greeted with tea, which is a Moroccan custom, and shown a “Sandfish” by the son of the Berber man. There was about six Berbers at this camp in total, since this camp was made specifically for tourists. After enjoying the tea and playing with the sandfish we hiked up the soaring dune, that was more like a mini mountain. The pain, exhaustion and sweat were definitely worth it though because it provided a great view of the sunset and surrounding dunes. It was definitely a “breathtaking” moment.
A Sandfish

On top of the dunes!
We took in the view for a little bit until we were summoned for dinner consisting of more Tagine. They do meals right in Morocco because every meal comes with bread, a salad of some sort, a main course, and fruit for dessert. This specific Tagine consisted of chicken, potatoes, and carrots. With our bellies full, we were entertained by the Berber men as they played the drums and sang Arabic and Berber songs. I even joined in and sang “Waka Waka” while the men followed on beat with the drums. That was a moment I will never forget because a 7 year old French girl on our tour joined in singing with me and “Waka Waka” is a song about Africa, so it was perfect. Once the singing wrapped up, we headed out of the tent, looked up at the stars and had our breath taken away again. The sky was covered with little lights, making it almost impossible to find any constellations due to the mass amount of stars. The words I use to describe this scenery does not even begin to do it justice.

Since we wanted to see the sunrise, we awoke at 5:00am the next morning and hiked back up the dune. We woke up a little too early because the sun did not rise until 6:30am, but waiting in the extreme wind was worth it. Once the sun peeked up, it was within a few minutes before it had completely rose. The colors of the sun on the sand was unreal and was something I thought I would only ever see in a book. That was an unforgettable moment and was well worth the lack of sleep.
Amazing sunrise!
Once we trekked back down the dune, breakfast was ready which consisted of bread, jam and coffee (a typical Moroccan breakfast).  With our tummies full, we hopped back on the camels for the two hour journey back to civilization. We apparently were running extremely behind schedule so the rest of the day was spent mostly in the car, with the only break being a stop for lunch.

We returned to our hostel at Waka Waka, and did not clarify that we had a previous reservation so we got the privilege of sleeping on the roof. It ended up being a decent night sleep, and the roof had a covering over the beds so we were not completely out in the open. That was the first time I have ever been woken up by a donkey. The last day in Morocco was spent buying more trinkets in the market and exploring a little part of the city. We ventured to the Koutoubia Mosque where we just took pictures and then headed to the Badi Palace that only cost 1 euro to enter. It was a pretty interesting structure, consisting of old walls and tunnels from 1578. We then tried to find the Royal Palace, but after wandering the streets of Marrakech, we decided it was best to head to the airport and return to Spain.
Badi Palace

I am incredibly thankful I got to visit Morocco. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced and provided me memories to last a lifetime. It might even be my favorite trip so far.

1.     Waka Waka Hostel is good for backpackers or if you just need a place to sleep. We got a room for four at 6.5 euros each, which was a good value. If you are looking for a nice, extremely clean hostel, this is not the place for you.
2.     Have someone (either your tour or hostel) pick you up and take you to your hostel/riad since the tiny streets can get extremely confusing.
3.     Be prepared to say “no” and ignore people, especially in the market.
4.     If you take a tour to camel trek in the desert (which you should) be prepared for a lot of car time, since the desert is rather far away from the city.
5.     Make a game plan for the city before you leave the hostel because cities in Morocco are not easy to navigate.
6.     Enjoy the tea and orange juice in the market.
7.     Have a light heart and easygoing attitude. In Morocco you need to be able to laugh at things.  
8. I would not recommend Le Maroc Authentique as a tour group because it was unorganized in the beginning and the tour guide was subpar.

Other photos:

Shop with a bunch of trinkets!
The pretty green hills of Morocco.

On top of the jeep

My tour group making the trek to the tents

Trying to keep the sand out of my eyes for the sunrise.


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