We had no grand plan for being in Morocco. We would have been more than content with our chaotically enchanting time in Fes: even one cup of tea in the medina would have made our trip a worthwhile travel experience. However, while we were musing over our vague Moroccan plans with Andréanne in Lausanne, it was she who insisted on us looking into the possibility of a Sahara desert trek.
“It is an amazing experience,” she said simply, and to us, that was enough to warrant some research.
However, with so little time in Morocco (just over a week), it didn’t seem possible that we would be able to even make it to the Sahara, let alone spend any kind of meaningful time there. I sent out a few emails to various guides, and most of them confirmed my fears. But Youssef from the Sahara Desert Crew enthusiastically replied with an incredible desert itinerary that could be done in three days (plus, he called me “dear Sara” repeatedly, which I assume was a French Google-translate issue, but one that I rather liked!)
Trekking out to the Sahara Desert was definitely not in our original plans for this trip, so Josh and I called an emergency “we’d really rather not but I guess at some point we have to” budget review meeting, where we looked at the sums and figures, soberly considered our finances, responsibly discussed our time constraints…
…and then ignored any actual conclusions. Who were we kidding? This was the Sahara! If needed, we’d sell all our possessions and live in our tent next year, but we were not going to miss out on this!
Early the next morning, our smiling, energetic guide/driver picked us up from our riad, and we hit the road. Nour had lived in Fes all his life, but his grandfather had been a Berber nomad and most of his family still lived in the desert. As he navigated the chaotic streets of the New City and finally pulled onto the highway, he drew in a peaceful breath. “I love going out to the desert,” he sighed. “It’s like going home.”
However, we didn’t rush the trip. As we drove, our amazing guide would point out the changing landscape and make frequent stops to introduce us to many different aspects of Berber history and culture. Every meal was also an opportunity for a lesson in the culture, people-watching, and just some engaging chitchat. It was wonderful to be with a local who could take us to tiny desert towns that were little more than three dusty paths and six dusty kasbahs, demonstrate how to properly mix Moroccan tea, haggle over tagine choices, find us the wild rosemary that grows along the High Atlas Mountains, explain to us why exactly the nomads were burying people in the dunes, and insist on taking our photos in a variety of beautiful and ridiculous poses.
Les pigeons du sable performing Gnaoua music, brought to Morocco from former slaves of Sub-Saharan Africa
Sand baths: an ancient tradition by the Berber people, these “baths” are dug in the morning, then left to bake all day in the sun. Around 13:00, people suffering from arthritis will strip down and lay in the bath and be covered over with sand. After ten minutes or so, they are unburied and brought to the Berber tents to drink healing teas. We didn’t try it for ourselves, but apparently the results are amazing!
That evening, we arrived at our riad in Merzouga. It felt as though we had stumbled upon a literal oasis in the desert, especially after roaming around in temperatures reaching +50°C.
However, even more alluring than the pool was the sight that lay just beyond the walls of our riad: our first glimpse of the golden dunes of the desert.
That evening, around 18:00, we packed our day bags with a few essentials and wrapped our heads with the scarves Nour had given to us as gifts that afternoon. We would soon realise that the relentless sand and wind of the Sahara made these scarves much more than mere fashion accessories. But before we could come to that realization, it was necessary to leave the shelter of the riad…