Category Archives: Merzouga

This Adventure Made Possible By…

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Anna Maria Esposita for finding us on the side of the road in Salerno, putting up with our feeble attempts at Italian, and magically making our luggage appear out of nowhere.  Maya, for introducing us to AirBnB in the first place…our travels will never be the same.  Our barista in Vietri Sul Mare (thank you for the doughnuts, we hope you made it to Australia!), and our wildly flirtatious maitre d’ (that wine was impressively strong!).  Fernando, for the ride to the Tiber (we’re sorry if we gave the impression that we wanted to boat back to Rome).  Pope Francis for instilling humanity into our visit to the Vatican.  University of Manitoba College of Medicine for changing the direction of our lives while sitting in a Roman burlap tent!  Jamie Pierce, for pointing us in the direction of Cinque Terre in the first place.  Kaya and Aeden for being the best roommates we could have asked for, and Sarah, Alicia, and Stacey for getting lost with us in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  And for the calamari cones.  Genius.  The Lemon Man, for delicious homemade wine with a side of really disgusting jokes, and the Pizza Man for abusing/believing in your employees (either way, you made a pizza in record time, well done!).  Pak Kashmir Doner Kebab for starting a 3-month-long love affair with kebab…and for not judging us when we came back twice in one day.  The Sprachcaffe receptionist for helping two confused travelers find a place to sleep in a language school.  Pietro for being a (very charming) walking encyclopedia of Florentine espionage.  All’antico Vinaio for your legendary sandwiches and free wine refills (no, seriously, it’s for real!).  The lovely couple who shared coffee with us on the train to Venice.  Archie & sons…your front hall will forever evoke in us a sense of oriental mystery.  The kiosco girl (and all of Vienna, for that matter) for your patience as we realized we knew literally NO Deutsch (“Card!…48?”).  The Musikverien Usher for engaging us in a Viennese musical intrigue and, therefore, much better seats!  Our Bulgarian/Brazillian (Bulgrillian?) cellist hostel roommate.  We tried to find you on iTunes but alas we were…so far…but…so close.  The Heinrich and Kress families for welcoming us so generously into your homes (and travel snacks that nearly broke the bus tables!).  Artur & Irina, we feel like we have a real home in Germany thanks to you.  Robert, Christian, and Erwin, we hope we can jam and play Dutch Blitz again one day!  Johannes for an unexpected evening of German tango (we’ll bring our dancing shoes next time).  Julia & your roommate for making us feel so at home in Köln.  Viel Glück to both of you in your new jobs!  Oma for always talking about your home country and inspiring us to retrace your Sunday walks down the Rhine.  Maybe one day we can go back with you!  Linda, dankjewel for your bikes, your lovely attic, and taking a chance on us as your first AirBnBers!  Edwin and Farah, for taking the time to hang out with us even with your wedding being a week away.  Once a WOOFer, always a WOOFer (ps come to Manitoba, we’ll take you to the snake pits!)  The stars, for aligning so perfectly as to allow us to have a lovely lunch with Dorien.  The Alma Dixons for getting us to and from Europe in the first place (Mom, your axiom of ‘would you rather have stuff or memories?’ has successfully stuck with me into adulthood) and for showing us all the places you always talk about.  The Farnham Dixons for a lovely afternoon and some authentically British fish’n’chips (sans mushy peas, thank-you!).  Wendy for taking this whole motley crew into your home and showing us around Glastonbury. Elly for introducing us to your family (I cannot imagine a more adorable kid to blow bubbles with than your granddaughter) and an evening of reminiscing about icebergs and penguins.  Pete & Patricia for the most incredible Welsh hospitality, and for driving us all over the country at all hours of the night.  Mark Hanford for keeping us simultaneously amused and not dead as we threw ourselves off cliffs into the sea (still waiting for those carpets!).  The disembodied Welsh couple whose voices helped us find our way out of the mist and back to the path somewhere on Mount Snowdon.  Jack Johnson, for being you, and for entirely coincidentally being in Paris at the same time as us.  Andréanne, for showing us around your beautiful new Swiss home.  Irene and Martin for sharing so many things with us: your inspiring work and outlook on life and faith, the truly breathtaking landscapes, and yes, the little bears :P.  Andreas and Simone, also for sharing so many things with us (like mother like son, eh?): your friends, your family, your food, your car, your bike…. That night with the giant map (and the many road trips that ensued) is still a memory that we talk about regularly!  Aric and Gabriel, for being as excited about the high-ropes garden as we were and never judging us on our (lack of) Swiss German. Joël for sharing your beautiful pays et famille. Yannick for the best duck I’ve ever tasted, and Hélène for showing us the work you’re doing to help new immigrants become self-sufficient in Toulouse.  Ron, Nicole, Aimée, Sean (and yes, Cougar) for making us recognize the name Carcassonne, even if we’ll never pronounce it properly.  Les Cabys des Taillades (et oui, de Paris aussi!) for sharing your passion for history, many hours of games (we now have our own Möllky set!), French puns, and more wine and cheese than any North American could comprehend.  Mami Caby, for a beautiful afternoon in St. Jean du Gard, and the silk scarf that’s currently on display in our living room.  Isaac and Sylvia of JUCUM Barcelona for the generous hospitality, the 2AM tour of your majestic city, and showing us what we truly believe is the best beach in Europe.  Hind, Nour, and Adam for helping us finish off the bag of snails and confirming everything we’d heard about the welcoming nature of Moroccans.  Nour, of Sahara Desert Crew, for an unforgettable few days of sights and culture unlike anything else we’ve ever seen (also, your mad photography skills. ‘Nuff said.).  Cafe Restaurant Nora, for providing a literal oasis in the desert (Nothing tastes as good as Berber pizza and Berber whiskey at +50C!) The Samnoun family for taking us in when our hostel was suddenly infested with bedbugs, and Bousha for introducing us to the madness of the Medina (and many, many friends ;)…)

And of course, contributions from VIEWERS LIKE YOU!

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At least it’s a dry heat…

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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!

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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.”

The High Atlas Mountains
Atlas

Car

Gorges de Ziz: A Sahara oasis
Gorges de ziz

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.

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Berber nomad families
Nomads

A theme we never anticipated for this trip: More monkeys (this time, in their native habitat)!!
Monkey
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Monkey attack! This little guy was smart enough to see there were more peanuts than the one I was offering…
Monkey attack

Nour picking desert rosemary
Rosemary

Pick a tagine, any tagine…
Tagine

The main desert industry: Sahara fossils, some million years old
Fossils
Fossils

Les pigeons du sable performing Gnaoua music, brought to Morocco from former slaves of Sub-Saharan Africa
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Dousing is still used to seek desert water sources and dig wells
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Berber whiskey (aka Moroccan mint tea – “Because they drink it morning, noon, and night!”) and Berber pizza (no explanation available, except “le didt” (delicious!)
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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!
Sand baths
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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.

One second before, it had hit 50!!
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Pool

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.

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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…

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