“Welcome to Sahara.”
It was an obvious greeting delivered from our host. Obvious yet incredibly necessary. Because despite being surrounded by beautiful red sand dunes with the warm sun shining on our skin I still couldn’t believe I was here. In fact I had to reminded myself daily. I was in Africa!
We arrived in the desert as I had always imagined; via a slow convoy of camels. Two right legs followed by two left, we rocked side to side as we rode the motion of the desert transport. I was hypnotised by the camels feet spreading into the hot sand as it climbed up and over the dunes. I was equally impressed by our guides, who walked two hours in the hot sand to lead our troupes. A new appreciation for the turban was discovered as we protected our heads and shoulders from the sun and sand.
As we arrived we sprinted up the red sand hills to catch the last glimpse of the sunset. We laughed as we struggled against the gravity of falling sand. Finally we all collapsed at the top, catching our breaths, surrounded by new friends. The sun set as the moon rose and we were blessed with clear dark skies. Never have I seen so many stars. We laid in the sand and stared above as we witnessed a shower of shooting stars. It was an incredibly surreal experience. Welcome to the Sahara indeed.
Our escape from the desert was a little faster paced as we piled into jeeps and drove over the winding hills. Every now and again you would spot a tree bearing minimal life. And behind them in the far distance were long, straight, red mountains. It was finally at that point that I felt like I was in Africa.
We made our way to an oasis in the desert and our pace slowed a little. Our faces were glued to the windows as we explored the village. Children ran out from their houses to greet us. Sprinted! It was as if they knew we were coming. Like they were expecting us. Everywhere we looked children ran to the side of the road. They jumped up and down, waving with the biggest grins on their faces. I wanted nothing more then to stop and hold them. On the contrary, older village members found shade from the hot sun. They relaxed under trees and simply sat with their thoughts. No electronics. No distractions. Just stillness. It was a nice reminder of the importance of slowing down.
When we reached the beach town of Agudira we were greeted with an incredible four course dinner created by a local family. We dined in their lounge as we ate traditional Moroccan salads, tagines, roasted chicken and seasonal fruits. It was an honor to meet the ladies who had been preparing the meal for us all day. Starting the process at 11am in the morning and working throughout the day. We were so grateful, especially as we learnt that they had worked through their fasting period of Ramadan.
The Moroccan experience wouldn’t be complete without enjoying a two hour spa treatment of Hammam and Moroccan massage. The Hammam was like nothing I had experienced before. Seven girls crammed into a steam room feeling awkwardly exposed. One by one the Moroccan women would ask us to lay down on a tiled bed while they washed, oiled and scrubbed our bodies clean. Hot water was poured over us, face masks applied and hair washed. We were shocked as we watched our dead skin fall from our bodies. I had never felt so clean. Top that off with a one hour traditional Moroccan massage and we were in heaven. We all left feeling relaxed, clean and knowing each other just that little bit more.
After leaving the desert I thought I would never want to touch sand again yet here I was, feet straight back in as we walked down the long beach at Agadir. The water was so inviting. We couldn’t help ourselves and dived straight under the waves. I floated in the salty waters of the Atlantic ocean thinking nothing but: how lucky am I!?
Towards our journey to Essaouira we encountered something incredibly unusual. Something so unusual that you may not even believe me. And that’s ok because at first I didn’t believe it either. With a joking tour guide it was difficult to know if he was telling the truth or pulling our legs. But I’m telling you now that what I am about to say is simply no lie!
On our journey towards Essaouira we witnessed goats in trees. Yes. That’s right. Goats in trees. And no, no one placed them there. They weren’t helped up into the branches and abandoned. They climbed them themselves. And then walked along the branches to munch on the argan leaves. Then once they’d had enough they leapt out. Practically dived to the ground. I tell the truth. I do not lie. It was amazing and hilarious to watch at the same time.
Essaouira, meaning a beautiful picture, was the second last stop on our week long tour. We explored the Medina of the old town by entering the tall, red clay walls. Inside we became lost in a labyrinth of markets selling linen, jewellery, spices and ceramics. There was the usual heckling from stall holders but not like anywhere else I’ve experienced. The Moroccan’s were polite. They were kind and accepting when you told them that you weren’t interested. They wanted to know more about us. Where we were from. What our names were. It was so refreshing! It allowed us to meet the locals without feeling the need to fend them off at an arm’s length. We were able to ask questions about their products without feeling pressured to purchase. And we enjoyed watching the people as we sat within the streets eating our lunch. Men pushed trailers along the street selling eggs and fresh herbs. Scooters and bikes zipped through the crowd. The air was filled with the sound of traditional Moroccan music and cats and new born kittens followed you around every corner. We imprinted our skin with henna and left with grins on our faces. It was a lovely day at the markets.
Our final night was spent in the busy streets of the Marrakech city square. I was overwhelmed. You had to be alert at all times. You would jump out of the way of an oncoming bike to almost be swiped by a scooter zooming in behind you. There were hawkers coming at us from every corner, eagerly inviting us to eat at their restaurant. But I had one main priority: avoid the snakes!! Just because I’m Australian doesn’t mean I can handle snakes. It’s a common misconception. I’m terrified! They’re my biggest fear! So you can imagine why I was almost brought to tears as I looked down to see a thick snake curled up on a nearby carpet. I quickly changed direction and fastened my pace, only to find myself dodging men throwing monkeys onto passers by, to them dodge more scooters. Don’t forget the scooters! You must always be alert in Marrakech.
Once calming down from the initial culture shock we went to source some dinner. A final Moroccan feast with our new friends. We watched the sky turn a hazy orange as the sun set over the city. The streets began to clear as the Muslims broke the fast of Ramadan. We continued to wander the quiet streets of the market. It felt like the market was ours. Just us. And the cats of course. As nine o’clock struck the sound of the call to prayer wailed through the square. Hundreds of locals walked past, mat in hand. We all stood and watched. Listened. Taking it all in. What an incredibly different life and culture these people live. It was the perfect way to finish what truly was an incredible week.
Thank you to Travel Talk Morocco and our tour guide Abdul for a fantastic experience. I can highly recommend this experience and Travel Talk were an affordable, fun and easy way to explore this incredible country!