Of Kasbahs and Camels...

Trip Start Feb 26, 2006
Trip End Nov 28, 2006

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Friday, May 5, 2006

From Casablanca we headed to Marrakech - the heart of Morocco. Here, there are endless things to see and do... so the first thing we did was immediately book a trip out of town! If you've been keeping up to date with our blog, you know that we've seen a TON of animals since we've been in Africa, but there was one animal that we still hadn't seen - a camel! Also, we'd had our fill of chaotic medinas in Fes and Casablanca and were itching to get some fresh air from the mountains and feel the sand between our toes in the desert.

Our 4-day excursion took us through the High Atlas Mountains. Driving through the mountains was definitely an adventure, with an endless series of twists and turns up and down the side of the mountains. As we looked across the countryside, we saw lush green river valleys surrounded by arid desert plains and snow-capped mountains in the distance...a very pretty setting! The valleys are dotted with mysterious, almost eerie-looking Kasbahs that are thousands of years old. It's incredible that they are made from nothing more than mud and straw, but because there is so little rain, they can last for a long time with only the occasional repair. Since the High Atlas region looks very much the same as it was during medieval times, a lot of movies are filmed here - if you've seen "Gladiator" you've seen the famous 'Ait Benhaddou' Kasbah where many parts of the movie were filmed.

When we finally reached the desert region of the country that borders Algeria, it was time to hop on a camel, an experience both of us had been looking forward to. Our impression of riding a camel was that there would be 2 humps that you sit in-between, but as it turned out, the types of camels we rode only had one hump and we were sitting ON the hump! As you can imagine, it was quite uncomfortable!

When we got to our camp, we set off to explore the desert on foot. After all the practice we had climbing dunes in Namibia, we decided to put our experience to work and give the Moroccan dunes a try. We were rewarded with a view of endless sand and a very beautiful sunset. The following morning we made the trek again (at 5 am!) to catch the sunrise.

Our time spent in the desert was hosted by Morocco's desert nomads - the Berbers. They are the indigenous people of northern Africa whose traditional way of life was as nomadic herders. Who would have thought there would be sheep herders in the desert? Anyways, because there has been very little rain in the past several decades, most Berbers have given up the nomadic life, and the few remaining nomads spend most of their time these days herding tourists rather than livestock. We ate and slept in Berber tents, and our hosts were great - after we were well fed, they entertained us with some music, and Ed even got a lesson on how to play the drums.

After 2 nights in the desert, we were all looking forward to a hot shower! We drove through the 'Valley of 1000 kasbahs' before arriving at our hotel in the Dades Gorge. After a few little luxuries like tv and coffee (mint tea is the drink of choice here), we were refreshed and ready to return to the city. Our driver seemed to be eager to return too - our descent through the mountains turned into a white-knuckled experience, sliding back and forth in the van as it shot around blind corners and overtook cars, trucks, buses, and the occasional donkey! Despite almost being run off the road by an oncoming tractor-trailer, we thankfully made it back to Marrakech in one piece. Now where are those snake charmers???
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