Seas, Snow and Sahara

Let me start this blog by saying that this trip was unlike any other I’ve experience in my life!

I know a bold statement coming from me, but let me explain:

This trip was full of firsts for me.

The first time I have doubted myself in my packing (yes believe it or not, the first time), the first time I have ever had a travel partner that wasn’t a family member (outside of port visits when I was in the Navy and I was required to travel with a liberty buddy), first time that I have planned a trip with only partial information (don’t worry I kicked myself for this and we paid for it in our first day of travel) and the first time I took a trip entirely for luxury!

I had been invited by a tour company, Morocco Vacations Travel Guide, to come and experience one of their tours. I had been following their social media pages for nearly a year and once we finally were settled in our lives in Spain I wanted to reach out to them take them up on their offer. I have dreamed of doing a luxury desert tour for years and this was the first time I was going to have the opportunity to do so! So we made our plans, packed our bags and away we went!

Camel ride through the Sahara to our desert camp!

This journey for us began on the sea. Like the last time we went to Morocco we drove from the Rota area to Tarifa to hop on the ferry. This time however, it was a little different because we didn’t have someone setting up our tickets for us, scheduling our ferry passage times, we were on our own schedule and we had to figure out how to do this one on our own.

Thankfully, my travel partner, of the adult variety, Maria, speaks fluent Spanish and we had no issues with purchasing our tickets and we had arrived just in time to get through customs and get on the ferry with no lapse in time. The passage was simple, though the customs line was long on the ship. With the rising issue of the Corona-virus we had to fill out an extra piece of paperwork to turn into the customs agents on the ferry and when we arrived we had to have our temperature taken to insure that we weren’t infected or showing signs of possibly being infected.

That was the simple part, soon our longest part of the day was about to begin. I was told that there was a bus from Tangier to Fes leaving every 30 minutes so transportation to Fes, where we were meeting our tour guide the next morning, should be very easy for us. We took a taxi from the ferry terminal to the bus terminal only to find out that the next bus wasn’t leaving for another 2 hours and it was going to be a six and a half hour bus ride from Tangier to Fes…ouch! Needless to say we settled in for a LONG day!

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, since riding on a bus tends to be pretty easy. Though I do have to comment about how impressed I was with the first leg of the trip. When we loaded up in Tangier there were several children including my own, and yet from Tangier to our first stop (of a town I couldn’t tell you) it was SILENT! Harmony was the loudest one and she was singing to herself for most of the ride! Rare that that happens so when it does I wanted to comment on that.

Harmony passed out on the bus from Tangier to Fes

The next morning our day started before the sunrise. Our driver, Yassine, arrived at our Riad (aka hotel) at 6:50 am, bright eye and bushy tailed with a thick jacket on. It was chilly outside, I always forget that even though we are in Africa that even the desert gets cold. We loaded up in the SUV and headed towards the mountains!

Since we left before we could have breakfast at the hotel, Yassine stopped in a little town where we got breakfast before we started our serious assent up the mountains. I know I am going to look like an idiot here, but for some reason I never though of Morocco for having mountains.

Traditional Moroccan Breakfast – Photo borrowed from Morocco Vacation Travel Guide (it was always too early to snap a photo of breakfast on our trip)

No, I didn’t just think that it was all Sahara either but something in my brain didn’t register that there was a chance we were going to be climbing mountains on a “luxury desert tour”. Our first official stop was in the town of Ifrane.

Ifrane is a town in Morocco’s Middle Atlas Mountains. It’s known for its alpine-style architecture and nearby ski slopes and forests. To the west, Ifrane National Park, with its Atlas cedar forests, is home to rare Barbary macaques.

Ifrane Square

This was less of a “walk around explore stop” and more of a business stop, we had gotten to Fes so late the night before that we didn’t have time to exchange money so we needed to do that because all we had was Euros and come to find out that outside of Tangier, most places don’t accept Euros like we thought. So first order of business was getting cash, coffee, and water for the road and then walking around to enjoy the town square and taking in the cold mountain air (I am so glad I had decided to pack jackets for us). Next it was off to see MONKEYS!

Just outside of Irfane there is a National park where you can stop and feed monkeys! This was such a cool experience, the last time we had seen monkeys in Gibraltar there was explicit instructions to NOT feed the monkeys, or even to have plastic bags because the monkeys associate that with food and they will try and take it from you to find food.

Harmony Feeding the Monkeys

Harmony was ecstatic to have the chance to feed the monkeys. I loved watching her look for the babies and make sure that they got their share of peanuts too and not just the adult monkeys. Seeing her love for animals and ensuring that even the children are fed just makes my heart happy.

Just on the other side of the mountains

Our journey continued! As we ventured on we saw tall mountain peaks that were still covered in snow! This was a fun and familiar sight for me, one I hadn’t seen all winter so it was nice to see a little frozen slice of “home” even from a world away.

Along the road we saw a lot of livestock! Mostly sheep but it wasn’t the amount of livestock that I loved seeing, what I loved seeing was the makeshift huts that were scattered across the countryside. These are the homes of Nomads! Families that have followed their traditional herd routes for hundreds of years, before nomads would travel in tribes of several families but now most nomads stick with just their families. What an interesting way to live! I am totally fascinated with the nomads of Morocco now! I would love to find a way to do a photo series of their lives.

Nomads of Morocco with their tents in the background

Yassine made sure that we stopped to see beautiful overlooks and interesting sights of the countryside, he didn’t want us to miss anything from his beautiful country. Then the best part of the day…lunch time! I don’t know if you know this about me or not but I love food! And I have found that there is something about Moroccan food that I SUPER LOVE! So, on this trip I was so excited to be able to enjoy as much of the local food as I could.

To be expected, we stopped at a large tourist watering hole. But the location was something that couldn’t be beat! From the terrace where we ate you could enjoy the warm (or getting hot) sun and a view of the mountains that we had just descended! The view was spectacular! The more we were taken through the country the more I can see why the people here are so
proud to be Moroccan and why they take such pride in their land and culture.

Rocky hillsides to green oasis we saw the ins and outs of much the country in a single day!

By evening time we had entered through the Gate of the Sahara! Yassine took us to a local shop to pick up some Moroccan wine (super plus because I hadn’t even heard of Moroccan wine before – and the wine student in me was highly intrigued) then took us over to the camels!

This is the part of the day/trip I was most looking forward too! Trekking through the Sahara desert on a sunset path that lead us to camp! I swear this couldn’t have been anymore picture perfect if it was in front of a green screen. The lush and rich golden color of the Sahara as the setting sun began to enrich the contrast of the sand’s color even more. Golden rays of sun kissed our necks until we reached a dune where we stopped to enjoy the sunset’s final moments. As soon as I was off the camel I took my sandals off! I wanted to dig my toes into the soft and silky sand of the Sahara as we climbed the dune to soak up the fleeting moments of the sun over the desert.

Good night Sahara!

Taking in every moment, I watched Harmony play in the sand and rolling down the dunes, this reminded me of a time when I did exactly that. Although I was much older than she is, memories and moments like this are why I am so passionate about traveling the world with her. Seeing her being totally free and enjoying the experience, that is what drives me!

Harmony playing in the sand before sunset

Once the sun had it’s final moments we loaded back up on the camels and trekked on to camp.

Everything about camp was perfect! We were welcomed with mint tea and nuts while the Berber men were asking where everyone was from and asking how far they had traveled to be there.

The Desert Camp – amazing right!?

We were shown to our tent and given time to settle in, change into traditional clothes (if we wanted) and then head to the dining tent for dinner.

There are many things about Morocco that are going to have me keep coming back but one big thing is the FOOD, like I said earlier! Oh my goodness, every meal, no matter how simple or complicated it seemed, the food was always ASTOUNDING!

After dinner we sat outside with our bottle of Moroccan wine outside our tent watching the stars before the campfire started where we would be able to enjoy local music. I was so excited about this part of the evening. Not only do I love music and a good campfire but also because this was a chance to be immersed into the Berber culture. We stayed up well into the night listening to music and enjoying good company.

Started with 4 and went to 12 Berber men singing and dancing!

The next morning I woke just in time to watch the sun rise over the dunes. I had run out of the tent as quietly as I could to not disturb my little one and Maria. Wrapped up in my blanket with my eyes barely open the cold sand was a fast way to wake me up. But the view was so worth it!

Our tent with the sun rising between the tents
A table on top of the dune behind camp watching the sun rise

After breakfast, which was amazing, we grabbed our bags and headed back to the car – with a little off roading action!

Before we left the desert we made a side trip to a small village, Khamlia, where we were able to enjoy more mint tea (yes, we had a lot of mint tea and it was awesome!) and more local music from the Gnaoua people. This was the kind where the drums were so strong I could feel the vibrations in my chest from across the room!

These are the moments that I love when I am traveling, seeing culture in action! I know that much of this is put on for a show for tourists but these men still dress very culturally throughout the day, they live in straw and mud huts, though they are showing us their culture through music and entertainment – we still were privy to a slice of their world.

The view from my window at Ksar Sultan Dades

The remainder of the day was driving through winding roads and oasis’s – with beautiful overlooks into Berber territory . We ended the night at Ksar Sultan Dades, where we had the chance to lay out in the sun, soak up the view, stretch our legs and be pampered! The service was outstanding and the view couldn’t be challenged!

The next morning Yassine picked us up and we loaded up with our first stop going to a rose distillery factory. This factory was located in Kelaa-des-Mgouna town in Dades Valley or the Valley Of the Roses. We were given a tour of how they distill the rose pedals into rose water and other products! I picked up some chapstick and some facial location with Argan oil in it too!

Next was my favorite part of the day! Visiting the Kasbahs! The meaning of the word Kasbah is varied, including “keep”, “old city” and “watchtower” or “blockhouse”. The first one we visit was the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou. If you like movies (which come on, who doesn’t) you might recognize this Kasbah from over 26 movies! Including, Lawrence of Arabia, Indiana Jones, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Prince of Persia, Game of Thrones and the Bible. Yeah…pretty impressive list for an 11th century Kasbah.

Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou Kasbah

This was one of the few times during this tour we were able to get out and walk around a location. We visited a nice restaurant that looked out of over the Kasbah and after we were finished I loaded up Harmony in the backpack “Fernando” and we walked down a narrow dirt path that lead us to the bridge across a SALT river into the Kasbah.

An overlook of a Kasbah street

There are only 10 families who still live in the Kasbah, yes take a look at the photo above, someone still calls this place home. An ancient stronghold from the 11th century and not many extras have been added to this UNESCO since then. Walking through the narrow streets reminded you how close everyone was to one another. Not just houses but the streets were barely wide enough for two people to walk abreast without someone having to give way.

I was thankful my travel buddy Maria was willing to go all the way to the top of the Kasbah with me. Since we hadn’t had much time to use our legs in the last few days, even in the heat of the sun the hike sounded really nice!

Towards the top of the Kasbah, you can see the dried up salt river behind me

From the top you can see why this location was so important as a stronghold, you could see for miles! Well into the valley so any enemy was at a disadvantage from the beginning because the people could prepare long before the attack would ever come to the citadel.

Lastly, we visited La Kasbah de Telouet, Telouet Kasbah is a Kasbah along the former route of the caravans from the Sahara over the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech. The kasbah was the seat of the El Glaoui family’s power, thus sometimes also called the Palace of Glaoui, and it was built in the 18th and 19th centuries. Now the government asks for a small entry fee (which equals to about $2) per person to pay the watchman and to ensure that the site is maintained.

We were told by Yassine, that we wouldn’t care about paying the entrance fee once we got inside, boy was he right! This was like an exclusive private tour of the Royal Alcázar of Seville, but better. There was only one other family in the entire Kasbah during our visit and we could come and go, no one was pushing us around or asking us to move out of their photos and we could touch everything!

La Kasbah de Telouet

I was sad to leave the Kasbahs, but it gives me all the more reason to come back and explore them further! From here we started our road to Marrakech and the ending of our tour.

All and all this tour was absolutely amazing! We were able to circumnavigate around most of the entire country in 5 days! I do have to say it was a lot of driving but if you are up for the ride – you won’t regret it!

Our route from the time we entered Morocco till when we left

From here we travel North! It being my birthday month I have a long standing tradition of traveling somewhere for and on my birthday and this year is a big one and is no exception.

Be sure to follow me on Instagram and Facebook for more updates and travel photos!

Traveling Photographer Out!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply