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I came to Morocco to sleep in the desert. It’s been my dream for over two
years. I booked myself 10 days in Morocco. Flying in and out of Marrakesh,
I decided to spend all my time here expect with a few excursion. I realized
that I managed to see Morocco from west to east in only my first four days.
I saw its Atlantic coast by visiting Essaouira on my second day. And, I got
to see its Algerian border through my desert trek. Sleeping in the desert
is also part of my 25 before 25 bucket list - #9.

 Day 1: Marrakesh

I flew into Marrakesh at night. I got to see the sunset from the plane.
I’ll spare you the photos. We’ve all seen them, are all, like, really cool.
Anyway, I checked in and I slept. The next day, my first actual day in
Marrakesh, I had no plans. I roamed around the souks. I tried to enjoy
myself despite being an idiot who got scammed at twice. But, so it goes.
Marrakesh is not a gentle city. Everyone wants to sell you something. I
quickly learned how to say no without the merchants pushing further.
Basically, shake your head no and do not speak. If you even say “No thanks”
they will start talking to you. They will even walk with you a little.

The souks are interesting. When you try to slow down to admire the shops
and the alleys you quickly become the target for the merchants. So, it can
be difficult to actually admire them. My general rule of thumb is not to
buy anything on the first day. I did not listen to that rule so I got
scammed. Twice. In Marrakesh, the rules of haggling go as following: never
pay more than a 3rd and your first response should be 10% of what the
merchant said. Do not feel bad about this. They quote obscene prices to
everyone. There are plenty of people who just accept their ridiculous
offers on the spot. They make good money of naive or timid tourists. It’s
not disrespectful to respond with 10%, because it is, frankly, part of
their culture to barter. If you happen to offend one with such a low ball
offer move on to another shop. They are all selling the same things anyway.

I woke up early and got to see the merchants open up and set up their
souks. Some were still closed at 9:30 am. A merchant saw me taking photos
and chatted me up. He said there was a tannery nearby and I should check it
out. He even walked me to it. I was in a great mood so I went and checked
out the place. Ah yes, everyone in Morocco wants a tip from boys who will
help you cross a simple wood planked bridge to anyone giving you
directions. But this man didn’t. He said it’s free for me to walk into the
tannery and take pictures. That part was true. I did not have to buy
anything but it’s not like they did not try to sell me anything. It was
already late in the afternoon so most of the dying has been done. But, the
wool and the scarfs were drying on walls and from hung strings. The family
that owned the shop seemed pleasant. They didn’t really seem to care if I
was there or not but the man who showed me around did care if I ended up
buying five scarfs at the end. I bought one. And overpaid. I don’t want to
talk about it.

Later that day I walked around the Jewish quarter known as the Mellah. If
you’re looking to buy spices, tea or any of Moroccan cosmetics I heard it’s
much cheaper here. The merchants here seemed much friendlier but they still
had the same motives. They would wave you into their shops and tell you all
about the different things they are selling. If you don’t want to buy
anything just excuse yourself. They are not that as aggressive in the
Mallah.

I ended up chatting with one of the merchants. He told me all about the
different soaps, oils, teas and what not. I found him to be a pleasant man.
I ended up buying a small bag of skin and face scrub from him. He took a
liking for me too because he offered me a bunch of free gifts like Moroccan
lipstick, rosewater, pumice and a few other things. At one point he asked
about my husband. I felt weird telling him that I’m not in fact married. I
am still figuring it out as I go what the locals’ interpretation is of
western women being single. So, I did not correct his assumption. Before I
left, he wanted to give me a soap and a few of Moroccan toothpicks for my
husband too! Thank you.

On my way back from the Mellah, I got waved over to a carpet shop. Now, I’d
love to buy some but I am not only broke but don’t have a home to put one
in. I told him I’m not buying one from him and he said that’s okay. I went
in to have a look. I was curious to tour a shop with so many rugs and
interested in taking photos of them too. It’s the same reason I went into
the tannery in the morning. It turned out the guy walking me through his
shop also lived in NY for a long time. Actually, about 30 minutes from
where I lived on Long Island. What a small world, eh? He walked me through
his giant, I mean giant, house. It was filled with rugs all over. There was
not a single room filled with rugs. I even got to watch his mother weave
one briefly.

I may have gotten ripped off but at least the guy was a fantastic
photographer 

Of course, they didn’t only sell rugs. They sold jewelry, furniture, and
weapons. I did see a couple of rings I loved. I bought them breaking my
rule again of not buying anything on the first day. But I did get to use my
bartering skills this time! They offered me 1100MAD (about USD$110) for
both rings. I told them 800. After a few back and forths, I stuck to my
800. We landed at 850. Now, I’m still not proud of this price because it’s
more than a 3rd and I did not respond with the 10%. Lesson learned.

 Day 2: Essaouira

On my second day, I was going on a tour to Essaouira! So many people
recommended it to me that I was happy I was doing a day trip. The day
started with me getting picked up on a motorbike from my riad. Cars can’t
go into the narrow streets of the souks and their nearby surroundings. That
was so much fun. The drive to Essaouira took about 3 hours. We did see the
goats on the trees. I did not want to take a photo because I did not want
to pay a “tip” for this. But I snuck one in anyway!

In all honesty, I do not understand the fuss about Essaouira. The food is
more expensive than in the center of Marrakesh, the poverty is
devastatingly awful, and besides a few shops, there is really nothing
there. I had about 4 or so hours to kill walking around Essaouira. I tagged
along with a couple from the UK. They were here for just a week holiday. We
walked around the port and saw the fishermen at the end of their morning.
It was an interesting way to see a town. There were tourists taking photos,
including myself. There were fishermen cleaning their boats, weaving nets
and selling fish. That was one thing I did look forward to trying here, a
fish tagine. I heard not to try eating the fish in Marrakesh since it’s a
land locked city. The locals allegedly don’t eat fish there. 

Afterward, we walked around the center of the town where all the shops
were. I did not care to buy anything. Not only have I already learned my
lesson, I can’t really bring anything back with me. I’m going to be gone
for another 5 months and my backpack won’t serve me well with a giant
ceramic bowl in it. At the same time, I am not interested in shipping
anything back. I assume it’s going to take forever and cost way too much.

We grabbed our lunch by the City Wall. It’s a fort wall decorated with
18th-century Spanish cannons. It was closed to the public at the time so we
couldn’t walk around it. We grabbed lunch at a restaurant that overlooked
the City Wall from its rooftop. I ended up getting the fish tagine after
all. It was good. The fish was great. After we walked around some more.

I ended up leading us outside of the city center past the actual tall city
walls. We were greeted with fallen buildings, dirt and poverty. It was
uncomfortable to look at. I felt for these people. It’s not a way of life
I’d wish on anyone. There is not much I can do about it at the moment. It’s
heartbreaking really. I have it really easy and I understand that. I guess,
after all, I am happy about having been to Essaouira because I saw what the
outside looks like, what the tourists don’t see. 

 Day 3: Aït Ben Haddou

Our guide told us about the town’s culture. For instance, there are eight
families still living in the old village. Their houses are made out of
straw and mud and need to be rebuilt every two years. Mud doesn’t make for
a sturdy building. There have been many movies filled at Aït Ben Haddou.
However, everybody there sort of worships the Gladiator and Russell Crowe.
He was extremely nice to the locals. He chatted everybody up. The guide
couldn't say the same was true of other stars.

 

Okay. The moment I’ve been waiting for is here. I am starting my three-day
tour of the desert. I booked it online for about $100. It included two
dinners, two breakfasts, two nights stay. It did not include lunches or
snack of any kind. It also didn’t include any tips or the “entrance fee” to
the Aït Ben Haddou. The tour did include a lot of driving. I mean a lot.

We left Marrakesh at 9 am. I got to drive on the back of a motorbike again
before it broke down halfway through. It was a small group that I loved. On
the first day, it was me and two Italian women traveling together, Cinzia
and Serena. And, of course, our driver Muhammed. The drive on the first day
consisted of driving through the Atlas mountains and parts of Sahara
towards Boumalne Dadès where we spend the first night.

One of our stops included Aït Ben Haddou. It’s a small and old Berber town
that is used for shooting movies. It’s a really interesting sight to see. I
mentioned the entrance fee because there is no entrance and if you come by
yourself you don’t pay anything. We did have a guide, they could have
called it the tour fee. That’s why many travelers, like myself, are
skeptical of Morocco. So many things are false and lied about. For
instance, my tour paid 20MAD while I met travelers who paid 40. And, like I
said, I was also told that if you show up and to this yourself, you don’t
pay anything. Besides that slight bitterness, I did enjoy seeing the
village.

Of course, we were taken to a few shops on our tour. One of them included
an artist who worked with indigo and tea. It’s an interesting process where
they heat the paper after making the drawing. It brings the colours to life
by staining the paper. 

Driving through the Atlas mountains was fantastic. The mountains are
beautiful and range in types. Some are dry and yellow, some are green and
filled with crops. Some are deep orange. Some have goats eating bushes.
Some are just plain cliffs. There are few high peaks that are even covered
in snow.

At the end of the day, we pick up two other travelers. Stefania and Andrea
were a young colour from Colombia. They were a great addition to our small
group of 4. We continued on through the dry desert. We passed so many small
villages through the whole three-day drive. We got to our hotel just in
time for the sunset.

 Day 4: Merzouga

Today we are going to the dunes in the desert! We woke up early in the
morning, ate some breakfast and on our way we went! But not without a few
stops, of course. The first one was a walk in a crop field where we saw a
few of locals working. Then we walked around the part of the town with new
construction happening. Again, with straw and mud bricks. I’m not sure if
there was any significance to this place. The guide mostly spoke in Spanish
to the Colombian couple who was in the very front.

That’s something I noticed right away. Out of all the places I’ve been, in
Morocco the people speak so many languages. Both Berbers and Moroccans
spoke English, Spanish, French and Italian to some extent. Some were
fluent. I even heard one speak German. It’s really impressive. A few even
knew random words in Polish, which mind you, doesn't happen often to be
except “kurwa”. During my three day tour, I communicated more in Italian
and bits of Spanish than in English. 

The second stop was a carved out valley between two mountain cliffs. The
driver dropped us off at the beginning and let us walk for about 300 meters
where he was waiting for us. For once, this was a stop for our pure
enjoyment. Of course, there was someone selling something but that’s
because these merchants are everywhere. The cliffs were beautiful. There
was a small stream going next to the road. It was a chilling but such a
pleasant walk.

Eventually, we left the mountains and were heading closer and closer toward
Merzouga where the camel trek took place. We could see the sand dunes miles
away. We all kept on getting more and more excited. We arrived shortly
before 4pm. We wasted no time. I liked my camel. His names escape me but he
was a calm and friendly dude. I can’t say that for the camel behind me. He
did not like to be touched. Okay, buddy. We rode them for about 40 minutes.
We took a short break for photos and rode for another 10 minutes. That’s
when our Berber guide, I’m going to call him Peter, stopped us and told us
to get off. He said that to best see the sunset we needed to climb a small
dune.

It was not easy. It took a few good minutes for me. I am not as fit as I
thought I was. But it was so worth it. The sun was setting while the moon
was shining on the opposite side. That’s when I realized I won't be able to
see the Milky Way at night. The moon was a day away from being full and it
was shining brighter than diamonds. While on the dune Peter pointed out
that on the other side there is a plateau. It’s about 50 kilometers from
us. And, that’s Algeria. I had no idea I was going to be this far inland.
Or rather, so close to Algeria. I could see it! When I looked at a map of
all the places I’ve been in Morocco it was more or less a straight line
from it’s left Atlantic coast to its right border with Algeria. That’s
pretty damn nifty.

After the sunset, we got back on the camels for another 20 or 30 minutes to
our camps. It was made up of bout 6 tents, an outhouse, a common tent where
we ate and a kitchen. We hung around for a few hours while the Berber
guides make us food. Shortly after we arrived at the tents, one more group
- made up of an Italian and Austrian buddies who met on the road - joined
us. It was a small group and I loved it. I had my tent all to myself which
had four single bed in it, each with a pillow and a blanket. It was cold
but I decided I’m going to sleep outside since I can wrap myself in those
four blankets from my tent.

After the dinner, which was naturally chicken tagine, we sat outside by a
campfire. The Berbers brought out drums to play and sing by the fire. It
was pretty fantastic. Towards the end of the campfire, they started telling
us corny joked. It was hilarious mostly because of the way they told them.
For example, how to put a camel into a fridge in three steps? We all made
up all sorts of random things. The answer? Open the fridge, put the cable
in, close the fridge. How do you put an elephant into the fridge in four
steps? Open the fridge, take the camel out, put the elephant in, and close
the fridge.

The pile of blankets is what I used to sleep :D

Peter asked us if we wanted to climb one of the dunes. We did. It was a big
one. The one we climbed for the sunset was at least a 3rd in size. I
climbed it maybe half way before I started feeling awful. My heart was
racing. I stopped. I ended up climbing it ¾ of the way before I finally
gave up. I decided I enjoyed the solitude. I knew what was on the
otherwise, the town of Merzouga and a few others. They would be twinkling
with small lights. I did not want to see it. I stopped to saw the desert
from the above. It was mesmerizing and magical. I laid on the dune for some
time and looked up at the stars. Earlier in the night we saw Venus and
Mars. Now the whole place was lit by moonlight. It was excellent. It was
peaceful. I heard the group chatting but only occasionally. It was dead
silent. I was alone in the middle of the Sahara desert near Merzouga,
Morocco. I have no words to describe it. I had maybe 15 or more minutes
alone before everyone was coming down running and jumping like idiots. I
joined them as they passed me.

When we got down to the camp everyone basically went to sleep. I declared
I’m going to sleep outside. No one else wanted to join me. I was already
wearing two pairs of pants, a t-shirt, two buttons down shirts, a light
jacket and something like what a Snuggly should be. Under me, I had a rug,
a thin foam mat, and a blanket. I was cocooned in two blankets and had one
more over me just, in case. I was not going to let the cold stop me.

Some of us wanted to wake up early at 4am to see the night sky once the
moon went down. I woke up and saw nothing interesting yet. It was too
early. I woke up again at about 5am and I could a lot more start.
Unfortunately the fun and beautiful part of the galaxy was below us on the
opposite side of the earth. The Austrian guy, Mike, had a night sky app
with him and that’s what we found out. I looked up for a little bit and
enjoyed the view of the generously sprinkled stars and went back to sleep.
I woke up just after the sunrise which was a little bit of a bummer. But
that’s okay.
Shortly after me, everyone else got up. We rode the camels back to the car
for about an hour. There we had a quick breakfast and we began out 11-hour
drive back to Marrakesh. This time stopping only for food and bathroom
breaks.

 

 

Sleeping in the desert was fantastic. I wish I could spend more time. I
didn’t know how I’d like it so I only booked the tree day tour with a
single night in the desert. I am so glad I did at least that and that I
slept outside. With the amount I was wearing, I was not cold. Other said
they were cold in their tents. Beats me. I cannot describe the feeling of
being practically alone in the desert. Like most things, photos don’t do
this justice. Sure it was a tour, sure we were an hour away from the town
but it did not matter. It makes such an impact on me. I highly recommend
the experience to everyone.

 

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Algeria Africa Marrakesh Morocco