On Tuesday 17th June, after spending the previous day in Marrakech, my friend Jess and I got up at 7:00 because our desert guide, Abdul, was supposed to be collecting us at 7:30. As he was bit late I was worried he wouldn't turn up, but everything was ok in the end. We started our long trip towards Zagora in a private jeep type car, which was very spacious and comfortable. We went through the Atlas and High Atlas mountain range and the views were spectacular. We made many stops to take some photos, grab a mint tea and avoid people who were persistently trying to sell us things. Abdul had an iPod and we listened to music whilst driving - he was very good at choosing music which complemented the mood and scenery!
Our first main stop was Aït Benhaddou, a fortified city and UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its kasbahs (Islamic villages with a fortress), at which many films have been shot. We explored for a few hours and didn't get a tour guide because our funds were running a bit low. My feet were still hurting and it was a scorching 35 degrees, so I'm glad were didn't walk for too long, because that was about as much as I could take. Actually we spent a lot of the tour inside the car, but I didn't mind because I could still take photos, admire the view and rest my poor foot, which had now developed new blisters on top of old blisters. I think I need to invest in a good pair of walking shoes at some point in the near future!
As we continued driving towards the desert, it became hotter and it was interesting to see the gradual transition as the vegetation disappeared. We went straight through the city of Zagora and Abdul dropped us off at the outskirts with some other tourists at about 19:00. We then got on the camels for a 90 minute trek into the desert and Abdul stayed in a hotel in Zagora. Getting on the camel was easy because they bend down at the knees so you don't have to climb up. However, they get up and down by moving either their front or back legs first, so at some point you'll be hanging diagonally! It was also quite scary going up and down hills, especially as camels seem a lot higher than horses. I really liked my camel because it seemed quite peaceful and looked at the camera curiously whenever I took a photo. However, the same could not be said for Jess' camel, who kept trying to run and turn around and as I was behind my camel had to do emergency stops. Mine had to be put in front because hers was misbehaving!
We arrived at the dunes at about 20:30. For some reason I was expecting a pop up tent and sleeping bag, but we had our own tent with sturdy frames and even beds inside them! Each tent had 4 beds, but we had one tent to ourself. After witnessing the sunset and talking to other people from France, Ecuador, the UK and Ireland it was time for dinner. Tables and chairs were set up in one of the tents and we were served soup, tagine and fruit. It seemed very strange to have this kind of luxury in the desert. After dinner the locals played us some music with drums and singing and some people danced around the camp fire. The stars were very clear and I saw 3 shootings stars, which was the first time I had ever seen one! We went to bed at about 23:00 because we had an early morning the next day.
We woke up at about 6:00 to see the sunrise, which was stunning. We then had bread, butter and mint tea for breakfast before camel trekking back to Zagora to meet Abdul. When we approached the camels, all of them were on their knees except mine, which was lying on its side. At first I thought it was dead, but then it got up so I guess it was just having a nice rest. I was concerned about the treatment of the camels before we went, but they seem to have had plenty of time to rest, they looked well-fed and groomed and if one of them was having some kind of problem, the drivers rearranged the order to make it more comfortable for them, for example when Jess' camel misbehaved. After all that time of camel trekking, my thighs were hurting considerably, which made it even more difficult to walk without looking stupid!
We left Zagora at 8:00 and drove back the same way we had came, which wasn't particularly interesting. However, it was a good opportunity to rest and sleep, although I felt like I might miss something whilst sleeping. I'm not scared of heights, but I'm scared of being on the edge of something high if it doesn't feel particularly safe, which could be said for the roads going through the mountains and the Moroccan style of driving. On the way we didn't stop at Ouarzazate, so we did on the way back. Ouarzazate is is a noted film-making location (for example, Gladiator was filmed there) and has film studios. We a few rest stops and I was surprised that many places, even cafes and restaurants, charged people a small amount to use the toilets. I had never seen this in Morocco, so perhaps this is just something aimed at 'wealthy' tourists. The price for most toilets was 1 dirham (7p) so it's not exactly worth complaining about. We arrived at Marrakech station at 17:00, giving us a few hours before our train departed. The desert trip cost us 180 euros (£145) each, which was a considerable amount of money, especially after the hotel owner said we could have got one for cheaper. However, it was really nice to have a private car (we kept seeing the other tourists on the way back and the huge buses didn't look like much fun), it was reassuring to book online in advance and Abdul was really knowledgeable, so I'd say that it was worth it.
The trip on my blog: http://lauren-stevens-melilla.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/visiting-casablanca-rabat-marrakech-and.htmlThe desert tour company: http://www.marrakeshdeserttours.com/Marrakech-Desert-Tours-1.html