Saturday, April 23, 2022

The Beginning of the Return

Morocco is never dull. We started our journey home from the desert bright and early with breakfast in the Berber tents of the Erg Chigaga Luxury Camp. We said farewell to our hosts, they really treated us like a Malik and Malika (king and queen).
Jamal met us to drive us back through the desert. The return through the desert is a completely different route. For 3 hours we drove off-road through dried up lake beds ancient ocean floots littered with fossils.
We saw the Small Mesa and Large Mesa mountains and a variety of landscapes like nothing we've ever seen before.We stopped at a desert we'll to pull up some water for a family of wild donkeys that needed a drink.
The Berbers really know how to live alongside their neighbors in the desert. We stopped at a true oasis to take in the cool shade of the palms where there is natural water.
We emerged from the desert in a small town called Foum Zguid. We were back on the highway, if you can call it that. After about another hour, we are reached Tazenakht the home of Berber carpet making.
We saw the facilities where a cooperative of 255 women make the different styles of the different tribes of the Moroccan desert. Jamal introduced us to his "second mother".
We also had lunch in a nice little hotel nearby. We continue to drive north back towards Marrakech. On the way Jamal met our every desire. We wanted to put our feet in the water of one of the trickling streams that are at times raging rivers when there is rain or snow melt. He pulled over for us to put our feet into the cool waters rushing down from the Atlas mountains. We continued on our way. Jamal was so kind. He offered to take us to the airport the next day which gave us great relief; not having to worry about trying to figure out taxis in Marrakech, which is an absolutely insane city. We got back to our hotel in Marrakesh around 5:30 in the afternoon. We checked in and Jammie, organized our packing and then we headed out into the souk to look for dinner and explore. We found the famous Chef Hicham sandwich shop and watched them make us a delicious Moroccan sandwich which included sausages, lamb kifta, turkey, cheese, and eggs all stuffed inside Moroccan bread. It was absolutely delicious. Next, we stopped for some fresh squeezed orange juice at stand 34. We wandered through the souk and bought a couple more souvenirs that I had on my list, and as it turns out we got everything that I wanted! We didn't miss a thing. We woke up Saturday morning to take on our last hurdle of this trip; getting another COVID test before we can return to the United States. It was actually super easy. The front desk of our hotel gave us the name of a local testing center which was a short 5-minute walk across the street from the Koutoubia mosque. We entered, we were tested and out within 10 minutes with the results returned in 45 minutes via email. Another negative test! We're heading home! We spent the rest of the morning again wandering the souks. We went to the Jardim Secret (Secret Garden) which was discovered in the 1920s with the advent of aerial photography. It is a beautiful example of an Islamic garden. We also saw the Almoravid mosque. The only remaining Almoravid architecture in the city. It dates back to the 11th century. We had a wonderful lunch on the rooftop of the Nomad restaurant that was suggested to us by our first tour guide Adil. It was a delicious final meal. Oh, and a street vendor doughnut. Jamal picked us up from our hotel and whisked us to the airport. I never imagined it would be so easy. We love Morocco. Today we fly back to Lisbon, Portugal. Tomorrow we fly back to Chicago. It has been a truly amazing trip.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Experiencing Everything the Sahara has to Offer

After resting in the sun a few hours we headed back into our 4x4 Land Cruiser with our driver Jamal to head for an oasis for lunch which promised to be cooler than the 90s in the main camp. We drove over dunes further into the desert. We came across wild camels and stopped to take a closer look and then arrived at Erg Smar. When we returned to the main camp we got ready to climb the largest of the nearby dunes to watch the sunset. We also got a chance to try sand boarding.Jamkie was the best at it!
We watched the sun set over the quiet stillness of the desert. No sandstorm today! We headed back down the dunes and prepared for dinner. We were served chicken with preserved lemon tagine,our favorite so far! After dinner the Berber staff lit a campfire and drummed and played traditional instruments and sang songs. It was amazing. After we looked up at the dark black sky to again take in the stars it was a much better view than the night before because the moon hadn't risen yet. Pictures don't do it justice! We went to bed with happy hearts. Tomorrow we head back to Marrakech.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Into the desert

We spent two days traveling to the desert on our way to our camp at Erg Chigaga. It seems like 2 days traveling would be a nightmare, but it was actually an absolutely fantastic journey. Our driver Jamal was outstanding. He stopped at several spots along the way for photos and we stopped at several sites. The Tizi n'Tichka pass is amazing. It winds up through the Atlas mountains and back down again. The Atlas mountains were greener than I could ever imagine a path to the desert would be. There was even snow on the tops of some of the tallest mountains. We stopped at the kasbah in Telouet and examined the ruins. We had a wonderful guide who showed us the interior with the beautiful tile work and carving. We learned that much of the carving is mixed marble dust with egg whites and then carved into the intricate Islamic designs. The family that once lived in the kasbah, the pasha Glaoui, took care of the people and owned over 25 different kasbahs in the region along the caravan route. At the kasbah during the second world war the Glaoui family hosted Winston Churchill and General George S. Patton and others who stayed there while coordinating strategy to fight the Nazis in North Africa. When Morocco achieved its independence in 1956, the kasbah was taken over by the government. Since then, the new king Mohamed VI returned the property to its owners. The people who live in the kasbah and the local village primarily work in agriculture and also giving tours to people like us. It was absolutely gorgeous. We continued on our journey into the desert and stopped off for lunch along the way and had tagine. We continued on our way and drove by Ait Benhaddou which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Several movies have been filmed there including Gladiator and Game of Thrones. We continued further into the desert and stopped off at our hotel for the night in Agdz. Next to our hotel were the ruins of an old kasbah that was open to explore. We entered and climbed through the broken down building and up through the broken down steps and to the top to see the sunset. Our driver Jamal said it's perfectly safe. I don't think I'd call it perfectly safe, but it was perfectly amazing. In the morning we went walking through the date palm groves next to our hotel before Jamal picked us up for the second day of our voyage. Day two included driving through the Draa Valley which is home to over 3 million date palm trees. Jamal stopped and bought us a kilo of dates which were delicious; like candy! Along the way, we stopped at Tamegroute. In this small town they make a special green glazed pottery. They also have a beautiful Koranic library from the 17th century. We had a guide take us through the kasbah that is still inhabited by over 300 people yet doesn't look much different from the one that we explored the night before next to our hotel that was in ruins. It amazes me that this still exists. But they've run electricity and running water into this ancient building. Many of these people work in the date fields but also work producing pottery. There are seven families that produce this special green pottery. We took a tour of the facilities and saw the blazing fires that reach up to 1,000° Celsius. The glaze is made from magnesium which gives it the unique green color. They also have different colors that include patterns painted by women in their homes. Only men work in the kiln area and potting area. Women do the designs. We purchased some of the pottery to bring home. I hope it survives the trip. We made it to M'Hamid the last city before the desert. It is also the hometown of our driver Jamal. We stopped and had a quick lunch and then continued where the road ends and the sand begins. A 90-minute drive over the dunes over the sand over the rocks and then finally to our desert camp. Our desert camp has several tents surrounded by massive dunes. We met people from Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Bosnia, United Kingdom and Germans from Switzerland. We had some drinks but it's hard to keep up with Australians and New Zealanders. It was a lot of fun. And then the wind picked up and a sandstorm took over. Good thing we stopped to get turbans on the way to camp to protect us from the blowing sand. We rushed to the tent to have dinner which was a wonderful tajine of beef and vegetables. After dinner we returned to our tent and tried to get a good night's sleep. Jammie woke up at 1:30 in the morning because the wind died down and we snuck out to take a peek at the stars in the clear Sahara night sky. I woke her up at 5:00 a.m. to see the sunrise. We went to get a cup of coffee around 6:30 a.m. and were offered our breakfast right away. After breakfast we headed to the camels and had an hour-long camel ride out into the high dunes near our camp. Absolutely amazing.The rest of our day will be filled with surfing down the sand dunes and a lunch in a desert oasis. Who knows what other surprises will occur.

Time to see the sights

We thought about hiring a guide to take us around Marrakech, but ultimately decided to give it a go on our own. There were a handful of sights we wanted to see and we actually made it to nearly all of them. We started off in the main square where our hotel is located and followed the path provided by the GPSmyCity app. We started at Musee Dar Si Said (the Museum of Moroccan Arts) which showcased  mostly Berber rug making but also other Moroccan fabric arts. Then Bahia Palace and El Badi Palace. The Saadian Tombs were the burial tombs of a former royal house of Morocco. In the evening we went on a food tour that turned into another iftar meal because of Ramadan. Another fabulous day!
We are in a whirlwind of adventure driving to the Sahara tomorrow.