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.

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