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Sahara to Marrakesh

The final three days of the trip started with a Saharan sunrise, just 40 km from the Algerian border. I was the first up and watched the predawn colour changes. I trekked off to a sand dune to watch alone. It was a great experience seeing the sunrise in the desert.

Sahara sunrise

After breakfast we headed back to our minibus via 4×4 vehicles and started the journey back toward Marrakesh. The first stop was a fossil place. Again we were led through a process ending with a gift shop. I’ve never seen fossils monetised quite so much. One tray of fossils looked a bit suspect. Fossil toilets were one of the items for sale.

Not sure what these fossils are!

Next up was a dried up irrigation system. I know! What on earth are we seeing that for? Well, (no pun intended), it was quite a fascinating 30 minute interlude. A woman who looked about 120 lived there with a young girl. Her husband had died and Ridouane preferred to take his group to the dried up well, as opposed to the functioning one down the road, which was much busier. After going underground and seeing the dried up well, we were invited into her small house for tea. We all made a contribution to her welfare.

In the afternoon we reached the dramatic rock formations of the Todra Gorge. After a mini-hike we walked through the gorge. It was a busy place with tourists and locals all enjoying the surrounding natural beauty.

Todra Gorge

Next up was a Berber carpet shop and tea. Tea is a big thing in Morocco. Once again, there were purchasing options which are becoming a little irritating. Ceramics, leather, fossils, and now rugs. Maggie came the closest to buying a magic carpet – until she heard the price. In fairness, the colour wasn’t quite right.

Our overnight hotel was just around the corner and a few of us headed for the pool. Coldest pool water I ever been in. I lasted 12 seconds. Group dining again and another fun time was had. A great bunch of people.

After leaving the gorge the following morning we headed for a nature walk lasting about an hour in the Valley of the Roses. It culminated in a couscous lunch with a local family. I don’t think couscous and I will be having an ongoing relationship anytime soon. I played outside with some of the local boys who were after pens. If only I’d known – I’ve got hundreds in England. Mohammed (11), was incredibly focused on the one-legged challenge.

Next up was Lahcin’s house. He’s our driver and he’d picked up a watermelon for his mother. We sat in his house watching him prepare the tea whilst his two tall teenage sons come in and out. And of course Lahcin’s mum joined us. Anyway, I drank tea. Despite being a non-tea drinker, it’s ill advised to aggravate a Moroccan minibus driver. It won’t become a regular thing.

On the road again, we headed for a place where they do things with roses. Several hundred kilos of roses. They use it in oil and lotions, and yes, more purchasing options.

We arrived at the hotel in Ait Ben Haddou late in the afternoon and were given an hour by the pool before trekking up a hill for sunset. On the way up we passed through a small thirteenth century town to reach the summit.

Courtesy of January

Morocco has 38 million people, and the current King is Mohammed Vl, 60, who has been the monarch for 24 years. Moroccan men can have as many as four wives, but the king can only have one. This is to stop succession rivalries. In 1912, the “Kingdom of Marrakesh”, as it was known then, became a protectorate of largely France, and to a lesser degree, Spain. They finally gained independence from the French on March 2nd 1956, and the country became known as Morocco.

The team is as follows. Eight from various parts of the UK, and one from the US. Dan (74) from Glasgow, tall, slim and rangy. He’s the quietest member of the group, but a good steady guy. Friends, Mike (74), and Doug (70), who live in Yorkshire. Mike was a first timer with Explore, and had a strong Yorkshire accent; Doug did not. Doug was actually born in northern Scotland, but didn’t sound Scottish either. He was the most experienced of the group with 30 Explore trips under his belt. Maggie was 67 and lives in Wales. She left her husband behind. She had previously dragged him on a tour of Ethiopia, and he vowed, “never again”. Julian is 53 and lives in Hereford near the Welsh border. A good chap, very easy company. January is 46 and lives near Baltimore in the US. Another one who left her husband behind. January owns a construction company and has previously done work for the Church of Scientology. Super lady. Lastly we have Lucy and Rachel, (39), friends since they were three. Bristol and West London. Lucy finished the Private Eye cryptic crossword with minimal assistance, and Rachel found it hard to pass a swimming pool without getting in, regardless of the temperature. They entertained us at times with their uncontrollable giggling. A great bunch to travel with. Our guide was a splendid fellow. Ridouane was my favourite guide on the six trips I’ve done with Explore. I might do Toubkal with him one day.

Our last day would get us back to Marrakesh by lunchtime. Along the route we hit the highest elevation of the whole trip – 7250 ft. We stopped periodically for photos in the high Atlas. Very scenic, and of course, one more opportunity to buy something – this time it was argan oil which promised eternal youth, a spiritual awakening, and good fortune (if rubbed in the right places). There’s a possibility I made some of that up.

When we arrived in Marrakesh I left the others and went to a different hotel with a more acceptable pool area. I’d seen Marrakesh so I didn’t need to go on the afternoon shlep around the Medina. I reconnected with them in the evening for the last supper which was another pleasant dining experience. We bestowed our gratitude on Ridouane which was well deserved. We parted after dinner and I went back to my hotel.

During the trip we covered nearly 1800 kilometres in the minibus, several kilometres walking, 7 km on a camel, and I also managed a couple more flying through the Medina hanging off the back of Abdul’s moped.

Morocco does love a decorative ceiling, and doors and gates are often beautifully crafted. They don’t really do urinals. I only saw a couple in 11 days, and I was looking. And yes, I did manage to use the Swiss Army knife on a number of occasions (mostly for wine). 😉

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