Sahara Desert Excursion

Hello everybody!

As you know from the last post, my brother Mike was able to visit us across the pond for 10 days. After meeting in Madrid and exploring many of its sites for a day, we were off to start our next adventure in Marrakesh, Morocco. We spent a total of 4 days in Morocco and it was amazing, but the highlight of our trip was a night camping out in the Sahara Desert in Zargora.

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Atlas Mountain view on the way to the Sahara

Although it sounds a bit frightening to spend a night out in the desert, we would recommend this trip to anyone. We booked the trip through our Hostel Riad Marrakech Rogue and they had everything coordinated which made it super convenient for us. It seemed a little weird hopping in a van with a Moroccan driver and 4 other strangers, but after a while it was apparent we all spoke english and by the time the trip was over we had made some new friends.

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Sunrise picture with some of the friends we met during our trip

The beginning of our trek to the desert took us on the many winding roads through part of the Atlas Mountain Range. The trip was diverted to a different route due to the snowfall in the mountains. We found it pretty interesting that it snows so close to the desert! Everything that was planned for the way there we ended up doing on the way back from the Sahara. Either way we were able to enjoy great views and after a couple of pit stops for the bathroom and lunch we made it to our destination in Zagora.

Approaching the final stop in the van we could see what we had waited so long for since booking the trip… CAMELS!! They were all ready for us to hop on and and begin the second leg to the desert. It took about an hour for us to reach our camp and we were happy it was not much longer because it can get a bit uncomfortable on top of a camel for that long. It was awesome to get the chance to see some great views over the sand dunes and settle into our berber camp. The guides who looked after us in the camp spoke very little english, but were very welcoming none-the-less.

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My brother, Mike, making friends with a camel

We were the first group to arrive and we started the night off with some authentic Moroccan tea while waiting for the other groups in order to eat dinner. Once everyone settled into the berber camp for the night we were ready for an authentic berber North African dish called “tanjine.” This dish is essentially a moroccan stew with vegetables such as potatoes and carrots and usually one type of meat. Honestly, we still don’t know exactly what meat we ate in the Sahara but the bones were too big to be chicken and too light to be beef. We think that it was lamb but I guess we will never know for sure.

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The berber camp behind us is where we stayed over night in the Sahara.

After everyone finished dinner we had time to get to know each other and made friends with two British brothers and a kiwi (New Zealand) couple. It was a great opportunity to meet new people, most of which share similar interests in travel. Shortly after dinner came the entertainment. For the rest of the night we were serenaded with berber tribal music and we were given a chance to try to play the drums ourselves. However, none of us could quite get the hang of it and tapped out earlier than the others to check out the stars.

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Empty dining tent that later became home to the berber entertainment
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Berber music for our entertainment

For me, the view of the stars from the Sahara Desert is rivaled by none. It was incredible to see this amount of stars so clearly. It is amazing to think that light pollution can effect the visibility of stars that much. It made me think what the sky would have looked like before any light pollution was possible. I imagine that our view that night in the Sahara will be as close as I get to prehistoric star gazing.

Like I mentioned before, it was unexpected to encounter problems with snow so close to the desert. It was also unexpected to encounter the chilling temperatures we did that night in the Sahara. However, that is the norm in the desert. Even when it is extremely hot in the day, it gets very cold during the night. Even with 3 or 4 blankets I was still freezing. I think Spain has turned me into a baby when it comes to the cold. Either way, hot or cold, it was all worth it to experience a night in the Sahara.

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Mike curled up in his berber cot

The next morning we were up bright and early to eat breakfast and see the sunrise over the sand dunes. Just like the stars the previous night, this sunrise was another incredible sight to behold. After snapping a few photos of our group during the sunrise we were off on another camel ride heading back to the van. Although I loved riding on the camels, it would be an understatement to say I was ecstatic to see our van. Let’s just say that it can get a bit uncomfortable riding a camel especially coming off an hour ride the day before.

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Sunrise over the sand dunes

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Then it was time to do everything that we were supposed to do the day before. During the trip back we experienced some amazing sights. My favorite view was one of the snow covered Atlas Mountains that seemed to go on forever. Then when we turned the corner it was back to the arid, desert landscapes. From one winding road to the next you might have thought you saw two different countries.

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One of our favorite views of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco

The main attraction on the way home from the desert was the city of Ouarzazate, Morocco. This city is a popular destination for filming and is home to the world famous Atlas Studios. You may have heard of some of the movies filmed in the city such as Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy and the Gladiator. Even parts of the HBO series Game of Thrones was filmed here.

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Outside of the famous Atlas Studios

After seeing the studio we were able to explore a nearby town, Aït Benhaddou, which is very important to the movie making culture in Ouarzazate and is famous for hosting scenes in the Gladiator. The views from this town were incredible and it also gave you a taste of everyday life for the inhabitants of this area. Since it is a major tourist stop on the way to Zagora, there are a lot of people that try to sell you there crafts, whether it is hand made knives, scarves, or jewelry.

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Before exploring Aït Benhaddou, we stopped to see this view of the town

After a couple more hours of great views and winding roads we were back in the Medina of Marrakesh. It was a relief to get back and shower and be free of longs van rides for a while.

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Looking out from the top of Aït Benhaddou

If you every find yourself in Marrakesh, Morocco we would encourage you to do a trip to the desert. There are two choices for trips and the longer one takes you to a different desert town (Merzouga), that is further into the Sahara. We heard that if you have 3 -4 days, this is the better trip because the desert experience is different than Zagora, with bigger, redder sand dunes. However, I would still recommend this trip to anyone who is intrigued by camel rides and magnificent views. I am sure you would not be disappointed taking this trip.

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For most of our stay in Africa we made Marrakesh our home base. Stay tuned to hear about the rest of our time in the Medina!

Be sure to check out our video blog about our night in the Sahara Desert!

Shukraan,

Mark

 


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