By Lane Florsheim
Arriving in Marrakech and being greeted by a thick cloud of warm air, I felt exhilarated. My favorite travel is the variety that takes me to a place with which I am completely unfamiliar, and I suspected based on the photos I’d seen of the city’s vibrant, bustling markets and cozy tearooms that I would love Marrakech. However, what I was most looking forward to was leaving the city at the end of the weekend and taking the road less traveled””literally””to embark on a multiday desert tour.
On the first day of the tour, I woke up bright and early alongside my sleepy friends to a breakfast of Harcha, the pan-fried semolina flatbreads that are popular in Morocco, and a hot glass of sweet mint tea. Our two guides picked us up from our riad, and we boarded a pair of private SUVs and departed from the city. Private transportation was one of the reasons we chose Hello Sahara! tour company, as well as the company’s informative guides who provide travelers not only with knowledge of the sights, but also with interesting tidbits of Moroccan culture and history.
Our drive toward Ouarzazate, the city nicknamed “the door of the desert,” took us over the imposing Tizi-n-Tichka pass pass in the High Atlas Mountains. When we stopped at a lone café overlooking the terrain, I was struck by the juxtaposition of the lush green fauna that flourished in the pass’s valley beds against the red mountain rocks. This striking contrast would surround me throughout the four days of the tour, yet it never ceased to enchant me.
The highlight of the first day was the steep climb to the top of the Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou. Kasbahs are the older corners of Moroccan cities where citadels were built inside high walls to house and protect wealthy families and warlords. Though few have retained their former grandeur, many Kasbahs nonetheless remain exemplars of stately Moroccan architecture. The Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou, a Unesco World Heritage site, is no exception. The layers of earthen buildings within the Kasbah’s walls are an architectural wonder.
The second day began by the clear waters of the Todra Gorge. We cooled off from the heat by dipping our toes as we admired the high, warm-toned walls of the gorge that enveloped us.
It was with this sense of peace that we drove into the Ziz Valley, and from there, toward the area’s rolling dunes for a Saharan camel ride. As dusk approached, we watched the ever-shifting landscape glow.
It’s difficult to outdo a desert sunset. The melting sun, stately dunes, and bleeding sky that burns out black and reignites from the light of a star-speckled Milky Way seems to beckon for a celebration. And a celebration it was. Once we reached camp, we devoured a traditional Moroccan dinner before watching and participating in a song and dance performance of the ancient folklore tradition. From marinated beef brochettes to saucy chicken tagine, a variety of delicious dishes native to the country was served. My personal favorite was kefta, Moroccan meatballs cooked in a spicy tomato sauce. By the time we curled up in our nomad tents for the night, we were full and happily exhausted.
The next morning, I decided to rise early and was rewarded with a spectacular sunrise over the dunes. We drove through the Dra’a Valley, the “land of a million palm trees,” passing through the village of Tazzarine. Before settling into our riad””my favorite of the tour thanks to its fragrant courtyard brimming with blossoming rose bushes””we explored the Kasbah of Tamnougalt, a historic castle tucked into the mountains.
On day four, our final stop was the Kasbah of Telouet, which quickly became my favorite Kasbah of the journey. Though its exterior was in a bit of decline, the interior rooms boasted remarkably ornate tiled walls, carved ceilings, and wooden doors. Wandering around and taking it all in before starting our final weekend in the city was just the kind of exotic desert escape one would want in Morocco.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Lane Florsheim is a senior at Tufts University where she is studying International Relations. She loves writing and reading about culture, politics, and women’s issues. Lane delights in jewelry making, captivating novels, and travel and exploration. Her personal website is available here. Follow Lane on Twitter @laneflorsheim.
Feature photo by Hasna Lahmini