Morocco 2: From the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara
On the 19th of August we left Imlil, driving back into the direction of Marrakech. Eventually, we took a right turn back down south in the direction of Ait Ourir. Continuing in south east direction, we reached Telouet, a small town with an old Kasbah, which we visited.
Still further to the east we reached the delta of the Asif Ounila river, a soothing stripe of green in the brown vastness. This area is more densely populated. The road goes along the outer ridge of valley that the river has ground into the land, so there are many great viewpoints. At some places, one can see dwellings built into the soil, but it was impossible to tell if they are still inhabited. But in many places the surrounding soil is in a state of breaking down into the valley, so I can't imagine that people could still be living there.
This evening we made it all the way down to Ait Ben Haddou, where we looked for a camping spot. Slowly getting used to the way things work in Morocco, we decided to try our luck at haggeling. We decided we wanted a camping spot for no more than 5€ for all of us, since we'd only put up our tents, needed a bathroom and would be gone in the morning. There were three campgrounds available. The first one was nothing but an empty field of barren earth and some gravel. A bunch of teens came up to us, showed us around, but would not go down with the price, which was significantly higher than what we wanted to pay. The second spot was nicer, but also there we could not get the price down to 5€. The last spot played in a different league. It was a hotel or guesthouse, nice looking, with a small campground attached (again, really just open space). We did not think there was a chance we'd get our price there, but decided to try, still. And to our surprise the owner agreed immidiatly! So we spent the night there.
The next morning, after having breakfast at the guesthouse, we visited the famous old town/Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou. It is across the river from the more modern new town and largely abandoned. But many movies, including "Gladiator" and episodes from "Game of Thrones" were shot there! Partly due to repair work for the movies, the buildings are still in relatively good condition. And since it's a hotspot for tourism, many of the locals sell souvenirs and art there. Entering the area, we were immidiately approached by some guy who wanted to guide us through the town. He was very friendly and could tell us a lot of interesting facts about the place. He even made us tea and let us try out some costumes.
The annoying thing is that they always make it appear as though they do this out of the goodness of their hearts. At least, money is never a concern at the beginning. It is when the tour is coming to the end when you'll start wondering how much he's going to demand for the tour, which can be anything from reasonable to outrageous. Make sure you know well what you are comfortable giving, and stand by your judgement. That's the best advice I can give you. After all, there is no standing contract between you, so he's building on the fact that he's (conceived to be) in a stronger position to talk about the price when the service is already given. Don't let them fool you. The same goes for buying souvenirs. They have a way to judge how long you've been in the country, which correlates with how much money they can press out of you. In Ait Ben Haddou, I looked at a small souvenir oil lamp model that I liked. 20€ I was told it should cost. 2 weeks later, I got the same thing for 2.50€.
Then we drove to Ouarzazate, the last big town before the desert. We took a walk around there, also visiting a small "berber" pharmacy. Anything that is meant to be sold to tourists is described as made or thought of by the Berber people, the ethnic group that lived in Morocco before the Arabs invaded (I'm no expert here). Somehow, the fact that something "is berber" seems to at least triple its value in the eyes of these people. Eventually, it became so ridiculous that we started to make jokes about it. Donkey on the road? Berber car! Broken traffic light? Berber intersection! And so on. Mean, I know, but they asked for it XD. Another example for something "berber" were the blue scarves that we bought at that pharmacy, to protect ourselves from the sun. Advertised as made by the Berber people, they did do their job well. But a few weeks later, Thomas decided to wash his. It lost half its blue color, revealing a huge, also blue lettering saying "Made in China". We laughed so hard... ;D
On this day, we made it all the way to Agdz, which also has a large, ruined Kasbah that we explored. The only inhabitants were birds and a donkey that suddenly appeared. We spent the night at a campground that had a restaurant attached (or rather the other way around). We had Tajine for dinner. Tajine is everywhere. It is prepared in clay vessels that you will see very often standing on fireplaces. It is actually named after the container it's prepared in, and usually based on Couscous (in Morocco). It also has a variety of vegetables and meats. And, if not well cooked or left cold too long (they are prepared ahead of time), they are a serious risk for food poisoning, as the one I had that evening should teach me...
Next to that food poisoning, I have a hole in my inflatable mattress, punched in by some strange, incredibly sharp seeds, that I haven't managed to propely fix till today, to remember Agdz by.
The next day, we finally reached Mhamid, where we had booked a tour into the Sahara. I was starting to feel slightly uneasy with indisgestion, but it was the constipation type of it, so it wasn't too bad in the beginning. So we still got onto those camels that were supposed to carry us to our desert camp. It is surprisingly strenuous to ride these animals, because they sway so much to and fro when they walk. Doesn't make it better when your belly is doing strange things. However, it was an interesting experience!
Having arrived in the desert, we threw our stuff into the huts they had buit there and took pictures of the sunset. Then we had dinner and some music by a fire. Very neat. And since the sky was clear and it was still very warm, everyone decided to drag their mattresses out into the open and sleep under the stars. What a wonderful thing! Only poor me now started to develop a serious fever and ended up under a layer of blankets in what must have been a 40 °C hot desert hut, but felt cold to me!
The next day was filled with catastrophies. The tour we booked was meant to be in by camel, out by four wheel drive. However, that information seemed to have been lost, and they wanted to carry us back by camel! No way in hell I could get back onto one of those in my condition! So after some discussion, we managed to organize a car ride out of the desert. Lucky me! Having arrived back in Mhamid, we packed our things back into our car and were just about to move off, when our tour agent came running out to us asking if one of us had left a tablet PC in our hut. And sure enough, that was my Windows Tablet that I use for everything, which I had paranoidly hidden under the sheets of my bed so it would not be stolen. And then I had not thought of putting it back into my luggage in the morning!
So now there was no way of getting around the fee of 40€ for a car ride to the camp and back, which I paid so my brother could take another turn to the desert. When he returned safely with my computer and we finally had our things together, we drove off, to leave the desert behind.
In retrospect, I was very foolish in believing that my sickness would pass within a day or too, and didn't visit a doctor even though Samira suggested it. As a result, I spent the next four days phasing in and out of consciousness on the backseat of our car, waiting for my bowels to start moving again. Which they did not until I finally gave up and let myself be carried to a ... aaahhhhh ... pharmacist who gave me some pills that fixed me up again. During this time, Samira and Thomas had all the fun to themselves, which is why Thomas is now going to take over to recount the ensuing events.