It’s time…….. to get on our bus again and start climbing the middle Atlas Mountain range- and what a view. Hills and fields all turning beautiful autumn shades. The French built the first town we come to after Fes – the little town is called Ifrane meaning cave to remind them of their European towns and yes there is are ski fields.
For us Australians on our little bespoke tour it’s just like a day trip to the Blue Mountains. In fact 3 days after we were here it snowed so much they had to close the road.
I’m usually first off the bus and busting for a wee (standard) so it’s a good excuse to have a yummy pastry and coffee in the apple town! We have never seen so many apple things for sale- cakes,cookies, jam, juice and the locals are such beautiful people selling their market wares in the middle of the town offering us to taste their products.
We think there is a festival on as there is drumming and performers doing their thing …… did I mention apples?
After our pit stop for morning tea we head further up and over the mountain range, through the Rif area, past large dams that supplies the area with drinking water and small towns that feel like they are an ancient village, with donkey carts and people carrying their crops, to the next town that appears quite modern, with stores and Riads.
Although we have done nothing but eat, drink a little or a lot, its lunch time again and we come into a town called Zaida another apple village that appears to be on fire, with smoke blowing everywhere…….
Nope the only fire is the BBQ grills and hot coals being blown by industrial size fans, and butchers with their sides of lamb or beef just hanging out on display waiting for you to buy a kilo or half a kilo of meat depending on the size of your family, before they throw it onto the hot coals and cook it to perfection fat and all……. lamb chops to die for and they mince the beef and make beef kofta which is then served with red onion and tomatoes on top.
There is always bread brought to the table (huge mistake) and with a French influence it is hard not to eat it ! To accompany the meat is often a the vegetable tagine they also have cooking outside the front of the restaurant over hot coals, and you won’t be believe we all stuff our faces. The veggie tagine is amazing eggplant, potato, carrot, tomato, onions, garlic all cooking it a little bit of water in its own little pot. Burnt on the bottom to create a crust.
We can’t eat it all, there is so much food left ~Sigal from our tour has told us she asked Hassan our guide about it and there is no food waste here, as they see food as a gift from Allah, so they treat all food with respect and either feed the animals or give it to the homeless. All the little towns are so clean, there is very little rubbish lying around and definitely no food scraps.
Dogs and cats roam everywhere, out in the middle of no where, near our Riads. The locals don’t encourage us to feed them but they obviously do and no animal appears to be starving.
Hassan fills our travel journey on our bus with information about the Military towns we are travelling through, as we are quite near the Algerian border ……. they aren’t at war but the relations have always been a bit tense.
The Sahara desert is the Hottest desert in the world. It it travels through 10 countries and is 9 million sq kilometres. The size of the whole of America! One third of the desert is in Morocco and its not just sand it’s rocks and plateaus of stone and pebbles.
It is a long long day and the landscape has changed as we pass mountains with snow on their peaks whilst down in the valleys we notice the ground becomes quite volcanic. One of the areas we were travelling through is filled with fossils as the flat plain was once a sea bed……
Another wee- I mean coffee stop, at a place that looks like it’s out of the TV series Breaking Bad, no drug deals were done just a great nous nous ( that’s what they call coffee here). The roads are fabulous and I’m already sure I will make this a destination for Steve and I to ride motorbikes.
The date palms at this time of that year are bursting with dates. We learn that there are 39 different varieties of dates and that in the palm oasis areas these dates feed from spring water under the ground, that the date trees are male and female and propagate in March and April with the Harvest in October and November. They manually propagate as well as the organic way by bees and the wind.
We arrive at our desert accommodation in time to watch the sun set over the sand dunes in the distance and enjoy a relaxing night at the RIAD Madu, just saying a week here would be perfect.
It’s out in the middle of no where in a village of local Berber people that all used to live out in the desert. More food and wine and it’s lights out for these little black ducks, who will be up early to see the sunrise and spoto camels in the dunes.
Cock a doodle doo and the call to prayer can be heard as we all emerge from our rooms sleepy eyed with excitement (ok maybe that was just me) to watch the sunrise. Click click go our cameras and iPhones along with other guest staying at the Riad. It is photo heaven and I can just imagine the photo shoots that could be created here as every inch of this Riad is photo worthy. It’s a cool brisk morning and it’s puffer jackets over pj’s to get the golden hour of sunrise.
I grab a coffee from the kitchen and blog a little in the internal courtyard when Lisa M call out from her camel watching roof position- ‘Camel train’ ! As they are in the distance we decided to go for a walk along dusty roads, find a friendly puppy who trots along with us until we realise we don’t have time for this, plus the camel train is too far away, so we just hang out with some other camels we found at a camel parking station, eating their breakfast before we decide we are all hungry too and stroll back to the Riad.
There are sweet little donkeys near our hotel with their front legs loosely tied together and it seems cruel, although Hassan tells us locals use these donkeys to make a living and trade their crops to survive so they tie them like this so they can’t get too far away. They sort of hop and gallop along and look like they are doing a wonky donkey dance.
Another quick half an hour blogging and it’s back on the bus, and lucky for us we are only travelling locally today.
First up 5 minutes from where the Riad is we go to a little preschool where around 16 of the sweetest children are sitting in a small room all waiting for us to arrive. They all recite the first verse of the Karan to us a bit like we do when we thank our traditional land owners in Australia with our preschoolers.
We share a few little treats with the children like little balls and bubble wands and we give the teacher a bag of stickers, paints, pens etc. along with some flash cards with English words. The children learn Arabic, French, Spanish and a little English and attend school for 9-11am and then again from 3-5.30pm, we actually end up singing “The wheels on the bus” as it’s about the only song we all know together as a group! Not a high point but they clapped because they have manners and are polite.
It’s back on the bus and off to drumming school. Where we watch the local musicians drum and percussion and then we are invited to join in their desert dancing !
From there we head to an Aladdin’s cave, where 3 of us buy magic carpets and a few trinkets.
We learn all about the blue nomadic Berber tribes and their desert lifestyle. It was very interesting with their slightly French accent I could listen all day……
Tents are made from goat and camel skin, their warm blankets are made of animal wool which contains lanolin on the weave, so when it rains their blanket/coats then become waterproof.
Their big desert tents get divided into rooms, just like a normal house, they are cool in summer and warm in winter. Cooking is always outside on a wood fire.
They have these strips of fabric that hang out the front of their tents that move in the wind or a sand storm. These strips of material hang down on the front of the tent are covered in sequins, so that during a sand storm or at night, the sequins flicker light as the sequins shimmer in the candle light to help guide the nomads, the sequins on wedding blankets and candles inside the tent also reflect the light from the candles so they can find their way!
They use wooden bowls for food and dates and a mortar and pestles for grain etc.
Massive hope chests filled with treasure from days gone by are on display that were used as a wedding dowery, these days they no longer need to be so large- our desert friend tells us just a small chest and a Visa card is required these days!
Currency was salt and gold and traded for animals or grain, and the nomads moved through the desert at night, because it was cooler they suede less water and they used the dunes to guide them, they travelled in a zig zag formation following the water lines so they didn’t get lost and go around in circles.
There are 4 main Berber tribes as well as Berber sub tribes. This area has tribes from the Rif Mountains and also Amazair from the Middle Atlas Mountains. They call themselves the Touraeg tribes like the VW car……
Like the rest of the world, there is a drought in the desert and the Sahara is getting bigger and further north. Insects destroy the crops and the life cycle goes on.
It was fascinating listening to all their stories about how they carried their tribe documents, recorded family heritage in the weave of the carpets, and how they join a welcoming carpet at a wedding to blend the two families tents.
They dyed their skin in indigo to protect them from the sun, mosquitos and keep them cool. Traditional rugs have 2 sides. A fluffy one for winter and a smooth one for summer !
How clever – they also always have a small fringe left on one end of the carpet, in the hope that they will continue on……
It really is fascinating and now it’s time for a traditional desert lunch-Medfouna bread its like a calzone- filled with meat, herbs, nuts and put into the dough, which is then cooked in special woven pans in the hot sand !
Next up we leave Abdul and our bus in a small town and hop into 3 -4WD vehicles and go sand bashing on our way to our luxury desert camp! Toyota advertising in Australia has got nothing these vehicles as they churn up the sand, and sand hills. We eat nougat on the way into camp and listen to some local music.
There is a bit of a sand storm, so we find our tents and then wrap up in our head scarves. I have never been a fan of a head scarf but today, it will come in mighty handy and the gorgeous Sally helps us style our scarves in a slightly more fashionable way than the guys in the Medina at Fez did! Thanks Sally!
Hassan suggests we pack a back pack with our cameras as sand is still blowing around and he is concerned it will get into our camera lenses.
I leave the big camera in my back pack the whole trip, and on reflection now, I’m actually glad it was a little windy, as just taking my iPhone like everyone else and it was the best thing! I wasn’t totally distracted by camera settings etc and just had a ball.
So armed with my trusty iPhone I’m the first on my camel. They load you from the back forward, and as I have ridden camels a couple of times I am not worried frightened or concerned!
These camels are the cutest little camels (with only 1 hump) I have ever seen, so well behaved no moaning and groaning, about us riding them, just happy to be sitting at the camel parking station chewing their regurgitated food!
The rest of the gang get on board and we are off on our very own desert camel train, zig zagging just like the old days, except were are only travelling for 60 minutes not 60 days.
Sally is with us and as we zig zag along sand dunes, no its not a mirage, she has a surprise it is an esky with champagne sun downers!
I cant believe we are here in the Sahara Desert of Morocco with new friends drinking champagne….. OK we better take a photo or a 1000 so we remember this day!
As the sun sets and the wind drops a little we all get back on our camels, Emma has named her camel Fletcher much to Lisa M’s protests as this is her middle sons name……. anyways we all laugh and giggle on our way back to camp richer for this experience and ready for some dancing!
Too funny not to share both mine and Lisa’s Apple Watch ⌚️ thought we were on a walk an exercising and wanted to know if we wanted to record our activity…. of course we both said yes as it’s the most exercise we have done all week !
Dinner is served in this massive marque tent, adorned with curtains and comfy furniture, our food and wine arrives and we enjoy another great meal together, only tonight there is french fries or chips depending on which part of the hemisphere you live, so a loud discussion about ketchup vs tomato sauce you say tomato I say potato is had. We laugh and laugh.
As the wind is still a little too strong for dancing outside by the fire, we dance inside the big tent to the beat of drums, drink too much Rosé, and just have a great night, before we know it the sun is up and so are we on our way to Skoura, the door to the desert! But more about that next time
It’s fair to say we all have a little camel butt today! Muscles we didn’t know we owned……. on the road again.