Saturday, July 31, 2010

The chill beach and scorching desert


I read about this coastal town in Lonely Planet and just had to go...

View from the main square of the coast of Essaouira

Moroccans enjoying the peaceful view too.

Small narrow alleys that I loved exploring.
The town was manageable enough that you could wander aimlessly without the fear of getting too lost. It had a chill atmosphere and temperature.

Gallery hopping.
There's a small art community here promoting local talents.

Fresh seafood! Pick and grill.

Is it crazy that I took a 3 our bus ride to this town because I wanted freshly grilled fish? You literally just point to what you want and they grill it for you right there and pair it with a nice salty salad and bread. Delicious!

My one day here was not enough. I would have loved to stay a few nights and try some wind surfing or at least walk to length of the beach. It was a very windy town that was a cool 75F which was a relief from desert heat. But alas, I wanted to see the desert too, so I departed.

To Zagora desert

I was determined to get on a camel. So when I was told that I could do a short overnight camel trek to the desert, I couldn't pass it up. I went with a dutch couple, Lisa and Kevin, and our local driver, Abdula. It was an 8-9 hour drive from Marrakech, which was enjoyable because of the company and beautiful scenery. Abdula was a fabulous (and safe!) driver and person. He spoke some English so we were able to prod him into revealing many wonderful insights into Moroccan culture and mindsets.

Enoying a quick stop while going over the High Atlas Mountains through the Tizi N'Tichla pass which peaks at 4167 meters.

We passed through many Berber villages made of clay, which you can see in the background. Berber people are indigenous Moroccans that live in the mountainside. They have their own unique culture and language.

Ait Benhaddhou

On the other side of the mountains, we stopped at this much filmed red brick kabash, a fortress city where a leader could retreat to when under attack. Gladiator was filmed here!!! I've seen that movie probably a dozen times. Shinae and I had a banner in our room afterall ("What you do here echoes in eternity.") This was a pleasant unexpected stop.

We also stopped by Ouarzazate for lunch which Abdula deemed as "Mollywood." It's a Hollywood built and funded city used solely for the purposes of filming movies. Very bizzare.

Moroccan mint tea.
I love it! It's actually Chinese green tea seeped with fresh mint leaves and a ton of sugar. We took many tea and coffee stops on our drive.

At last on my camel, Saber!

Lisa trying to control her camel, Lemur

Camels were actually the most comfty and easiest to ride compared to elephants (a little too much swaying way up there) and horses (which can gallop and toss you off).

We didn't go to the famous section of the Sahara desert with huge rolling sand dunes, but this will have to suffice.

Ah, the Sahara Desert in the Draa valley
Known more for rocky lunar landscapes. Sure, I can pretend I'm on the moon.

Lisa and Kevin sleeping outside the tent.

I slept to the left of Lisa. The conservative Islamic culture would not permit Lisa and Kevin to sleep next to each other outside. It was much cooler to sleep outside and we fell asleep under amazing stars at night.
Rise and shine camels!

Waking up to the peace and quite of sunrise was a definitely highlight.

Lemur and Saber chatting a bit before we take off at 7 am.

Here we go.

Lisa and I at a scenic point while winding through mountains on our long 9 hour drive back.

I'm so glad that I had Lisa and Kevin on this desert trip and Abdula as our driver. We had many laughs and learned many insights into Moroccan culture thanks to Abdula such as
1. You are allowed 4 wives legally, but each wife must sign a contract now allowing the other wives.
2. Abdula at first wanted 3 wives, but then reconsidered saying "One is already too much. Women complain too much."
3. About 85% of Moroccans don't drink due to religion.
4. how to spell Morocco due to our favorite Moroccan rap song "M-O-R-O-C-C-O. What does that spell? Morocco! Where are you from? Morocco!"

As a reward for the long drive and being dirty in the desert, we went to the local hamman, bathhouse, with a sweet, fun local woman who works with our Riad. It was great to get really clean and to see the hamman culture. Women and men go about once a week. There were crying kids, lots of steam, mud and scrubbing.

Already, I felt like I'd gotten some great insight into culture and had seen so much of the beautiful country.

Off via train to meet Sharlene in Casa... but, first a little story on some special insights I had here thanks to the Moroccan men.

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