On the 18th May we flew out to the exotic North African country to start our seven night Moroccan adventure with the independent travel experts Rickshaw Travel. One of those nights were spent travelling into the Sahara desert…
Morocco is many things to many people, but upon arriving in Marrakech – teeming with traders in the souks and restaurant hustlers in Jemaa el-Fna square – you might not think it’s the ideal place for a bit of quiet contemplation and stress-free relaxation. Remember though, you’re in North Africa, so if a beach is not your thing then all you need do is head off into the alluring expanse of arguably Earth’s greatest desert, the Sahara, where untold solitude is only a few hours away.
The first time I saw a desert – real, classic desert like in the movies, with stunning orange sand dunes and endless blue skies – it was like seeing snow for the first time. I couldn’t believe something as simple as sand could be so achingly beautiful. That was on my first trip to Egypt back in 2001, to the oasis at Siwa. There are few places I reserve the word “magical” for, but Siwa in 2001 definitely fit the bill.
I’d waited 13 years to see the Sahara again, and despite experiencing other deserts (dusty Australian outback, dry American landscapes, and a failed visit to southern Tunisia where food poisoning left me bed-ridden), I longed to be back in the shifting dunes, pretending I was Lawrence of Arabia once more. And after a 13 year wait, I was finally greeted with…a sand storm. A relentless barrage of wind and sand and grit flying into my eyes, encrusting my beard, and embedding in my body hair to make even my pale skin appear to have a tan (something of a minor miracle). This sophomore visit proved to be more challenging than I’d hoped, but then it’s easy to forget that a harsh environment such as the Sahara has the power to make a human feel totally insignificant in the blink of a camel’s eye.
Not that I regret this at all. In fact, it made the experience more authentic – I’m sure Lawrence himself had to put up with a face full of sand on more than one occasion (though I’m fairly sure they won’t be making any Oscar-winning films of my desert journeys anytime soon – but if they did, then the wonderful Atlas Film Studios are an easy detour once you’re out of the desert). And it made the sight of our desert camp that much more enticing – Araj and Mimoun, our two trusty camels, had earnt their rest and were content to slump down onto their own legs, in that distinctly awkward way that camels do, and settle in for the night. Mustafa, our guide, who somehow had managed to avoid getting any sand in his eyes (or at least wasn’t bothered by it), and after joining us for some quiet contemplation as the sun set, proceeded to cook our tagines. I doubt there is a better place to get a feel for Morocco, away from the bustle of Marrakech, than sitting under an endless blanket of stars in the night sky, eating a tagine cooked by a Berber, with the only sound being the whistle of the wind and the local songs the Berbers sing to us before we head into our camp.
I believe that everyone should spend a night in the desert at least once in their life. The modern world can be so overwhelming with the constant buzz of technology and the din of traffic, and finding total silence in an urban environment can be a real challenge. If only for one night, there is a joy unlike any other in waking to the sunrise, and being enveloped in nothing but blue sky, orange sand and your own meandering thoughts. Just like that first sighting of snow I had as a child, the magic of pure desert is not something that can be easily explained or described, it is something that has to be experienced and felt in person. Our return journey back to Zagora was much smoother than the journey into the desert, though tinged with a hint of sadness as we neared civilisation again. I wanted one more night under the stars. Maybe I could head to Timbuktu (a mere 52 days away by camel, as the local hand-painted murals state)? Pretending to be Lawrence of Arabia was proving to be addictive…
The Seven Night Taste of Morocco Tour
The Taste of Morocco itinerary from independent travel experts Rickshaw Travel is available to begin any day from Marrakech. The tour takes in Marrakech, Kasbah Aït Benhaddou, a camel trek and desert camp in the Sahara Desert and Ouarzazate before returning to Marrakech. Prices start from £598 per person based on two sharing (cheaper option from £478 with more basic accommodation options). Included in the tour is accommodation with breakfast on 6 nights, 1 night full board in the desert, cookery class in Marrakech, hire car and private transfers.
Return flights with EasyJet from London Gatwick to Marrakech start from £228
About Rickshaw Travel
Rickshaw Travel has been providing enriching independent adventure trips since 2008. Now covering 17 destinations across Africa, Asia and Latin America, its unique modular approach to customer-led exploration enables adventurous holidaymakers to experience the Real Spiritof the destination they are travelling in. Sustainable tourism is at the core of the company, with an emphasis on creating authentic holiday experiences through characterful local accommodation and homestay options as well as on-going fundraising initiatives both close to home and in each destination. Whilst there are no escorts or group travel, a hassle-free holiday experience is assured with all local arrangements booked and ticketed in advance. Local guides and drivers are also available for those looking for additional in-country insights; ensuring travellers enjoy the best of all worlds while exploring the globe.
All words by Lee Hubbard all images by Becky Padmore