While soaking up the atmosphere of Marrakech and Jemaa el-Fnaa is an experience of its own (in my previous post), there is another reason why people come all the way to this country in North Africa; The Sahara Desert.
After a couple of days in Marrakech, we decided it was time to move on. With the help of our hostel(Waka Waka), we got ourselves a 3 days Sahara Desert experience with a local company. In addition to the Sahara, we got to have views from.......
The Atlas Mountain Range
And visited film locations in Ouarzazarte....
Ait Benhaddou among the more prominent, being the film location for “The Game of Thrones, Alexander, Gladiator, the Mummy” and numerous others.
When I tell my friends the desert tour for 3 days cost an all inclusive 80 Euros, they usually respond with "Wah, so cheap!" Now, there's always a reason things are cheap. In this case, the keyword? Upselling.
We were brought to "see how Moroccan carpets are made". Interesting, but not what I signed up for. The locals then proceeded to upsell carpets to us even though we were obviously backpackers who were on a budget. "No space? No problem. You can pay by credit card!" And this was in a desert town.
(Above) City in Ouarzazarte. Making our way from the "carpet shop" to the "scarf shop"
Other than upselling, the other angle of the tour is known as "Bo Pian"; Leave you with no choice.
We were brought to "selected places for lunch". These places will set you back a minimum of 10 Euros for a main. I thought Marrakech was the tourist attraction, it cost at least twice more on this tour!
Tip: Though the tour costs 80 Euros, assume it costs a 100. (still cheap anyway, so nothing to complain about)
(Above) At one of the "rip off lunch places". At least the setting looks very "desert camp" like and has nice mountains in the background. I think this photo was more worth it than the 10 Euro i paid for the meal.
On the plus side, accomodation is a nice hotel at Dades Gorge(no hostels); Privacy at last! Our very own toilet!
From Dades Gorge, the Sahara is still at least another 8 hours of driving away. You know your reaching the Sahara when your scenery changes from.......
Buildings and Shrubs.... (below)
To just shrubs and "desert taxis"
To a solitary gas station surrounded by sand..... (and the occasional "hotel" for those with their own cars.
Oh, and I forgot to mention. Our bus broke down and we had to waste 2 hours fixing it. By some luck we still managed to make the desert halfway through sunset (not much of it left though) The pictures were slightly disappointing; or maybe I just need photography lessons.
(Above) Not a great example of the trademark "desert camel shadow" photo, but the sun was almost down by then.
(Above) The Girl preparing for the "jerk" as the guide hauls the camel to a standing position. It was her first camel ride.
(Below) Finally up!
It takes around 45mins by camel to get to the desert camp. The camel ride was just so so as it was really hard to take nice pictures while being tossed up and down on a camel.
Yeah, based on a 45min camel trek you won't be that deep in the Sahara, but the organizers will find you a nice spot nestled in the middle of the largest dunes to let you have a "I can't believe i'm in the middle of the Sahara!" kind of experience.
Sadly, this is about the only clear photo I have of the desert camp. By the time we arrived, the sun had already set and didn't know how to adjust my camera settings so I could snap evening shots.(yup,i'm a technology idiot)
A hot steaming Chicken Tagine is the Desert Meal of the Night. The feeling of sharing a meal with lots of other backpackers we didn't know yet reminded me of my National Service days; just in a desert camp instead of a mosquito infested jungle.
After dinner, everyone gathers round the fire to listen to the locals singing traditional songs, gaze up at the stars, and even, climb the dunes. It's tough, easily a 30min trudge uphill sliding on soft sand; like wading through water.
Believe me when I say there’s nothing like camping out in the desert, gazing at the stars and watching the sunset while lying on Erg Chebbi dunes. It's not something Singaporean's are going to experience by making Sydney/New York/ Tokyo their trips of the year.
But then again, part of being Singaporean is the experience of opening their credit card statement only to grumble about having to pay for that Prada bag they purchased in Milan because it was sooo.....cheap.
The whole Sahara experience ends with a camel ride back to our original starting point. This time though, its sunrise.
Instead of going back to Marrakech as part of the tour, we opted to depart straight from the desert to our next destination; The Ancient Capital of Morocoo, Fez.
(Below) Borrowed a friends photo as I didn't get a decent shot of Fez
Of course, there are bumpy roads in every trip. It turned out that as it was a public holiday, there were no buses to take us from the desert to Fez, which was 9 hours away. We paid 70 euros for the both of us to catch a taxi (with 3 other friends we met on the tour) The cost of the taxi cost 175 euros! Ouch!
(Below) Taking a break on our 9 hour taxi ride. (The old Mercedes below is known as a Grand Taxi, for long distances. My advice? Take the bus!)
On the bright side, due to the taxi sharing, we met new friends from Poland and travelled together thereafter. They were great traveling buddys! Making new friends, not aquaintances, is what you get by NOT traveling Singaporean style.