Driving through the High Atlas Mountains and Nomadic Cities of Morocco
Leaving Fez, we are now headed on our ascent the Middle Atlas Mountains to Azrou Midelt, the halfway point to the Sahara Desert. Right outside of Fez, we stopped at Marjane, or what I like to call the Moroccan Walmart. Here, you can literally buy anything from groceries to home appliances, but the purpose of the trip to Marjane was to buy alcohol, finally! I did not have have a single drink ever since coming to Morocco! After spending a week drinking Bordeaux wine throughout the day, I was feeling pretty thirsty. Because Morocco is a Muslim country, licenses to sell alcohol are expensive for restaurants and stores, which is why you cannot just order a beer with your meal. If you want to get drunk, you have to plan to get drunk! There was a small variety of spirits, wine, and beer at Marjane, but it was good enough to quench my thirst! I purchased a pack of beer and one bottle of wine thinking that it would be enough since Bonnie doesn't drink. As we walked out of Marjane, the guards took my receipt and destroyed it! UH... Rude! Muslims are not supposed to purchase or drink alcohol, so instead of refusing business, Marjane just gets rid of the evidence that alcohol was ever bought! haha So.. not so rude! haha
Now happily sipping on an ice cold beer in the back seat of Iddir's 4Runner, we headed to Suizzetown, the Europe of Morocco. The architecture and city layout was completely different from the towns we have been to. I was a bit confused as to where I was when I woke up from my after-beer(s) nap. We snapped a quick pic, paid 10 DH to pee at a really nasty restroom, and then off we go again!
We drove up the Middle Atlas Mountains on the windy roads through ragged rock formations, Berber villages, forests and... MONKEYS! Yes! Monkeys! Who knew ?! Right at the top of the High Atlas Mountains close to the city of Azrou, there are wild Barbary Macaque monkeys roaming around digging through the trash for food. I am not sure if you can call them "wild" as they depend mostly on the visitors for their food supply. They were very friendly monkeys that are not afraid to come up to you, so Bonnie and I had a great time having a photo shoot with these monkeys.
We hopped back into the car to continue on. As we were driving, we passed by many villages and "towns" (not sure if you can call it a 'town') which consisted of half built homes in which people were living in with no electricity. We even stopped by a Berber nomad's home, which is just a tent with dogs and chickens running around. These nomads roam the fields of the High Atlas Mountains, eating what they grow and raise and living off their means. The look on the nomad lady's face was just precious as she walked towards us. She was smiling from ear to ear, happy, content, and so kind. She even invited us into her home for some tea. Even with the little this nomadic family had, they were not just willing, but wanting to share with us. Just to see how these nomads live, with no electricity, heat, no Walmart, only carrying what they need... it is an honorable way to live.
It makes me wonder if I could let go of all the worldly things and maybe one day, I too could just live off my means, sleeping under the stars, and having the beautiful mountain scenery as my home. In the past, my mentality was always about the clothes I wear and the things I have, but as I travel more around the world and see how people live outside of America, I realize how meaningless these objects are and that there is more to life than about the things I own. The past few years, I have realized that I find more meaning to my life when spending my money on experiences and on others, rather than things for myself. Although I cannot drop everything I have to live a life as a nomad, the past year, I have been trying to let go of the American mentality and only keep the things that I absolutely love or have great meaning in my life. Countless of times when I travel, I am reminded of how blessed I am to have at least the basic necessities covered and more. Living out of a 22" suitcase for the past few years has made me realize what is essential and what is just more "stuff." I hope that I can continue to live my life to be always thankful, always giving, selfless, and without materialistic things determining my happiness.. to be able to sleep under the stars and enjoy the scenery around me, no matter where I am or what I have.
We finally made it to our hotel, Hotel Taddart, where we enjoyed a relaxing night in the middle of nowhere. We spent the night in the cave next to the pool with Iddir, drinking red wine, and talking about life experiences and plans, politics, and worldly matters. It was really a great night!
Next morning, we met Iddir's friend Ali, who is also a travel guide. Ali had a group of some cute Italians that was following the same road trip as we were, from Midlte to Erfoud to Merzouga. Both cars drove along the rocky roads overlooking the Oued Ziz valley. The weather was amazing, so we had the the windows down while we enjoyed the drive through the scenery of the desert and kasbahs with the wind blowing through our hair as we danced and sang to Iddir's playlist.
We stopped in the adobe colored city of Rissani, where they were holding the Sunday Market. This city is not the cleanest nor most developed city, but the market was interesting and lively. People everywhere selling all sorts of things. We went into the sheep, goats, and cows market where we were able to hold a cute baby lamb! Awww. Cars are really expensive in Morocco, so many people come to the market by donkey. So right next to the market, is an field of trash filled with hundreds of donkeys as their parking lot! Donkey parking lot! haha
Once we entered the the Sahara, we stopped at the camel crossing sign. There was literally not a single person or living thing in sight, perfect for a photo-op! The Sahara Desert is not what you imagine, where there are endless golden sand dunes. It's actually mostly a flat desert land with areas of sand dunes. Erg Chebbi is one of the two largest wind blown sand dunes found in Morocco. These sand dunes extend from Morocco to Algeria spanning an area of over 50 km north to south and 10km east to west. Sand dunes in Erg Chebbi can reach as high as 350m! Bonnie and I were so excited to camel trek through them! Fuck yeah!
We stopped in Merzouga, a city on the outskirts of the Sahara Desert, where we had lunch at Iddir's sister's home in a traditional Berber village. His sister was so hospitable and welcoming. She made us Moroccan salad and Berber pizza with chicken from their farm, goat cheese made from home, and veggies. For dessert, fresh fruits! So heathy and so good! Bonnie and I explored their home a bit, walking around and peeking our heads into rooms. Although they had modern day technologies like A/C and TV, their home was still very traditional with unpaved floors, cracking mud walls, outdoor hallways, and minimal furniture. Iddir's nephew's room was in the main hallway with just one bed, a chair, and two or three stuffed animals. Just like the Atlas Mountain nomads, these people live with just the bare necessities and are completely happy and content with their lives. It was extremely refreshing to see even a young boy with little to be so cheerful and glad with life. :)
We then went to the main square of Merzouga to pick out our camel swag for the camel trek! Blue turban for me, lavender turban for Bonnie! As the man at the store was arranging the turban on my head he asks me, "How many?"... I was thinking HUH? I only need one turban. Then he repeats himself... "How many?"... so I asked him, "what do you mean how many?"... He says "camels."... "camels? What do you mean camels?.... OH... I'm not for sale!" HAHAHAH! He was asking me how many camels it would take to buy my hand in marriage! OMG seriously?! haha I guess it's better than him telling me I have "nice legs like cheese" like the men in Fez said to me :mad:
With our nicely arranged turbans, we took our camel swag to Hotel Toureg where we have a room to rest, freshen up a bit, and charge our electronics before we go out on our camel trek in the desert. Hotel Toureg is an oasis outside the desert. The exterior was designed with a traditional kasbah style and the inner with a beautiful courtyard surrounding the very clean blue pool, palm trees throughout. Once we were showed into our room, there was a really funky smell in the room. But by this time, Bonnie and I were really accustomed to that funky stank since everywhere we have been has had the Africa stench. We also do not get grossed out by many things, so we just took the room for what it was, smell and all.
We hung out in our room for about 1.5 - 2 hours when Bonnie gets up and said that she will go freshen up. She goes into the bathroom, comes back out, and says in a very serious tone.. "Sophia... I found where the smells coming from." She then goes back into the bathroom. *FLUSH* She comes out of the bathroom and starts to gag, almost throwing up!! I'm on the bed thinking "UH WTF JUST HAPPENED?" Then Bonnie, gasping for air with tears starting to form in her eyes, trying to speak while gagging at the same time says, "SOPHIA... I... I... went... into the bathroom... *GAG* and.. there... was... a... shit... *GAG* in the toilet *gag*... I... I.... there was a film on the water.... and it was moldy!!!! *cries* We've been smelling the shit *gag* for over an hour with all the shit particles floating in the room!!!!! *cries*" and she continued to gag while I started to gag, so we run outside of our room to escape the who knows how long the shit particles that were floating in our room. WHO'S SHIT WAS THAT ANYWAY?! HOW LONG HAS THAT BEEN THERE?! WHY WAS THERE MOLD ON IT?! OMG.
Once we calmed down, we both look at each other and exclaim, "This is Africa!" hahaha the things that will happen to you while you travel in Africa... We tried to get back into our room, but ended up locking ourselves out. We decide to go tell Iddir about the shit in the toilet problem we had so that at least we could change rooms. We go to the main lobby where he is resting alone, and we start to say "Hey Iddir..." and then suddenly 8-9 other workers sleeping in the same room get up. OMG Do we tell him in public in front of the 8-9 people about the piece of turd in our toilet?! Do we pull him aside and tell him in private? Shit just got super awkward since 10 set of eyes were watching us and waiting for us to talk, so Bonnie and I start to laugh hysterically, which made the situation even more awkward. Iddir and the others, worried, ask "girls, what's wrong? Just tell us."
Bonnie: "Iddir... I found where the smell was coming from..." *LAUGH*
Me: "There's a shit in our toilet..."
Then all hell broke loose and everyone starts running to figure out what to do. Iddir was pissed that hotel put us in this situation and the other hotel workers found us another room for us to rest in, making sure that there was not a piece of mystery shit in our new room's toilet. It was really traumatizing for both Bonnie and I, but after the matter, it was pretty damn hilarious. It really makes you wonder, who is the owner of this shit and how long ago did the owner shit this out? Why was the room never checked in the first place? Are we going to have weird African disease after soaking in the shit particles for 2 hours? But Bonnie and I managed to be OK, physically and mentally. We explored the hotel and had a photoshop to keep our mind off things until right before sunset, where we start our journey by camel into the Sahara Desert!