Tuesday 12 May 2009

Ouarzazate aka Moroccan Hollywood (Day 13)

After a a long (6 hour) ride from Erfoud to Ouarzazate we didn't have much trouble finding a suitable hotel.
Our Lonely Planet guide book proved to be quite handy once again. This time Hotel Royal was our choice. It proved to be OK but not much more.

It was still early when we got up and headed for the Ouarzazate Grand Taxi station on the next morning.
We were expecting another bargaining session and we were right. As soon as we got there we found someone who would be very happy to take us to Ait Benhaddou. This was our destination of the day.
I thought it would be easier to lower the starting price for the ride there and back. The story was, M. and I would have to pay for all six (yes that's 6!) places in an old Mercedes (you can read more about grand taxi habits in Morroco in this post).
Although many of the drivers standing around were assuring us that definitely there were no other passengers going our way, we decided to hang around for a bit longer and wait for someone willing to share a ride with us.

We didn't have to wait long. Soon a foreign looking group of three stepped out of a petit taxi. We approached them before anyone else started talking to them. As we expected, they were also heading our way and it didn't take us long to arrange a ride.

During a ride to Ait Benhaddou in an old Mercedes we learned, that father and daughter of Korean origin were coming from US and have a local guide with them to show them around. We were told he was a friend of a friend and a really valuable asset when traveling around Morocco.

After a photo stop or two we arrived to our destination and went on a quick tour around the city made out of mud. It was quite interesting and soon we realized residents are probably never bored. The walls have to be constantly repaired - they are damaged every time it rains. Luckily that is not too often.
We saw a group of locals preparing the muddy mix. Most walls are obviously made from such a mix of mud, water, straw and supported by wood. Supposedly only nine families live in the mud city today and they are trying to keep it in a reasonably good shape.

This UNESCO site is often used as a movie set and is quite famous.

On the way back we passed Atlas Studios and we decided to check it out. They offer guided tours around most of the movie sets still standing today. Some of those are really old (for instance the F16 airplane from the 1985 movie The Jewel of the Nile is in a pretty sad state), others were reasonably new.
We also saw other famous movie sets (Gladiator, Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatre, Kundun etc.) of which the most fascinating was a real-size castle for The Kingdom of Heaven. Supposedly it was built for 20 minutes of the movie.

Despite a 50 Dirham entrance fee per person and a pretty touristy feel to it, we still liked it (after all it was the single one attraction of this type on our three week trip).

Potential visitors beware: Because of the price and at moments a bit industrial feel to it, some of you might see Atlas Studios as a tourist trap.

After a quick tour of the studios (our guide was constantly rushing us from set to set) we caught a city bus to our hotel. After a quick stop we went out to grab something to eat. Since we still didn't have enough of attractions for one day, we walked to the city Kasbah. Kasbah of Ouarzazate is supposedly the largest in Morocco. It truly is magnificent!

After this we were really exhausted and literally fell into bed. We slept like dead until the morning.


Sunday 12 April 2009

Flies come with the season of dates (Day 12)

Once again a swarm of annoying flies woke me up half an hour before sunset. It was impossible to ignore them, so I got up.

I found it quite strange to see so many flies in the middle of the desert. Later that day I asked one of our Berber guides about those annoying creatures. He explained that in the desert with the season of dates also comes the season of flies. Obviously those few palm trees we saw had dates on them almost ready to be picked.

Since just getting up was not enough to shake off all those flies, I grabbed my trusty Olympus photo camera, a bottle of water and headed up a nearby dune.

Flies followed me almost all the way up. At the top I just sat in the sand and simply enjoyed the silence. It is almost unbelievable how quiet it can be in the desert. I guess one could feel really alone on one side of a dune even with a group of drunken Scots attending a death-metal concert on the other side of it.

It really reminded me of those winter days with heavy snowfall, which muffles all the sounds of nature... without all that snow of course.

There was not even a bird to disturb this atmosphere. As a matter of fact, I was looking closely for some kind of a sign an animal left in the sand. All I could find in three days were dromedary tracks, dromedary droppings and some kind of desert-bug tracks.
I was also expecting to find at least some snake and desert fox tracks.

While soaking in the peaceful atmosphere and heat from the rising sun, I took some nice photos.
It is hard to resist pressing on the photo trigger all the time while in an environment so picturesque and unusual (for me anyway).

Before I knew it, it was time for breakfast again. I was the same as the day before, but we didn't complain because it was quite delicious. After cleaning up the table we formed our little desert caravan for the last time and headed back to where we started - Auberge LaBaraka.

A couple of days ago, when we were getting ready for the two night desert trip, we were a bit worried about different disadvantages of being in the saddle for too long (for instance heavy butt and leg pains). I think it is safe to say that none of us had any problems of that kind.
Also my clothes didn't smell so bad as I feared they would. Dromedaries were obviously well cared for.

When we got back to Auberge LaBaraka we had a hot shower, drank a pool of water and just relaxed in a shade for a while.

After a short discussion M. and I both agreed to leave on a first bus to Ouarzazate. Our friends from Switzerland also thought it would be better to move on. They even agreed to drop us off at the Erfoud bus station, to where we got just in time to catch the bus.

We kissed goodbye and left separate ways again. We were really sad to part with them. They were really nice and fun to be with. Andrea, Simone and Kim: thanks once again for everything!
We were sad to leave the dunes of Erg Chebbi behind, but there was so much of Morocco left to explore and (as always) so little time.

Together with M. we just had to agree that visiting a real sandy desert is such a strong experience, everyone who can afford it should do it at least once in a lifetime.
To really get a feel of it, you should stay at least a couple of nights.

This post belongs to a series of posts about our Moroccan adventure. If you liked the post, you should probably click on the suggested link to check out the rest of our trip.


Tuesday 31 March 2009

The dunes of Erg Chebbi (Day 11)

We were riding for the most of the morning (you can check out photos in one of my previous posts) and have made only a short stop. The first real stop for a longer rest was at a small Berber settlement. There was a group of some five tents set up, obviously in use by a small family and a herd of goats.

After a while they served us fresh salad made of tomatoes, red and green peppers, cucumbers, onions and olives. It was very refreshing and exactly what we needed at that time.

I also spotted what seemed to be some kind of a traditional Berber oven. It was standing in the opened, but was unfortunately not in use at that moment.

A young Berber boy was running around all the time, hoping to get some attention. He was quite cute and soon we were all trying to entertain him in one way or another. I for instance tried to show him how to make paper aeroplanes. He was quite excited about it... for a minute or two maybe.
Half a pack of wafers got his attention for much longer.

When the scorching heat eased for a bit, it was time to move on. We boarded our desert ships and headed for another Berber camp. We got there just before sunset.

We climbed up another dune to watch the sun set. This time we chose a smaller heap of sand. Unfortunately also the sunset couldn't measure to the spectacular sunrise in the morning. When talking to our companions from Switzerland time really flew by. We learned that being the same age in spite of growing up in a totally different country (when M. and I were kids we were living in a socialist republic of Yugoslavia) our childhoods have not been so different. We played the same games, liked similar stuff and did the same things we were not supposed to.

Before we knew it, it was time for food again. We were already quite hungry by then and whatever was on the menu, it was smelling nice.

When we dug into the Couscous we were unpleasantly surprised. We found out it was quite generously seasoned with fine desert sand. It was creaking and squeaking while we were grinding through our dinner. It was quite amusing to watch faces others were making.

Before we turned in for the night we tried to solve a bunch of impossible riddles supposedly invented by Berbers a long time ago.
If you spend your whole life in the desert it is not hard to imagine that making up impossible to solve riddles is just one of the ways to keep you going.

It was already late when we finally decided to crawl into our sleeping bags and fall asleep looking at the starry sky.

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