FEATURES

MEMORIES OF MOROCCO By Chris John Millington

01.04.16

"I loved every moment in Morocco. As soon as I arrived I knew that the entire experience would become a learning opportunity and an enriching journey. I met some truly incredible and inspiring people. The communities in rural Morocco are built on such local values, something that I think we often forget in the western world. It was nice to experience an entirely different viewpoint on the world, on life."

We landed in the city of Marrakesh where our guide, Mohammed, greeted us with open arms. Our journey had begun. With no time to waste we hit the road, the drive would take us three days to complete. Our first destination? The city of Ouarzazate. Travelling from the warmth of the city, we manoeuvred through narrow hillside roads frosted with pearl white snow. Eventually we arrived at the High Atlas Mountains which reach a peak of  2260m in Tizi n‘Tichka.

 

 

After two hours we made our first stop on a small, winding road that looked out onto the hillside town of Al Haouz - Zerkten. It was there that we met Omar, a trader who sold minerals from the Atlas Mountains. We were told that these rocks were a traditional way to make a living in the area, holding great value despite their humble price in local currency.

 

Our break for lunch took us to a small settlement of businesses that looked like a sparse collection of houses at the side of a narrow road. Beside a restaurant - where we shared the most amazing Moroccan tagine - was a small and locally-adored shop. It was the original and authentic home and workshop of the world-famous Moroccan argan oil. Inside, one of the workers guided us through the delicate process of how argan oil is made.

 

After lunch we continued our journey, travelling over the High Atlas Mountains for several hours in pursuit of the orange and red landscapes that we had come for. Before arriving at our destination for the night, we visited the Ksar of Aït Benhaddou. We climbed to the top of the small hill to enjoy a beautiful Moroccan sunset, our journey was unfolding in spectacular fashion.

 

Once we had arrived in Ouarzazate we enjoyed a traditional Moroccan meal at our hotel before heading to bed, ensuring that we got a good night’s rest before the early rise that lay ahead.

Starting our day at 6am we embarked on a long and unrelenting drive towards the Sahara Desert. Barely stopping along the way, we briefly witnessed some of Morocco’s most famous areas. We drove through the Rose Valley which is a beautiful pathway of rose fields where rose oil and water are traditionally made. We quickly learned that we were witnessing the town during the blossom’s off-season. Despite this the stores, decorations and signage that covered the nearby area told the story of how the Rose Valley employed the people of the town.

 

Next we headed towards Todgha El Ouua, (Ouarzazate). Here we explored the remarkable valleys and the river which ran throughout the deepest depths of the red stone. We were met by a large herd of goats that gathered by the river to drink water before they settled down in the sunshine.

 

We were close, the Gates of the Desert were only a few hours away. We crossed the gateway and were invited into Mohammed’s home. He welcomed us inside for a traditional Berber meal which he had requested specially for us from a local bakery. He promised us of a meal of 50 different desert spices. It did not disappoint. This level of hospitality was something that we had become accustomed to, these Berber men had welcomed us into their community with open arms and the love that we felt in the presence of our companions, was heartfelt and sincere.

 

 

With little time to waste, we continued on our journey toward the Merzouga Desert just in time to catch sunset - on camel-back of course. Led by a young camel shepherd, we rode over the dunes of the Sahara until we reached our resting place in the heart of the Sahara desert. The surreal nature of what we were doing was now very much apparent. We laughed together in the realisation that we were experiencing life-altering events and we had been from the moment we arrived in Morocco.

 

We continued towards small collection of tents in the centre of the sands, with running taps, electrical appliances and adequate storage space they provided us with a level of luxury that we simply could never have expected from such a primitive location of rest. We were welcomed at the camp with such kindness and generosity by Mohammed’s colleagues. A night of music, dancing and star gazing in the middle of the desert lay ahead. It was a true experience that none of us will never forget as we were all so humbled and thankful for all that was happening.

After a night's stay under the stars, we gathered our things and began our return journey, this time on an alternative route toward the Atlas Mountains. For breakfast, we enjoyed Moroccan tea and a mountain of local crepes with honey. It was gluttonous, it was marvellous.

 

With the journey now taking us west, we set off on a new direction to see more of the beautiful country. We could not wait. The next stop was a small break at a local restaurant that looked onto the Moroccan palm tree forest of Zagora. There was a spectacular view of sharp green leaves for miles. We were surprised with more of the traditional cuisine, tagine and meat kebabs with fresh vegetables all grown from the forest that we looked out upon.

 

For the final length of road on our journey back to Marrakesh, we drove for 4 long hours until we reached the Dades Valleys, or the “Grand Canyon of Morocco” as Mohammed liked to describe it. We spent some time enjoying an incredible sunset as we took whatever photographs that we could, salvaging the last opportunities of the most spectacular landscapes any of us had ever seen. We could see the silhouette of Marrakesh in the distance, flickering in the heat of the plains. A fantasist’s mirage almost, far removed from anything we’d seen in our short time in rural Morocco. We were headed back to the city but I think our hearts remained in the desert.