Today was our first day to head out into the Sahara. Before heading out, I needed to take my first lesson in Morrocan economics. Morroco is a cash driven country, and apparently, this extends to travel tours. I learned this the hard way as the tour guide expected our payment for the 3-day tour in cash. With some difficulty, I was able to cobble together enough cash to make the payment. However, this left me low on cash reserves, which led to my second lesson in Morrocan economics.
Despite my experience in other countries, Moroccan ATMs only accept chip-based ATM cards, and our slow bank has not yet adopted them. So, here we are, in Morroco, depleted cash reserves, a useless ATM card, getting ready to head out into the Sahara dessert for three days. The situation wasn’t dire, but it was uncomfortable not having a reserve of cash “just in case.”
We headed off from Marrakech toward the High Atlas Mountains. The drive is pretty unremarkable until you start the ascent up the mountain. The road carves it’s way up the mountain alongside riverbeds that are mostly dry this time of year with small villages dotted along the path. Occasional roadside viewing locations have at least one vendor selling rocks, pottery, or other handmade items.
The road through the High Atlas is undergoing a massive construction project to improve and widen the road. As we approached the apex of the crossing, we could see the progress of this project.
As you cross from the North face to the South face of the High Atlas mountains, the terrain changes subtly to more arid dessert. There are fewer trees on the South face, and they are noticeably smaller. We did see signs of a few Apiaries on this side of the mountain and wondered how hard the bees must work to live here. Much like the human inhabitants.
Our first stop for the day was at Ait-Ben-Hadou (ABH for short). To get to ABH, we turned off the main road and followed a bumpy path through the dessert, linking up to another road, leading into the town.
ABH is a Unesco World Heritage site and is a beautiful example of an old (500 years) Berber village. It is also a site where scenes from many movies have been filmed, including Gladiator, The Mummy, Jewel of the Nile, etc.
After touring the ABH site, we walked back across the river and enjoyed a nice tagine lunch.
Long ride through dessert, changing terrain
Drive up Dades Gorge
Dinner at Hotel, traditional Moroccan.
After a short layover in Madrid and a quick flight into Marrakech, we arrived at the airport, changed our money and checked into the Le Meridian Hotel. We dropped our bags off and hailed a cab to take us into Jama El-Fna square where we walked around a bit.
In the square, it is hectic and busy with performers, vendors, and very pushy salesmen working to get your attention. Once they catch your focus, it is very difficult to get away. I am sure we were busy to spot as the whole experience is very overwhelming.
We walked back to the hotel to take a nap and rest a bit before dinner. Our dinner was at a Lebanese restaurant near our hotel. The food was very good, but lots of vinegar.
We headed to bed to get some rest as our next day we head out early over the mountains into the Sahara desert.
We took a quick weekend trip over to Bidwell Point at Norfork lake to do a shakedown of the camper and all of our gear. We were very fortunate that a terrific spot opened up just as we got there, as the spot we had reserved was not terribly good.
It was a quick trip, but we had a lot of fun. Mom and Dad joined us for dinner one night, and Richard and Bessie for breakfast the next morning.