Africa would be an ambitious trip to squeeze into four days. This trip was a debut visit for the both of us and the excitement and nervousness that accompanies a new experience was full tilt. Our agenda would be focused on spending as much time in the Sahara Desert as possible. As with most new experiences in strange and unfamiliar places, this simple task alone would take the better part of two days to accomplish. In my initial research into camping in the Sahara, I failed to comprehend that the short distance between Marrakesh and the desert on a map actually equated to long hours in a car. Usually traveling long distances by car isn’t optimal for short trips like this for many reasons but we chose to make it work for us and found that it actually gave us an in-depth view of the geology, landscapes, and life of Morocco.
Our harebrained scheme would start the moment we got off the plane. We jumped immediately into an SUV and made a B-Line for the desert. Chtukie was the driver's name, and we’d be at his mercy for the next three days. As soon as we exited the airport parking lot, through the protesting people, we were quickly aware that we are strangers here. The feeling of being entirely out of your element initially brought on a rush of excitement that would eventually morph into this crazed want to learn about our new environment. For the next four days, we’d travel through some strangely familiar landscapes that showed us a very unfamiliar way of life.
From Marrakesh, our first drive would take over the High Atlas mountains through villages and towns where daily life was visible for our foreign eyes to behold. Cars were no longer the preferred mode of transportation, and everyone was working on what life required of them at the moment. Cleaning clothes, cooking food, moving goods or supplies by foot or mule, children leaving school and hanging out in the parks. Life seemed to go on as it had for the last century. Did water, food, and shelter seem conveniently available? From my experience in life, no. But again, I ’m out of my element, and everything my brain was comprehending was new and strange. Our final destination (six hours later) was the village of Agdz where we arrived in time for mint tea before a delicious dinner and a good nights sleep.
Before we’d reach the end of the road in Mhamid and start our journey into the Sahara, we had to travel a reasonable length of the Draa Valley and witness the 300 million palm trees that inhabit the valley. Seeing so much life in the desert is astounding. We made a quick stop for water and material for a turban in Mhamid before hitting the sand of the Sahara. Life again changed in an instant. The landscape was suddenly vast and open with views back to the Atlas Mountains in one direction and endless views of sand and dunes for far as the eye could see ahead. Groups of Nomads had camps set up while others could be seen on the horizon moving through the desert to points unknown. We still had another 3 hours of traversing dunes and dried lake beds before we’d reach camp for the night.
Erg Chigaga suddenly appeared in our view and the relaxing feeling we remembered from the desert took over. Our camp was a top-notch set up with private tents, a bar, and plenty of room to relax. We had to frequently remind ourselves we had somehow made it into the middle (literally) of the Sahara Desert. Never thought that would happen. We’d have less than 18 hours to soak up the peace and absolute silence of the Sahara. Fortunately, time slowed down for us and we felt that our time there was correctly spent roaming through the dunes by foot or camel, eating, watching the sunset and sunrise, and just being out there in the moment. It was everything we could have wanted in a Sahara Desert camping experience. The staff was amazing and took such great personal care of us we were floating on cloud nine.
Our last day in the car was going to be a big one back to Marrakesh from our desert camp. We’d continue west through the desert for another 3 hours before we’d meet pavement again and continue five more hours back to the city and our Riad for the night. The drive into the Medina (old city) of Marrakesh was quite the experience. People, animals, cars, moped, and carts filled any available space in the streets, and suddenly we didn’t have Chtukie anymore. Welcome to Marrakesh! Our Riad (hotel) situation was a bit of a shitshow, and by the time we knew up from down, we were suddenly following a man pushing a cart full of other peoples baggage to what we hoped was our Riad. The walk through the tiny streets of the Medina behind this gentleman was something I’ll never forget. I’ve never felt so out of place and stunned by my surroundings in my life. I was on sensory overload and still somehow kept up with a little old man careening his way through the chaos in the streets. Of course, we found the Riad and managed to not get lost before finding a nice meal for our last night in Africa.
I’m not sure the extent of this trip to Africa had really sunk in for us. We indeed had a fantastic time. The trip was an exciting way to see a vast new place with not one dull moment. North Africa is someplace I’d see us revisiting, especially since there is mountain biking here, but this trip alone has had such an impression on us that somehow the need to get back to this strange continent has become a priority.
Since I was utterly lost for about 98% of this trip, I put together a map showing our route to and from the Sahara so I could get a better understanding where the "F” I was. Hopefully, it helps you too. The map should open up and give you the ability to look closer at the details. Enjoy
Red points were used both ways of travel
Yellow points are Day 1 only
Green points are Day 2 only
Orange points are Day 3 only