We began the next phase of our Moroccan journey very early in the morning because our guide, Omar, wanted to arrive at the Sahara in time for dinner and it was a long drive through the Atlas Mountains. The terrain changed from rolling fields to cedar forests. These are the true cedars (Genus Cedrus) as in “The Cedars of Lebanon”. It was quite a pleasant surprise to stop at the wealthy, French-inspired city, Ephron where the air was quite chilly so we knew we were gaining elevation. The highway became more and more winding, forests gave way to rocky hillsides, and nomadic campsites appeared. We stopped for picnic supplies because we weren’t going to see any restaurants for quite a while. Medilt is the apple capital of Morocco and there is a giant apple sculpture in the middle of a roundabout, very similar to the berry sculpture in Abbotsford!
The 15 passenger bus was comfortable and the driver, Rashid, was efficient and professional but it was very hot, windy, sandy and barren so we were relieved to arrive at our resort, Auberge Rose (pink hotel), a low-rise, crenulated adobe series of rooms around a central parking lot and courtyard with swimming pool. A camel caravan was just heading out and we were spellbound by the timeless image of turbaned travellers heading out into the shifting sand. Tomorrow it would be us!
After a now-familiar breakfast of boiled eggs, pastries, yogurt and cafe au lait, we opted for a 4×4 excursion around the dunes. A nomad family welcomed us with mint tea and we lounged under a dark wool tent on a floor of layered carpets. The children were fascinated by our iPads and cell phones. Then, we visited a cafe in a tiny, rustic village to enjoy the live, mesmerizing music of a popular group, Pigeons du Sable.
Now the shadows were lengthening. We donned our turbans; and our attentive group of mostly women mounted camels and proceeded single-file into a magical past of Arabian nights! Camels grunted and farted and riders giggled nervously. After an hour and a half we disembarked at an oasis with every amenity! We slept under the stars and in the morning, Omar woke us while it was still dark so we could watch the sun rise over the dunes from the backs of our camels.
We were wistful to leave the Sahara but there was still so much to experience: a huge rose festival; walking through the magnificent Todra Gorges; hiking up to a citadel at the top of an ancient kasbah; trekking and mule-riding to spend the night in a guest house at the base of the second-highest mountain in Africa; strolling the Atlantic beach of the charming seaside city of Essouira; and wrapping up our tour with a couple of bustling days of haggling for bargains in the giant city of Marrakech.
As a group of women, we somehow expected the Muslim country of Morocco to be unwelcoming but men and women, both, were very welcoming and friendly. The hotel and restaurant employees did all they could to ensure our comfort. One moment stuck out for all of us: an older woman in full black burka heard the music emanating from our bus on the way back from dinner one late night; she waved and started dancing on the street!
Thanks go to Kathy Hannah of Roblin Travel, and G-Adventures (a Canadian company) who made it possible for our group to gain some insight into the wonders and mystery of Morocco.