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Fuad at the Riad Dar Limoun was kind enough register me for an overnight camel trekking tour on the edge of the Sahara. The tour company (Anodo) sent a guy on a motorcycle to pick me up at the hotel. We loaded in to a 15-passenger mini-bus and set out for Zagora, a small town near the edge of the Sahara. To get there, we had to traverse the Atlas Mountains. BTW: Having driven for thirty years, or so, I never knew you could remove all danger from passing on a double line, on a blind curve, on a high mountain road just by tapping your horn twice and starting your passing maneuver.
After dropping down out of the mountains, we stopped in Ait Ben Haddou, a filming location for many notable films: "Gladiator", "Kingdom of Heaven", "Lawrence of Arabia", "The Mummy" and others.
Apparently a new movie set under construction at Ait Ben Haddou.
After the tour, we had a Tagine for lunch, before getting back on the road for the final four-hour push to Zagora.
Tagine Kefta (Ground Meat: Beef and/or Lamb)
I had hoped we would be at out Berber camp in the desert in time for "Golden Hour" so that I could shoot the dune with some warm, raking light, but the longer we drove the longer the shadows were getting and I was growing more certain, by the moment, that today's intended photographs were not going to happen. Once we arrived in Zagora, we were shown to a "super market" (smaller than most US convenience stores) where we could purchase water and those who had not previously purchased a shemagh were directed to a shop "conveniently" across the street where they were told to purchase one. Having read other tour vendors' websites, I bought one in Marrakech, but those who didn't bring one paid the same (50 MAD, or $6.25) for a plain white piece of cloth, hacked off at an apparently random length. By the time we finally saddled up, we were getting well into "Blue Hour" and it was apparent we would not make camp before nightfall. However, it was a pleasant two-hour ride from our drop-off point to the Berber camp.
As soon as we arrived, a strict program of drink tea, have dinner (Tagine Chicken with potatoes, carrots, onions and olives), more tea and entertainment around the [concrete) fire pit was enforced. I don't know if it's to keep people from getting bored, to keep people out of trouble or actual Berber/Taureg tradition, but it was way too fast-paced for me. (Maybe I've been in Germany too long, but it seemed like a rushed evening.) While we were having our after dinner tea, one of our hosts drug over some branches and tossed them on the fire pit. Once the fire was going, we were directed to sit on the four large carpets surrounding the fire pit and were entertained with traditional nomadic songs until the fire died away to embers.
I had wondered what the sanitary conditions might be, but it turned out this was a more commercial venture than I had expected. There was a concrete-floored "facilities" tent with toilets, showers and sink. The water wasn't hot, but it was running. The main/dining tent and the four to five-person sleeping tents were all metal-framed, but covered with traditional Moroccan fabric to appear as authentic as possible. As best as I could tell without pealing back the rugs, all buildings, er "tents", had concrete floors. The sleeping arrangement was co-ed on single mattresses on the floors. Sheets, blankets and pillows with, albeit sand-covered, pillowcases were provided. The tent was hot from baking in the sun all day, so I opted to sleep under the stars. This worked out well, sInce I had planned to shoot Star Trails, anyway. I sent my camera on its way and curled up beside it on the ground, wrapping myself in the provided blanket, using my polar fleece as a pillow and wrapped my shemagh around my head to maintain warmth. I woke up around 4:00 to the snarls of wild dogs fighting not too far in the distance. I checked my camera, only to find out it stopped shooting at only 33 frames! At this point, the moon was shining bright and there was no hope for Star Trails, so I went back to sleep.
Staged Berber camp. Sleeping under the stars in the Sahara.
I set my phone to wake me just before sunrise and the Sahara did not disappoint.
We had a quick breakfast of flatbread, butter, jams and coffee and saddled up for what was supposed to be two hour return trip. I had planned to tip our hosts anyway, but typical of what I've experienced in Marrakech, everyone has their hand out. These guys were no exception; there was a basket on the sand as we topped the dune to mount out camels. Although I didn't time it, our return journey could not have been more than 45 minutes, as we met our mini-bus on the same road on which we were dropped off, but much closer to the camp. It was enjoyable, but not as advertised AND restated by the Berber guide when the saddled up in the evening. Although the 600 dirham ($75) fee covered two days of vehicle travel, with driver, breakfast and dinner, entertainment and camel ride was well worth the money, I was disappointed and felt a bit cheated out of the full "main attraction," especially considering we were two days on the road for the camel trekking experience.
Part of the enjoyment of this visit was the great people in the group: British, German, Japanese, Polish, and Spanish.
All things considered, this was an amazing trip and I appreciate the fine staff of the Riad Dar Limoun for scheduling it for me.
Oh, in case you're thinking about trying that passing trick, it doesn't always work...
I am blogging this trip to build content and traffic for my website. Please visit my gallery to see my best images of Morocco. Feel free to comment.