Story By Barbara Angelakis
Photos by Barbara Angelakis
Additional photos by Manos Angelakis
White sand beaches to snow-capped mountains; bustling cities to golden sand dunes; deep sapphire blue ocean to rich green forests… and everywhere flowers of every hue imaginable, color the land. This is the story of Morocco!
Morocco has been blessed with abundant natural wonders, a benevolent monarchy, and a multicultural good-natured people. Whatever you are searching for, you will find in Morocco.
For the adventurous person there are any number of opportunities for surfing in sea or sand; hiking in lush mountains; exploring a cultural tapestry of the blending of Christian, Moslem and Jewish faiths; shopping for some of the world’s most authentic, hand-made items,
along with the opportunity to visit workshops where you can see raw materials turned into ‘can’t live without’ objects; and you can savor the famous Tajine style of cooking meats and vegetables under a cone-shaped ceramic hat.
Perhaps this is the only country in the world where you can spot full-grown goats standing on narrow branches high up in Argon trees nibbling on the nuts that women-run cooperatives turn into the coveted Argon Oil… of course first they have to shoo the goats away.
After visiting Casablanca, Tangier, Chefchaouen and Fez; we drove towards the Berber village of Merzouga. The road was being enlarged and unprotected drop-offs were lined with sparkling geodes and rocks to warn drivers of the danger. Along the road we encountered Berbers selling geodes of clear or amethyst crystals and 350 million year old fossils of snail ammonites, the grandfather of nautilus shells, split in half and polished to highlight the spiral patterns.
We were crossing the Middle Atlas Mountains where it had snowed the day before and we were treated to broad fields buried in pristine snow shattered only by tall evergreen trees - a bridge between the white earth and the blue sky. We stopped at one snow covered ancient forest oasis, to see the Barbary Macaques (tailless ground-dwelling old-world monkeys) entertaining the tourists. I watched as one little girl held a piece of fruit out to a baby macaque but fearfully pulled-back. The animal, impatient for his treat, impishly reached out and grabbed the fruit out of her hand, settling the interaction on his terms and leaving the child jumping with joy.
We passed hillsides covered with snow and saw people for whom snow is a novelty, taking advantage of the event by sledding down the slopes in whatever improvised carrier they could find.
Continuing on our drive, a winding strip of black road was all that broke the unending canvas of white. We passed a flock of sheep herded by dogs and their human owner. Before we climbed into the high Atlas (13,671 feet) we entered a valley with tan colored ground, the same shade as the sheep that reside there. As we climbed higher, it became strangely snow free. The Atlas range separates the coastline from the Sahara Desert. We drove past the towns of Mideit and Errachidia, with our final destination the Sahara Desert town of Erfoud.
During the 79 million year long Cretaceous period (between Jurassic and Paleocene) the mountains near Erfoud were covered by an inland sea and are today one of the richest graveyards of amphibious fossils. While enormous dinosaurs roamed the land, creatures large and small filled the seas. As the earth matured and the seas dried up, evidence of these animals were buried under tons of sediment. This area is a paradise for Marine Biologists, Geologists, and fossil seeking tourists alike. At “Macro Fossiles Kasbah” you can learn how the fossils are excavated from marble hillsides, cut, polished and formed into objets d’art. Ancient Jellyfish, Orthoceras (squid), Nautilus, Trilobites, Ammonites, etc., are seeing the light of day after some 350 million years and are being offered as souvenirs and decorative items to grace 21st century homes.
In the distance we could spy sand dunes shimmering in the heat of the sun’s rays but before reaching them a new adventure awaited us; a 4-wheel drive into the desert to meet a Berber nomadic family for tea. Riding in the desert may sound romantic but strong bones and a stronger stomach is required.
The tents were set up in a barren field with a narrow running river some yards away. Food was purchased from the weekly market along with the wool that the women turned into small carpets and prayer rugs for sale to the tourists. The children where shooed away while we sat down on hand-woven carpets covering the dirt floor for tea and to watch the women weave the goods they were hoping to sell to us… and we didn’t disappoint.
The highlight of a day filled with incredible experiences for me was the camel ride in the desert at sunset. Two camels were linked together and led by a driver wearing a blue turban – a scarf wrapped around the top of the head to keep the sun off and across the mouth to keep the fine grained sand out. Getting on and off a camel is a challenge but the drivers were up to it and so good-humored they soon had us laughing as the camel launched from the sitting into a standing position that is required to get on. The drivers ran alongside us taking pictures as we ‘Lawrenced of Arabia’ over the dunes.
Just before the sun set, we got off the camels and negotiated our way to the top of a sand dune to enjoy the ever shifting shades the light from the setting sun, created over the dunes. I had some trouble due to the fineness of the sand but not to worry, the lead driver hauled himself and me up, which was no easy task as we were laughing so hard and kept sliding backwards. Finally settled on the blanket set out for us, we grew silent to take in the experience and to feel awesome gratitude for the amazing planet we live on. After taking pictures and sliding back down to the camels that were patiently waiting for our return, we remounted and continued to make our way to the tent complex set out just below the dunes.
Welcoming us into the camp was a group of local Berber entertainers singing and drumming around a large bonfire that lit up the now pitch black sky. The tent we were assigned was far from luxurious, unlike those we experienced in other parts of Africa, but it had running water, a flush toilet, heat and a large comfortable bed. Our luggage was waiting for us and once settled we went into the food tent to see an exceptional spread of more than 30 dishes of mostly grilled, stewed or fresh vegetables, with chicken and lamb dishes for the carnivores among us. Service could not have been more pleasant with a willingness to please even though they were assaulted by languages from all over the world: English, American, Indian, French, German, Chinese as well as other Asian languages. Even our 6 a.m. next day departure did not faze them and a full breakfast buffet was laid out for us with cooked as well as cold dishes to send us on our way with filled stomachs and memories to last a lifetime.
For more Moroccan stories see:
Riad Palais Amani
For further information contact the Moroccan National Tourist Office www.visitmorocco.com
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