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My route between dunes and amazing cities: Morocco (Part I)

 

    Length of stay: 14 days.

    Period: February 2015.

 
In this country so close to mine I started the adventure earlier this year. It was February and there was already pretty good weather during the day, even though it rained occasionally and cooled enough at night, but you will guess after coming from living in Romania the last thing I would do it’d be complaining about having to wear a jacket or because few drops fall.

Like always, the route I did was totally improvised. I had only a one-way ticket and I knew I would have a little less than three weeks since my girlfriend had joined the adventure and had the return flight from Sevilla (Low-cost things, it was cheaper to cross the Strait of Gibraltar by ferry and catch a plane from Seville than from any other airport in the north of Morocco). To cut this long post I decided to divide the route into two parts. In the first part we will reach Merzouga, and in the second we will continue the adventure to the north of Morocco to leave the country through the strait.

So the first part of the route remained like this:


 

    Marrakesh

I took the plane in Barcelona and in a few hours I got to the center of this beautiful city. It was a Tuesday night, the airport bus had left me in the famous Djemaa El-Fna square and I could not believe my eyes: it seemed a summer night of a weekend from a spanish town. People out there, some selling in stalls, others eating, some singing, some dancing … You may want to call this pure joy. This square and its environment, that obviously continued like this the other days and nights, had already stolen my heart.
 

The city is divided into two parts: the medina, ie ancient and historic city, and the Ville Nouvelle, built by the French in the years of colonial rule.

In the medina you will find thousands of things to do and visit, each one more interesting. Starting from the main square, that we have already mentioned, will follow the souks, the Ben Youssef Madrasa (one of the largest in North Africa), also the mosques of Ben Youssef and Koutoubia (Inspiration of the Giralda in Seville!), the Saadian tombs (be prepared to queue!) and finally the palaces of Bahia and Badi.
 

The Ville Nouvelle is the other side of the coin. A new area with apartment blocks, wide avenues, large international hotels and restaurants everywhere. As far as it concerns me, it’s not an attractive place to see at all. What could be saved of the area would be the Majorelle gardens, although I do not consider them a must-see, it’s always good to relax a bit and take some time to get away from the bustle of the Medina.
 

    Essaouira

Essaouira for me was that town that I did not know its name before getting to Morocco, I was told about it, I went there to see what there was there and loved it. In fact I liked it so much, that even if it was not what I liked most about Morocco, I dedicated my second post of this blog to it!

After what was said there, there is little left for me to say about this pretty little fishing village, that with strong winds blowing its coast and a sandy beach 4 km long, is also a major tourist destination for surfers.
 

    Ait Ben Haddou

After visiting Essaouira we went back to Marrakesh to begin to go south towards the Sahara.
The first stop was at the Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou which is located on the edge of the High Atlas Mountains and is one of the best preserved Ksar across the country. The Ksar is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat and is composed of a fortified city walls, houses and other common structures such as mosques, ovens and baths, built absolutely everything with the compound that is created by mixing clay, sand, water and straw.

The city, as seen in the photo is amazing and the fact that they are made of adobe does not mean that the buildings don’t have all kinds of detail. Walking around in this amazing ksar will give you the feeling of having traveled back in time several centuries ago.
Across the river, a new town was constructed where most of the inhabitants have moved there but eight families who decided to live in Ksar and they still do today.
For all this, almost three decades ago was considered World Heritage by UNESCO, and today is also known for having been the setting for many films, the most famous Gladiator.
 

    Ouarzazate

We continued south until we reached Ouarzazate, also known as the gateway to the desert because from here you can continue further south and go to Zagora to enter the desert, or continue east and get to Merzouga, to be even more stuffed into the desert.

Being so, this city is usually frequented only passing by and the most important things to do visit are a cinema museum and a small fort made of adobe called Taourirt.
 

    Dades gorges

We continue to the east towards Merzouga, as we wanted to get really in the middle of the desert. On the way we found the Dades Gorge, a deep ravine located in the High Atlas, where the river Dades passes.

It is well known due to the strange shape of the rocks, called “monkey fingers”. The place is really beautiful and definitely a place to lose a whole day climbing up and down, but since we had to get to the next town to sleep there before it got dark, we had to give a quick lap.
 

    Tinghir

We continued until we reached Tinghir, the so-called capital of nomadism. This city is surrounded between the ridges of the High Atlas and the Middle Atlas, and hence derives its name: Tinerhir means “the one with the mountains” in Berber language.

As you can imagine, if it was considered important for the nomadic tribes was because there was a large oasis. It had dimensions of about 35 km long and a few wide and back in its time was divided between the families that were lodged here. Even today many of them belong to the descendants of those Berber tribes and the economy of the region is still maintained by agriculture and dates, that the ones of this region have a very good reputation.
The city itself has grown in recent decades, and without counting some Kasba, has almost nothing to see.
 

    Merzouga

And finally we got to the desert, or what we might call the last door, or rather, the big door to the Moroccan Sahara: Merzouga.
This is the largest city in Erg Chebbi, the desert area in which we find ourselves. The views are incredible and something to dream about, with its huge and magic dunes everywhere, a blazing sun that falls very hard on you, dromedaries everywhere and pure air as in few other places in Morocco. Even if this town is in the same desert, you can find whatever you want such as hotels, hostels or restaurants, as it is well prepared for tourists, although I sincerely recommend you to go to sleep at any of the camps in the desert.

Spending two days there was magical, because what I said before about the incredible views of dunes it was now multiplied tenfold, since next to you there was nothing but a canvas tent for several people and desert everywhere, no matter you go. There is nothing, but nothing, like climbing one of the very high dunes you’ll find there and watch the sun rising or hiding behind distant and more distant dunes. And once the sun is down, nothing like lying in the cold desert sand and do nothing but keep quiet seeing such a starry sky.

Whatever you want to do there, like a ride with dromedary, go crazy with a quad, surf in the dunes of the desert, or wallow in them, is up to you, but I think that what should be non-negotiable is to sleep out there in the camp, because the peace and tranquility that you will find there you will not get anywhere else.

Well, here the first part of my trip to Morocco! In the second part, I will explain how I crossed to the North continuing squeezing the incredible landscapes and cities of Morocco until I reached the Strait of Gibraltar to end up crossing it to Andalusia.

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