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In the desert you may see bizarre rock formations that seem eerily “constructed” somehow or nomad frames made from acacia wood that curiously remind you of a camel or of some kind of fantastic beast. The spiritual vastness is omnipresent especially at sunrise and sunset.

On the way down to the desert we will visit Ait-Ben-Haddou about 3.5 hours driving from Marrakech, an ancient hillside town and a UNESCO world heritage site.

Wearing an Akubra with Ait Ben Haddou as the backdrop. You can’t get much more “Aussies In Morocco Tours” than that! Bear in mind that if you accept the helping hands of the children over the little stream on the way to the site they will each expect a coin from you. The local guides have often been extras in movies filmed there and know all about good camera angles for photos they take of you.

 

Overnight in the Dades Gorges

We will stay a little further on in the Dades Gorges at an artist-owned-and-operated guest house or perhaps at a charming “dar” replete with Amazigh motifs and a lush garden. (We explain what a “dar” is in another blog post here.). Dinner that evening will be at the accommodation. There is no restaurant scene to speak of in this part of the country. You will have been travelling for most of the day too whilst being sensorily bombarded and will likely appreciate a quiet night “in” to absorb what you’ve been experiencing.

After breakfast the next morning in a most picturesque setting, we will commence the final leg of our journey to the desert.

On the way we will picnic early-ish at a little gorge nearby, with only each other and the birds for company, and perhaps later the women who come to do their washing there. Cara will read you a story from her book of Marrakech tales in which King Mohammed has written a forward, as you sip on your tea and snack on your homemade Moroccan sweets.

This is a gorge where Cara once shared a picnic with a friend and her son. It was quiet except for the soft sound of the water and the birds. Cara closed her eyes and then opened them to see silently wading through the water were two Moroccan ladies, each with a pile of sticks on her back. The stream was clearly also a thoroughfare. They were happy for a photo to be taken provided they were paid dirhams for the privilege, which occurred. We publish this photo with total respect for the dignity of the women of Morocco. (For those of you struggling to see the ladies, the one in front is wearing a dark headscarf and the lady behind her is wearing a white headscarf)

Or, we could instead visit the cave nomads who live in the area and whose photographs appear here. It is really up to the consensus of the group as to which activity you participate in. Cara will give you the pros and cons of each option before you need decide. There is however unlikely to be sufficient time to do both. It is impossible to see and do everything in a country in the time available to us for this experience. You might need to do another tour with us to experience the alternatives to which we refer that you don’t experience this time.

Three nights based in Hassilabied (with an overnight in the desert)

With a view to arriving mid-late afternoon, we drive for about 4 hours from Dades Gorges onto Dali’s desert – to Hassilabied (“white well” in Arabic, and white due to salt deposits in the well in times past). We’ll stop off at a luxury dar there to drop off our luggage, use the bathroom and have a mint tea, before making our way into the desert later in the day to stay with the nomads. We can’t guarantee you will see a rock formation that reminds you of a Dali, but we can guarantee the feeling of spirituality that Dali conveys – just open your soul to it. See our blog post about when Cara stayed with the nomads here.

If roughing it overnight with the nomads is not for you, you can stay at a luxury camp instead, with an en-suite in each tent, at the foot of the dunes. The shapes cast by your camel caravan in the late afternoon may remind you of Dali’s strange creatures with their elongated shadows. Then relax and enjoy the sunset over the dunes, followed by an evening of dinner, fire and music under the stars.

The next day we regroup to pay a visit to the ancient rock engravings of animals at Taouz, and for lunch at Café Tissardmine owned and operated by an Australian lady, an artist, for many years by the edge of the dunes. We mention her establishment and display some photographs of it in Part 3 of our More Depth Less Surface series in our blog post, here.  This night will be at the luxury dar.

The following day you’ll enjoy an air-conditioned 4WD ride to see at least one of three gigantic art installations in the desert. They were created in the 1980s and seem otherworldly. Where possible you can wander around and  through them and see what we have seen as mentioned in part 4 of our More Depth Less Surface blog post series here. Alternatively we can take you to visit the famous Rissani markets mentioned by Cara in the blog post here and photographed by her as appears here.   You may prefer to spend a quiet day at the dar to do your hand washing, take a dip in the pool and have a local lady give you a henna tattoo, or learn from the dar’s cook how to make a tagine. Please note that cooking classes in Morocco tend to be extremely lengthy and usually start quite early in the day. You could lunch with a local family in a traditional mud house just five minutes walk from the dar. We can arrange that too. If it is a Friday (the equivalent of our Sunday) it will be a communal meal of couscous, which will be served after family members return home from the Mosque.  Remember, there won’t be too much chance for conversation as they are likely to speak only Berber, and maybe Arabic, but we can arrange for you to be accompanied by someone who can translate the basics for you. It is likely the children might speak rudimentary French, if they can get over their shyness with you. The concept of respect is extremely highly regarded in the desert and dressing somewhat modestly would be a good way to demonstrate it to the older members of the family at any such lunch. There is also the possibility of listening to the Gnawa music of the descendants from the Moroccan slave trade in the nearby village of Khamlia. Honestly, our principal Cara finds it an underwhelming experience, but there are those who love it! Chez les Artistes, a café managed by a French/Moroccan couple, is also located in Khamlia and is sweet and dare we say it, charming! Again, because we travel using 4WD cars, we can offer members of the group these different activities in the desert at the same time, subject again, to car seat availability.

If you want the lady who owns this establishment (along with her partner) to paint your portrait, her chosen medium is acrylic on canvas and the cost of one such painting measuring 40cm x 60cm is 1000 dirhams, or less than 100 euros. Her partner’s metal sculptures of fantastic beasts that are located outside the cafe are also striking and reminiscent of the scarecrows of the nomads that they construct from scrap metal. The nomad roots in this part of the world are axiomatically fresh and vigorous and they remain enormously powerful.

 

Again it is your choice as to which activities you engage in. It might be tiring, but who knows if you will ever get the chance for these experiences again? We do try to pace the tour so that you spend multiple nights in the more interesting locations in order to feel more settled, even if your days are potentially full of sensory-overload. Living life, is living it to the fullest.

Next day, we drive for about 2 hours to Errachidia for your flight to Casablanca and home. If the flight from Errachidia to Casablanca leaves very early, we may slot in an extra night at Erfoud, home of fossils including of giant creatures long extinct that nonetheless echo the surrealism of Dali’s desert. This town is also the date capital of Morocco. In this case we could visit Rissani markets on the way to Erfoud instead of making a special trip to them the day before.

If the tour does stop this extra night at Erfoud, it will be only an hour to Errachidia airport the following day.

Also, if you missed out on a local hammam at Tangier, any extra day at Erfoud would be your chance to enjoy that experience, provided we arrived early enough. Just let us know in sufficient time beforehand, in order for us to make the necessary arrangements for you. In fact this might be a nice, relaxing alternative to having had a hammam at Tangier seeing as it would immediately precede a significant amount of air travel.

At wherever is our final dinner together, be it Hassilabied or Erfoud, we will have a little surprise for each of you as a parting gift. Please note that food in the desert is simple. We think that the region’s simplicity is part of its charm. At the same time it would be unrealistic to expect fine dining during this part of the adventure.

Please note that the tour ends at Errachidia airport, although if you want us to make additional arrangements for you after that we are very happy to do so. Any such additional arrangements would be for a fee on top of the tour fee.

Once in Casablanca you would hopefully have a connecting flight home or to your next intended destination. Traditional, Moroccan accommodation is not feasible in this city. So if after the tour is complete you are to stay in Casablanca overnight we would suggest a stay at Hotel Gauthier which is Andy Warhol-esque in its contemporary art focus. Hôtel et Spa Le Doge, Place des Nations Unis with its striking and varied decor is also gorgeous (www.hotelledoge.com), as is Hôtel Central, Ancienne Medina. The latter is a whitewashed hotel built in 1912. It had a new lick of paint in 2018 whilst retaining its original wrought-iron bannisters and stained-glass windows. Balcony rooms are recommended here. (www.hotelcentralcasa.com).  Or, for convenience, you can stay at the hotel near the airport which runs a shuttle to and from the airport. Zero ambiance, but at that point in your journey convenience may be your primary consideration. We discuss features of this latter hotel in another blog post here.

Time of proposed tour

Be warned

To have a possibility of seeing Fantasia at  Meknes at the Agricultural fair we need to go in the last 2 weeks of April, we think of 2022. April is peak tourist season for Morocco so booking as early as possible is essential to ensure we stay at the very best.

Cost and a Bit of Comparative Advertising (which is perfectly legal we might add!)
As costings are quite complex to calculate and depend on overall numbers, we will wait to receive sufficient expressions of interest before doing this. Note that you probably wouldn’t get any change out of $A10,000.00 per person plus airfares, unless you are able to grab our early bird offer. Bill Peach Journeys was offering a similar tour in 2019 for a similar length of time for or around $A16,000.00. That tour had the benefit of major brand-power and with the exception of airfares seemed to cover just about everything (including all meals and top hotels). Further, it did have a different itinerary reflecting a more typical tour of Morocco compared with our tour in which we focus on penetration and absorption as well as artistic panorama. We don’t cover all meals for example because it is our experience that people don’t always want to eat, or at the same place as each other and with the same people, all the time. Also our accommodation choices tend to more boutique. We focus on care and creativity and we may not cushion you as much as some tours because richness of experience is to be had at the coal face. This is all just to give you a heads-up how we arrive at our tour design and why we say our pricing is within an appropriate range. However please make your own enquires about this too rather than just rely on our word about it. See also our comments about in effect comparing oranges with lemons here when considering different tour options.

What do you think? Want to come with us? As you will have understood from reading this, Cara will be on this tour to help make sure all goes as smoothly as possible and is lots of fun!

Please contact us at Aussies In Morocco Tours™ to register your interest in joining our next tour.

Come through the portal to experience nature, art, history and exoticism; of bread cooked in the coals of the hammam and the call to prayer like a violin bow drawn over the strings of your soul. What are you waiting for?

Published November 2020