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Mesmerising Morocco by Kate Kennedy
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Fes to the Sahara
Leaving the walled city of Fes to travel to the A&K Luxury camp, I knew it would be a long day of driving. Growing up in the centre of Australia, I am used to long drives, and fully expected long, straight red dusty roads with the same scenery to the far horizons for hour after hour. But Morocco has many different and quite unexpected facets to surprise and enchant through the long day of driving. From the dry hills of Fes to steep, cedar and fir covered hills in an area called Little Switzerland (and a ski field!) to a verdant plateau covered with insouciant sheep, leading to a switchback of gorges in all shades of pink and reds. Late in the day, the road came out to the flat pebbly entrance to the Sahara. The Sahara! A word resonating with romance and adventure – I was just a bit excited!
Switching from the Viano to 4x4s, we raced towards the desert, with the pebbles pinging the bottom of the cars. After a good half-hour, and now amongst the dunes, it was time to change mode of transport again... to camels! They waited placidly for their excited human cargo to climb aboard. As a strong wind blew, the Bedouins wrapped scarves around our faces for protection. Off we swayed on our 'ships of the desert' to a high place on a dune to enjoy a sundowner as the sun set. As we climbed the dunes on our trusty beasts, big grey clouds filled the sky and rolled towards our little group. And instead of a sunset - big fat rain drops!
We returned to a welcoming camp fire in front of our row of tents, standing stark white against the dusk. A local band of tribesmen began singing, accompanied by their drums and cymbals – and where there is singing, there must be dancing! In the middle hours of the night, the rain and wind stopped, and the stillness and silence brought the group of us out of our tents to see the huge velvety midnight blue sky sequinned with stars. Magical.
Early, early in the morning, getting up in the quiet cool air to watch the sun rise we arose, still in pyjamas, with hot fresh coffee and bare feet, watching the pastel sky become brighter and a crisp cloudless blue, the rippling sands turning from a deep purple to a fresh pink then a warm gold. No birds singing, no TV, no traffic noise. A massive, majestic quiet, and the heat shimmered as the sun rose in the sky. It had been a great privilege to see the different faces of the Sahara
Sahara to Marrakech
With the sun climbing in the sky over the Sahara dunes, it was time to leave the quiet of the desert behind. The red dunes became grey pebbly ground as we raced each other out of the desert. Reaching small adobe villages, caravans of camels swayed slowly along the side of the road, as we reluctantly returned to the world of noise and rush.
Soon the pebbles gave way to red gorges, gashed into the earth with rushing rivers on the floor of the valleys, creating incredibly lush oases packed with palm trees. Clinging to the edges of the gorges were more small adobe villages, one little house stacked above the other. From a distance, the scene is timeless - until you see the satellite dishes on the roofs. Women walking along the roadside wear brightly-embroidered black scarves over their heads and shoulders. This desert is so other-worldly and its colours so rich that the area has been used as film sets for movies such as The Mummy.
Crossing the stunning Atlas Mountains over the highest pass in the country, on switchback roads with some very 'interesting' driving, the desert is left behind for the plain where Marrakech sprawls. Very flat, blooming with floral public gardens, wide streets lined with palm trees and stuffed to the gills with cars, trucks, buses, donkey and ox carts, horse traps and bicycles. It is a low-rise city, no tall buildings as in Casablanca, with the bustling noisy maze of the medina at its heart, corralled by luxurious hotels in their spacious, groomed and fragrant quiet gardens.