zagora, morocco - camels at sunset and sleeping in the desert

On the first day of the new year, Alex and I were up at sunrise to leave the chaos of inner city Marrakesh for a long, top-speed drive through the Atlas Mountains, towards the Zagora desert. The vast, minimalist expanses of the mountains and tiny towns we passed through were a tremendous change from maximalist, chaotic, visually overstuffed Marrakesh.

Moroccan village streets

[The first post from our trip to Morocco, with photos from our first few days in Marrakesh, is here.]

Moroccan villages
Towns crammed into the hills that blend right in.

Col du Tichka, Morocco
Col du Tichka, the highest mountain pass in Northern Africa.


Morocco road to the Sahara
There is basically one (two-lane) road to the desert from Marrakesh, giving a guaranteed stream of business to these shops selling "minerals", jewelry, and fossils.

Morocco road to the Sahara

Morocco road to the Sahara
This dog was so sweet and so happy, wagging his tail enthusiastically without a break as soon as he realized I wasn't going to throw a rock at him, as he's used to. [Dogs are considered 'unclean'. Tons of ragged strays roam the streets, eating garbage, getting stoned.]

Morocco Oasis road to the Sahara
The view from the 'oasis' in the middle of the desert where we stopped for lunch.

Moroccan restaurant road to the Sahara

Moroccan cous cous
Traditional Moroccan vegetarian cous-cous. The grilled veggies are placed around a mound of fluffy cous-cous. I don't entirely understand this traditional style of presentation -- why not chop and mix?

Moroccan villages
Taxis blend into the street blends into the buildings blends into the landscape.

Moroccan villages

After a long ride we were at the edge of the desert and the end of the road. We'd go the rest of the way through the desert, on camelback.

Camels in Morocco
Camels hanging out, ready to take us for an hour-long ride through the desert at sunset.

Zagora desert, Morocco
Absolutely spectacular landscape that reminded me of riding horseback with a drunken Navajo through Monument Valley, Utah.

Zagora desert, Morocco

Zagora desert, Morocco

Camels in the Zagora desert, Morocco
 
Camels in the Zagora desert, Morocco

Dunes in the Zagora desert, Morocco

Dunes in the Zagora desert, Morocco
A sunset to take your breath away...

Camels in the Zagora desert, Morocco

Camels in the Zagora desert, Morocco

Dunes in the Zagora desert, Morocco

Camels in the Zagora desert, Morocco

Camels in the Zagora desert, Morocco

Camels in the Zagora desert, Morocco

Camels in the Zagora desert, Morocco
  
Zagora Desert, Morocco
We reached the Berber camp right as the sun was setting, and hit the dunes to stretch our legs a bit. 

Zagora Desert, Morocco
Like taking a walk around Mars.

Berber camp, Zagora Desert, Morocco
Tents at the Berber camp.

Berber camp, Zagora Desert, Morocco

Berber camp, Zagora Desert, Morocco

The Berbers made us steaming hot pots of mint tea -- lovingly nicknamed "whiskey Berber" by the locals -- to sip at before dinner.

We made friends with others who drifted into the camp -- hello Kristin, Matt & Joey! -- and chatted up our Berber hosts, who had learned English (and some Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese...) only from the tourists who dropped by their camps. Pretty remarkable. Though some was lost in translation: we asked what our camels' names meant in English, and were given the following answers: Alex's camel was named the Berber equivalent of "Biggie," Kristin's was "Happy," Matt's was "Skinny," and when we got to my camel -- S'haita -- the Berbers looked at each other, and shrugged: "Is name of camel."

Berber tent, Morocco
  Homemade dinner (Berber cous-cous and soup) in the tents.

After dinner we all sat around a big bonfire; the Berbers played us music with traditional instruments and we all gazed in complete and utter awe at the most brilliant starscape I've ever seen. As it got colder, we moved in closer to the fire, huddling up against each other. 

Berber tent, Morocco
This is absolutely me eating Oreos in the middle of the night, in the middle of the desert. Always be prepared.

Berber tent, Morocco
 Our camp, the next morning at sunrise.

Berber tent, Morocco

Camel in the Zagora desert, Morocco
We got back on our camels for the ride back to the main road, to head back into the chaos of the city.

Moroccan villages

Moroccan villages

Ait Benhaddou, Morocco
With a quick stop at Ait Benhaddou, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the film set for movies ranging from The Last Temptation of Christ to Gladiator to Game of Thrones.

Ait Benhaddou, Morocco

Ait Benhaddou, Morocco

Ait Benhaddou, Morocco

Pretty good start to 2016.

One more post from Morocco -- back in Marrakesh -- coming soon.

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