Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tour to Sahara Desert and Return - part 1

We arrived in marrakech luckily we pre-arranged transportation as we were staying at a Riad (traditional morrocaan accommodation in the medina area of the city. A medina quarter ( "the old city") is a distinct city section found in many North African cities. The medina is typically walled, contains many narrow and maze-like streets.The word "medina" itself simply means "city" or "town" in modern day Arabic. Medina quarters often contain historical fountains, palaces, and mosques.

View of Riad courtyard
View of Riad terrace

Because of the very narrow streets, medinas are generally free from car traffic, and in some cases even motorcycle and bicycle traffic not so in marrakech). The streets can be less than a metre wide.

Larger alleyway


You can get seriously lost in the medina alleyways and it is very creepy at night. When the vehicle could go no further the driver had called for a man with a donkey cart who loaded our SMALL suitcases into the cart and we followed him through the maze of alleyways in the dark to our Riad. We were greeted by Mustapha who offered us fresh squeezed orange juice and sweet mint tea (both popular drinks in morocco) - love the orange juice but not a fan of the sweet mint tea.

Marrakesh is a major city in the northwest African nation of Morocco. It is the fourth largest city in the country after Casablanca, Fes and Rabat, and is the capital of the mid-southwestern economic region of Marrakesh-Tensift-El Haouz. Located to the north of the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains with population of two million

After getting settled Mustapha led us through the alleyways to Jemaa el Fnaa square. He was careful to give us markings so we would be able to make our way back to the Riad. The square is the central market of marrakech and is where you will find snake charmers, henna tattoo artists, food stalls, restaurants and vendors of all sorts- everybody wants to sell you something.

We must have listened carefully to Mustapha as we found our way back with no problem for a good night's rest at the Riad. Breakfast was breads, crepes, jams, eggs, coffee, tea and fresh squeezed orange juice.

Ziad our tour driver picked us up promptly at 9am and we were off on our adventure to the Sahara Desert over the Atlas Mountains through theTizi-n-Tichka pass. The Atlas Mountains is a mountain range across the northwestern stretch of Africa extending about 2,500 km (1,600 mi) through Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. The highest peak is Toubkal, with an elevation of 4,165 metres (13,665 ft) in southwestern Morocco second highest peak in Africa next to mt Kilimanjaro. The Atlas ranges separate the Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines from the Sahara Desert. The population of the Atlas Mountains is mainly Berbers. Yes there is snow in Africa at the higher altitudes and there is even a ski resort in morocco.

Notice the winding highway with very few barriers - scary at times!

The Berbers the ethnicity indigenous to North Africa west of the Nile Valley. They are distributed from the Atlantic Ocean to the Siwa Oasis in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Niger River. Historically they spoke Berber languages, which together form the "Berber branch" of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Since the Muslim conquest of North Africa in the seventh century, a large portion of Berbers have spoken varieties of Maghrebi Arabic, either by choice or obligation. Foreign languages like French and Spanish, inherited from former European colonial powers, are used by most educated Berbers

Linguistically speaking, there are some twenty-five to thirty million Berber speakers in North Africa. The number of ethnic Berbers (including non-Berber speakers) is far greater, as it is known that a large part of the Berbers have acquired other languages, over the course of many decades or centuries, and no longer speak Berber today.

Berbers call themselves "free people", many are considered artisans and produce by hand the jewelry, pottery, leather goods etc sold in markets throughout morocco. Interesting that all the vendors are selling exactly the same goods everywhere so either these people are excellent at replicating their work or we have been given a great sales pitch.

Berber villages in mountains

Our first stop was the Argan oil ladies cooperative. Argan oil is a plant oil produced from the kernels of the argan tree that is endemic to Morocco. In Morocco, argan oil is used to dip bread in at breakfast or to drizzle on couscous or pasta. World-wide, it's gaining a reputation both as an ingredient in high-end, personal-care products and as a heart-healthy gourmet product.

Very quickly we learned wherever a tour guide was to take us to make purchases we would pay twice the price as they get a commission. I did purchase some shampoo but paid a lot more than I would have at home - but I was told this is the real thing!!!!

Next we stopped at Ait Benhaddon for lunch and to visit the UNESCO world heritage site of Ait Benhaddou. Aït Benhaddou is a fortified city, or ksar, along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech in present-day Morocco. It is situated in Souss-Massa-Drâa on a hill along the Ounila River (only a river in the winter, dry as a bone now) and is known for its kasbahs, although they take damage with each rainstorm. Most of the town's inhabitants now live in a more modern village at the other side of the river; however, eight families still live within the ksar. A kasbah is a type of medina, Islamic city, or fortress. It was a place for the local leader to live and a defense when a city was under attack. A kasbah has high walls, usually without windows. Sometimes, they were built on hilltops so that they could be more easily defended. Some were placed near the entrance to harbors. Having a kasbah built was a sign of wealth of some families in the city.

Aït Benhaddou has been the location of a number of Hollywood films,including:

Sodom And Gomorrah (1963)

Oedipus Rex (1967)

The Man Who Would Be King (film) (1975)

The Message (1976)

Jesus of Nazareth (1977)

Time Bandits (1981)

Marco Polo (1982)

The Jewel of the Nile (1985)

The Living Daylights (1987)

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

The Sheltering Sky (1990)

Kundun (1997)

The Mummy (1999)

Gladiator (2000)

Alexander (2004)

Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Babel (2006)

Prince of Persia (2010)

Son of God (film) (2014)

And some scenes from the TV series Game of Thrones

The locals here work as extras on these projects

Movie studio in Sahara desert
Mag with our tour guide on the new built bridge linking the old and new villages
It is 46 degrees and we are about to walk up this hill! I must be mad?????
Berber homes are made out of mud and hay that is dried in the sun for 15 hours
The long and winding road! No I was not singing up this hill.
the arena in the movie Gladiator
View from the top
I made it!

The flat dry area is where the river flows in the winter

As we walked down the kashbah there were numerous vendors to make purchases

This vendor wanted to know how many camels to purchase me?? Too many! Then he wanted to Facebook me - what Internet in the desert! I bought two pictures from him and thought it best to make a quick exit!

Sorry this blog took longer than expected to be posted - slight website issue but now fixed. Look for part 2 tomorrow!

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