Humanity must indeed have some perverse fascination with mazes. This seems to be the only explanation of why urban planning ends up creating cities with no street names (Tokyo), streets with dead ends in stinky canals (Venice), and don’t even get me started on slums. With this in mind, enter Fes…
It is exciting, to be on an adventure. To wake up not knowing exactly where you are (just like after a wild night in London), knowing that you need to hit the road before the sun shines too bright (just like after a wild night in London, when you don’t want to be walking the walk of shame in particularly bright weather). Knowing that at the end of the day, you will be on a camel (I really do hope that “just like after a wild night in London” does not apply to you here. If it does, I’m obviously not doing it right).
There comes a time when man must leave the sanctuary that the city offers and venture deep within the wild. The desert was calling, with its promises of camels, dunes and merciless heatstrokes. Sure, it wouldn’t be such a dangerous and daring adventure – due to the lack of money and a driving licence. But I tried…
First and foremost, y’all need to be careful when you pick which tour you want to go on. There is a variety of options, depending on how many days you want to spend and which places you want to go to. I went for the 3 days, 2 nights options towards Erg Chebbi; what you have to look out for is the price. Everyone I spoke with had a different initial tour organizer and I think everyone paid a different amount. I have seen websites online (should you want to organize this beforehand) that charge ridiculous amount, like 300 euro, as if the camels you will go on are made of gold.
Example: I booked my tour through these guys, for a price of 95€. Once I received the email of confirmation, they seem to have a second website, where Marrakech to Fes is at least 180€ (which is insane, because from Merzouga to Fes in no way will it cost you 90€ to get there). A good option would be to sort it out once you get there (maybe let your riad do it for you). There were several mini-buses doing that trip every day.
Ait Ben Haddou
Normally, this is where I would start complaining of how horrible it is to be stuck with tourists on a minibus. To my great surprise, it really wasn’t the case. Most of the people were genuinely pleasant human beings, some quite traveled, and they did add to the overall enjoyment of my trip (with just one or two individuals that would at times make me cringe).
The bad part of being part of an organised tour, however, is that you end up going to all sorts of places I didn’t really care much about.
All I wanted was camels and desert dunes.
Instead, we ended up on a hill, with no shade, the sun slow-cooking my brain, looking at huts made of mud.
No offense, I am sure some people love listening to the history of the mud huts, how they’re also made of straw, the differences between a ksar and a kasbah. But really, if I wanted all of this I would read Wikipedia. So I spent my time spying on birds in various positions with the mud huts.
The only remotely interesting facts about this place is that this is where the Gladiator was partly filmed, as well as parts of Game of Thrones (there were even pictures of Khaleesi on set). That took about, what, half a minute of being interested in the place.
We then stopped in Ouarzazate for some Movie Museum which I avoided and instead just sat on a terrace and drank a coke. It was cool, it had ice in it. And it was cheaper than the museum price. Towards the end we headed to Dades Gorge and stayed the night in a hotel somewhere in one of the valleys; the landscape was quite nice (despite my room not having a window)- something these trips really do well. You get to see a lot of the country out the window of the car.
The night sky was brilliant as there was nothing except our hotel in sight. And no lights. No civilization. Just you, and the stars (and the aliens).
Once you manage to dodge the snake handlers and the monkey dudes, the entrance to a mystical place of shopping awaits you – the souks. It’s a proper labyrinth of shops selling spices, olives, clothes, jewellery, meats and probably even children if you look closely. The hassling tends to be at a minimum, and to some extent the shops seem to be grouped: there is a section for the spices (which can have some lovely conical shapes if the shopkeeper isn’t a lazy sloth), there is even a place that sells chameleons, iguanas, turtles and various other live critters. Cause there’s a section that sells dead critters: zebra skins, turtle shells, horns and crocodile skulls.
Vendors poured on the streets like ants on a fresh carcass, the sun relentlessly baking everything it set its sights on. There was heat and chaos all around, but if one was lucky, a breeze with the scent of jasmine would bless your face and nostrils for a fraction of a second.