Monday, 9 January 2012

the tour

We signed up for a three day excursion. Bring a change of clothes, camera, water and some lunchtime snacks. But...
Buyer beware with these guys!
We found three different prices, possibly three different tours and everyone meets at the same place, at the same time is assigned a bus and we all go off together!
Does driving here in Marrakech look scary? How about through the High Atlas? Hairpin turns one after another as we climb and climb, snow patches beside the road. An incredible vista at every turn, drops of a thousand feet, tiny villages clustered in the valleys and up the hillsides. Jokes are made about all the pictures being taken, and I cannot take enough to really show what we experienced. At one point later on a group of motorcyclists went by, one had a camera on his helmet. Now that's how to record it.
I'm reminded of Afghanistan, Pakistan or Turkey none of which I have actually seen... A brutal landscape, the greenery limited to watercourses, rivers and irrigation once we are on the other side and into rain-shadow. Along the river benches; alfalfa, apples, apricots, olives and pomegranates, poplar, walnuts and almonds, figs and dates.
We visit Ait Benhaddou site of many popular movies and spent time wandering up through this mud and stone city that is at least 500 years old. Renovated of course but still evoking a time before this...
Then on through breathtaking geology, as the sun sets (pictures taken, out and through the window) into Dades Gorge.
In the morning, the holy day, we inch our way through the throngs dressed almost entirely in white returning from morning prayers at the mosque. Visit a vast garden valley and the Berber weavers. "No, as much as I love that carpet, I am not buying it." A visit to Todra Gorge and a brief stop to view ancient fossils polished smooth for tabletops and sinks, attractive, not within my budget and heavy. As I recall, we are backpacking.
The sand begins encroaching on the road. I see what look like animal pens with sand drifting in, some obscured in all but one corner. We approach our last stop of the day, the biggest dune I can imagine.
This is the Sahara, dune buggies roaring around on the big dune and a group of camels waiting patiently to carry us into the next phase of the adventure. We all climbed on and as the camels rose off their knees, they pitched forward, then back to upright. Once settled they strode slowly, rhythmically as the guides led us into the desert.
The ride was timed to coincide with the setting sun. Try as I might it was near impossible to capture as I grasped both the camera and the metal bar on the saddle. I pitched from side to side back and forth. Enraptured by the sand and flowing vistas, yet unable to capture much of it, I stowed the camera...

Near dusk we arrived at a small encampment of tents, where tea was served. Then music and eventually dinner, in tagine of course.

Rising early to hands clapping we packed and remounted the camels, to trek back in the sunrise. I wanted to spend an hour or three photographing shadow and sand, tufts of grass and tiny footprints.
Instead, breakfast then back in the bus. We stopped briefly a few times but drove constantly, arriving as promised back in Marrakech at the predicted time. Sadly, early on, the camera batteries gave out.
The sunset especially and vistas on return even more spectacular than the trip in. If I return I'll rent a car, stop when I want and take a few more days to do it, now that I know the route.

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