“That'll never stick!” were the famous and optimistic last words the eve of our much anticipated holiday as the first flakes of snow began to fall. Truly excited about the thought of playing in snow, we were still more concerned about our 500km journey to the Sahara we were due to depart on the following morning. A journey along winding roads that head up over 2000m. After three months of gruelling planning, teaching and resource making, this is a holiday that has been counted down to with excessive enthusiasm, even by my standards.
Waking up at 7am on the Saturday morning we were shocked when we opened the curtains, Not only did we have thick fog but the snow had begun to stick on ground that had been flooded with two days worth of constant rain. Wardrobe had to be reconfigured, skiing socks and fleeces had to be unearthed and an emergency blanket put in our small but worryingly new and shiny looking hire car. We set off into town to pick up Sarah and Terry our other happy campers for our five day expedition to the desert.
Despite the snow and repacking, we set off reasonably on time and were still quite optimistic about the journey ahead. We were taking the main road south from three of the four imperial cities in Morocco. That optimism was short lived. We made it 30 minutes to Azrou before we hit an unexplained road block. A lane of trucks, camper vans and ramshackle cars snaked ahead of us. We sat in line for about five minutes before Nick's desire to keep moving and our rumination over just how long whatever was blocking the road would keep blocking the road made inspect our poorly detailed google map and head back in the direction we came from. After an hour of driving we were back where we started and about to embark on a back route that would take us along narrower, windier and higher routes than the one we had just left. Within fifteen minutes of leaving Ifrane we started to climb and the dusting of snow increased to a floor of pure white and heavily laden cedar trees. The Canadians in the back were not that impressed but I was squealing like a school kid. With little regard for exactly what we were getting ourself into and the fact that we passed a recently overturned truck taking up half the road I was just happy at the thought of being able to make a snowman. On our exciting 'adventure' detour we encountered numerous bad and dangerous drivers, one snowplough, a whole heap of hairpin bends, some very bleak and windswept towns, one very long muddy and pothole filled road and absolutely no semblance of a toilet.
The detour added on two extra hours onto a five hour journey. Google map predictions fail to take into account the hazard that is Moroccan rural drivers. This breed of drivers have a whole different set of bad habits to those dangerously performed by city drivers. It seems like at least half of the population on the road seems to feel that it is normal practice to break suddenly without any warning and then pull off to the side of the road. They also seem to take pride in waiting till you have got up to a respectable speed on a long straight before pulling out from a side road just in front of you and keeping a steady speed of 50km an hour and breaking on the turns. They do this always when there are no other cars behind you. It caused no end of muttering from Nick's side of the car and added a lot more extra time to our already extended journey. The award for most dangerous drive has to go to a Mark 2 VW golf driver who was winding their way up the snow covered road with his hand out the window moving the windscreen back and forth in order to clear the snow and make a viewing patch of about 3 inches.
Apart from being long and frustrating from the drivers, the journey down to the Sahara was spectacular. In was quite incredible to pass from complete white out in places to dry desert plains and immense red sand dunes. As we travelled further south we finally emerged from the rain and fog into crisp blue sky with a backdrop of the snow covered High Atlas. From there we drove through open plains lined with wide dried up river beds lined with ancient kasbahs. We passed through massive gorges, oasis filled canyons and valleys and saw some of the most dramatic rock formations I’ve ever encountered. The extremes of the landscape really hit home when we finally reached our destination and had to drive 12km off road across rubble to reach our kasbah situated at the edge of Erg Chebbi dunes, one of the northern most points of the Sahara Desert.
As we have been so stressed by work and excited by the thought of a holiday we had a planning party with Sarah and Terry about a month ago. There, after much wine and deliberation (probably more wine to be fair) we had decided to stay outside of town in a kasbah called Auberge de Sud http://www.aubergedusud.com/. This is a reasonably big kasbah with the luxury of a pool. We chose it not for the pool, which is environmentally questionable in a town where half the population struggle to find water, but for the cozy looking rooms and the fact that it is right at the edge of the dunes. As we pulled up to the kasbah the sunset camel ride was departing to the sound of grumbles of the camels and shrieks of their passengers. This would be us tomorrow.
The kasbah was beautiful as expected, the staff were really friendly and the food was amazing. The best thing about the place was the view. It was possible to eat breakfast inside and out with a view of the dunes, a traditional camp and camel caravans going by. You could get all the pics without even stepping outside. The first night we ate so much that we went out for a walk to loosen the waistbands. The moon was full and lit up the dunes. Our gentle stroll turned into a game of dune running in the dark. Launching yourself down dunes in the dark is surprising fun.
The next day we had breakfast on the front terrace where we were joined by a baby camel who wandered over to steal bread. Suppose they have to get their energy from somewhere. Definitely needed to work on its table manners though. After breakfast we went for our first exploration of the Sahara. Our view was good but it was blocked by a few tall dunes so we set off to climb them before it got too hot. Hiking in sand is exhausting each step you take you slide half a step back. The reward once we reached the top was worth it. Stretching out as far as you can see the sand mass that is the Sahara is awesome. It makes you feel very very small.
The rest of this post is to follow.... off to pick up our mums from Fes...