Monday, July 23, 2012

Morocco (2007), part2: Merzouga, Tinghir



We set off to Rissani on an evening bus at 21.00 (CTM, a decent state-owned company, air-conditioned, clean buses). It’s about 440 km, so it’s best to travel at night. It usually takes about 10 hours (ticket: 140 dhs). But during Ramadan about 2 a.m. the bus stops for a main meal which lasts for over an hour.

We arrive to Rissani on Thursday, September 20, at 8.30 am. This is a transfer point to hotels that offer trips into the desert. CTM buses arrive at the bus stop in front of the company’s office at the main square. (If someone chooses a private bus from Fez, they’ll reach the new station, about half a kilometer to the north, behind the Arc de Triomphe.) From here we’ll go to a small town called Merzouga, lying next to the desert, and in fact to one of the tiny villages in its vicinity - they all use the name Merzouga.
If you book a hotel in advance, it usually offers a shuttle service from the town. That’s what we did.

Merzouga - night in the Sahara

It’s worth knowing that there are plenty of hotels offering trips to the desert. All are similar like two peas in a pod. The usually offer three kinds of excursions:
- diurnal - back and forth, usually with a dinner;
- nocturnal - you start off before the dusk; after reaching the place a guide prepares a dinner, then you can chat with him or walk around; you spend the night in a tent; return early in the morning;
- nocturnal - with a visit to a Bedouin family, plus dinner; return in the morning.

When going to the desert you must be well prepared
There’s no problem with booking a desert trip through the Internet, you pay on the spot so it’s not a risky operation. Keep in mind that many hotels have the same owner. You can book a trip in one and be taken to another. Don’t worry too much about that because the hotels offer the same quality of services (of course not counting luxurious ones) so it’s not so important to which one you’ll be brought. Don’t expect fraud – they just take you where it’s most convenient for them at the moment.
We made a reservation at “Auberge Sahara” ( We paid 300 dhs (about 25 euros at that time) per person. The price included a double room with private bathroom (with hot water), dinner in the desert and breakfast the next day at the hotel. In other hotels prices were roughly the same. Finally, we land in “Ksar Kabiha”.

Night of 20 on 21 September we spend in the desert. It’s really an unforgettable experience. But... the first and the last time.
Riding a camel may look impressive on the photos and it may have a lot of romanticism, but after an hour you don’t feel your bottom. Along the way we “admire” heaps of garbage, a ravenous dog runs after us probably hoping that it’ll have a treat. But when we get there, we know that it was really worth it. So peaceful and quiet…

Riding a camel is a very romantic experience...
Our guide is trying to convince us to take a different route, to the Bedouins, but we paid for a lone trip and we stick to it. On site, while cooking dinner for us he tries to direct the conversation to grass, and drugs in general, but we immediately reject this topic. Not very happy, he leaves us with a dinner, asking if we want to eat it outside on a blanket, or rather in a tent. Well! Only a fool wouldn’t want to have a dinner in the desert, under the stars. We didn’t bother to pound our asses riding a camel for such a long time to spend an evening in a tent now.
After a quarter of an hour we’re no longer sure of that. A wind starts to blow, it seems as if a sandstorm was about to come. We barely manage to hide in the tent. That night we’re not given a chance to sleep. Wind is blowing like crazy, sand seems like flour and it’s getting everywhere. We’re getting angry and start to wonder what we’ve come here for…

Semi-conscious, we wait for a morning. It comes with the first rays of the sun, and with it a good mood returns to us. Sunrise in the desert is a truly memorable experience. We run here and there like mad, take dozens of pictures, not able to enjoy our eyes with a view we know only from the movies. Hard to believe that such a steady and monotonous view can have such magnetism and can give so much blissful peace...
But all good things come to an end and it’s time to get back. In the hotel room all is covered with red dust. What the dirt! No, it’s not dirt, just sand, it’s gotten everywhere. We wash ourselves three times, we try to clean our luggage. Three days later we are still cleaning our clothes and all parts of our bodies…

In the morning (Friday, September 21) we take a way back to Rissani. Unfortunately we have to spend here about five hours because there are but a few buses. We wander about aimlessly. The town is ugly, dirty pink-colored buildings, just outside the city - a landfill. Piles of trash everywhere. We luckily find a decent restaurant. It turns out that the owner has worked for many years in Spain. This is evident in decor, dishes, toilets (European type), cleanliness and lack of hostility toward white tourists who want to eat something during the day...

It's amazing how much beauty you can find in just a sand


In the afternoon we take a bus to Tinghir. This small town is a good starting point for mountain hikes. We’re not into this and we treat it as a transit place.
The bus is owned by a private company, without air conditioning, perhaps older than the oldest inhabitants of Rissani. We’re not sure whether to pray for a happy ending, to close our eyes not to see sharp bends in the mountains of the Atlas or rather to keep them wide open to admire the views which are breathtaking. The trip takes about 4 hours (ticket: 45 dhs). Every now and then a young assistant to the driver pours some water into the radiator. We pray that nothing bad happened. Our prayers have been heard. The engine stops dead about 200 meters before the final stop but we happily got there.

Tinghir is a small town, in which nothing really happens. There are: a market, small park, a few pubs and cafes. We ask a hotel receptionist if there is any chance to have a beer in this place. He shakes his head saying that it’ll be difficult. But look! After three minutes he returns with two small bottles. He requests 10 PLN (2,5 euros) for each. In local prices it’s a total rip-off, but we can’t resist. That’s exactly what we needed!
During an evening walk in the city a guy stops us, hearing a strange language (that is Polish). We talk for a while about his work in Spain, his family in Morocco, and then he invites us to tea. Suddenly two of his colleagues turn up, they say they’re curious to learn some things about Poland. After about half an hour they take leave and our new friend offers to show us the former Jewish district. Expecting a trick, we hesitate but what do we have to lose? We enter narrow alleys, dark and moist, but close enough to the town center so we have no fear.

Our guide suggests us to enter one of the houses where local women make carpets, rugs and the like. We’re not interested but eventually succumb. All in all there’s nothing else to do here. A woman weaves a small carpet, a dozen others, already finished, lie on the floor. She shows how they are made, our guide explains in the Tamazight (a common name for the Berber dialects used in Morocco alongside Arabic and French).
After a while, they start with what we feared: an attempt to encourage us to buy a carpet. Of course, first question is naïve: Do you like it?
- Well, yes, it’s nice.
- Would it fit in your place?
- No, I don’t have such a decor.
- Well, we have a broad selection. Look, maybe this one, maybe that one…
- No, no, I don’t want to buy anything. Apart from that, I can’t take it to the plane.
- We’ll send it to you...
We say impatiently that we’re not going to buy anything, and this ends our visit. After leaving the building our guide vanishes immediately, and with him our just started friendship...
Next morning, Saturday, September 22, we set off for Marrakech (CTM bus, ticket: 100 dhs).

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