Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Valley of 1000 Casbahs

The Sahara, a small most Western finger of it which reaches into eastern Morocco is a favorite tourist destination for visitors to Morocco. We booked a three day, two night tour with our guide Abdul who drove us first into the High Atlas Mountains where we stayed overnight one night in a venerable chalet-like hotel up in the mountains. The next morning we woke to drive down into the Valley of the Dades and got some great photos of an old casbah (sort of an ancient castle) in the morning light. 

The day before on the way up the mountain we stopped at a famous casbah where many Hollywood films have been shot. In fact there was filming going on while we were there, a new one called the Queen of the Desert to feature Nicole Kidman. We didn't see her but we did take some photos with some of the extras.

Abdul, our guide with the film extras
Yata had the opportunity to share some tunes with a Berber musician.  His instrument was similar to a banjo. 
But on to the desert. We drove most of the day, stopping at the Anti Atlas mountains to shop for fossils. This is the area from which many fossil, especially ammonites come.

We arrived at the the camel loading area in time to get saddled up and out into the dunes to witness sunset from on top of a high dune, then onto the traditional nomadic tent camp for dinner and cot
sleeping. The camels were pretty comfortable and mild mannered. Mine was a bit of a complainer but she didn't buck me off. It was amazingly cold. I needed three heavy wool blankets to stay warm! Up at about 5:30 so we could get back on camel to see the sunrise from the dunes. Dramatic and striking.

Then back to Marrakech for one more night at the Riad Shaden. We had booked a bus to Marrakech and got to the station to board and realized we had chosen the wrong busline. One of the dirtiest buses we've ever been on. When we got to Essouira our host Bruno helped us book new tickets on the SupraTour bus which was great.

Essouira, on the Atlantic Coast is another old Moroccan city known for it's consistent winds so it attracts windsurfers. We booked a wonderful room at Villa Gonatouki operated by a French family and felt pampered for three days. They had a great chef Samila and she gave me an informal cooking lesson one day. We made Safa, a pasta dish with chicken and olives, etc. We also made an eggplant caviar and a dessert smoothie with cooked carrots and fruits. Fabulous meal. We wished we had stayed there longer. The villa was actually eight kilometers south of the city so we only went into town one day but it was small enough to see most of the old city along the ramparts. I did a little sketching in one of the town sqares. Lots of photography too.

Then one night in Casablanca to catch the plane to Paris.

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