Saturday, December 12, 2015

Tyrannosaurus, Monkey Fingers & Camels - Oh My..... Part 3


 I have become quite lazy and complacent about writing recently.  The posts have been further and farther between, and indeed this finale to the Sahara trek is coming a year and 2 months past the actual trip.  But.... I received an e-mail saying my blog had been picked up by, so I figured that I better get busy or it looks like the blog has been forgotten and is all but dead.

     Rest assured, life has given me a few things to write about lately and..... I will be embarking on a Brand New Shiny Adventure next season.... so let me just finish off this particular "chapter" with more tales of Morocco and beyond travels, and tie up the camel tales.

     The trip to the edge of the Sahara took us through some very interesting geological formations.  I had no
idea that the land formations in Morocco were so varied and magnificent.  There is MUCH to visit in this country and our first stop would be the Monkey Fingers mountains.  Huh?  As we climbed a very steep and narrow road, dancing with busses and donkey carts and people to avoid certain death... we approached the viewing lot for this amazing site, that does indeed look exactly like monkey's fingers, though to me the comparison would be closer to perhaps gorilla fingers.

     On to the beautiful cool Tudra Gorge...funny... searching for links to post here, I find many many blogs about this place.  A deep short gorge with an extremely narrow exit and a hotel/restaurant built into the cliffs, tourists come from everywhere to climb, hike, take pictures, cool their feet in the stream that flows through, and to rest in the shade of the cliffs sipping hot sweet mint tea.

Onward we drive.  Down from the high hills that quickly turn to desert plain.  Through sleepy villages, past tea houses full of men, and then into the land of the dinosaurs.  Yes... this part of Morocco boasts an incredible plethora of fossil shops, dinosaur museums, bones and gems.  All carrying unique items for sale of course, including fossilized nautilus - some real, some manufactured.  We posed with the tyrannosaurus bones and our driver took a nap.  I was somewhat skeptical of all of the amazing items displayed in one small little "museum" in the middle of nowhere... can these be real?  If so, the owners most likely have no idea what treasures they possess.  I kept looking around for Indiana Jones, or Nick Cage.... really.... it was kind of weird.   
It was hot, and taking care of three women who are asking non stop questions, like "When we we get to the camels?" and "Are these real?" and "Can we stop for tea?"  etc. can be exhausting.  But we were close.  Towns gave way to nothing.  As far as the eye could see nothing, save a few hills in the receding distance and the road changed as well.  Sand began to encroach past the shoulders and suddenly we saw a small herd of camels.  Then.... we saw the sign... camels ahead... and we turned off the pavement onto hardened desert sand.   That was fun, driving to a place without markers or roads, only the ruts of previous autos.  And soon enough.... the kasbah appeared in the waning light... and our destination was in sight.  We would freshen up, lighten our backbacks to include only necessities and meet our camels for the trek into the desert to a Berber site where dinner and tea and music and finally sleep awaited us.  But I am getting ahead of myself.   We first had to meet our beasts of burden, alight upon them, and make the slogging choppy journey on our ships of the desert.

      One of the things I was looking most forward to was the silence of the desert.  I did not want to talk now.  I wanted to be on my animal, experiencing the vast solitude of the Sahara. No sound but the wind and hoofs on sand. Here I will pause, and let the pictures speak for themselves.

Camels are big and not terribly affectionate.  They neither rise gracefully nor kneel gracefully.  But I like them as animals.  They watched our group with intense curiousity as we made our way around the camp, unloading and preparing for a dinner cooked by our guide.  It was tasty under the desert stars and washing the tagine down with mint tea was a lovely ceremony, that while touristic in it's nature, did give me a sense of what life must be like to an extent for a simple Berber herder.  Musical instruments were brought out and we took turns with drums until the night became deep and dark and still.  We lumbered off to our tents, and sleep was deep.  The next morning we rose before dawn to mount our camels and plod to the top of a dune to watch the sunrise over the Algerian border.  I did not want to go back, and wished we had booked a longer stay in the desert, but we had not and our animals took us instinctively back to the kasbah where a lovely Moroccan breakfast awaited us.  We said goodbye to our guide
and the Sahara, then headed back across the desert to the destination of Aït Benhaddou - a UNESCO world heritage site that is not to be missed.   This example of a Ksar - a group of earthen buildings with high walls and narrow passageways is utilized often as scenery for movie sets.  The part of Morocco where this village is found is near the movie studio town of Ouarzazate, a particular darling of the filmmaking industry as hundreds of films have been made in the area.  As we toured the structure, we happily discovered that a film was actually being shot as we were there.  We watched (and filmed ourselves secretly) as gladiators and slaves marched past us followed by camera crews and set people.  Can't wait for the movie to come out. Some of the recent films shot in this location include:  The Gladiator, Game of Thrones, Kingdom of Heaven, Exodus, and The Mummy to name a few.

Aït Behaddou

We spent the night at a quaint little riad and left early the next day, bound for Marakkesh.  On the way, we stopped at one last place, a deserted palace in Telouet.  We toured the huge decaying beauty, marveling and lamenting that it was no longer inhabited.  I wonder at the stories it might tell.

Alas.... the journey came to an end.  We arrived back in Marakkesh in time for a simple meal overlooking the medina square - watching men with live monkeys on chains,  snake charmers with their occasionally errant sidewinders and cobras,  music players, tourists, prostitutes, beggars, thieves and con artists all plying their wares to tourists.  Always a circus, the medina square of Marakkesh was a fitting end to our trek into a vast and silent desert. 

The train would take us back to Casablanca the next day.  Maloud - our guide would have new clients to drive around, to entertain and to show the secrets of deeper Morocco to.  This place is a beautiful chunk of life.... sometimes ancient, sometimes dirty and dusty and hot, sometimes chaotic and dangerous, but most of the time, breathtakingly beautiful.

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