When we get dropped off in Marrakech by our Royal Air Maroc driver, we have to be let off just outside the Medina (old town) because no cars are allowed inside. The Medina is confusing network of alleyways crammed with vendors and few helpful signage. So, the housekeeper of our riad has sent an older guy with a green metal cart to guide us to our lodging. The guy tells us to throw all our luggage into his cart and he’s off. We have to almost jog to keep up with him as he twists and turns through the Medina towards our riad. DQT tries to note the landmarks so she can remember how to get back here but she’s lost after the 4th turn.
We arrive at a tiny little door with little to announce it as our riad.
We knock nervously and our housekeeper answers and greets us in French. She’s been expecting us! Inside, the riad is peaceful and gorgeous. Nothing like the commotion of the Medina. It’s perfect after the travel day we’ve had!
We meet up with MDT’s cousin Erin for a traditional Moroccan dinner of tagine, assorted salads, and bread. And a very brisk walk through the Medina.
The next morning, we meet up for breakfast with Erin and her friend Nabil. The excitement of this morning was our first attempt at getting a taxi to another part of town. We flag a taxi in the Medina square (tourist central) and give him the address of where we want to go. He tells us 20 dirham, which seemed fair to us. When we arrive, he turns to us and says, “20 euros” (ten times what he quoted us). MDT literally laughed out loud. We shoved a 20 dirham note in his hand and got out of the taxi while he acted surprised. We had a good laugh about this over breakfast!
Breakfast was delicious. Erin and Nabil ordered omelettes with onions and aged beef in fat. And we also had bread with various condiments – butter, peanut butter, olive oil, argan oil, honey, jam, and local herbed cheese. On the way out, we walked by tubs of the beef aged in fat:
After breakfast, Nabil connects with us a taxi driver that some friends have used before and we head out to the Agafay Desert for a night. It’s a bit of an adventure as these desert camps are off the map and GPS can’t find them, so it’s a series of twists and turns and with the driver asking for directions from locals on motorbikes who happen to drive by. We are told to turn left at the “2 red rocks”, but since every rock we see is red this is not helpful and we end up being guided to our campsite by a nice man and his son who scooter by us while we are stopped and trying to get cell service!
The Agafay desert is amazing, more rocks than sand as we are not in the Sahara Desert – that’s the really big sandy one. This year, Agafay is also far more green than you would normally see. It was a rainy winter and things are more lush than they have been in years. Snow tops on the mountains can still be seen as things haven’t fully thawed and the sunset was beautiful (and cold – it’s no joke that after the sun goes down deserts are some of the coldest climates around. We waited for the sun to dip then rushed to get layered up for dinner!).
We spent our afternoon hiking and taking a camel ride, which was an adventure. MDT was hoping that growing up riding horses would make this a pretty smooth transition. He was VERY WRONG. Its not really anything like a horse. The camel lays down so you can climb aboard, then lifts on it’s back legs to start, so you are thrown forward like a roller coaster that drops suddenly, then it lifts it’s front legs which tosses you violently backwards and you wind up looking up at the sky before you can rebalance yourself. MDT was not able to do this without a lot of loud exclamations and grunting as the camel tossed him around. There are also no stirrups, so your feet just hang and bounce around with every step the camel takes. MDT will take a horse any day over the camel. A great once in a lifetime experience, but the hour trip was all MDT could take.
Our camel guide was a very nice man who was very patient with us as we learned the camel protocol. He spoke very little English, and DQT speaks very little French, but they doggedly attempted to carry on a conversation. We learned he is a nomad who was staying with his family a few kilometers away from the camp. He was weaving this fantastic story that built upon the camels and desert scenery. Then, cutting through the hilly landscape came this sound – “RAH-RAH-AH-AH-AH. RO-MA-RO-MA-MA.” The nomad pulls his Samsung Galaxy phone from his robes to answer it. Our nomad is a Little Monster!
While on our after camel hike, we encounter a herd of sheep crossing our path. DQT loves herself a herd of almost anything (trying driving across Indiana with this woman, every few minutes it’s “look…sheep”, “look…cows!”, etc.). About 10 minutes after the sheep crossed our path we hear a voice yelling, and when we look around we see the sheep herder waving at us. He and DQT trade “bonjours.” He waves us over to reveal that he has a teapot in his pack (mint tea is a HUGE part of Moroccan cuisine). He wants to share his tea with us so DQT joins him for a cup and a very short conversation in broken French – he speaks only Arabic and she speaks only English. It was difficult for us to actually communicate much with them, but there were lots of smiles and nodding!
After our evening walk and sunset view, it’s time to shower off the camel scent and get ready for dinner. When we arrive at the dinner tent we attempt to ask for a drinks menu (as we were told when we booked that wine was available). Our gestures confuse the staff member Said, who gets that we want wine, but thinks we are gesture for “menu” means “big or little”. So he is trying to figure out how much wine we want. After some more charades he gets that we want a list and he is very excited and dashes off, only to return with another staff member as both of them are carrying about 5 bottles of wine each! There is no wine list, so he just brought one of each bottle they had. He sets them down and then asks if he should go get all the white wines too (they only brought red). We totally stop him, as we really didn’t expect to order wine and were mostly just curious, and now feel bad that it was so much work just cause we asked a question!
Our desert dinner is classic Moroccan. Tangia (a Marrakech specialty – slow-cooked spiced beef), vegetable tagine, bread with mixed salad, and dessert. Thank goodness Erin took us out to a Moroccan dinner our first night so we knew how to eat the salads and tagine with bread! The meal is far better than expected; this camp has legit food and really did a great job. It’s among the best meals we have had on our trip and we will actually have this dish again in a few days (more on this later) but this was the best.
After dinner we spend a little time by the fire (remember, very cold) and then off to our tent.
For those who have been camping with us, or seen pics, you will be happy to know that we FINALLY stayed in a tent big enough for MDT. (Our camping tent has often been referred to as the “Tent Majal”) but this one in the desert is almost the size of some apartments we have lived in.
It was so cold at night, the staff gave us hot water bottles for the bed. They worked really well!