Morocco – Asni to Merzouga

Hiking up to a Berber village
Knowing how well we usually do on the food side of the equation on holidays, we decided that we certainly needed some activity to balance it out. So we signed up for this hike that started off at the small village of Imlil, which is a popular entry point for hikers wanting to scale Mt Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa at 4,167 metres. Of course, our ambitions weren’t as lofty and the goal was only half of that – being the Berber village of Armed at 2,000m. Even then, some of us had no hesitation in requesting mules for a bit of assistance.

As it turns out, it was a nice little trek. Winding our way through the village then past a walnut grove, we enjoyed the fresh morning air, away from the craziness of Marrakech. We even scored some fresh walnuts when our guides offered us a few that fell by our trail as we hiked past. All along, the scenery was breathtaking. Then towards the end, the trail left behind the few remaining homes and trees and we ended up on an open dirt road all the way to Armed. I just find it amazing and sobering how the communities live up here. Even more so when I find out that some surrounding villages still don’t have electricity!

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Atlas Mountains
The next day, Omar (our guide and driver) arrived and we began our drive west to Merzouga. The first part was of course, getting over the Atlas Mountains! There is a pass via Col Du Tichka at 2,260m but thankfully, this time we will be in the comfort of a car. Omar was infinitely patient in both toilet and photo stops!

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The winding road up and over the High Atlas.

 

Ait Ben Haddou
Multiply your imagination of a mud brick house a hundred fold and you get Ait Ben Haddou. Listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, it is a structure to behold. Of course, it is completely blended into its surroundings. If not for the fact that it is situated on the hill, I would not have picked it out from the surrounding area. Many films have been shot on location here (the most recent of which is the 2010 movie Prince of Persia). Looking at the site and the surrounding plains, I can see why. You can even shoot a Martian landscape here. Seems so out of this world.

The old Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou

The old Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou

    View from the top

View from the top

Oasis de Fint
Located just 10km south of Ourzazate, we stayed here for one night as our rest stop. You get the idea of what an oasis truly is when after driving on the dusty gravel roads for what must be like forever with uninteresting plains on both sides, a splash of green suddenly appears on the horizon. Teeming with lush greenery, I was just reinvigorated looking at it all. Here, it is completely laid back with donkeys carrying loads, kids playing on the narrow streets and rare sight of ladies washing their clothes along the river.

 

 

Sand dunes of Erg Chebbi
On our final day and after hundreds of kilometres, we finally reached Merzouga which is famous for one thing – the sand dunes of Erg Chebbi which also happens to be part of the Sahara desert! Unique for their orange coloured sand, the sand dunes here can reach a height of 150m. Legend has it that the giant sand dunes were sent by God to bury a wealthy family who had refused to shelter a weary traveller from the desert. We actually climbed one of them to watch the sunset. It was quite a climb indeed! But absolutely worth the effort. We agreed, as we watched the spectacular sun set over the golden-pink sands of the Sahara that Erg Chebbi was pretty special.

    The sand dunes of Erg Chebbi

The sand dunes of Erg Chebbi

 

Todra Gorge.
On our penultimate day, we prepared for the long drive back to Marrakech. We all knew this was going to be tiring for both Omar and us. But there was one more stop that Morocco had for us and this was the Todra Gorge. Carved into the High Atlas, its sheer rock walls reach 160m high. There’s a river that runs along it but surely it can’t be the one that carved this mighty gorge! It is quite a spectacle and walking along it, you can almost feel like its enclosing on you. I wished we could’ve stayed longer but Omar gently hurried us along. We still had a long drive ahead before Marrakech and then our flight home

The Draa Valley or the Valley of dates. Here, Berbers live almost like their ancestors years ago and dates are the livelihood.

The Draa Valley or the Valley of dates. Here, Berbers live almost like their ancestors years ago and dates are the livelihood.

 

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