We came to Morocco for adventure, and to dive headfirst into a culture and country unknown to us.
Our driver, Mohammed, bespeckled and stoic, doesn’t speak a lot. He’s got both hands on the wheel, planted firmly at 10 and 2 with his eyes steady on the road.
At 6,000 feet above sea level, spiraling along what must be our 30th hairpin switchback, I’m really starting to appreciate Mohammed’s businesslike approach. Our kids, four and seven, debate their favorite superpowers, oblivious to our precarious position on the top of the Tizi n’Tichka.
As for me, I’m imagining what the view would be like if we slipped off these hairpin bends, watching the scarlet and crimson of the dusty Moroccan landscape slide by as we tumbled to the fields below.
But at the top, everything changes. Stretching ahead of us, through a crack in the surprisingly snowy High Atlas Mountains, I imagine the exotic Morocco I’ve read about. The desert begins here, dusty and expansive, leading into the massive Sahara.
Here, above the desert, nomadic Berbers still live in the countryside, some spending the winters in caves and the summers tending their flocks on the mountain plateaus. As we pass down through foothills, I can see hints of the great desert ahead of us. Rocks glow burnt red like embers, and grass and scrub clings to life in narrow gorges and riverbeds.
The kasbahs, so famous in Morocco, soon begin to appear. Traditionally built of mud and straw, they rise like huge sandcastles out of the red earth, hugging the dry landscape. The largest kasbahs were built by the Glaoui family, infamous for their long, bloody rule. Today many are slowly crumbling to dust; blending into the dusty orange of the hills, while others still stand tall.
The most famous of these is Aït Benhaddou, along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Aït Benhaddou is spectacular enough to have been featured in Hollywood films from Laurence of Arabia to Jewel of the Nile and Gladiator.
Beside the small town of Agdz, the lush, green palms of the Draa Valley oasis suddenly appear. It’s a welcome sight, as we’re all sore and tired from our grueling ride. Stiff-legged and awkward after hours in the truck, we make our way on foot to explore the palms.
The oasis is fed by the water of the Draa river, which winds its way down from the tall peaks of the High Atlas Mountains. This oasis was a lifeline for traders who made their way across the Sahara to trade slaves, ivory and ostrich feathers from North Africa at the market towns of Timbuktu on the Niger River. Over the years, thousands of dromedary camel caravans have made the two month journey home from this lush oasis, laden with barley, salt and dates.
The people who live here are a mix of Arab, Berber, Jew and the descendants of Mauritanian slaves. Here, life goes on as I imagine it must have 1,000 years ago. Women wash their clothing in narrow rivulets of water, and hang them to dry from nearby trees or rocks as their children play beside them.
A boy rides by on a bicycle, with yellow jugs of precious water from the Draa strapped behind him, followed by another on foot, asking us to buy dates from his family trees. A small donkey hides from the mid-day sun in the shade of trees lush with pomegranate flowers and budding dates.
Eventually, we emerge from the protection of the oasis back into the scorching desert heat. Our kids bolt ahead, bounding for the truck, always ready for another adventure.
We’re sure Morocco will continue to deliver in spades.
And it does.
Journey Beyond Travel can help you experience the best of Morocco with a completely customized tour designed to your desires. Whether it’s camel riding in the Sahara, trekking the High Atlas mountains, surfing the Atlantic coast, or shopping in the world famous souqs, our team will help make it happen! Contact us today to have your questions answered and begin planning your Moroccan vacation.
About the Author
Micki Kosman is one half of The Barefoot Nomad. Together with her husband Charles and their two kids, they travel the world in search of ice cream and adventure. They’ve been traveling together for well over a decade and are proof that adventure and travel are possible after you have kids. You can check out their blog at TheBarefootNomad.com.