Leaving behind Ouarzazate,after our late evening arrival the day before, we drove over the barren landscape of the Tizi-n-Tiniffift pass into the Draa Valley and on to the small oasis town of Tazzarine. Our camp for the night in the old part of this small desert town was itself a lush oasis of date palms and pomegranate trees.
We had the place to ourselves and while we the adults relaxed with glasses of mint tea and got to know each other in the communal tent of the camp the children set about exploring and making friends with each other.
That night after an excellent meal made by the very happy cook Ahmed, (who was never seen without a smile on his face) we celebrated two fortieth birthdays amongst the group. Ahmed did himsef proud with the birthday cake he had magically conjured up a few hours previously.
The next day, after a drop of unseasonable rain the day before, dawned bright and sunny and after a comfortable night in our Bedouin tents we packed up ready for our adventure into the Sahara Desert. An hours drive on a dirt road outside of Tazzarine led us to Foum Tizza and the sight of sixteen camels kneeling in the sand awaiting our arrival!
The camelteers tending the camels were helpful and friendly as they got us settled on to our new mode of transport and after some shuffling around of a few grouchy camels until each camel was happy with its neighbour both in front and behind we set off.
As our bodies adjusted to the gait of the camels as the caravan made its way slowly onwards, we marvelled at the desert landscape around us, even the children were quiet as they gazed out at the beautiful emptiness surrouding them.
The blue shesh, (A type of scarf) which some of us purchased the day before proved its worth as it helped protect us from both the dust and heat of the sun. After two hours and a small break later we spied our camp for the night.
Much to the childrens delight we were camping next to a sand dune, a ready made playground!
With help from the camelteers we decended our camels and stretched our legs. (Two hours on a camel is just about right!) The camels were unsaddled and let loose to wander the desert and soon disappeared over the horizon.
They would return at dusk for their meal of barley!
Ahmed, who had arrived earlier with all the gear and some helpers, had a delicious lunch waiting along with the ever flowing mint tea. This was eaten sitting cross legged on matresses in a large communal tent.
After a relaxing afternoon myself and the other adults in the group climbed another nearby sand dune, while our tour leader Ibrahiem kept an eye on the children, to watch the setting sun. We all felt a million miles from anywhere sitting there watching the sun slowly sink behind the horizon. Looking up at the Milky Way that night was an unforgetable experience. I have never seen the stars shining so brilliantly before!
The next day after an early rise to watch the the sun rise, we sat down to a glorious picnic breakfast in the open air.
Sadly after breakfast was the start of our return trip back to Tazzarine and time to say goodbye to the camel caravan and camelteers who had looked after us so well.
After another night spent at the camp in Tazzarine and a delicious lemon chicken Tagine for dinner, we headed back to Ouarzazate and had lunch on the rooftop terrace of a local restaurant overlooking the Taourirt Kasbah.
Later we drove to the oustskirts of the town to visit the Atlas Film Studios. Many well known films such as The Mummy, Cleopatra and Lawrence of Arabia had used the film sets here and It felt quite surreal at times as we stood amongst ancient Roman Plillars and marvelled at huge Egyptian statues (All made of plywood and plaster off course!)
Next stop that day was Ait Benhaddou. The beautiful Kasbah here is a photographers dream and this too has been used as a setting in fims such as Gladiator.
After a very comfortable night in our hotel, which had great views of the Kasbah from the swimming pool terrace, we crossed the shallow river seperating the village of Ait Benhaddou from the Kasbah. This was done with the help of some of the local boys with donkeys or by removing our shoes and socks.
The narrow twisting streets of this very biblical looking, well preserved, fortified kasbah led us to the top of a hill and to stunning views of the surrounding area.
The snow capped peaks of the High Atlas Mountains, which we would be crossing later that day, could be seen in the distance. After many photographs later we made our way down to the bottom again and back to the hotel to start our journey to Marrakech.
Travelling on the highest road in North Africa as we crossed the Tizi-n-Tichka pass in the High Atlas Mountains provided us with some great views, though it did start to feel cold the higher we got and nobody hung around for too long when stopped to take photographs.
After our descent our tour leader stopped at a small local school in one of the many Atlas villages we were to pass through that day so that we could pass on the pens, coloured pencils and exercise books most us had brought with us. Though it was lunchtime and most of the students at the school had returned home for lunch, we could still see how lacking local schools in the region were of even the most basic of resources and I think our children realised just how lucky they were with their own schools! The hustle and bustle of a big city was something of a shock following our days spent in the calm of the desert and surrounding area, but everyone was eager to explore the Medina and to start bartering in the souks.
That night we all walked from our hotel which was situated just outside the Medina wall to the Djemaa el-Fina square to soak up the atmosphere amidst the mingling crowds watching the snake charmers, jugglers and the other free entertainment going on all over the square. The colourful merchandise of the nearby souks beckoned and some of us tentatively tried out our bargaining skills before dinner vowing to return the next day for more shopping.
A tour with a local guide the next norning through the Medina to visit Ali Ben Youssef Medersa, A mosque which used to be once a Islamic school.
Our route took us along winding narrow streets with shops and stalls piled high with merchandise, women out doing their shopping, men and boys busy in their workshops and various modes of transport competing for space as everybody went about their daily business. Images of Aladdin sprang to mind!
Later that day we had free time to go of exploring on our own and to discover more of this intriguing place and also time to drink the odd mint tea with various stall owners as we haggled for souvenirs and presents. As it was our last evening in Morocco we invited Ibrahiem our tour leader to come and eat with us in a local restaurant.
This was our opportunity for us to thank him for the care, help and patience he had demonstrated throughout our stay in Morocco with with us all, especially the children, who had grown very fond of him!
As we reflected on the past week all the kids agreed that the best bit for them had been the camel ride and playing in the sand dunes. We the adults had to agree the tranquility and beauty of the Sahara had been something else.
Later that evening, as some of us had different flights home, we swapped addresses and said our goodbyes to each other. Plans were made to all meet up in England at a later date for a weekend camping trip.
Not quite the Sahara Desert, but we had our memories and photographs to share of our great trip to Morocco and the time we camped in the desert".