Sahara road trip, Part I

We were a little nervous about renting a car in Morocco. But we asked a lot of questions, listened to stories from other travelers, and decided to do it.

Sitting on the couch at Mami Tours, we asked: is it an automatic? Does it have air conditioning? Does it have a CD player? Yes, yes, yes, he said.

Two out of three isn’t so bad. It’s just that it’s been a long time since I’ve driven a car with manual transmission. And that was in New Zealand, on the other side of the road. And car.

But it comes back to you.

Even on roads like this.

winding road in the atlas mountains

With goats crossing. (Sorry for the windshield smudge in the photo.)

goats crossing the road in the atlas mountains

Mara took the wheel first and navigated the traffic and roundabouts of Marrakesh and our first taste of Moroccan highway. Once we started to approach the Atlas Mountains, we switched.

goats grazing in atlas mountains

The Tizi-n-Tichka Pass is Morocco’s highest road pass, reaching 2260 meters (7413 feet) before descending again. The road winds through pale rock, green valleys, red rock, cedar forest, and black rock before it brings you into the desert.

atlas-mountains-terraces

The road is also the sidewalk and the bike lane, and there are donkey carts and livestock trucks and people building stone walls at the edge of the road and the cliff. At the turn-outs, men try to sell jewelry and garishly painted fake geodes. The tourist stores all seem to sell the same ceramics, argan oil, and carpets.

boy-and-mule-cart

We saw kasbahs and ksars. (I’ll write about those later; we stopped at Ait Benhaddou and Tamnougault, and walked by another near where we stayed in Agdz, and drove past countless more.) And the desert unfolded before us.

sahara desert scrubby

In the town of M’Hamid, we left behind our little Renault and got into a 4×4 with a driver and guide. We were heading off-road, toward the sand dunes of Erg Chigaga.

sahara-sand-grass

Two hours of bouncing and jostling through the desert. Wind swept the grasses and rippled the sand. Camels wandered here and there; a small flock of goats nibbled at the grasses. Acacia and tamarisk trees, tough and stark, grew up through the rock.

acacia tree

Then we reached the dunes.

sand dunes at erg chigaga

We dropped our bags and walked into the dunes.

We climbed one of the biggest dunes and sat at the top to watch the sun set.

sahara-sand-dunes

When we got back to camp, it was dark. We slept outside, on beds dragged out onto the sand, watching the stars come out.

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1 Comment

Filed under photo, travel

One response to “Sahara road trip, Part I

  1. I must say this is a great article i enjoyed reading it keep the good work 🙂

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