On Friday morning, we left the relative comfort of Florence and headed off towards Marrakech, Morocco. Arriving late in the afternoon, and after switching some euros for Moroccan durhams, we met our guides. They drove us to check in at our hotel, a quaint and comfortable place in the center of Jemaa el-Fnaa (the old city). We then took a walking tour of the souk, buying some hand-dyed scarves, fresh spices and oils, and silver decorated jewelry, among other things. We saw monkeys on leashes and cobras with their snake charmers, various scarves, drums, necklaces, spices, and more, and stands selling orange and other fresh juices. When the sun dipped below the horizon, our guide led us to a restaurant in the central square where we were served some traditional Moroccan fare: Moroccan soup, chicken tajine, and vegetable cous cous. Then it was off to bed to get some nights sleep for the early morning ahead.
We woke up around 4am, dressed sleepily and scarfed down a quick breakfast, then loaded ourselves into two vans and started towards the desert. Our driver was crazy, passing everyone on the road and speeding into hairpin turns, but somehow we made it all in one piece. The drive was 10 hours in total, but it was anything but tedious. We watched as the terrain before us changed dramatically by the hour, from barren desert rock to snow spotted peaks to cedar forest and back again. We drove east across the Atlas Mountains. I was pleasantly surprised that the roads were in mostly decent condition, and though most drivers chose not to acknowledge them, most had what appeared to be newly painted lines.
After one last bathroom break for 12 hours and 10 more minutes of driving, the dunes suddenly appeared before us, seemingly a mirage on the far horizon. As we neared them, 4-wheeling across dirt roads, we realized the vastness we were facing as we entered the Sahara. We were each hurriedly mounted onto camels and headed off into the sand. Let me tell you something that you may have already deduced -- camels are not comfortable animals to ride through deep sand for 1.5 hours. It was bumpy and rough and there didn't seem to be any "comfortable" position, but we trudged onwards as the sun set behind us. At last, we turned around a dune and saw tents ahead, situated at the base of the tallest dune I'd seen. Our camel guides, who spoke maybe three words of English, quietly led the camels to a group of tents and helped us dismount, then walked away leaving us to enter a small encampment and drop our bags. It was now fully dark, the temperature was dropping, and we waited quietly as dinner was prepared (more chicken tajine). Along the base of the dune were a line of other encampments, ours the last at the end, and the next one over seemed to be the party camp, blasting techno music into the desert night. We decided to climb (or attempt to climb) the dune, making it after much struggle about 2/3 up the steep side. I took some pictures, we sat and talked, then I headed down to attempt to get a few hours of sleep. Our "beds" were thin makeshift mattresses on some blankets under a small tent in the encampment, with a pillow, a sheet, and a camel hair blanket. When I went to bed I wasn't that cold in two sweaters, leggings, and socks, but halfway through the night I woke shivering and rushed to put on every single piece of clothing I could find, falling back asleep fitfully under the blanket that I wished I had seven more of.
After a tough and frigid nights sleep we awoke again at 4 in the morning, this time getting ready with nothing but small flashlights in the pitch black. The stars were entirely visible outside and there was no sound other than our small group rustling around and a rooster crowing in the distance. We mounted our camels and hiked to a lookout point where we waited for the sun to rise, snapped some pictures of the dunes and the camels and each other, then continued on to the edge of the desert. Here, we said goodbye to our camels and camel guides and met again with our driver guides, who led us into an empty hotel building where we devoured breakfast. The next step was the seven hour drive to Fez, stopping only for lunch, and being dropped off at the airport. After many mishaps at the airport, the plane being extremely sketchy, we ultimately made it home to Italy.
It was an incredible weekend and I am so happy that I was able to experience it with such great people. It will truly be a memory that will remain with me forever.
(In Marrakech I wore an Anthropologie printed maxi dress, pale pink tassle scarf from Coin, a layered necklace from the Nomad truck, and Target brown combat boots.)
Thanks Dan and Serena for the portraits!
All photography is mine, check out my website for more: Emily Byrski Photography