The Sahara Desert (Trip: Post 3 of 5)

Reading Time: 9 minutes


(Sevilla –> Marrakech –> SAHARA DESERT –> Sevilla –> Malaga)

Thursday – Day 127 – Off to the Sahara

We left Fawakay Villas at 7:30am in two off-road SUVs on our 10 hour journey into the Sahara Desert. The goal was to get to our camp in time for the sunset. Plus, who wants to drive through sand dunes in pitch black.  Our driver’s name was Shtookie (spelled phonetically) and he was going to spend about 25 hours with our family over the next several days.

Watching the orange glow of the sun rise behind the mountains as we headed on our adventure.

The first two hours of the trip were getting to the Atlas Mountains. The highest point in Morocco is called the Tichka Pass at 2260 meters, and going over it was our ticket to the desert. Getting to it was an adventure in itself as the mountain road has been under construction for the past 3 years and looks more like a war zone in places than a paved highway. The goal of the construction is to make the journey over the mountains straighter as it currently has over 100 turns and switch backs.

Heading up to Tichka Pass
Getting close with all the switch backs behind us.
Reaching the highest paved road in Morocco

The first thing that we saw going through the mountains were all the kids walking to school on the side of the road. Not one kid had a parent with them and many of them looked between 4 and 9 years old. It was also clear they had many miles to go before they got to school.

Jonah, looked at a seemingly 6 year old walking alone to school and asked, “how do his parents know if he gets to his school safely?” I thought about it for a moment, and realized they probably do not, but just assume all went well because it went well the day before. What a different way to grow up!!

The views throughout the drive were just beautiful and ever changing, including the orange glow of the sunrise we witnessed while driving to the mountain.  After close to 5 hours we were ready to stop and stretch and to have lunch. This also included Jonah getting tossed around by Shtookie. 

Our amazing driver “Shtookie” shaking some sense into Jonah after 5 hours of driving
Getting close to the desert

Finally, by hour 6 we were about to go off-road, but not before we each picked up our own turbans, to keep sand out of our faces in the desert. The first part of the desert lasted about an hour and was dry, flat and gravel. It was cool to see the Raivetz’s car in the distance shooting up dust behind them as they sped along the side of us. Eventually we reached some sand, then some camels, then sand dunes, and then finally the camp. And YES, we made it in time for a beautiful sunset photo.

It was an epic scene straight out of a movie as we headed into the desert.
Our first sunset in the desert was once again epic!
Jonah ripping the sand dunes on the snow board.

One of the highlights for the kids at the camp is surfing down the dunes on a snowboard, and all the kids did it until it was almost pitch black out. Once the sun went down, we immediately felt a significant temperature drop on our 25 minute walk back to camp. Our first dinner was really nice, both because of the food and all the people who worked at the camp wanted us to feel comfortable and at home.

After dinner, we all headed back to the family tents which were a good 10 minute walk and without a flashlight we would never be able to find it. The tents were very comfortable with a main room for adults, a side room for the kids room, and a final room for the bathroom. The bathroom was composed of two buckets for the shower, and a sort of porta-a-potty toilet where you flushed it by pouring water down it after you did your deed. That part was not really the highlight of the trip for any of us. 

Friday – Our Full Day at the Camp – Day 128

Our day started off with breakfast before we went off on our camel ride. We met a new family, who arrived after midnight after they missed a connection and lost two days of their trip. MoMo (nickname) was 6 years old and Leila, Lila, and Sydney quickly became her older sisters throughout the day.

Left to Right: Leila, David, Lauren, Sydney
Chugging along (Note: I did not put that water there)
Doing my best to fit in.

We all headed off to the camel rides except Kelli and Jonah because he was stuck on the port-a-potty with stomach issues for over an hour. Like I said, not the highlight of the trip.  The camel ride was fun and we got photos. After the ride, the kids hung in the hammocks, before we all did a small hike and then drove to visit a nomad and his two wives.

The kids hanging out!

We met their goats and one of his wives made us bread. Their oven was literally the dirt on the ground lit by fire, and they cooked the bread by covering it in the dirt.   We finished off the excursion with hot tea before we headed back to camp for lunch. 

Our meals became very predictable in Morocco. Couscous with either vegetables or meat followed by Tanjine with either vegetables or meat. As a result, I ate well, but never got too full. Which was a nice change from my normal tendency to overeat.  I felt light on my feet and maybe just a tad bit hungry throughout the day, but in the right way. I really liked the change, but by the time we left Morocco I was ready for more food. 

After lunch, it was 4 hours of snowboarding on sand dunes for the kids as all the adults got to know each other better. This included another arrival of a really nice Canadian family and a couple from Malaysia and their five year old daughter, who also immediately got adopted by the older girls.

Loving each moment
What a great crew!
Looking off into the desert.
Kids being great.
Ready to roll

At dinner we had a really great conversations with all the families. Especially with one guest, Olu, talking about people. He’s from Nigeria and lived there until he was 16, then he moved to the states and eventually became an entrepreneur.   From all his travels he has found the same theme, people just want to live their lives and be happy. That is what we all have in common. And that is what connects us so much more than divides us.

That  totally resonated with my experience so far living in Barcelona and my limited travel. I recently asked Leila what was her most surprising thing about moving to Barcelona, and she said it felt just like being at home and was easier than she expected. She explained that she made new friends right away and that made all the difference. 

In fact, I believe it goes directly to one of the main things that has changed our family from this experience. That is recognizing just as Olu said, “people are people” and we all want the same thing: To live and be happy.  It might sound simple, but understanding that is freeing in so many ways. 

The night ended with singing and dancing around the bonfire. It was a perfect celebration to our amazing experience in the Sahara.

A great way to end the night with music and dancing,

Saturday – Off to the Riad in the Mountains – Day 130

Saying goodbye!

We left the camp around 10am with our 5 hour or so journey to Kasbah Azul, the Riad we were staying at overnight on our way back to Marrakech. We drove a different way then we came in order to see new areas. Much of this ride was a flat layer of sand that seem to stretch out as far as the eyes could see.  After about 2 hours, we finally got out of the desert and started hitting little villages along the way. For me it was weird to see other people after two days of seemingly isolation.

Nothing around for 30+ miles on our way out.

When we arrived at the Riad, I got on wifi and made some calls to the family back home. None of us were brave enough to do the bucket shower in the tent, so after several days of dirt, we were all looking forward to a hot shower. Unfortunately after the first few of us, it became a slow dripping cold shower for the entire Riad. We had a very nice dinner that night, and a great sleep.

Sunday – Driving Back to Marrakech – Day 130

We had a 6 hour drive in front of us and got a bit of a late start at 10am. This was the curviest drive so far, but had so many spectacular views of the mountains and volcanic rocks.  On the way, we first stopped at a rug coop and saw rugs being made by hand one knot at a time. The kids even had a chance to get in on the action.

Some of the many amazing views on the way home.
Jonah helping make a Moroccan rug.

From there we went to a Kasbah, had lunch, and toured it with a guide. What was so interesting was that it felt like ruins from 1000 years ago, but it was actually built in the 1900s. We kept debating back and forth if we should stop there, and even the rug coop vs drive directly to Marrakech, with only small stops for lunch and breaks. So glad we stopped, as we gained new experiences and are richer for it.

Touring an old Casbah.

We finally got to the hotel around 5pm and said goodbye to our amazing drivers who took care of us so well to and from the desert. They had to clean their cars, eat dinner and rest before they rinsed and repeated this trip with new families the next day.

Ari got a recommendation from a friend for a nice restaurant in the new part of the city, so we all hopped in taxis and headed over there at 8pm. It was the perfect way to end the trip with… you guessed it, Tagine and Couscous. But this time we got hummus and lentils in the mix.

After a very full day, we all headed back to the hotel to get ready to go to Sevilla the next day, for our final leg of our New Year’s trip with the Ravietz’s.