31 Oct 15
I’ve been looking up camping this week and got reminded of my time in Morocco. I made a detour to Marrakesh 3 years ago and heard so much positive things about the place. It was supposedly a good introduction to how Africa is and words like ‘exotic’, ‘flavor’, ‘atmosphere’ were thrown around so much around the internet that I really did buy into it.
In retrospect, the main thing that ruined the trip for me was the heat. In Singapore, we’re perpetually in a high-humidity, 26-32 degrees Celsius type of weather but that has no competition for the type of heat you’d get in the Sahara in the middle of summer.
The thing is, you usually look up your next accommodation from the comforts of an air-conditioned couch even in a hostel. You’ll be munching on some chips, surfing the net and EVERYTHING YOU SEE looks great. If your hostel looks like this, you’d think words like ‘exotic’, ‘chill’, ‘atmosphere’.
I had stayed in a really budget ‘hostel’ in Marrakesh which is really a riad. Riads are basically houses built around a courtyard in the middle which is supposed to disperse heat from the surrounding rooms. In the riad I was at, there was no aircon and there was ONE fan to share in the room. It was also 40 degrees and I swear I’ve never in my life experienced air that still. There was a steadfast blanket of heat around me and it’s made worse by the thick carpeted mattresses that we slept on.
Living in the heat automatically puts you in this really shitty mood on landing at the airport. There aren’t public buses as far as I could tell and I had to use one of the overpriced cabs. It wasn’t too bad a move either because there’s really no directions anywhere in town. Once you’re in town for a couple of days you’ll figure out where to go but til then, no signs no nothing but you can rely on this.
One of the sights I’ve consistently noted being raved about are the souks or markets. They’re hustle and bustle and most fun. In fact, one of my earliest memories of Morocco, nerd that I am, was from Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis which had a puzzle portion where you followed a guy through the confusing souks. I loved that game and was sure I’d love this too.
I liked the colors of the souks. I’d have taken more photos if I didn’t feel as intimidated by the bombardment of hawkers and store-owners who’re telling me to buy everything in sight (possibly because I was walking around with an older lady who’s too white and too smiley for our good). I’d revisit the area again with ironically, a fresh, preppy white American dude and we actually got harassed less so maybe it’s vibes too. I did really like the food there which involves lots of couscous and vegetables and stewed meats and sometimes kebabs.
I’m quite used to spices and stewed foods as a Singaporean who eats pretty much everything so there’s nothing particularly weird about the foods though I did note that the Australian couple with me on the tour group to the Sahara wanted everything with fries. You’ll find staples like this everywhere and they’re cheapest around and about in the markets.
Speaking of markets, I remember looking them up online and the sights we see are closer to photos like these
In reality, most photos are closer to scenes like this.
My photos are shit, I know that. Why are they so far away and terrible, you ask? Because there are touts bugging me to buy something when I whip out my camera and I don’t like being surrounded by a horde when I’m travelling solo. I’ve learnt one thing about travel blogs – when the pics are too good and the experience is fantastic, chances are 1) the blogger’s travelling as a group, probably in a tour group or 2) the blogger has a good camera and even when pics are massively cropped, still look good.
In my 2 days in Marrakesh, I made up my mind to skip Fez and travelling southwards and fly back to Madrid after a Sahara tour (which anyone sane would need to do). I don’t know if it’s a bad decision but regardless of your feelings about Morocco, you’ll want to camp in the Sahara.
The standard Sahara tour brings you to Ouazazarte. It’d pass through M’Hamid and of course you’ll have to pay more for extras like entrance fees and whatnots to wherever and some part of your itinerary will depend on if your tour group members are game enough for it. I booked my tour with the hostel and I think the hostels/hotels in the area work with the same travel agencies anyway and you’ll be charged according to how much you can afford.
I booked a one night package that involved camping in a tent but the whole group decided that the tents were too hot to stay indoors so we lugged our mattresses out and slept open-faced under the stars. No bugs, no wild animals. It’s too hot for anything to want to bite you. If you’re used to camps with some semblance of a bath, well, you’re in the Sahara where water IS scarce so no baths.
We watched the stars and fell asleep as a blanket of fine sand and heat cascaded over us. We woke in the morning, sandy, sticky and a little parched but I think that might have been the happiest time I’ve had in Morocco. Sleeping outdoors also means everyone will be awake by sunrise and can watch the sun peek out from the dunes before the heat engulfs your soul.
In retrospect, again, I think Morocco can be worth a revisit. I remember feeling very tired at having to reject shop owners at every turn and having to bargain for water at every shop but outside of Marrakesh, if you speak a little French, you’ll get by better and of course there are sights like these to marvel at.
In retrospect of course.