In Marrakech, you will find many tours to the desert. They are all organized by the same company and do the same stuff: Aït Benhaddou, looking at a castle, visit a Berber village, take pictures of a mountain pass and riding on a camel into the desert. Our guide summed it up perfectly a couple of times: “We stop here to make picture and then back inside the bus. Yalla yalla.”
If you are like me and this idea makes you nervous, but you do want to visit the desert and you are short on time and money, read on.
I met two people who helped me making my desert tour really authentic. At my hostel I ran into Lahcen, a handsome and tranquilly looking Moroccan guy. He talked in a gentle voice and smiled kindly. He told me that if I want to experience the real Morocco I should visit his village, Imider. He assured me I wouldn’t be disappointed.
The second person is Hassna, a Dutch Moroccan woman who owns Travelbymaroc.com. I got in touch with her through a friend and she was interested in my Pancake Adventures. She was very excited when I told her I wanted a true, authentic Moroccan tour. Just like Lahcen, she hated how the tourist industry in Morocco gives a very limited or even wrong idea about Morocco and its people. “You just get in touch with people who want your money. But actually the people here are very generous, especially in the villages.” That’s why Travel by Maroc tries to do it a little bit differently. She got in touch with Lahcen and the both of them arranged a small d-tour to Lahcen’s village of Imider. It was just a small adjustment but the impact on the experience was huge.
Authenticity is difficult to direct or plan, but here something you can expect:
The Kindest Police Officer of North Africa
I was very relieved when the bus dropped us at a town near the village Imider. Our taxi drove to Imider, passed it, didn’t drop us and brought us straight to the police. We got the happiest police officer in the whole of North Africa. He was giving a speeding ticket to a man with a happy smile. “Isn’t life wonderful.” He said when he patted the man on the back. We had to wait in this great company until Lahcen’s friend, Abdo came to pick us up. The police laughed. “Don’t let anything happen to them or you will die.” He said cheerfully and waved us off.
Abdo brought us to his home. A grey brick house at the foot of a mountain. We sat around a small table on a rug in a room that was filled with rugs. We got mint tea, and his mother made us the most delicious couscous. Abdel, Abdo’s little brother, joined us too. And cheerfully practised his English. Abdo told us stories about the village on top of the hill and about the problems in Morocco and how he knew seven languages and a lot more information than a guy in an isolated village needs.
The Protest Village
The next day Abdo took us to a village that was build on a mountain top to protest against a nearby silver mine. There were about 15 small brick houses spread over the top. It had the atmosphere of a squatted building: activist paintings on the wall, newspaper articles as wallpaper, stoned guys hanging around, waiting for something big to happen. It is the longest lasting protest in the world, which I find a real achievement. They have to. Because if they leave the silver mine will take over the water resevoir and drain Imider. If you are interested read this New York Times article.
The Desert Hike
Because of this protest, the local authorities are not too keen on having foreigners here. So out of safety measures, we went back through the desert. “Look a scorpion!” We didn’t see anything. Abdo lifted a rock, and the little yellow guy with mean claws ran out the sand. First, we had to wary of the police; now we had to be careful with this poisonous scorpion. Abdo was not only a walking encyclopedia; he was am autodidact boy scout too. We walked for two hours on the dry, rocky desert and he thought us all the ways to survive. “to catch a lizard, you use a coke can.” for example. Eventually, we arrived at a well where nomads herd their sheep.
“We have to cross the road quickly, so the police doesn’t see us.” I wonder if he did this to make us feel that we were on a secret mission. We were on a mission. We were heading to the lady who lives in a cave.
The Lady Who Lives in a Cave
Lahcen told me we should visit Aunt Toda, the lady in the cave. We arrived at a rocky valley with a football field randomly dropped in the centre. We crossed a stone enclosure, and suddenly we were in Toda’s house. A cave. A little fire pit with pans and some rugs on the floor. That is all you need for a house. Cave life. Aunt Toda saw us and walked up from the valley with her ten little black goats. She was yelling at us that she was honoured with the visit. That she was young once. And pretty. And that she loved Europeans because they would stop their cars when she would cross the road with her goats. I said I would like to live with her and we agreed that would be a good plan. I would say inherent the cave and the sheep when she was gone. For a moment I thought that was a great idea.
The Rest of the Tour
The next morning we caught another touring car which brought us to a carpet store, a ‘real Berber village’, a waterfall, another shop, an overpriced restaurant and eventually to the never disappointing dunes that I have seen on pictures so often. We ran up to the highest dune to watch a wonderful sunset, ran down and counted shooting stars until we fell asleep.