From Atlas mountains to Sahara or how to bargain in Morocco

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After few hours ride through spectacular mountains and little villages with some Arabic music on the radio, we reached Ait Benhaddou. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. But it is well known, not because of UNESCO. Several films, including Gladiator, Babel and The Mummy, were filmed here. As me and Viktorija are both movie freaks, we couldn’t resist the temptation to make a stop here.  

Ait Benhaddou greeted us with calmness. No traffic, no cars, just a few locals chatting next to the shop and a bunch of kids playing in the street. It was hard to imagine that some time ago the area was occupied by Hollywood.

The village is divided into two parts: the one, where most of the people live and the other one, just across the river, which is a fortification with houses made of clay, on the slopes of a mountain. This one is the main target of the tourists, offering a breathtaking scenery of the nearby hills. We climbed up the mountain and watched our first sunset in Morocco. First out of many.

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The guy, who worked in our hotel told that he acted in a few movies. Probably, along with many other locals. He also told that I look like Brad Pitt. That was the second time in Morocco, when somebody said this. I’m looking for an agent now. As it was off season, the hotel was almost empty, so we could get a lower price.

Next day the views were even more impressive. Sometimes we stopped next to the road for some pictures. I instantly fell in love with those dry and rugged mountains. After half of a day of driving we reached Todgha gorge, a canyon in the Eastern part of High Atlas mountains. We found a place to stay in a few minutes, left our stuff in the room and went for a hike in the gorge. There is one part, where gorge becomes really narrow and you are surrounded with giant walls. That’s how ants feel in this world, I guess. I also mutated into a mountain goat and climbed few rocks. Further from the main roads, I saw two men sitting by the fire under a big stone. Probably, they were local shepherds.

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Later that evening, we were walking in the dark, willing to find some good place for a dinner. One random guy started to chat with us and said he knows a nice restaurant. His name was Abdullah and we followed him through unknown streets. The meal was really good, not the cheapest one though. We also spent an hour chatting with Abdullah, which appeared to have a shop. Not a surprise. I knew that he will try to sell something for us, but he was quite friendly, so we decided to have a risk. He told that some ladies work for him and make carpets which he usually sells for the shops. After having a tea with him, he started to show his carpets and encouraged me to trade something. ‘You can’t put a carpet into a hand luggage’, – I said. Abdullah didn’t want to give up and showed some smaller ones. He said he likes my watch and I gave him to try it. I got that watch for free few years ago, so we shook hands, I gave him my watch and some money and he gave me a small, red carpet. Which I didn’t need of course, but I wasn’t in the mood to debate with him. Viktorija bought some pendant, we said goodbye and left. On the way back, we were laughing about plumping into this kind of situation. Few days later, she saw a very similar pendant for much lower price.

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And then it was time for Sahara. Some really high dunes were seen in a distance as we were heading to our next destination – Merzouga. As always there were some guys standing next to the road and offering to stay in their hotels. We made an agreement with the first one we’ve met and followed his motorcycle to the hotel.

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I don’t like riding animals. Last year, when I was in the Thar desert in India, I refused to have a camel ride and had a walk on my own instead. ‘Oh, what a heck’, – I thought this time, when I was sitting on the back of the camel. Soon my ass started to hurt, but Sahara was too impressive that I would have time to complain about it. After an hour, my ass was saved and we reached a camp in the desert with some tents. The moon was full with some stars in the sky and the best part of the day was to have a walk around the dunes and then to run down. Loads of good emotions. It was only two of us in the camp with three locals. They made us dinner, played some music and felt a need to disturb us with their talks. I think, they play ‘You are wonderful, I’m so happy to meet you’ role, because they expect tips or something. Next morning, we rode a camel to Merzouga and hit the road again.

We followed a recommendation of some Italian and that wasn’t a good idea as we didn’t find anything special about the place she told us. Then we were trying to reach some gorge, but we couldn’t find the right road. Locals didn’t know anything about it and the scale of the map in the Lonely planet was too big. That day we spent 10 hours in the car, I was tired of driving, when we finally found a place to stay in a random city. The place cost only 80 dirhams (8 Euros) for two of us and the meal in the local place was also quite cheap. After the dinner, I just fell into the bed.

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Next day, we reached Ouzoud falls. They were the highest ones I have seen so far – 110 meters. The falls were full with tourists, so we went for a hike in the mountains. With my broken French, I managed to cut down the price for the hotel from 300 to 150 dirhams. We also wasted some time, while searching for lunch as all the places were overcharging us. In Morocco you need to bargain everywhere and that doesn’t always mean you will have a decent price.

We woke up early in the morning and headed to Marrakech. It was time to say goodbye for our little Fiat. The renting company was kind and dropped us at the bus station, where in a few minutes we bought a ticket and left to Essaouira. Believe it or not, there were some additional plastic chairs in the bus. Fortunately, we got the normal ones. 3 hours and we greeted the Atlantic coast.