Morocco Road Trip: Marrakech, Ouarzazate, Zagora & Sahara Desert
Morocco was magical. It was unlike anywhere I’ve ever been to. It was red, alive, exotic, spicy, French, Arabic, and bursting with history. So different yet, slightly familiar in the sense that the atypical mannerisms of the people reminded me of my Dominican background. Most commonly, they were playful, charming, generous, and happy hard-working hustlers. The Moroccans were particularly gregarious to us each time they found out we were American. A reaction we weren’t used to, having lived in Europe for the past year. So it was refreshingly nice to hear “Welcome to our country” with a friendly smile.
Although I limited my water intake to only filtered/bottled water, I did eat and drink anything and everything else and I was fine. From Moroccan salads to stews to mint teas and colorful medleys. The ubiquitous orange juice stands were the perfect refreshment to have in between sightseeing.
We got henna painted on our hands and legs while the female artists wished us luck on finding good husbands. We bought various types of exotic herbs at stands and clandestine shops. And we walked for hours, admiring the unique architectural design of buildings and streets. I felt like Marco Polo. A curious and excited foreigner exploring a completely different culture and environment.
Marrakesh felt like timing traveling to the past and into the Aladdin cartoon. After taking in much of the city; eating and shopping for gorgeously designed items, we decided to venture outside of Marrakesh. We rented a no-brand car, and our friend Peter drove because he was the only one that could drive a stick. Although the drive down to Zagora and the Sahara desert took us about 8 hours, it didn’t matter because the drive was incredible.
The scenery was breathtaking. Loops and swirls of gorgeous mountains. Sandy towns with kids walking home from school, men riding donkeys carrying goods, and women running their daily errands. Their gorgeous sand-tone skins shimmered in the sun like rose gold. People stopped in their steps to stare at us since the places we ventured through had little to no tourists. We loved it.
Although the people were immensely helpful and friendly everywhere, it is always prudent to beware of being ripped off just like anywhere else in the world. Unless there is a fixed price tag you are ALWAYS invited to dance in the art of negotiation. Negotiation is a prime tenet of Islam. Aim to reach half the price they initially ask for, and even then you will still be overpaying the foreigner price.
So unless you don’t mind overspending money, shopping is more of a sword fight type of art than a leisurely experience. Also, street harassment is common towards women. I have to say, that did annoy me the most, but it wasn’t as bad as I’ve heard it can be because we were traveling with a man.
We reached the desert that evening to ride camels through the desert. We started during the sunset and finished in pitch black darkness. After a dinner in Ouzazarte, our Moroccan friends begged us to stay and hang out. But my travel mate wanted us to go back to Marrakesh. I had brought us this far out. It was time to compromise, so I regretfully declined their invitation. For a longer stay in the desert, consider this blogger’s guided tour.
Driving back at night through windy valleys and sand storms was quite an adventure. By the time the sun creeped out, only 3 out of our 4 brakes were functioning. This was particularly worrisome since the mountains roads did not have guardrails. Sixty kilometers from Marrakesh, while driving at 10 kilometers an hour, a wheel popped off the car and rolled down the mountain. Afraid we would skid off the cliff, I jumped out of the car. Behind me, I saw a trail of my beautiful silk scarfs floating in the wind. I swung back around only to catch a glimpse of the wheel bouncing down the mountain, almost comically.
Luckily, a friendly Berber driving by slowed down and offered us assistance. We rambled on in French about what had happened. He dutifully drove us back to Marrakesh in his very retro car. The car walls were lined with purple fur with gold bells jingling from the rooftop, and the seats were covered in zebra patterns. I still smile when I think back on that road trip adventure.
The next morning in Marrakesh, we strolled through the Yves St. Laurent Gardens. Afterwards, we stuffed all our new souvenirs into our bags and with a tinge of sadness and gratitude, we headed to the airport. I hope Morocco never loses its magic. May we meet again!