Sherman, enjoying the sunset at St. Andrews, New Brunswick. Photo taken March 24, 2011.
Where are Kevin and Ruth right now? Cabri Regional Park, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Where are they going next? We're here at the park until late September!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Camel riding in the Sahara Desert!

This is the second post of the day as we're catching up from our three days without internet. So you might want to start with the earlier post if you don't want to miss anything. You can access it here.

We were up bright and early Tuesday morning and arrived at breakfast right on time. Apparently breakfast in Morocco is typically bread, crepes, two different types of jam, and tea and coffee. Oh, and olives.

No fruit at all, and we found that strange. Especially since oranges are plentiful and quite cheap in Morocco.

We were prepared with rice cakes, and Ruth had a couple of mandarins in her bag. We weren't full, but we wouldn't starve. Good thing for a couple of bags of peanuts Ruth had stashed for snacks later.

We brought our bags out to the van, and we were looking forward to a morning walk in the gorge. But our first hint was that the walk wasn't going to happen was that the van was parked in the wrong direction.

We weren't sure yet, but everyone got in the van, with our stuff on the roof again, and off we went. We still had no guide, and the driver didn't speak much English.

We weren't the only ones confused. The gorge was supposed to be part of the trip. And sure, we stayed at the hotel at the gorge, but we never had time to see any of it! I was pissed. We didn't even get to see the snaky road that leads down the one side, we were even shown a picture when we were signing up for the tour. Ruth even asked to make sure that we would be able to see this and we were told that we would. Guess not!

Here's what we missed...

Found on the internet! We were only two kms away from this and never got to see it!

But there was nothing to be done. In all honesty, there was nobody to complain to. Most people didn't seem too bothered, but I don't think they knew what they missed.

We looked out at this type of scenery for about an hour and a half.

A man and his donkey.

Seems that a lot of men are just sitting doing nothing.

Then we stopped at a random place, and this guy hops on board....

Can't remember his name. Let's call him Hamid.
Hamid also reminded us of a used car salesman!

The small city of Tinghir.

Hamid is a tall guy!

It was quite interesting. The farm plots belong to families and they are never bought or sold. just passed from generation to generation. They usually just grow alfalfa as feed for their animals.

But there were some beans being grown as well.

There were a lot of people working in the fields, but they didn't want their photos taken, not even from a distance. The kids in the photo above were following us with their palms outstretched. Apparently school break started this week, and all kids legally have to be in school, but I have a feeling that these kids would have been around anyhow.

From the fields, Hamid took us into the old part of the village where we would visit a typical Berber family home. Not sure how much of it was typical. The walls and hallways were covered in beautiful carpets. A girl was at a weaving machine of some kind and she was working with wool.

All sat around the carpets.

This girl was making wool. Or was she?
I got the impression that this is just for show, and the only time she sits here is when a group of tourists are led in.

The head of the household came in and brought us all a cup of tea.

Then, he said we would explain how the carpets were made and the process but all he told us was the type of material the different carpets were made of, and tried to sell them. he didn't try very hard. In fact, he even said that it didn't matter if we bought one or not. Then he tried again.

Apparently it takes six weeks to six months to make one of these carpets depending on the material, the size and the design, and some will last for 120 years of regular use.

These carpets cost up to 300 euros. Or you can buy one in Marrakesh for 100 euros, but it will have been machine made. How do you tell the difference? Well apparently a handmade Berber carpet is finished at one end and has the tassels at the other end and a machine made one has tassels at both ends and is made on a horizontal loom whereas they use a vertical loom as shown in the picture with the young lady. He said the vertical loom is what makes the carpets stronger.

Oh, and they even ship worldwide. Right from this guy's typical Berber house in the middle of Nowhere, Morocco. Oh, and you can even use your credit card!

"Here, touch this carpet!"

Another one. 
He kept having his cousin bring out more carpets and laid them on top of each other.

But nobody wanted to buy a carpet. It was all kind of awkward. Then, he collected the empty tea glasses and thanked us for visiting.

We never saw a typical Berber house. All we saw was a carpet showroom. It might have been a bit better if they actually showed how they made them. Unless of course they're all machine made. Yes, I am a bit skeptical.

We all piled back in the van, and headed north...a short detour to see the Todra Gorge. 

Nice view.

A tour bus we spotted. Based on the name, we thought we were with these guys!

This guy has a nice view!

Todra Gorge is interesting. And there are a number of trails leading from the gorge. But we didn't have time to see any of them. We made a 15 minute stop and walked along the tourist stalls at the main part of the gorge, and then it was back in the van! Another place we could easily go back to.

Todra Gorge.
 A little touristy at this section.

More Todra Gorge.

After the too quick of a stop at the gorge, it was time to hop in the van again, but it was shortly after that and we stopped at a tourist restaurant again. This time, the menu items were all priced at 100 dirhams ($14.00 CAD, $10.50 USD). 

I quickly got out my phone, and found three other local restaurants half a km away. Ruth and I and the three siblings from Germany said we were eating elsewhere because this place was too expensive. We were then handed another menu that said 70 dirhams each, but it wouldn't come with a salad or dessert. 

Nope, still too much money. I said that we can easily buy tagine for 45 dirhams, and Hamid vehemently disagreed with me. "No, you can't buy tagine for that price", and he laughed. We walked away, and he said "make sure you're back in half an hour".

We walked to the first place, and it was fine. The guy's daughter saw us (we were the only customers) and went to get her father. We told him (in our very broken French) that we didn't have much time and could he throw something together quickly?

Yep, and he rushed off to do some preparation!

Meanwhile, I took a photo of the guy's menu so that I could show it to my used car salesman guide Hamid...


Now, these are more typical Moroccan prices.

 Elizabeth, Richard, Frederick, and Ruth.

We liked these kids from Germany. Considering their ages, (we think she was early 20's, and the older boy was maybe 19, and the younger one 16) they are very savvy travelers.

The place where we had lunch.

It was't a fantastic lunch, but it was decent for the price, 50 dirhams each. After all, the guy must have been flying through his kitchen trying to put something together for us fast. We sure hadn't given him much time! We had a salad, and meatballs, a tomato tajine and french fries, oranges, and a big bottle of water. Not bad.

We were a few minutes late, but no big deal. After all, this is Morocco. 

Hamid said this was where he stayed put and actually had the nerve to ask for a tip. But I believe a tip is in exchange for exceptional service. So I shook his hand and said thanks. Never bothered to show him the menu. It was pointless.

And we were back in the minibus for another three and a half hours.

Interesting rock formations.

A dusty town along the way.

Camels!

Speaking of camels, we were about to ride some!

We arrived at the village of Merouga at about 4:45pm. This is the last outpost heading east. It's pretty much at the western edge of the massive (about the size of continental United Sates) Sahara Desert

Camels, waiting for us!

This was kind of fun. I've always wanted to ride a camel in the Sahara Desert! They sure are funny looking animals. And kind of dumb. They just sort of do as they're told. Certainly not as smart as a horse, but perhaps a little smarter than a cow! Well, maybe not.

Poor camels. They are kind of cute though. Aren't they?

Camels.

 Ruth, getting on her camel. 

Hang on tight! Because when they stand up, you are shot forward as the rear legs go up first and then you level out as the front goes up. And then, you're about eight feet up in the air!

Ruth, all set to go.

And we're off...with Ruth in the lead!

We had heard varying stories of how long you actually ride the camels. Even varying stories from the people in our group and what they had been told. The stories ranged from one hour to three hours!

It turns out that riding a camel is very hard work. It's not only hard on the bum, but it takes a fair bit of upper body strength to hold yourself steady, especially if the camel is going downhill. You bounce around a lot!

So, it was a good thing that it was only a 40 minute ride to the tents. And of course 40 minutes the next morning. So a total of 1 hour and 20 minutes on the camels. And really, I wouldn't have wanted any more! 

But it was fun. 

We passed a bunch of empty camels headed the opposite way. 
Just how big was this camp we were going to?

Ruth, on her camel. "Watch your sweater Ruth, it's going to fall!"
And it did. The Berber guy went back and picked it up for her.

Camel shadows.

We arrived at the camp and there were a bunch of people already there. The guy who led us on the camels told us to wait here, and pointed to some old mattresses that we all could sit on.

And we waited. And waited.

Talking amongst ourselves, we all agreed that this was a real mystery tour. Very little communication about what we were supposed to do or what was supposed to happen next.

Eventually, some of us decided to climb the big dune in front of us...

Hiking up the sand dune.

Looking down on our "camp".

Now, we have to admit that we didn't ask a lot of questions regarding what the "Berber tent" accommodation was going to be like. Our bad for that.

But we did expect to have our own tent. And we thought there would be toilet facilities of some kind.

The tents slept around 6 people each, on mats on the floor with blankets. Oh, and you each get a pillow. Our regular readers know that we're not high maintenance...we've done group sleepovers while hiking the Guatemala highlands and so we're not uncomfortable that way. But I don't sleep well when there are snorers, so I made some joking remarks about that. All the snorers should be in one tent!

Or, you could sleep outside under the stars. We thought about that, but I think Ruth thought it would get too cold.

Kevin, in the Sahara Desert.

Ruth, in the Sahara Desert.

Together in the Sahara Desert!

The bathroom. Well sort of.

Not wanting to gross you out, but we have to detail the "facilities" for anybody who reads this thinking of going on one of these tours. Inside the tent above, was a toilet. No seat, and no lid, but it was a place to deposit the product. Problem was, the product had nowhere to go. Apparently it wasn't the prettiest, but we are going by second hand info because there was no way we were going in there. The alternative was easy for a man, and almost as easy (and certainly nicer) for a woman. Simply go over the next dune and do your business. And a shovel was supplied in case it was number 2.

Yes, this was the value tour!

 Beautiful Sahara Desert sunset.

Dinner with the group.

Eventually, we were led into the dining tent. One candle on each table for light. One plate was set on each table, with a bunch of forks. A big plate of chicken tagine (stew) was brought in, and a big plate of rice pilaf and vegetables. Essentially, this was about what we expected. What we didn't expect was that we all got a fork and had to eat off the same dish. We were ok with that but some people might have a hard time with it! Everyone in our group seemed to be fine with it, it was that or not eat.

After dinner, we hiked over another dune to another tent setup. We were told again at the signup that there be a campfire but there wasn't and that was ok because it had been a long day already and it would be another early morning. Ruth and I were in the tent with the Turkish couple and the Chinese couple. The Turkish couple were smart and brought their own pillow slips to cover the pillows and a sheet. We covered our pillows with our sweatshirts. The blankets didn't bother us because we slept with all our clothes on anyhow. Fortunately there were no snorers and it was a pretty peaceful night! 

Oh, and unfortunately it started off as a bit of a cloudy night. One of the girls said she woke up around 3am and the sky was clear and the moon had gone down and the stars were amazing. Good for her, but we missed it.

We were asleep by 10:30pm, and told to set our alarms for 6:00am to watch the sunrise and get ready to go by 7:00am!

The drive so far...

Two days drive... 562 kms (348 miles).

Google is wrong. Although, I suppose you might be able to do it in 8 hrs and 45 minutes if you drove through nonstop. But I doubt it. Stay tuned for day 3...a long drive back to Marrakesh!

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Charmin Ultrasoft toilet paper...mega rolls are on sale cheap...


And in Canada...



33 comments:

  1. Well, you must admit it was an adventure!

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    1. Yep, and that's the way we look at it!

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  2. LOL...love the facilities...it is why I always pack antibacterial wet wipes no matter where I go and pack granola bars, instant oatmeal with raisens, sliced cheese and crackers....really it doesn't take up that much room in backpack. I'm a pessimist so always think the worst. Very funny story but awesome tour....thanks for giving a heads up for folks who plan to travel there.

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    1. I had toilet paper and wet wipes with me plus a small plastic bag to put that and any other garbage we made in it and the next day put it in a trash can back at the hotel/restaurant. We didn't want to contribute more to the garbage out in the desert than we already were with doing this tour. I also had some rice cakes and mandarins in the bag. To be totally honest the tour was more or less what we were expecting, except for the fact that we didn't see or do some of the things that we were told we would see or do and it was our fault for thinking and not asking about a private tent.

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  3. Ugh...I think riding the camels would be a fun adventure, but I would have had a problem with the "bathroom" facilities and sharing a tent with other couples. Not for me!

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    1. Riding the camels was fun but we certainly wouldn't have wanted to go much further on them though, it's not a super comfortable ride! The bathroom facilities didn't bother me much because if I were hiking in the woods and needed to go, I would just find a tree or bush to hide behind. Not so good for a #2 though! I think a composting toilet facility would be much more environmental out there and wouldn't be all that hard to do. The problem we had was seeing all the used toilet paper lying around out there! I think that after every group leaves, they should be out there cleaning up all the garbage before the next group arrives. I guess that is just the Canadian cultural part of me thinking, it's a different culture here and they do things differently, I just feel bad for the pristine desert here.

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    2. Yes, I think it is a disgrace to hear of our beautiful planet being trashed this way, no matter where it may occur. Why do so few people who live on this earth (I don't care which country) seem to care about the legacy we are all leaving for the future generations? Really bothers me, and I don't even have children or grands!

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    3. It boggles my mind why more people don't care, maybe they are too lazy! We can only hope that it will improve in time and hopefully that is sooner than later.

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  4. The old saying, "it's not an adventure unless something goes wrong" certainly applies here. Thanks for sharing with us!

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    1. So true! Nothing really went wrong, just not quite what was "sold" to us! We still had a good time, it was a fun the experience and we did learn something about the Berber and their culture.

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  5. You guys can make anything look like fun! Love the camels, they are indeed kinda cute...

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    1. Overall we really did have a good time, we were just disappointed that some of the things we were told about at the time we purchased the tour didn't actually happen. There really wasn't enough time. One way to improve on the tour is that they really should make it a 3 nights 4 days tour or better yet 4 nights 5 days but then they would have to charge more and some people don't have that much time on their holidays. Other than doing it yourself the only other better option would be doing a private tour but that costs quite a bit more and really is out of our price range.

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  6. Did you know you and Kevin were only approximately 1,100 miles (as the crow flies) from where US destroyers in the Med. were launching tomahawk missiles into Syria yesterday? Those missiles have a range of approximately 1,550 miles. Let's pray the Navy guys know what they are doing.

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    1. Too far away for me to be even the littlest bit concerned.

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  7. You were at their mercy but managed to make the best of it anyway. An interesting time.

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    1. Yes, once you head out in the van you are definitely at their mercy. We did have a good time we were just disappointed about certain aspects of the tour.

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  8. Trying to think if we had olives for breakfast in Italy. I think not. Strange.

    I bet that gorge ride would have been an adventure in itself. WOW.

    I am not falling for the carpet salesman's pitch either.

    This is the post I couldn't wait to see. I love it. Would I ride a camel...heck no. But I love seeing you two having so much fun. The camel shadow shot is awesome.

    Super photo of you two in the Sahara Desert.

    No way would Paul have survived the sleeping accommodations. But, he would have asked a ton of questions ahead of time and would have never gone on the tour in the first place. lol What an adventure y'all are having.

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    1. Can't say we have ever had olives for breakfast either but we have now, lol.

      The two gorges that we saw were beautiful, even just the little that we saw of both. We would have loved to have hiked in them, guess we will have to come back again some time and do that.

      Not sure why you wouldn't want to ride a camel, it's really not much different than riding a horse. It was fun, just a little uncomfortable by the end of it but we feel that way after being on a horse for a while.

      Actually because we didn't have any snorers in our tent, everything else was fine. We were comfortable enough and we knew were weren't going to be staying at the Hilton out there in the desert. If you do a private tour, or a more expensive tour then you can get a private tent with a proper bed in it. Paul could ask all the questions that he wants and get the answers but that doesn't mean that you will get what they say as we found out. Still we are happy we did it, it as fun despite it not being exactly what we told we would be getting.

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  9. We rode camels in India. Not sure that would be up to that tour, too much sitting in the van.

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    1. Yep, way to much time sitting in the van. They were good about taking breaks every couple of hours so that you could get out and stretch your legs, get a refreshment and also a bathroom break. Still way to much for our liking, next time will rent a car and go at our own pace.

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  10. Chalk that up as one of the most interesting and entertaining things you've participated in!!

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    1. Yep, definitely one of our more interesting times but then we have had quite a few interesting times in all of our travels!

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  11. Well so far a very interesting adventure! I think you may have over paid for this tour but a good lesson none the less. The bathroom facilities are deplorable but what can you do in the middle of the desert anyway. Camel ride looked like the only thing that would have been an interest to us. I heard they really smell , do they? Well you both are true adventurers for sure. Get back safe and looking forward to you next post. In the mean time the rest of the world is falling apart!

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    1. Brigitte, and the camels spit, too, if they don't like you or feel threatened. Kevin's camel seemed to like him because he looked as though he was kind to the camel.

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    2. Well if we did it wasn't by much! The most costly part would have been the van, gas and driver. The first hotel was clean but basic the diner meals were good and of course the camels but the night in the desert would have cost nothing really, you could have slept outside for nothing. Still it was a fun experience, even though it was a long and busy three days.

      I agree the bathroom facilities were not good! They would have been better to just not have one at that point because most people went behind a sand dune rather than to use the toilet. Personally, we think they should have a couple of composting toilets out there, they work great and don't require a lot of care and would be much better for the environment.

      The camel ride and the sand dunes were the best part of the whole tour. We loved it!

      Never noticed a smell at all, they were really well behaved and calm. The camels looked like they were well treated and cared for.

      Dee, we never saw any of the camels spit!

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  12. You HAVE been there, DONE that ... been to the Sahara, walked a dune or two, saw the amazing Sahara sunset, rode a camel. Never mind the shoddy tour, you guys HAVE BEEN THERE! Very, very cool.

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    1. YES! Exactly! And that's what it's all about!

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  13. LOVED this post . . . LOL! But, guys, I'm thinking you pretty much got what you paid for, and in no way should other readers think this is typical of all Moroccan tours. Having been to both Egypt and Morocco, we are getting more use to the way things are done over there, but have to admit that it is always a big relief to return to western civilization. :-)

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    1. Yes, I have to agree with you. We certainly wouldn't have wanted to have paid any more for that trip, that is for sure. I think this is a typical Moroccan desert tour if you compare it to all the others selling the same thing. However, I think if you do a private tour it would be much better but then again, you get what you pay for.

      We are enjoying our time in Morocco but we do find it hard work because you are always trying to make sure that you aren't being scammed or parted from your money more than you should be! ;-)

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  14. Fascinating read thank you. I would have loved it warts and all.

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    1. We did love the experience, warts and all but we wrote it this way so people would know what to expect so that they can make a fair judgement themselves before signing up. We just know it could have been an even better experience had we rented a car and taken our time. The actually desert part of the tour wouldn't have been a whole lot different because you have to hire someone for this part, although we could have then paid to have a private tent with a bed but we actually enjoyed the majority of the desert part of the tour being with the group rather than just by ourselves and luckily we had no snorers in our tent. :-)

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  15. It could always be worse...several of us on my tour chose the "sleep outside" option. We were told to carry our sleeping mats outside and lay them down anywhere. The dark of night seemed to eat the light from my headlamp. The next morning, I learned the "pebbles" in the sand were actually camel poop. Memorable.

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    1. We so wished we had slept out under the stars! When we went to bed it had clouded over a fair bit and we didn't get a real good look at the stars so we decided to sleep in the tent. Wrong move, it cleared up beautifully and apparently the stars were fantastic. Luckily we didn't have poop around our tents but even if we did it would have just been dried up poop! :-)

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