Plan is to drive most of the day to Merzouga, to visit the Sahara Desert in south-eastern Morocco, via the Middle Atlas Mountains, towards the Algerian border. At night, slept well except for the call to prayers from the ever present and nearby mosques. Early in the morning, the roosters started their wake-up calls so woke up early and checked out the terrace and life waking up in the Medina below.
Terrace of our Riad, with the mosque nearby, note the orange tree growing in the pot, and nearby Minaret
After a nice breakfast of omelets (specially ordered for us to give us a break from the bread-breakfast) and the ever-fresh squeezed orange juice, we said our goodbye’s to Fatima, and walked with our luggage to the car, loaded up, and then drove to Moulay Ismail’s stables and granaries, which were used to store grains in case of famine or sustained war/sieges.
The Granaries were huge domed rooms with little natural light, and with wells in the middle of some of the rooms. They were in very good condition considering the age.
The stables were in worse condition and had lost the roof; but were impressively built; see images below
Both the stables and granaries were huge, and held a huge amount of grains, and 12,000 horses; supposedly to see Moulay Ismail and his followers through famine and sieges. Now that’s called planning.
Then we started driving to Merzouga.
Merzouga is a town in south east Morocco, at the edge of the Sahara Desert, about 20 miles from the Algerian border.
The drive was uneventful until we reach the outskirts of Azrou town, where we got stopped by the cops at a police checkpoint. I knew I had been speeding, and did not speak in anything but English, claiming and the innocent ignorance of a tourist. The cop showed me the radar gun showing 77kmph, and asked for my driver license and then my passport. He then asked me to get out and go talk to another cop in a police van. I pleaded ignorance again to this other cop, but he explained in French that I was doing 77 in a 60 zone, and the fine was 150 Dhirams (~$15). I tried to talk him out of it, to no avail.
So I paid the 150 Dhirams, got the receipt, and got back on the road. With the pocket now lighter, figured out that it appeared like police checkpoints were present at most entry/exit of towns and took more precautions to follow the speed limit.
The road to Merzouga was not a highway/autoroute, but was a asphalt road in very good condition, well signposted, and at least 1 lane in each direction; usually 2 lanes in each direction in towns. The speed limit was 100kmph, except in urban areas where the speed limit dropped to 60kmph; and there were a lot of small towns along the road; so progress was not very fast.
The drive was uneventful and we stopped at Midelt, which is halfway between Meknes/Fez and Merzouga.
Midelt is nothing more that a stopover place as it has nothing of interest. We stopped at the restaurant recommended, but that was very small, full, and they told us it was not open. A nice old lady walked us over to their sister restaurant and told us the food was very good there,
So we had lunch at Fatima’s small berber restaurant, traditional Tajine. We were by now getting used to the fact that meals are generally made from scratch in Morocco, so it takes some time (30-45mins) before the meals are ready. No problem, so long as we were getting fresh food from scratch, and so long as it tastes good. Moroccans use their own blend of spices for their Tajines, so it is nicely spiced up, slow cooked food.
With Fatima at her restaurant in Midelt
While at Fatima’s restaurant, we met a man who spoke good English, and when we told him we were looking for a Desert Camp to go to, he connected us with Ali, a friend of his, in Merzouga, who said he could arrange a good price for us in a good Camp (Berber Experience).
So we decide to go with him and negotiated with him while driving towards Hassalabied where we were staying the night before going to the Desert Camp. Hassilabied is a small town next to Merzouga
The landscape south of Midelt was now getting arid; see some images below showing the landscape along the way to Merzouga.
Small town, mandatory mosque with square minaret
A little further along, we went over a hill and suddenly, down below, was a large patch of green amongst dry scrubland.
This is basically an oasis where large numbers of Palm / Date trees are grown with other crops like olives, vegetable etc grown in-between. These are known as Palmeries, and appear suddenly and out of nowhere.
Prosperous towns would be lining the edges of the Palmeries; see below
We still had some driving to do, and it started getting dark. We stopped in Rissani, a large and prosperous city, for a coffee and fresh juice break, before continuing onto Hassilabied, where we were staying at the Nasser Palace. Hassilabied is next door to Merzouga, where we were going to depart for the Desert camp from.
By the time we arrived in Hassilabied, it was dark, and after getting lost a couple of times in this small dusty little town and asking for directions, we finally found the Nasser Palace. It was a nice place, and after a swim in the pool, relaxing, showering and freshening up, we had dinner at the hotel and called it a night.
Exploring the Sahara desert next.