Journey into Sahara

Early in the morning, we woke up, packed, and got ready to have our early breakfast but came to be a disappointment that we were only served a piece of corn bread-like and coffee. That was our so-call breakfast which was night and day from the breakfast we had the morning before. The night shift receptionist who barely speaks English didn’t even show any interest in offering us more food nor any mint tea. Otherwise, Riad Fleur d’Orient could be our favorite hotel in Morocco except for the inconsistent service we received. Anyways, we checked out by paying the city taxes and strolled our luggage out to the square where we were greeted by our private tour guide/driver – Mohamed from Sahara Tours 4×4 that I booked months ago. I was doing my research and without hesitation paid extra for a private tour so we can be at our own pace and nicer accommodations. I contacted a few tour companies for quotes and found that Sahara Tours 4×4 has better ratings and reasonable priced private tour; 855 euros for 3 people for the 3 days 2 nights tour from Marrakesh to Fes.

Mohamed speaks very good English and he seems to be a nice guy. When we asked him about Argan Oil, he said the ones we bought inside Marrakesh most likely to be fake urg! He said that many sellers mixed sunflower oil since it’s colorless and odorless like Argan Oil and very small percentage of Argan Oil sigh! He’ll bring us to a real cooperative to buy the real Argan Oil, hum…who to trust?

We were in the comfortable and clean Toyota SUV to start our journey into the Sahara! After an hour of drive out of Marrakesh, we saw the rural and poorer part of Morocco.

A run down small Berber village:

On our way to the High Atlas, we stopped for a photo of the villages underneath but too bad it was very misty that it covered the view.

There, we were took a quick bathroom stop at one of the shop where they charged 5 dirhams to use the clean bathroom and we were given some toilet paper LOL reminded me of the old times in China. Sokunna was running out of cash and Mohamed lend her some cash:

Mohamed brought us to a cooperative where we can buy real Argan Oil. It has the Eco Cert and USDA certificate number, ingredient, and expiration date so at least it looked legit. The 500 ml bottle cost like $70 USD, much more expensive than the ones we bought in Marrakesh so more confident that it’s real? Sokunna tried it on her hair for consecutive days and she felt that the expensive oil improved her hair; much softer so we thought it could be the real thing 🙂

 

Then, we headed up to the Tizi N´Tichka port; the zig-zag road up the mountain.

We passed through a few more villages…

And finally arrived at Ait Ben Haddou; Mohamed drove us up the hill for the panoramic view of Ait Ben Haddou first. Wow wow wow!

He gave us options (which I think he was honest) that either to have lunch at the touristy restaurant inside town then visit Ait Ben Haddou or visit Ait Ben Haddou first and then to a good local restaurant 45 minutes drive away. Since I really need to eat as I don’t want to faint on the hike up to Ait Ben Haddou so we chose the touristy restaurant inside town…this one:

It gave a good view of the town and Ait Ben Haddou:

See people up there? We’ll be hiking up there….yes definitely need lunch first!

The fixed lunch menu at 100 dirham each: the soup was actually pretty decent!

I chose the chicken kebab, it was flavorful but a little bit overcooked. The “desert” was Moroccan oranges LOL which I don’t like orange.

After the quick lunch and free clean toilet, we began our hike up to Ait Ben Haddou. We walked down through the town first and then this bridge with a nice view of the famous World Heritage Site where the Gladiator and The Mummy were filmed.

There were vendors there selling souvenirs but we did not have time to check them out. We were more interested in the architectures of the Kasbah – the earth-red colored structures made of soil and straws.

It was hot although it was smoggy that the sun was partially covered, good that I have water with us! The river separating the Kasbah and the “new” city  was almost dried up.

The bridge we crossed early:

Locals were repairing the houses with soil and straw:

More shops on the way down:

The straws can be seen, wondered how long they lasted for?

Mohamed said that “gate” was new addition for a movie.

We walked across the dry river on the sandbags and there were kids on the other side of the river “helping” to hold tourists’ hand crossing the river for money off course! We didn’t need any help so we refused them.

From the bottom and the other side of the river offered the best view of the famous site, look how pretty it is!

 

I was truly appreciating the architecture except those annoying kids again….since we didn’t pay them, they were hanging around those sandbags to block the post card perfect photo. Fine, we moved our angles a bit to exclude them!

After the hike, we walked back into town and saw this fruit and vegetable stand:

We went back to the restaurant/hotel again to use the toilet for one more time before continuing our journey.

Our next stop is Ouarzazate known as “the gate of the desert” to view another kasbah. Mohamed said it’s not worth the entrance fee to go into this kasbah so he recommend that we take photos from the outside only, good tips! This kasbah looks newer and not as detailed as Ait Ben Haddou.

It’s a nice town though, the souvenir shops:

We walked around the outside circumference of the kasbah for photos.

Mohamed brought us to an abandon kasbah, it was sad to see those were not maintained and falling apart.

The comfortable Toyota SUV and Mohamed hiding in shade:

Another kasbah converted into a hotel in the middle of no where. It would be cool to stay in one though!

We kept driving and had a stop at this weird rock formations….Mohamed said those looked like toes!

We reached the Dadés Valley where we will be staying for the night. I was amazed to see this piece of lush green land in the middle of the valley.

Mohamed drove us up to have the view of this twisting road where many car advertisements were filmed. Doesn’t it look crazy?

Lastly, we reached Chez Pierre for the night stay. I specially asked to stay at Chez Pierre since I read their food is excellent; one of the best meals people had in their Morocco trip. I was surprised to see that the hotel is very beautiful as well!

The reception office where we checked in; it was included in the tour price!!!

Cute reception area!

Nice little garden area where we sat and wait for our keys. The staff took our luggage to our room in the meantime, their hospitality was excellent! We were also served with a delicious almond cookies and of course mint tea!

The staff walked us to the room; it was a long walk to our walk which was the further out. Our room:

Very intelligently designed bathroom with separate toilet, vanity, and shower so we don’t need to wait for the restroom while another person is showering.

The entrance to our room:

Prior to dinner time, we couldn’t wait to start our mini photo session around the beautiful hotel.

They even have a pool!

This cute hotel offered many backdrops for photo, loved it!

Dinner time, we were seated in this dining room and the electricity wasn’t too stable in this area so the lights sometimes blinked and very dim…I guess more romantic? haha!

Our 3 course French cuisine meal was like a top French restaurant quality, I would’ve never expect something like that in the middle of nowhere if I didn’t read the reviews!

Each dish was delicious; I wished they were bigger portions…..it was French cuisine after all…

Desert we had three options and each of us ordered something different to try it out. I like my homemade melon and strawberry sherbet the most; it was very refreshing! The creme brulee and the pear were also very good!

It was an enjoyable dinner, probably one of our best meals so I totally agreed with the excellent reviews they had! I highly recommend Chez Pierre for the overnight stay!!! One more day to reach Sahara, I couldn’t wait!

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