I was lucky enough to come across Camel Trekking by Omar during my google searches. He had a ton of positive reviews, you got to see a lot of stuff in 3 days, and he promised "no carpet stores" which made me think he was probably more legit than some of the cheaper options. So I took the plunge, made the reservation, and hoped I'd made the right decision.
Fionn and I with our guide, Said
We arrived at the scheduled meeting point at 8 am, where we met a blonde lady from Texas who was also part of our tour. A few minutes later we met our driver, Said. We picked up our next two passengers, Gary and Jackie from the UK, and we were off! Being so close in a 4x4 made us into fast friends-it didn't hurt that everyone was super nice!
Once we were settled, we started our adventure driving through the Atlas Mountains!
Our drive began as we started our climb through the High Atlas mountains outside Marrakech. We traveled over the Tizi n'Tichka Pass (2260 m/7414 ft!) and got some (slightly terrifying) views of the mountains and even saw some traditional Berber villages. The mountains roads were crazy-twisting and turning and oftentimes you were just feet from a steep drop hundreds of feet down. I felt sorry for Jackie, who had a fear of heights! We were all grateful that Said was such a good driver!
We stopped for lunch at the beautiful Ait Benhaddou, an ancient casbah that's been in a ton of films (Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, the Mummy). There are still some people living and running shops inside the fortress, though Said explained that many people have relocated to the other side of the river since Ait Benhaddou was falling apart in some places and is unsafe.
We had a lot of fun climbing all over everything, and the view at the top was great. It was strange to see all this desert and then look over and see a small river and lots of green. No wonder they built the casbah here!
From there we went through Ouarzazate and through the Valley of a Thousands Casbahs. Guess what we saw there?
Yeah, casbahs. ;) They really were everywhere. Casbahs are just big, fortified towns, but you can really get ornate with mud bricks. There were also a lot of movie studios out in that area-Said explained that Morocco makes it easy to film there, making them the go to destination for any kind of desert or historical flick. Not to mention, there's miles of uninhabited land where you could stage a pretty sweet desert battle scene without anything modern marring the shot. At one of the casbahs we stopped at we could look down onto a whole movie set with a nearly intact ancient town. Just waiting for the next blockbuster I guess...
We stopped at one casbah and met three adorable little boys making mischief and tugging on us for candy. Said warned us not to give them any money, or else they won't go to school and will just turn to begging instead. He had some candy for all of them and was so sweet to them, joking with them like an older brother and laughing when they told him they were hiding from their teacher, who they'd seen walking nearby earlier. Gary gave them each a piece of gum, which they were all VERY excited about. :)
From there we continued through the Valley of the Roses, which is famous for its "Rose Queen" festival and naturally, roses. We bought some roses from a boy on the street and gave them to Said so he could be the Rose King. When he explained that it's pretty much a beauty contest, we asked if there was a swimsuit competition included like in our beauty pageants. He thought that was a pretty hilarious idea and said no, ABSOLUTELY NOT. ;)
Our last stop for the day was the Dades Valley, where we got some cool views of these rock formations called "Monkey Fingers" and then settled in to our hotel for the night.
The walls of our hotel were made of mud and grass, just like the casbahs. That was pretty neat. I remembered learning about that technique in some old Foundations of Architecture classes-funny how that stuff comes back to you!
And with that, day one was over. Now it was time to get ready for camel day...