While Court catches up on photo editing, I have written the new blog on my lonesome. It’s my first writing endeavour since QCS in high school, so go easy on me!
So… the camel crew trip began with laughing in the Santorini Airport car park covered in red wine, eating gourmet olives and taking turns swigging out of an expensive bottle of wine with the newly married Munns’. I guess you never really get older, just enjoy a more fancy version of what you did as a teenager. A bit of background might be needed here. While making our way through the Santorini Airport, after checking in our luggage, the Munns’ forgot they had packed a bottle of wine in their carry-on. So we scraped together an impromptu ‘picnic’ with what we could forage in the airport, but being an island airport there were no corkscrews in sight. Thanks Bin Laden. So after unsuccessfully trying to open the wine by putting it in my boot and banging it against the wall (saw it in a movie once, so must be true) we forced the cork into the bottle which caused a bit of a wine eruption. Each sprinkled with wine splatters, and a little tipsy, we boarded our flight to Barcelona, our stopover city on our way to Marrakech, Morocco.
After sprinting through Athens airport for our connecting flight and landing in Barcelona at 2am in the morning, we found out our baggage had not been as hasty. Our luggage arrived the next day with the help of Matt as our resident translator. Barcelona was our first introduction into the wonderful world of pintxos, tapas and gothic architecture. More on this when Court and I head back to Barcelona after the Camels go their seperate ways (for the time being only). CamelCrew4Lyf!! Ps. Court and I dropped off our luggage here and travelled light with the camels. This bites us later but I will let you find that out below.
HOLY DOOLY was Morocco a smack in the face!!! We arrived in the morning and got a taxi to the Medina, which is a walled off area in the old town. The taxi driver parked at the wall then gestured that we needed to walk the rest. We wandered aimlessly through the maze of narrow winding streets (that are not signed), tall walls and market stalls. We got lost several times, backtracked more than once, all the while dodging speeding scooters by a hair width. If you ever want a real-life ‘Maze-Runner’ experience, complete with snakes and monkeys at every turn, head to the Medina in Marrakech. Crazytown!!!
Eventually we arrived at our respite for the night Hostel Waka-Waka at which, upon entering, we were instructed that having tea comes before discussing anything, literally anything. Definitely not going to argue with that! Cups stuffed with freshly picked mint were placed in front of us and then filled with hot water. They are masters of the long pour here, we’re talking pot above their head, long pour. The tea tastes like instant diabetes, its sooo sweet but gets addictive after tea’ing with everyone you meet, errrryday. (It was a hard life)
Walking through the Main Square is an experience. The area overwhelms each of your senses all at once. Rows of colourful fruit vendors alongside carts full of miniature mountains of spices. Mobile kitchens selling sweets and cinnamon teas which burn so good. Men roaming around selling knock-off watches and women, quite forcefully, selling Henna tattooing. Snakes and their charmers are everywhere and if you stop for too long or accidentally make eye contact you end up with a cobra draped over your shoulders or shoved centimetres from your face. Everyone wants your attention, people are not afraid to touch / grab you to get what they want, smells are intoxicating, the sun is harsh and at seemingly random intervals when you think you’ve collected yourself, call to prayer blasts through loud speakers positioned in towers around the city.
The square transforms almost instantly as the sun begins to set. The snakes and monkeys clear out, the fruit and spice vendors teardown their stalls and a hundred or so kitchens scramble together to quickly setup for the night. Hawkers for restaurants here are professionals, knowing local sayings and jokes for every tourist who walks past no matter their origin. The food here is local, its cheap and there were locals chowing down everywhere. We knew we were in the right place. After eating a moroccan feast we set back to the hostel to get a few hours sleep before we had to be up before the sun, to prep for our hike.
So, this is the part of the tale where two people who completely misunderstood the details of a trek endure underpreparedness of epic proportions and attempt the Toubkal Ascent in the Atlas Mountains, highest peak in Northern Africa. What was first explained to us as a two day hike in which we would require a windbreaker, at most, for the summit turned out to be a ‘mountainous’ undertaking (see what i did there). Our prior training and preparation in Berlin consisted of one run, and a daily stroll to our local coffee shop, and the ‘kit’ we had packed consisted of nike free runs and cotton t-shirts.
…While in Barcelona on our stopover, Courtney and I decided to by some ‘last minute’ extra supplies such as, thought ‘can’t be too over prepared’, and picked up sleeping bags, skins leggings, protein bars, a torch. Thank F#@K we did. (Sorry for the language mum).
The first day of the hike was tough, but magic. We climbed through a few hill villages early in the morning before stopping for lunch spot, beside a freezing cold stream. Veggie tagines and rice all round, yummo. The afternoon followed with another 6 or so hours hiking a rocky path which snaked its way up the mountain. Arriving at base camp, elated, at around sunset we sat down to relax and watch the sun disappear over the mountains. As we watched the clouds crash up the valley we just climbed, towards our camp, like a burst dam in a gorge, it dawned on Court and I that we may have gotten ourselves in too deep. The temperature plummeted and we were camping above the cloud line wearing everything we had packed. Literally everything! Climbing an arid mountain in Africa as a group also comes with some other ‘perks’ like losing all privacy for bodily evolutions. No trees or shrubs to hide behind here! I know what they say, couples who shit together, stay together, but, as a group there are some things you can never unsee…. Also, mules were tied to almost all rocks that could provide some form of privacy, so add the fear of getting kicked by a mule with your pants around your ankles to the uncomfortableness that was taking a shit in the Atlas Mountains.
We had decided attempt summit in time for sunrise which meant another early start of 2am. This wake up wasn’t an issue Court and I though, as we didn’t actually sleep a wink due to the fact we had turned into human icy poles. Outside of the tent was breathtaking, not in the emotional way, physically. The ascent started on all fours rock climbing, with multiple false promises from the guides that ‘it will be getting easier in 20 minutes’, that never came. The altitude started to affect the camels with everyone losing peripheral vision at some point and the occasional trip or faint, but everyone was determined to go on. Court damaged her hip flexor early in the morning and somehow struggled through most of the peak ascent before she couldn’t climb up any further. She is extremely strong willed and how she made it that far with her hip as damaged as it was, blows my mind. We reached above all the other mountains in the Atlas before Court and I turned back and made our way down while the other camels pushed on to the summit. We met up half way down the mountain for lunch where most of the camels were a bit worse for wear. We continued the trek as a group, down the mountain and then to a neighbouring village. It was here that we finally arrived at Jamal’s House, our rest stop for the night. We were of course, met with tea and biscuits, before a tagine feast overlooking the Atlas Mountains and our achievements. It was later, we found out that the two day trek we completed was the same as the 4 day trek offered by the company just compressed into 2 days… and that the guy who served us our meal had what resembled a very bad case of mouth herpes. #horrifying
Next morning we were picked up for our road trip out to the Sahara by our driver Ibrihim and guide Mohammed. Our road trip soundtrack, provided by driver Ibrihim, was an eclectic mix of Berber hill music and a local pop song we heard everywhere in which we only understood the chorus of ‘Morocco, Morocco!’. Think of an African Pitbull (or to use his full name ‘Pitbull aka Mr. Worldwide, aka Mr. 305, aka Mr. Dade County, aka Mister Mister 2.0, aka Miami Boy, etc, etc’). For the next two days journeyed on winding roads through the Atlas Mountains, in to the Dades Valley and then through to the Todra Gorge also known as the ‘oasis’ route.
Located in the foothills on the southern slopes of the High Atlas was one of the most enchanting sites of our Moroccan road trip, the ancient site of the Ait-Ben-Haddou Kasbah. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, open to a limited number of public visitors per year, still lived in by locals of ancestral lineage and is maintained by UNESCO using only traditional materials and methods. Any movie requiring an ancient city was filmed here, Gladiator, Tomb Raider and even parts of Game of Thrones. Next stop was the Todra Gorge, waking through was a dwarfing experience. The orange lime stone cliff walls are skyscraper height and the stream and road between them are improportionately narrow. Locals were here, picnicking, playing with their children in the stream and enjoying the shady respite from desert sun.
Our drive continued on our way to the Sahara Desert, stopping at more ancient casbahs, lush green oasis’, small villages and village run co-operatives for argan oil, fruit and vegetables, moroccan rugs and berber fabrics. We met with very memorable locals who were all warm and welcoming, proudly teaching us and displaying their local crafts and produce. At our final stop we were dressed up as berber royalty by a local shop owner, and taught how to tie our newly acquired desert scarfs for protection from sand storms.
We entered the Sahara through the Erg Chebi Dunes at the foot of Merzouga Village. It was here that the ‘Camel Crew’ name finally gets validated, Booyakasha!!! Riding Camels into the Sahara Desert through sunset to sleep at a Nomad camp – Dream Bucket List Item – TICK! The Sahara Desert is mind-blowing, in every sense of the word. With no warning the earth goes from rock to sand dunes which already reach hundreds of metres high. Its like there is this imaginary line that the sand can’t pass so the dunes rise upwards almost immediately. Our Berber camp appeared out of nowhere, like an oasis, nestled within the shelter of mammoth dunes. It’s tents and moroccan carpets were the perfect retreat for us weary travellers. Sitting atop the largest dune at night you become mesmerised by the sound of the wind through sand. We ate traditional berber food in the main tent, followed by an evening of listening to live Berber drums and chanting, lying on rugs under the desert night sky. A camel ride out of the Sahara at sunrise ended our desert adventure. Our time in the Sahara were moments never forgotten.
Riad Life is ‘THE’ Life
In desperate need of some R&R time we splurged on a Lush 3 bedroom Riad in Marrakech. Where to start… Courtney was in heaven! Staying in a Riad ticks off one of her ever-growing bucket list items. The epitome of luxury with an intricate beauty that could be seen in every little detail. Riads are large traditional houses built around the perimeter of a square central courtyard, commonly with a pool in place of the courtyard. We had three stories of beautiful rooms, each decorated specifically and uniquely, and each blew our mind. On the lower level: a salon area complete with a fireplace, bar cart, chess and dominos set; and a stately formal dining room worthy of the Hamptons (actually maybe somewhere fancier). At the base of the Raid was a tiled pool, surrounded by tropical plants and streaming of sunlight from above. Middle Level: three opulent bedrooms all with private ensuites. Real beds and no sharing bathrooms, What-What!! Up top: an open air deck with a second dining suite, drinks bar, shower and two gazebo areas for lounging/sun-baking. Honestly, this place exceeded all of our expectations. The Riad also came with the two staff Maria and Tohami. These guys were the shizz-nit!!
If we actually figured out a halfway plausible plan to take them home with us, you would probably be reading about our trial in the newspaper (who are we kidding, you would have read it on Facebook). The meals from Maria’s kitchen were spectacular!! Classic French dishes with Moroccan twists for dinner eaten on the rooftop terrace under the skyline. In the formal dining room, we were treated on the daily, to three course breakfasts full of crepes, fruits, yogurt, hot breads and pancakes.
Ain’t no party like a Riad B’day Party!!!! Court’s belated b’day bash was a surreal concoction of Moroccan Club music, impromptu berber chants, henna tattoos, disco lighting and dancing followed by a swanky 4 course private dinner. All of this was planned/ cooked/ prepared… and instigated by Maria, who had relaxed a lot since our first meeting. (She learnt quickly, that we loved a good laugh and we were very low maintenance). Maria, her friend and the girls partied in the dining room swapping their favourite dancefloor go-to’s. Maria taught the girls how to do berber ululating, a high-pitch tongue trill. Google it and now picture five women randomly busting it out throughout the night. All the while Tohami had a quiet fit about what the owner would think, but he soon gave up worrying, like every man who marries a wild woman. Maria was besotted with the girls, and the feeling was mutual. The men retired to the salon to drink scotch and play dominos. Yes, playing dominos like a boss. Post revelry celebration dinner was roofside with the food and wine flowing, as you all would expect. It was hugs all round, especially when Maria surprised Courtney with rose petals and candles scattered everywhere on the roof terrace and insisted on calling her the princess for the day. I disguised my eye rolls as much as humanly possible, I knew she’d be loving that for days to come. After yet another unforgettable evening, we retired with our bellies full of treats and our hearts full of laughter.
Next: Back to Spain for our ‘Crammed in a Minivan’ adventures