Asilah and the Sahara

These past two weekends once again raised the bar for travels in Morocco. It’s pretty crazy to think I only have a week and a half left of undergraduate classes, and after that a few finals, and then I’m done. Really, really done (…for the time being). But I’ll save the reflection for later.

I traveled to Asilah last weekend, a lazy beach town just south of Tangiers. After an inauspicious beginning which saw us spending three hours to simply find a cheap hotel, the next morning proved bright, warm, and promising. We rented a horse cart for the ride to “Paradise Beach”, a few miles from the city. A cart originally meant for four people took the seven of us and our driver through rubble-filled streets, a major highway, dirt paths, and finally down to the sand of the beach. The highway was actually really dangerous, because we were all just sitting on a wooden cart with no handholds or railings, and one of the wheels was wobbling tremendously so the whole cart shook with every stride. The horse must have been galloping at at least 35 or 40 km per hour. The beach, though, it was gorgeous, with only a fish stand and a few other tourists for company. We claimed the far end of the beach away from everyone else, and spent the day swimming in the freezing water, riding the horse, napping, playing guitar, and climbing the cliffs above the waves nearby.

We caught the tail end of the Madrid vs. Barcelona football game that evening, for which it seemed every male within 50 kilometers was packed into one of the cafes around downtown. After the game ended, everyone flooded out onto the streets; quite the spectacle. The next day I explored the Medina, which was full of murals, bleached-white walls with turquoise and blue windows, doors, and roofing, and thin alleyways, reminiscent of some Greek isles. We spent some time out on the public jetty, watching teenagers playing traditional drums and singing.

So yes, that weekend was the perfect mix of excitement and relaxation. This weekend was a four-day-event due to Labor Day, so on Friday I began a trip to the Sahara. This was it;

I’d been waiting for this moment all semester, the time to ride a camel, wear a turban, and climb a rolling dune. A few things went wrong right off the bat, however. Two friends cancelled. Then a third. Then we picked up one more! But then she cancelled. But then we picked up another! So a truly motley crew of four students headed south, and after a night, met up with five Bulgarians and two Slovenians and formed a camel caravan. The guides took us in a wide loop around a huge dune mountain, to our campsite, which was prepared with mats and blankets, tents, a dining table and delicious tajine dinner. We climbed the dunes, watched the sunset, threw ourselves down the largest one we could find (rolling and falling the whole way), and generally had a blast. The only problem was that atop a large dune, you could see the edge of the desert and all the encampments there.

The next morning we watched the sunrise and headed back to the auberge, where we went the SHORT way around the mountain and took half as much time. The entire experience gave me mixed feelings. Camels are very uncomfortable to ride…especially for males. The guides were a little over the top. We didn’t go very far into the desert…within visual range of our auberge at the edge. But the landscape, when you looked south INTO the desert, was unrivaled. The sunrise and sunset cast such a beautiful light onto the sweeping dunes, it was just like a movie or a National Geographic feature. Overall I’m glad I went, it was the most expensive weekend here so far, I got some great photos, and I probably won’t do it again.

Afterwards, two of us stopped in Tinghir, a town in an oasis set near a massive gorge system. We hitchhiked to the gorge, and were picked up by the Moroccan equivalent of a semi-truck with an open roof, and so we hopped in like so many cattle or bales of hay and headed to the gorge. The oasis, though, was my favorite part of the entire trip (sadly). The explosion of verdant greenery complete with babbling irrigation channels, poppies, palm trees, flocks of small white birds, and the chirping of so many others was breathtaking.

So now, back to school, our final weekend in which I’ll travel to Rabat to stay with a Moroccan friend’s family, and then the last week of classes. It’s been a whirlwind semester, and I have thought quite a bit about my experiences these past few weeks. I can’t wait for finals week to come, and then go!