After Midelt we arrived at Merzouga in the late afternoon. We spent an hour freshening up and sitting all together with Mint tea in the hotel that our backpacks were to be stored in for the night and then preceded to pack smaller overnight bags with essentials & a sleeping bag. Not long after we were designated our camels whilst awaiting our guides to lead us through the stunning dunes and to our camp where we were to spend the night.
I have ridden camels before whilst living in Cyprus so I am used to the awkward holding on tight as the camel stands up or descends back to the floor but never ridden across desert dunes! It really gives your thighs and solar plexus a good work out because you kind of have to move with the camel. Going down hill of a huge dune was both exhilarating & a little scary because the sand is so fine and the camel with your weight is a reasonable amount it is bound to be a clumsy and slippy experience! No one fell off though, hurray! Going to the Sahara during this time of year (Early March) is a good time to go if you have sensitive skin and find hot climates difficult. Early March is a cooler climate, still warm but you can comfortably handle the heat, I’d still wear sun lotion though to protect your skin from UV rays because lets be practical here, you would be riding a camel in the Sahara Desert!
Arriving in Midelt in early afternoon everyone was pretty tired yet happy. We were welcomed with some warm Moroccan mint tea by the family we were to stay with and slumped on their sofas in the living room of their Auberge.
Midelt is a town in central Morocco, in the high plains between the Middle Atlas and High Atlas mountain ranges. With an estimated population of 44,780, Midelt serves as the commercial centre of a large agricultural hinterland. It is also one of Morocco’s principal cities for the mining of several minerals.
The town within Midelt that we visited is called Berrem, this was quite a traditional village with many lovely, sand-coloured buildings. It was great to get a glimpse into the locals general lifestyle & actually spend quality time with real people of Berber ethnicity. It was the happiest & most emotional day on this adventure for me. I do remember this place being exceedingly cold at night though and with about 5 heavy blankets Jon & I still couldn’t get warm (I could see my breath!) so if you go here in early March pack thermals! Like most people who visit Morocco, it sounds warm and spicy and coming from a dreary, damp and cold country like the UK where we have little no summer months and lots of rain you forget other countries get cold & rainy too because you want so much to escape to somewhere with better climate and make friends with the sun again! However Morocco has seasons just like most countries in the world, their summers are ridiculously hot and they have some pretty chilly winters, especially in the mountains. You can see from pictures on this blog that the mountains in the background have snow on them.
After our mint tea we were told to freshen up before we were to go on a walk. The family dog joined us and the walk was relaxing with breath taking views of the mountains in the distance.
After our day in Meknes & Volubilis we travelled in the evening to our next destination, Fes. Arriving at around 7pm, it was dark and we were all hungry! Our guide took us through some windy back streets of narrow walls with an array of tangled electrical wires poking through the surface like over grown ivy and cobbled footpaths of leaky drain pipes and many stray cats. Where were we being taken? If we didn’t know we were in the safe hands of our guide, this would have been a reasonably unnerving walk akin to being lost in precarious alley ways of London.
Finally we arrived at a door with other ‘tourists’ merrily stepping out into the street, I was intrigued. One by one we ventured inside and it felt like we had been transported to a magical world, I really did feel like Alice falling down the rabbit hole and waking up in Wonderland. We were surrounded from ceiling to floor of hand made and hand carved mosaic walls and furnishings as well as lovely locals. This magnificent place hidden away like a secret box belonged to a family who open it up to travellers to experience authentic Moroccan hospitality, cuisine and décor. They were so gracious and welcoming and We dined and lounged like Royalty on their delicious food before saying our goodbyes and driven to our hotel for a good nights sleep in preparation for the wild unknown maze of Fes.
Soon after the morning site seeing within Meknes our group took a short drive in the afternoon up to Volubilis. It was a warm sunny day with some mild rain showers & a thunder cloud in the distance. I love visiting old ruins & ancient places because it makes me feel nostalgic and imagine what life must have been like in past civilizations.
Volubilis (Arabic: وليلي Walīlī) is a partly excavated Roman city in Morocco situated near Meknes between Fes and Rabat. Built in a fertile agricultural area, it was developed from the 3rd century BC onwards as a Phoenician (and later Carthaginian) settlement. It grew rapidly under Roman rule from the 1st century AD onwards and expanded to cover about 40 hectares (100 acres) with a 2.6 km (1.6 mi) circuit of walls. The city gained a number of major public buildings in the 2nd century, including a basilica, temple and triumphal arch. Its prosperity, which was derived principally from olive growing, prompted the construction of many fine town-houses with large mosaic floors. This was once a very sophisticated & grand city.
After an afternoon in Rabat our group hopped on a 4 hour train ride to Meknes where we stayed the night. Our train journey was an interesting one, half of our group (including Jon & I) ended up in a bare carriage with no seats and eventually surrounded by locals. We all shared cake and enjoyed having conversations with the natives. Moroccans are a very friendly and curious bunch as I discovered when I ended up in conversation with a Maths teacher who wanted to share his music with me on his iphone!
One thing I learned whilst in Morocco is that in comparison to other cultures, it is considered rude to eat snacks on local transport like trains and not offer any to those around you, it is always polite to try and share what you have even if the locals decline. I think this is a lovely thing to do considering us Brits are rather greedy and like to keep things to ourselves, the British culture as a whole does not like sharing and that includes personal space, food, clothing and having conversations that involve having to share any form of emotion. So this small gesture of kindness in Morocco is rather refreshing as I am always open to sharing and giving. Whilst on the 4 hour train journey it was interesting to slowly watch the landscape change from flat and industrial to lush with rolling hills.
Our group arrived in Meknes in the early evening and it was raining with a slight chill in the air! (Yes. It does rain in Morocco) so once we were designated to our rooms in the hotel and had 15 minutes to freshen up we all ventured out for our evening meal. I will say from what I saw of the city, this could be another place Westerners could live, it reminded me a little of the Lake District in England because it is located near the Atlas Mountains, Meknes has a seasonal climate, shifting from cool in winter to hot days in the summer months of June–September.
Meknes was the capital of Morocco under the reign of Moulay Ismail (1672–1727), before it was relocated to Marrakech. Meknes is named after a Berber tribe which was known as Miknasa (native Berber name: Imeknasen) in the medieval North African sources.