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Contrasts of Morocco

We scrambled over loose rocks and up a gentle slope, a chill breeze cut through us despite the hot Moroccan sun cooking from above. Below we saw a fox bounding over sand and around palm trees, having obviously been spooked out of the shade of a rocky overhang as we climbed above his head.

On the smooth top of the hill, and as we settled into the picnic lunch we had picked up at the last town, we admired the variety of views around us.

Morocco

 

The bright orange sands of the Sahara could be seen in the distance, and beyond them the cliffs that struck the border between Morocco and Algeria. Towering mosque minarets were speckled throughout the countryside, surrounded by the small populations they were built for. Encased in the rock at our feet were innumerable fossils, some protruding from the stone. In the far distance were the snow-capped Atlas Mountains we had driven through the previous day.

Pete and Hmad

 

We were constantly moved by the contrasts that Morocco provided. Where else can you see desert and snow capped mountains in one eyeful? Home to the only ski resort in Africa, the white High Atlas Mountains were constantly in view on our long first day of driving, and provided for a variety of distinctive landscapes. Each turn on the windy roads through them brought a new color and almost an entirely new environment. Often, red soil shone bright in the sun, other vistas offered only brown, and sometimes luscious green foliage blanketed the valleys. Clumped Berber villages, plentiful along sparse rivers, were the only stable fixture with their consistent red buildings and array of traditional Kasbahs.

 

We saw staggering gorges…

Dades Gorges

 

And we stopped at Ait Benhaddou, a Unesco World Heritage Site seen in many famous movies like Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia. Lo and behold, look at what can surprisingly be seen in the distance…

Ait Benhaddou

 

Ait Benhaddou 2

 

Ksar signContrasts were also easily seen in the habitations and people as we ventured further south. Away from the chaos of the cities, life got simpler, and we found more people robed in traditional clothing. We drove through numerous small, walled villages called Ksars built in close proximity to each other. Constructed of mud and dating back to the 12th century, a continuous wall encircles the interior buildings, raised to protect inhabitants from attacking neighbors. Kids, who were typically indifferent to us in the cities but were intrigued by our presence in the south, often waved from their perch on the side of roads where they watched the world roll by. They squealed when Hmad teased them by slightly swerving in their direction. “They would have thrown rocks at me in other parts of the country,” he said with a reassuring smile.

That was the extremely amiable character of Hmad. With Pete and I both having Our guide Hmadno knowledge of Arabic and only a smattering of French, our interactions with locals were quite limited until we met our gracious host. My only impression of Moroccan men had been through the lewd looks and comments I received every time I ventured out. Unaccustomed to this and perhaps overly sensitive, I continuously felt uncomfortable and wary to be far from Pete.

Hmad showed a very different side, and one that we would find again in others during our time in Morocco, such that I came to believe his positive traits to be a truer representation of character. He was most generous with his time and his knowledge, answering every stupid and ill-informed question we had. He was completely gentle in nature and had a witty sense of humor. Hmad endlessly joked with waiters, and showed repeated kindness and respect to all we encountered. When two young kids approached us at a rest stop asking for change, he instead offered them the keys to our vehicle with a shy smile that caused the youths to burst into a mess of giggles.

And that’s one of the things we’ll remember most. Beyond the picture-perfect viewpoints we marveled at along the way, there was much more than diverse landscapes to be discovered.

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Many thanks to Hmad and his company Merzouga Journeys for our exceptional tour. For our itinerary and full review, please click here. Following will be two more posts from this tour, as we enter the Sahara Desert.


25 Comments (Add Yours)

  1. Looks like an amazing place! Especially that crazy road in the gorge – must make for a scary but exhilarating drive.
    Erin recently posted..The Best of South America Part 1: Travellers Share Their Tips

  2. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that Pete did some trickery with the photo with the mountains in the back ground….like eliminating the city of Calgary & replacing it with the desert.
    The gorge….very scary!!!!

  3. A study in contrasts – from snow capped mountains to desert. Just beautiful. Hmad sounds like a genuinely nice person.
    InsideJourneys recently posted..Celine Dion Headlines the Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival 2012

  4. Nice photos! Those switchback look ripe for some long exposure photography around dusk.
    Andrew – The Unframed World recently posted..What is HDR Photography?

  5. Looks gorgeous- and a little scary… I’m with your mom!! haha. Luckily you had great weather to see everything. (Oh, and just read about your meet up with Bacon is Magic… Jealous!!!)
    Jade recently posted..Filming with The Travel Channel: Day One

  6. I didn’t get to do this while I was in Morocco. Next time I go, and I will go (just with a male), I really want to do this!

  7. Beautiful pictures, looks amazing! Hope I get to see it for myself one day.
    Claire recently posted..Louvre

  8. Love the colours in these shots – those clear skies against the reds and the mountain backdrop :) Great stuff! (And that road looks a bit mental!)
    Laurence recently posted..Places I’d like to go in 2012

  9. Stunning! That road looks a bit nuts but potentially fun to drive?! Haha
    Kieu ~ GQ trippin recently posted..Video: Zorbing in Rotorua

  10. Sounds amazing! i want to go back to Morocco some day – but with a man. I would never travel there again by myself… its just too scary for a solo female traveller.
    Jade – OurOyster.com recently posted..How To Survive A Winnipeg Winter

  11. Gorgeous landscapes! And it sounds like Hmad is making this trip a great cultural learning experience as well.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Photo Essay: Trekking Near El Chalten

  12. Great photos. I can’t believe that windy road! Makes me really want to visit Morocco.
    Laura recently posted..Eat and Drink in Rome

  13. that gorge is crazy!! Such a cool photo! as were all of the others. I only saw Tangier’s in Morocco, I definitely need to go back! :)
    cailin recently posted..Food Bloggers have pull

  14. Such a stunning landscape. I’d feel so inspired and content starting at it for hours. What a lovely way for you to spend time in Morocco! :)
    Cheryl Howard recently posted..Street Art And Graffiti In Krakow.

  15. Morocco sounds amazing… you make it sound amazing. :)

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