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.



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.


“From here, it’s like seeing a Moroccan Salad,”


our guide Hmad said.


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.


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... Read them below or add one of your own
  • January 25 2012

    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

  • Mom
    January 25 2012

    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!!!!

    • January 26 2012

      It is crazy, right? I couldn’t get over that we could see so much snow. The gorge wasn’t scary at all, the road is wide and our driver took it slow. 🙂 Nothing like Bolivian roads – haha!

  • January 26 2012

    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

    • January 26 2012

      Hmad was really lovely and helped make our tour into something special!

  • January 26 2012

    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

    • January 27 2012

      Yes, we had fabulous weather the entire time we were there! And the road really wasn’t that scary! 🙂

  • Andrew - The Unframed World
    January 26 2012

    Nice photos! Those switchback look ripe for some long exposure photography around dusk.

    • January 26 2012

      Yes, if only we had more time. We were in and out of there pretty quickly. 🙁

  • January 26 2012

    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!

    • January 27 2012

      It was a lot of driving in just a few days, but so beautiful!

  • Claire
    January 27 2012

    Beautiful pictures, looks amazing! Hope I get to see it for myself one day.

  • January 27 2012

    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

    • January 27 2012

      It was hard to take a bad picture on that trip. Every view was amazing. 🙂

  • January 27 2012

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

    • January 27 2012

      We took it very slow so the road wasn’t too crazy. We’ve been on much worse (hello Bolivia!) Haha.

  • January 27 2012

    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 – recently posted..How To Survive A Winnipeg Winter

    • January 28 2012

      Yeah, you’re not the first lady who’s told me that. I don’t think I could handle it alone either.

  • 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

    • January 29 2012

      Hmad was awesome. That is one reason I love these small tours, good personal experience with a local, we learned so much!

  • Laura
    January 29 2012

    Great photos. I can’t believe that windy road! Makes me really want to visit Morocco.

  • January 31 2012

    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

    • January 31 2012

      Yes you do CJ…if only for the FOOD as well! 🙂

  • February 2 2012

    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! 🙂

  • March 2 2012

    Morocco sounds amazing… you make it sound amazing. 🙂

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