When I look back upon 2013, I cannot imagine a more ideal way to have ended the year, roaming around this beautiful country in a new continent, undergoing experiences that I never thought even existed in reality.
On Saturday morning, we left Marrakech early in the morning with our driver, Muhammed, and guide, Salim, both of whom would accompany us through Morocco for the next three days. As we left the city, we began to submerge into the Atlas Mountains, the magnanimous mountain range that crosses through Morocco. For hours, we drove through the curved roads, stopping here and there to take some breathtaking photos. At one of the local village cafes, we paused for some Moroccan mint tea, which has become a daily routine for us, and looked out into the range. The range seemed to extend forever, but because of the clouds above, the photographs came out foggy. Nonetheless, one of the most fascinating sights we saw was of two nomad women climbing up the trails atop donkeys, indifferent to the tourists.
Throughout Saturday, we drove to two kasbahs, or fortresses. The first one, located in a quaint Berber village, was the home of a pasha, a noble title, in the mid 1900s, who also housed several wives. The walls were made of mud, and due to generators, lightbulbs hung from each of the room ceilings. On the terrace, we could see the flatlands for miles across. Our kasbah guide, who sported a traditional Moroccan ensemble, showed us his country store and his home after the tour, located at the mouth of the village. Coming from a family of nomads, he told us about how he had chosen to settle down in one place, although he liked to visit the Sahara once in a while.
The second kasbah we visited—Ksar Ait Ben Haddou— was the site of several movie shootings, including Prince of Persia, Indiana Jones, and Lawrence of Arabia. Despite being out in the middle of nowhere, we were still struck with the same Indian comments—”Bollywood! We love Shahrukh Khan!”—which, after a while, kind of became creepy. However, the scenery at this kasbah was unbelievable.
That night, we stayed at the gorgeous Xaluca hotel in Dades, which is located in a valley known as Rose Valley, for its plentiful roses during the summertime. Although it was located in an isolated village, Xaluca was one of the best places we’ve ever stayed, with stunning views—the perfect way to wake up after a nearly 12-hour trip the previous day. However, this day was just as long, as we made our way to Merzouga through the pre-Sahara.
On the way, we stopped at the Todra Gorge, just outside of Dades, where we encountered one of the most natural and incredible scenes. As we settled in for tea between the gorges, I caught sight of a large black mass moving towards us from the mountains in the distance. When they became closer, it became clear that it was actually a herd of black sheep, along with nomads in search for water. As the sheep found the water, they scrambled into neat lines. Beside them, a young girl in a pink dress wandered around, asking tourists for money. Around her were other nomads, ignoring the cameras, focused on getting their share of water. Eventually, my mom asked one of the women if she could take a picture with her, and only after taking the photo did I realize how gorgeous the women was, with sharp eyes and rosy cheeks. She smiled afterwards, calling me princess in Arabic (translated by Salim). And as I look back on the picture, I am reminded of Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl—it feels like I’ve finally taken the photograph I’ve been wanting to capture for so long (picture to be posted soon).
Around five p.m., we reached Merzouga, a Berber village literally in the middle of nowhere, surrounded solely by sand dunes, which they call Erg Chebbi—erg meaning dunes. As was planned, we decided to take a camel trip into the dunes. Salim prepared us for the cold (yes, the Sahara was absolutely freezing….ironic, isn’t it?) by tying scarves around our heads as traditional nomads. While my mom and I waited around, one of the many camels became feisty, screaming and kicking in the air. And thanks to karma, I ended up with that very camel, who nearly threw me off in the first two minutes of the ride. As I’ve made clear several times, I’m terrified of heights, so as the camel began screaming and jumping, I did too. But soon enough, we became comfortable with each other, and the ride became (almost) peaceful. Eventually, after twenty minutes or so, we found ourselves in the middle of the Sahara with our camel guide, three rowdy camels, and the easing sound of the breeze.
I’ve never seen a more breathtaking sight than the sun setting over the Sahara. I wish I could do it justice to in words—I’ll try. As the sun fell into the horizon, you could see the shadows of the outlines of the dunes as they curved up and down. In the distance, two people sat atop a hill, but other than that, we were literally the only souls in the Sahara. The sand extended for miles, as if never to end. I had seen numerous pictures, stalked National Geographic, watched several desert movies, but I had never imagined the Sahara to be like this. Even after having visited beautiful places like Aruba or the Sunderbans, I felt an awe that I never knew existed. And so, in the silence, which became haunting after a while, we watched the sun set over the large sand dunes, trying to capture pictures of our silhouettes and the view. On the way back to the hotel, I fell silent, which is, as many of you who are reading this know, rare for me. While part of it was my disgust from having been spit on by a camel just moments before, I was mostly overwhelmed, unable to fathom what I had seen. I could say it looked like a movie, but it didn’t—it looked better. It looked unlike anything that could exist in this world. A part of me wishes I had stayed longer, but unfortunately, I was slightly preoccupied with my dread for the camel ride. Lucky for me, I took the calmer camel on the way back, who decided to be gentle with me, but honestly, he probably just wanted to avoid my screaming.
The day after my spiritual/morally-uplifting adventure, we finally made it to Casablanca, after driving for thirteen hours through the snow-capped Atlas Mountains (you would think that visiting Africa would allow me to escape from the snow). Today, we spent the day wandering around Casablanca—famous for its eponymous movie, which I still haven’t seen—and Rabat, the nation’s capital only an hour away from Casablanca. Compared to Marrakech, I found Casablanca tremendously modern and Rabat culturally-refreshing. As we discovered the famous landmarks of the two cities, including the King’s palace and Hassan II Mosque, I fell in love with the architecture of the buildings, primarily consisting of mosaics and intricate patterns. Even more, to me, Moroccan history is, in general, fascinating for its recency, as opposed to that of most European countries. The stories, people, and facts feel more real, more relevant.
We just returned from our New Year’s Eve dinner at a small restaurant, where we ate our last Moroccan meal of the trip—lamb kebabs and chocolate crepes. Tomorrow, we’re finally heading back to Vermont. As much as I’m surprised to say this, I cannot wait to go home—no matter where I go, Vermont always draws me back. Right now, it’s 11:30 pm here in Morocco, and I can hear the clock ticking away to midnight. It’s wonderful being here for New Year’s, but I still miss being at home for the turn of the year, with my friends, watching Anderson Cooper announce the countdown in Times Square. For years, this has been my tradition.
Even more, in these last minutes of 2013, I’m realizing the weight that comes with 2014—graduation, college, moving away, a new chapter. As exciting as it all is, I’m also nervous. It seems like this is the moment I’ve been counting down to for years.
2013 has been unbelievable—making new friends, pursuing my passions, discovering new places, and undergoing experiences like the one I just described in the Sahara. As cheesy as it sounds (not surprising, because I AM cheesy), I feel grateful for everything this year has brought, and hopefully, next year at this time, I’ll be saying the same about 2014.
So Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to hoping that you follow all your resolutions, come out in one piece by tomorrow morning, and have a great, great year. Amidst all the celebration, I’ve attached one of my favorite videos of my two favorite people down below!
P.S. I’ll post some pictures on TR soon!