Growing up, I was exposed to non-stop adventure. Being dragged around from country to country became the norm and I loved every second of it. Constant interactions with different cultures allowed me to have an open mind and to see the world from alternative perspectives. I spent a great deal of time with family friends in Morocco. From Casablanca all the way to the Sahara, I traveled to almost every major city. Morocco is the ultimate melting pot of European and Middle-Eastern cultures. We heard about the nomadic people called “berbers” who wander the desert trading goods and making crafts. In pursuit of the famous nomads and their fascinating way of life, the journey to the Sahara began.
Nicknamed “the door to the desert”, Ouarzazate is located in south-central Morocco at the base plateau of the Atlas mountains. The town is inhabited by berber-speakers who constructed many of the prominent kasbahs and buildings for which the area is known. The fortified village of Ait Benhaddou west of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We made our way to visit this city next on the journey.
Famous movies such as “Alexander,” “Prince of Persia,” “Gladiator,” “The Mummy,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” and parts of the TV series “Game of Thrones” were filmed here. The city consists of a series of walls that protect from outside invaders. Inside the walls are half a dozen kasbahs or merchants houses and other individual dwellings, which are great examples of Moroccan earthen clay architecture. Here are a few shots of the great city below:
Atlas Mountain Film Studio
As we reached the outskirts, the adventure continued 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) west of the city of Ouarzazate. The Atlas Mountain film studio is by far the world’s largest film studio. Most of the property consists of desert and surrounding mountains.
Draa Valley & Oasis
Heading further southeast into deep desert territory, we reached the Draa Oasis. Located in the deep south of Morocco, the Draa Valley stretches from the city of Ouarzazate into the Sahara Desert.
The Draa Valley is a stunning oasis home to Berber villages, sumptuous kasbahs, streaming sand dunes, lush green plains, the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, endless stretches of palm trees, and the Draa, Morocco’s largest river. This area was once an important transit point on the trans-Saharan caravan trading routes, as well as an important trading center for Jewish, Arab, Berber and Christian civilizations.
We stayed in a riad (Moroccan guesthouse) and spent time with the berbers at the oasis as we prepared for our journey into the desert.
Full Throttle ATV
Before the trek into the desert began, we decided to check out the neighboring villages on ATVs. This was my first time riding an ATV as I was 10 years old, and it was a hell of an experience. The local guide was flying through the narrow streets where we barely fit between the buildings zooming by.
Just to keep up with the crazy guide, I was pretty much holding down my throttle all the way, going ~ 50 mph. Eight hours later, we drove up to a city outlook where the famous movie “Babel” was filmed. I got a few hours of sleep and the next day, we packed up the bags and entered the Sahara.
Berber Trek into the Sahara
Finally, we get to the best part. This journey was one of my favorite experiences. Although it happened quite a long time ago, I will never forget my time spent living in the desert with the berbers. They showed me how to be resourceful and how to respect the world. During the day, we would ride the camels over what felt like endless sand dunes. At night, we stayed in berber tents and ate, laughed, and celebrated life with our new nomadic friends. If you ever get the chance to make it to this part of the world, meeting the berbers in the desert is a must!
Looking back, I almost wish we got stuck there and had to live with the berbers. It was nice being away from civilization and enjoying the true beauty this world has to offer. No electronics, distractions, or stress. Just pure nature at its finest. The Sahara Desert is even more overwhelming than the photos. It feels like an endless sea that ould sweep you away into the distance at any second.
I am glad that this journey could be shared through my blog. These experiences in life are priceless and should be cherished forever.
Ready to trek the Sahara, ride camels, and live under desert tents with the berbers?
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