Thursday, April 16, 2015

Moroccan Desert Tour, Part I: Landmarks in the Desert

When the opportunity arose to tour the Sahara, I jumped at it. Over a period of three days I visited UNESCO Heritage Sites, natural wonders, Berber villages, and glorious sand dunes. I broke up this trip into two posts, beginning with the desert landmarks.

The first stop was at the Kasbah Aït-Benhaddou, a UNESCO Heritage Site. Its traditional Moroccan architecture and stunning desert views led to its appearance in over a dozen films, including The Jewel of the Nile, The Mummy, and Gladiator. As I'm not a huge cinéphile, I haven't seen any of these movies, but it didn't matter. In fact, I think I had an advantage, as my mind was able to paint an image of the kasbah on a blank canvas, unmuddled by celebrities and movie sets.

One of the best parts of visiting the kasbah was traversing the gorge. Hopping from rock to rock, it was a real-life version of my favorite playground game!
Visiting the Oasis de Fint, our next stop, was a surreal experience. I grew up thinking of oases as pools of water in the middle of barren sand dunes, thanks to Rugrats. (Does anyone else know the episode about which I'm talking? No? Okay.) Yet the term "oasis" is thrown around lightly, describing a utopia of some sort. The thing is, it's true. An oasis is like a utopia, especially for desert dwellers.

Today, only Berbers live in this area. However, it used to be a beautiful Berber-Jewish community where everyone lived in peace and harmony. Our guide explained that, following the destruction of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, many Jews sought refuge in Morocco, settling in the oasis to take advantage of the salt, mineral, and silver mines. In the words of our guide, "Berbers think [that] Judaism is the first divine religion of Morocco," so they welcomed their new neighbors with open arms. Being Jewish myself, I was touched by this nugget of history, and I made that clear to the guide. He was so excited, as he'd only met a few Jews in his life! This really warmed my heart and reinforced what my mom has always taught me: that it's important to develop relationships and understanding across religions.

Another fun fact: see the small holes in the kasbah walls? Their unique purpose is to protect birds during storms! You can find these square-shaped holes in most Moroccan fortifications.

Berbers are known for their intricate weaving patterns and beautiful rugs, so we popped into the village to learn more about the rug-making process. A hard sale followed the presentation, of course, but as there were 17 of us it was fairly easy to escape without purchasing anything. Doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the beautiful colors, though! Did you know that the rugs are all woven by hand and take months, even years, to complete?

The final natural landmark that we visited before making our way to the dunes was the Todra Gorge. Clear water, rocky cliffs, blue skies...what more could you ask for?

This post only covered some of the major sites we visited, but rest assured that the entire trip was just as beautiful. Stay tuned for part two, where I discuss the hot topic of this adventure--riding a camel to camp in the Erg Chebbi dunes!


  1. Gorgeous - I can't wait to do something like this myself! What company was this with?

  2. All of it is so beautiful! I know exactly which Rugrats epsiode you are talking about & I never realized they weren't just pools of water either. oops

  3. Keep an eye out for my Sunday post because I'm going to explain it, including some issues we had to be aware of lol.

  4. The Rugrats episode "Heatwave"??


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