Initially when we arrived in Morocco and started researching ways to have a desert experience, I was disappointed. It seemed like every page I pulled up just about ignored the Agafay desert (which is just outside Marrakech) in favor of heading out to Merzouga for a three day trek into the Sahara. Merzouga alone is a solid 11 hour drive from Marrakech, and even though that kind of trip sounds amazing, it just wasn't going to be doable for us because we've photographing for a few hotel websites during our time here. Also, Porter had never done so much as a pony ride before this night and didn't feel like being thrown into something that immersive without knowing if he would enjoy it or not first (which I thought was totally understandable - 3 days is a long time to do any form of trekking, let alone on top of a camel in 100 degree weather. I wasn't in that kind of all-in camping out mindset this week either).
But then we sat down with reception, explained exactly what we wanted to do and instantly received loads of great suggestions. 24 hours later we were en route to the Agafay, watching as the casual mayhem of a North African city, where eight year olds ride their bicycles through roundabouts with the confidence of New York cab drivers and mopeds weave around donkey carts while balancing two year olds or two-by-fours across their laps, gave way to something decidedly different. Soon we went from pavement to gravel, then from gravel to sand. The city gave way to small intermittent villages, then only camels on the roadside, then only hills and valleys of sand. Before we knew it, we were pulling up to the camp site (which was really more of a glamping experience, if I'm being honest, there was running water and wine being served and that kind of relaxed sophistication that draws people to re-watching Out of Africa).
We were led out to a line of six camels laying down in a neat row with colorful blankets beneath their saddles and the kind of disinterested attitude you'd expect from a mule (I think they would've preferred to just be chilling in their paddocks eating grass and sleeping 24/7). They have you get on the camels while they're laying down, so as soon as they stand up you're jolted into realizing just how long their legs are. The pictures don't really do it justice, but you feel high up when you're on a camel - very high up (probably like 3 feet higher than you'd imagine it to feel like). That was the first surprise. The second was that they're pretty comfortable. I thought at least equally if not more comfortable than a horse. Also, Port was a little worried about them bolting, but at least in the case of the camels we went out to watch the sunset with, the only thing he needed to worry about was the opposite: they'd much rather stand and lay down than make a break for it (again, kind of like a mule).
We rode out into the desert for about an hour, and the biggest surprise to me was just how still and silent it was out there. It was that kind of mountaintop quiet you get when you reach a peak on a hike and no one else is around, but instead of looking out at a diverse view with different depths and tree lines, the world looks the same in every direction. It doesn't feel eery because of that though, just very zen, kind of like you've been shrunken down and dropped into one of those desk top zen gardens (minus the rake) and are just wandering through.
Our desert trip was short, and if we could go back and plan it differently I would put aside at least two full days and nights in the Agafay (with any luck, though, we'll have the chance to do something similar to that later on this year in Dubai). For anyone heading this way, I would definitely say to put aside the time for at least some form of desert excursion, but, again, not to feel as though you need to head to Merzouga to feel like you experienced something authentic. After all, once you're in the thick of it, unlike mountaintops or beaches, one desert looks almost exactly the same as the next.
We hope you enjoy the pics & all of the Morocco posts coming up this week!
Anna Lisa & Porter