Trip to Merzouga day 1 – what’s up with all this hassle?

26.10 – Tuesday

Got up early and were picked up by some guy who showed us the way to the mini bus.

Just before 7.30 AM we arrived in front of a couple of buses and few groups of people, all obviously waiting and trying to figure out what the hell is going on here. As predicted it was a total chaos. There wasn’t enough places on the bus, they couldn’t quite figure out who is going where and for how long etc. Luckily we didn’t have to wait very long compared to some people, who have been standing there even since 6 AM. Around 8.00 AM we were finally on the road. Today’s trip was supposed to end in Dadas Gorge, where we had a hotel booked with dinner and breakfast included. By the time we reached Aït Benhaddou we stopped a couple of times including Tizi-n-Tichka pass viewpoint overlooking the valley with Jbel Toubkal on the horizon.

In Aït Benhaddou we were sort of tricked into going around the old village with a”guide”, who demanded money in a very pushy way. Not that his “knowledge” was worth more than a penny. “This is where they filmed movies like: …” or “This is the building they build for this movie… but they also filmed movies like:…” That was pretty much all he could tell us. We were also almost forced to eat in a designated restaurant – “now, fast, booked here!”, eventhough we were officially told we would have some free time for lunch in Quarzazate. Again we thought we were misled. All very frustrating and annoying. I was on the edge with all this cheating and hassle and ended up picking a fight with our driver and so called guide, who were behind this whole scheme. They didn’t like it of course and tried to use all possible excuses why it is not convenient to go to Quarzazate at all.

Anyways, back to the ksar… The village was truly impressive, especially the view from the top of the hill. It seemed too unreal. Almost as if the whole of it was built by Hollywood just for the purpose of filming there. Spectacular. As for our “guided tour”, well it was pretty much all about going to the top of the old village and listening over and over again what movies were filmed here. You could say that the most interesting part was about UNESCO and its restoration plan and that they are building a bridge across the river, which at the moment can be crossed only when the tide is low, which basically meant that all those years, during winter months families were pretty much stranded in the village. To be honest, if anyone of you ever and up going to Aït Benhaddou, you do not need a guide – that’s for sure.

When we got back to our bus, we were told we need to change and move onto a bigger one, since there is 4 more people joining our group. Our new bus driver wasn’t happy, especially because now he needed to take us to Quarzazate for lunch, since our pack refused to eat, where they wanted us to. ( I know sounds a bit silly, but we felt like were fighting for the bigger cause!) Anyways, he announced this to the family joining our bus team and they didn’t seem too happy. The mother, who didn’t see me standing right behind her,  made a quite sarcastic remark about it, who do we think we are, and why do we choose where to go and that they are not hungry etc etc.  As she was saying it, she turned around and I explained quickly what the deal was. The driver, being cheeky, said it is totally not his fault and he can’t be blamed if we arrive in Dadas Gorge too late. Then to my surprise, the woman replied, pointing at me: “well we want to blame her, cause we like her”. She smiled broadly. And this is how we met Jessica Flower and her family: Two daughters Martha and Harriet and Paul the dad.

After a quick lunch in Quarzazate, all ready for the kings visit (empty but filled with red flags and each street and building) we continued our journey further east. We passed Skoura and the Valley of 1000 Kasbahs and drove until we reached a road leading into the Dadas Gorge. At that point the group got to know each other enough to make sometimes silly and sarcastic remarks other times serious and interesting conversations. We sure were a nice mix. Two girls from Pennsylvania  with Seth from Colorado, already mentioned family from Bath, Kate and Justin from Lake District, Matthew from Australia, lovely Fiona and Drew from Melbourne, Lau from Barcelona and one other couple from Spain, who spoke very little English and so I didn’t really get to know much about them, unfortunately. I do not quite remember what we all talked about precisely on the bus but there was plenty of laughter.

We arrived in our hotel, which was situated at the bottom of the gorge, at about 6pm. It was already dark. Even as we were driving through the Valley of the Roses and stopped for pictures, there was nearly no light left. We had dinner at 7pm (bland cous cous with bland vegetables and some chicken on a side) and quickly headed to our beds, since we needed to be up at 7 am the next morning.

PS. Somewhere on the road from Quarzazate to Dadas Gorge we saw a strange thing. All of a sudden all police men, who were already strange enough standing randomly alongside the road in the middle of nowhere, saluted facing one direction.  Bizzare, right? We quickly realised there were two cars going up the hill towards one of the Kasbahs. It was the King! We saw the King’s car! And he was driving just behind our bus! How funny. ; )

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