since 2009

Work from home? No, thank you- 1

In these series, we detail how the Covid restrictions and the trend to work from home, have but amplified our natural propensity to explore Morocco. After all, it’s about trails. And sun.

Part 1: The desert, the water and the djinnoun.

small granary at Amtoudi

Water diviners. Overhanging fortresses. Gold diggers. Sculpted boulders, wells in the desert, trees sprouting out of rock. Treasure hunters, tears of lava – is this how legends are pieced together ? I am told of an aged man fetched all the way in Tiznit, treading these hollows holding olive tree twigs. When water is nigh, leaves flutter. At least, in his hands they do. Yet, it appears the olive tree is not absolutely necessary; a youngster from a nearby village bears the gift of ‘hearing’ the underground sources. The spell is cast, yet my more rational side pulls me back to the immediate reality. Hassan, my local guide, is quite the story teller, but I start wondering if he’s not making things up as we trail along.

nomad cemetery

In this barren immensity, rolling brows and crags of rock dotted by tufts and shrubs, one has to possess a sharp eye. Discern intention. Nature or man. A heap of stones or a an ancient burial chamber ? Rocks piled up on top of each other, erosion’s natural outcome ? Or a shepherd’s den ? A vantage point ? Mountain tops or village fortresses ? Without doubt, the too many hours spent in front of a screen don’t give me an edge.

I have taken up a two day trek in the Anti Atlas mountains and our departure point this morning was somewhere south of Tafraoute. The ruined village we leave behind is said to have fostered a Jewish community. Hassan points out the marks of someone’s recent excavations, testimony to the local myth of treasure hunters. If there’s smoke, there is fire… Later, I hear about some which did strike it lucky.

tree burrowing rock

Despite the appearance of a rubble desert, not one hour goes by that we don’t cross another soul, mostly nomads, going about their business, which is taking their camels and goats to the next pasture land. And what can grow in the desert ? While crossing a gully, I stumble upon a giant snake burrowed in the rocks. It turns out to be the root of an argan tree. How could it make its way across, or rather through, it’s beyond my comprehension. Later in the day, sundry colours grace the stones around us, from the ubiquitous beige and dark grey to burgundy and even turquoise.

gueltas at Boulakouass

Ancient rock engravings etched on canyon’s wall portray goats and bovines. At least that’s what I make out. Nearby, the water surfaces, creating natural pools deep enough to bathe in, the gueltas. Bordering them, a 30 feet horizontal slab gave birth to most peculiar rock shapes, like horizontal and parallel rows of miniature sarcophagi stacked one next to each other. At night, my guide relates, it becomes the ideal spot to spy on wild animals , gazelles, rabbits or foxes looking to quench their thirst.

sarcofagi at boulaquasse

Late afternoon, we descend onto dramatic canyons, the gigantic slab walls ominous, humbling, their protruding jabs almost menacing. At the bottom of the gorge, we pause and drink straight from the source, rewarded, grateful. The lava caught in time on the side of the canyon, is redolent of wax dripping on candles, silent testimony that at some point in time, year ago ( thousands, millions ?) a volcano spilled over. As the night falls, the call of the muezzin resonates through the valley, a mundane reminder that the supernatural reins.

rock engravings

Next day, I wake up refreshed after my first night in a real bed in a few days. If my legs seem to have recovered from the 9 hours of walking of the previous day, my feet not quite so: I feel blisters shaping up, double- layer socks or not. Yet, who can fret about such trifles when the sun already bathes the valley with its rays ? The girls are preparing for school and giggle around the house, while Hassan is busy performing his morning prayers. Before long, the breakfast is ready and we’re feasting on pancakes draped in honey and coffee, a once a day exception for my guide who is otherwise addicted to atay, like any other Moroccan. After breakfast, I saunter around the village alleys and muse about the distance both literally and not so, between here and the world out there, quelled by an invisible, yet ravaging pandemic.

gorges Amtoudi source

With only 5 hours of walking ahead of us, we allow ourselves a late morning. Later, we climb north and leave the village behind. To my left, I wave a silent goodbye to the granary, the stately guardian of the valley. Soon, we are aspirated back into the immensity and desolation of the rubble desert.

granary at Amtoudi

Beyond the next brow, lies a cave. A cave large enough to live in, my guide insists. In principle, grottoes are for animals when rain falls over, while the nomads shelter under their tents, waterproofed by plastic layers. Wouldn’t you protect first your most precious goods ? Unless, it is that kind of cave… For the ones that come at night. The ones that can not be seen. The djinnoun. Mentioned in the Qor’an, the spirits, still hold a special place in the collective imaginary of the Berbers. Traditionally, they are believed sometimes to dwell in caves and it used to be a local wont to leave offerings for them ( grains or other edible goods) at the mouth of certain such caves, to appease and propitiate them, a practice somewhat still heathen to the more orthodox Islam. Gradually, we settle into a mute mechanic trudge. The repeated pattern. Oued, brow, oued, brow. How can one explain what oued is ? Not a river, rather an intermittent stream, whose flow relies on rain and the water table.

kasbah in the shade
Today will be completely distinct from yesterday. From 11 AM until 5 PM when we finally arrive at our destination, the only living soul we cross is a wild rabbit. The silence and the humdrum trek are only punctuated by my guide’s remarks. Here, he points out how traces of wild animals, rabbits, gazelles, coyotes, and how they converge on the same trail to mean that water is not far. There, he motions me to glimpse in the distance to a chink in the thicket of piled- up slabs; what I thought was a tiny cave turns out to be a well, furnished with a string and bottle, so that any itinerant can help himself to drinking water. Where two dry bed rivers meet, a cemetery lies, its pointed slabs jutting out skywards. A nomad cemetery, by all evidence, as no traces of a hamlet or den litters the site. Hassan lifts his two palms towards the sky and from his whispers comes out a hushed litany to honour the dead.

hassan pouring moroccan tea

Later, we stop for lunch. My guide offers canned sardines. I offer half a pack of camembert cheese and we end up spreading it on the freshly baked bread that we fetched with us from the village. Moments later, atay is poured and our occasional sluices is the only thing disturbing the monumental, almost baleful silence. I wouldn’t trade this moment for the best restaurant in Bordeaux. Instead of itching to check my phone for instant gratification, I feel gratified when the No Service mention shows up. Has anyone picnicked here before ? On the same spot ? Treaded in the same steps ? Boulders abraded by sun and wind, has anything else brushed against you ?

gueltas for picnic

Everything surrounding us makes it unlikely. For there is no trail or signs to speak of. I’m relying on Hassan’s experience and intuition and my compass that tells me we’ve been headed NNE all morning. But does it matter ? As long as we’re not walking in circles, I’m happy to press on. At the end of the afternoon, when I’m tiptoeing around trying not to step on my soon- matured blisters, I realize how fortunate I am, to be able to glimpse into, dip my toe into other ways of living and feel, if only for a few days, immensely grateful. For in less is more, what is really less ? And what is really more ?

Sun Trails
Based on 25 reviews
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Zach TobinZach Tobin
22:16 29 Jan 23
Traveling alone internationally with a 7-year-old for the first time had me a bit nervous, but Sun Trails made our week-long visit to Morocco a flawless and unforgettable experience (we toured the south of the country). Daoud was an exceptional driver through all sorts of terrain while also being so kind, patient, and personable to my daughter and me. The accommodations, food, and activities throughout were excellent in terms of value. I would recommend Sun Trails to anyone who is looking to have an incredible time in Morocco.
gosia lukomskagosia lukomska
13:46 29 Jan 23
We had the trip of a lifetime with Cristian's company. We feel like we made life long friends with his amazing guides who are knowledgeable, kind, and excellent at their profession. The hotels that he chose were boutique gems and our itinerary was so well executed. We even had some surprise desert picnics! The attention to detail and level of customer service surpassed our expectations. I would highly recommend anyone visiting Morocco to do so with this company.
Henri OrmusHenri Ormus
19:43 15 Jan 23
We had a great off-the-beaten-track experience with our guides Majid, Daoud, Leila and rest of the crew. The whole trip was well organized and our wishes were handled with care. Our group of adventurers got some very real local experience. We had too many interesting experiences to describe but of course the Western Sahara desert hike was superb (but I would recommend definitely 3 days instead of 2 days what we did) but actually the best was the hike in the deserty mountains with staying overnight in large tent carried by donkey... beautiful landscapes, very different actually, over the hills and through the valleys and dried-out rivers. One evening dinner was a goat bought from local nomads once arrived at the camping site. End of the hike was beautiful pools of water to swim in. Thank you Sun-Trails crew, it was great! Henri from Estonia
Rob MRob M
22:51 27 Dec 22
I highly recommend Sun Trails for your Morocco adventure. Our guide, Mustafa, was top notch and an incredibly fun and knowledgeable person for our 6-day journey from Marrakesh to Fes (via Merzouga). Sun Trails has some fantastic vehicles that can get you through the toughest terrain (including through sand dunes). The staff seem to know someone or something cool to see (or something delicious to eat) in just about every town on your journey. We felt safe and secure with our wonderful guide and friend. Yes, a private tour with Sun Trails is going to cost a bit more than the ones you may stumble across online. But trust me when I say you get what you pay for with Sun Trails. I’ve already recommended them several times to friends and strangers.
Kristi HarmarKristi Harmar
08:09 03 May 22
I wish I could give this review more than 5 stars. We are doing a world tour - and this trip with Suntrails (with Daoud as our guide) is by far the highlight of the entire trip. We did a 4 day tour to the Erg Chigaga dunes in the Sahara and it was incredible. The accommodations, sights and car were great but what made this trip so amazing for us was our guide, Daoud. In order to see the things we wanted, we had several long days in the car and we did the trip with 2 small children (2 and 5). Daoud was fantastic with our kids - playing with them and entertaining them and the kids are still asking me to see him 2 months later.We decided on the "dreamer" level of accommodation with an upgrade to a luxury tent for the night in the Sahara. I deliberated a lot about which level/price point to choose but what we chose was perfect. The tagines were amazing and the riads were beautiful. Cristian took care (and a lot of emails) to help me include everything I requested out of this trip: camel riding, adventure off the beaten track, hiking to a kasbah, etc. Our guide, Daoud even walked to the next closest desert camp to find us a sand board one morning.I could go on and on about this experience but I will just say that I have recommended it to anyone I have spoken to about Morocco. I never repeat trips but I am planning a future trip to come back to Morocco just to do another trip with Suntrails to explore more of the country off the beaten track.


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