Wild deserts, wild mountains and wild coastline, together with some of the most wonderful people on the planet. Morocco has all the things that Jeff Barnard, one-time Intrepid leader, looks for in an adventurous destination…
“One of the best trips I enjoyed was camping in the great sand desert on the edge of the Sahara – Erg Chebbi. It has to be one of the most fantastic landscapes imaginable. Huge sand dunes rising from the desert floor, constantly being sculpted by the wind and the colours changing with the setting sun.
We were camping out under the stars and had our safari vehicle pulled up in a valley between two dunes. Before we tucked into a superb dinner, our local guide Mohamed came over to me and said he was worried by the threat of high winds. Instead of sleeping out, he asked if we wanted to move to a caravanserai after dinner. It was a perfectly still evening and everyone was looking forward to sleeping under the desert night sky, so we decided to stay put.
Ten minutes later we could hear a low noise through the stillness of the night coming closer and closer and all of a sudden it hit us – a wall of wind and sand that felt like the blast of a jet engine and just as loud. Tables, tents, sleeping bags – everything went flying into the darkness. We all raced about to retrieve anything we could, but being sandblasted meant we could hardly open our eyes. I dashed to the shelter of our safari vehicle, where other members of the group were all laughing at the sudden crazy scene.
The wind did die down during the night and the next morning we awoke to a perfectly still setting again, but this time there were remnants of our camp scattered in the sand dunes. As we were cleaning everything up Mohamed had a gentle “I told you so” look on his face, but all we could do was laugh and make a mental note to always heed the weather warnings of a local next time!
Mohamed told us we had been invited to a wedding of his friend at a nearby village. Weddings in this part of the world are always several days of celebration and ceremonies, and outsiders are welcomed as honoured guests. We all eagerly agreed and set off for what we thought would be a short journey to the village. Thirty kilometres (18 miles) of rough desert tracks later, we arrived at the mud brick buildings of the village. There was a large group of men in the long white gowns and head scarfs of the desert Berber people. They greeted us all and took us into the village where the main ceremonies were taking place.
The local women were dressed in black shawls adorned in embroidery and beautiful silver jewellery. We had arrived on the climactic third day of the celebrations and there was lots of separate groups of men and women dancing and handclapping to the beat of the drums. The women of our group were taken to join in with the local ladies, while we men were taken to the groom’s house to meet the village headman and the groom. A moment of great honour for them we were told and obviously for us a real privilege.
We then set off in a procession through the streets to the centre of the village, where a sheep would be slaughtered and cooked in celebration. Our group were warned that it was not something for the squeamish to see, but little did we know that as honoured guests we would be given front row status.
The sheep was led towards the main gathering and with little fanfare a man produced a long curved blade from his robes, bent over and slit the poor animal’s throat before it – and we – knew what had happened. As the blood spilt onto the ground and everyone joined in prayers of thanks, our group tried to hide their expressions of disbelief. Thankfully we had been worded up to only show great respect for the occasion, so we all nodded and smiled to display that everything had been done to our satisfaction.
The next challenge was to extricate ourselves from the proceedings, as we were then invited to stay the night and join in on the feast they were about to enjoy. We did have a long way to drive that day, plus the thought of being given the choicest parts of the sheep, such as the eyes and testicles, didn’t really appeal to many in our group, who all of a sudden professed to being vegetarian. Regretfully we had to bid farewell to our new friends, leaving behind gifts for the bride and groom and open invitations to join our family celebrations and weddings in our home villages, should they be passing by.”
* photo by Helen Parkin – Intrepid Photography Competition