I just returned from a 6 day trek in the Moroccan Desert and let me tell you… it was AWESOME.
A few months ago I got a text from my mum with a link to a ‘Meditation Walk in the Morocan Desert’ webpage and the message “Are you in?”.
I had a quick look and my decision was made within seconds. Although I was (and still am) very much a beginner when it comes to meditation, I had been wanting to learn more and to start introducing mediation into my daily routine. And as a photographer, how could I resist the breathtaking landscapes I knew I would witness in the desert?
The description on the web page said there would be a lot of walking (3 to 5 hours per day) but that didn’t scare me, I don’t mind walking and often walk long hours when exploring new places on my travels.
I told my mum I was in and she booked 2 spots for us straight away.
Jean-Marc, or Monsieur Mindfulness, the organiser, sent us a handy video detailing what to pack and why. Me and my mum took notes and started buying things a little over a month before our departure date.
Here are photos of my backpack and day bag to give you an idea:
N/B: given I was travelling with my mum there are things we shared that she brought and are not on the picture (water bottle, organic toothpaste…)
DAY 1 – Marrakech
My flight landed around half 10 in the morning on the Saturday.
I was warned it usually takes hours to go through customs so I was surprised when it only took me around 10 minutes. And those 10 minutes were spent asking strangers for a pen so I could fill in the immigration document. I’m not sure what the logic is behind this but when you get to the door just before customs, you are directed to a set of high tables to fill in a little white immigration document but there are no pens anywhere. Not even one of those pens chained to the table so no one runs away with it. So everyone stands there and panics with their little white paper.
The lucky few that packed a pen in their hand lugguage end up being harrassed (okay that’s a tad too strong, everyone was super polite) for their pen.
Anyway I managed to borrow a pen from someone and went straight through customs. After collecting my luggage I went to the meeting point and was greeted by Mohammed, our local guide. He was super nice, carried my luggage and gave me a live tour of Marrakech in the car on the way to the Riad.
He dropped me off and I met up with one of the other participants, Marie. We went for lunch in the souk, at Le cafe des epices, and she shared stories of her previous visits to Marrakech, what to do and what not to do.
Later in the afternoon, when my mum arrived at the Riad, we went for a walk in the souk so I could snap a few pictures before our group briefing.
DAY 2 – The drive
After the briefing, a nice dinner with the group and short night sleep, we got up before sunrise, had a quick breakfast and carried our bags to the bus where we met our cook. We started our bus journey towards the Atlas mountains.
It was long. The Moroccan desert is SO far. We went over the Atlas mountains, then the (much smaller) Ante Atlas mountains and carried on driving towards Mhamid, were the road ends and the desert starts.
At lunch time, we stopped on the side of the road to have a bite. We expected sandwiches and a bottle of water but what we got was wayyyyy better. Mohammed, the driver and our cook set up some mats for us to sit down with a carpet in the middle. We were then served traditional mint tea followed by a salad and a hot meal with rice. And it was DELICIOUS.
When we got to the end of the road, after 11 hours on the road, we gave our bags to the berbers who loaded up the camels and we walked to our first camp site.
We arrived at the campsite at sunset, physically drained by the long bus journey but mentally and emotionally energised by the beauty of the Moroccan desert landscapes surrounding the camp.
We were having dinner (again, delicious), when someone who had gone outside came back into the main tent and said we HAD to come outside and look at the sky.
With no light pollution and not a single cloud in sight in the Moroccan desert, the sky was pitch black and there were more stars than I had ever seen before. We could even see the Milky Way very clearly. I have no words to describe how I felt in that moment. It was like I was seeing the night sky for the very first time. I stared at the sky for a while, until my body reminded me that I was outside and it was cold…
DAY 3 to 6 – The Moroccan desert
During the next four days, we walked, laughed, ate, meditated, ached, watch sunrise and sunset, blistered up, drank tea, slept… And sometimes we would do these things in silence, on Jean-Marc’s orders, to better enjoy the experience and appreciate the sensations, sounds, smells, feelings as they came.
In the morning, we would wake up before sunrise, get dressed, pack up our bags and meet on top of a dune where Jean-Marc would guide us through a meditation session whilst watching sunrise. After that, we would have breakfast, usually in silence.
We would then start walking towards the next campsite. Although on the 4th day, me and Sandrina had so many blisters we could barely walk and ended up riding camels all the way!
The berbers would pack up the tents, kitchen, food, water, backpacks and everything else for us, load everything onto the camels and catch up with us 30 minutes to an hour later. They would then walk past us and get to the next campsite before us. It was very funny and impressive to watch the camels overtake us. They appeared to be walking quite slowly but within seconds had walked past us!
We would reach the next campsite, which the berbers had already had time to set up, around lunchtime everyday. And everyday, without fail, we all crashed on the mats and fell asleep whilst waiting for the tea and delicious lunch to be served.
After lunch we would have some free time, which was usually spent having a long and well deserved nap. Then Jean-Marc would invite us to participate in different meditation related activities. I participated in most of them but found it hard to get into it as I was tired and ended up falling asleep most of the time… I also skipped a couple of meditations so I could go take some photos before sunset.
On the last day, Jean-Marc had also organised a short camel ride for everyone, which was a huge success!
After the medication and activities, we would climb up the highest dune around the camp to watch sunset together.
After that, it was time to ‘shower’. And by shower I mean use baby wipes! You’ve guessed it, there’s no showers in the Moroccan desert… The camels carried bottled water for us but we were only allowed to use it for drinking. So for 6 days we used baby wipes to wash ourselves! Oh and there’s no toilets either… But I won’t go into details.
Once everyone was ‘baby wiped’ and had changed into clean clothes, we would gather in the big tent for dinner. Jean-Marc would then read us a story before we went back to our tents to sleep.
One evening the berbers invited us to join them around the fire and taught the group to sing some of their songs. I was already in bed but was able to listen to the songs and enjoy them from the ‘comfort’ of my sleeping bag.
And on the last evening we invited the berberes and the cook to join us in the big tent to thank them for all they did for us and offer them some leftover medication, toiletries, clothes and a big tip.
The nights were very cold, probably between 0 and 5 degrees. To sleep I wore super thick leggings, 2 pairs of socks, a long sleeve top, a fleece, a sleeveless down jacket and a hat. And I slept in a fleece lined sleeping bag with another fleece on top of my legs. The first night I was too cold and didn’t sleep very well, but after that I think my body got used to it and I didn’t feel the cold as much.
During our walks and the free times in the afternoon I was able to do what I love most, take photos!
Here are my favourites:
Noemie kindly offered to model for me and I even got Steve involved for a quick couples photo:
DAY 7 and 8 – Marrakech
On the last day, 3 Jeeps met us at the camp site in the morning and drove us through the Moroccan desert all the way back to Mhamid. It was a bumpy ride! But our driver was super nice, he kept checking up on us after each dune to make sure no one had hit their heads too hard.
We then got back on the bus and it took us another 11 hours to get back to Marrakech. We ran into the 4L Trophy which delayed us by a couple of hours meaning we didn’t have time to shower when we got back to the Riad. We had a quick gathering with Mohammed, our guide, to thank him for not letting us get lost in the desert and for all his help including playing nurse to tend to mine and Sandrina’s blistered feet.
We all showed up at the restaurant having not showered in SIX DAYS, dirty hair, covered in sand, clothes smelling of sweat, wearing the infamous sandals + socks combo or hiking boots. But we quickly came to terms with it, ordered some well deserved mojitos and danced a little.
When it was finally time to go back to the Riad, I had THE BEST shower ever. My hair and skin felt softer and cleaner than ever! And I was able to sleep in a warm and cozy bed, with no sand sneaking through the zip of my sleeping bag, no cold air preventing me from sleeping… It felt good.
The next day me and my mum went exploring in Marrakech. We walked around the souk, negotiated down a couple of souvenirs, snapped a few photos and visited Le Jardin Secret. We had lunch at La Terrasse des Epices, where we managed to get a bit of a tan, and then went back to the Riad for a nap (we weren’t going to stop having naps just because we were back from the desert…).
The next day we flew home, our heads (and my memory card) filled with memories…