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Very early the next morning we went to catch our Sahara Expeditions tour bus. It was a small 10-seat van, and the driver didn't seem very friendly, but what the heck, we were really excited! We were a very assorted group of people: a couple of Japanese women with a girl, a Moroccan couple in their twenties, another English-speaking young couple, and us three (my friend, her sister and me).
We got on our way, and I kept remembering the movie "Babel" when Gwyneth Paltrow got shot, wondering every time if the spot we were passing by was where they shot the scene. Morocco's landscape is amazingly diverse: we saw green fields with wheat plantations dancing and shimmering under the sunlight, snowy mountains we later learned were the High Atlas formation and very rocky drylands with a very particular reddish colour.
The first day we stopped a few times to take pictures of the view, and then for our first big stop, we arrived at Ait Benhaddou to see the "Kasbahs", or typical villages made of an adobe-like material, which gives the scenery a very monochromatic look, since the constructions are the same colour of the soil. These specific Kasbahs were reconstructed and were the setting for several movies in which "Gladiator" is included (if my memory doesn't fail). Once we were done taking pictures and had worked up some hunger, we got to the city of Ouarzazate to have lunch in a very nice Moroccan restaurant. I must say, Moroccan cuisine is delicious and rich with spices such as paprika, cumin and saffron, but doesn't have many options. You will find three basic dishes: Tajine (chicken tajine, beef tajine, veggie tajine, pretty much any tajine), couscous and brochettes. Lunch wasn't included in our tour fare but it wasn't very expensive.
Later that day we went to the Valley of Roses, a pretty site with a nice view and souvenir shops. It's called that way because there is an important number of rose gardens somewhere around and kids sell hand-made rose petal necklaces to tourists. They are beautiful but not very long-lasting, as you can imagine. The seller of the souvenir shop chased one of the girls from the tour all the way to the van even after it started moving, shouting lower prices to see if she finally agreed to buy a pair of earrings. It was hilarious! That really tells you something about the Arabs' selling techniques.
By dusk we had finally made it to the hotel we were going to stay in: a homely and comfortable hotel amidst the mountains, with a beautiful Moroccan-style dining room with a long table where we had a very yummy tajine dinner and spent time getting to know our tour companions. Then we learned that the Japanese women were friends and the girl was the daughter of one of them. The girl who spoke English was from New York and was travelling with a friend she had made in Spain -not her boyfriend-, who was German and didn't participate much in the conversation due to the language barrier. The Moroccan couple didn't speak much English and my French wasn't all that good but from their display of affection, we understood they were together. J
My tummy was full and my socializing needs had been met, so I headed back to the room to have a well-deserved rest and dream of the mystic Sahara we were to finally see in less than 24 hours.