Marrakech | 24 Hours in the Desert
On our second full day in Marrakech, after spending the morning navigating the souks and catching up with a friend, we were picked up in a 4x4 that whisked us out to the Agafay desert for 24 hours of tranquility. The journey to Scarabeo Camp took "a little hour" from the medina (a phrase used by our chauffeur that I will be using myself), winding through small villages on the edge of the city before suddenly revering off the main road into the dunes.
From a distance, the desert looked as smooth as sand with rolling dunes spreading out in every direction, the Atlas mountains looming behind. We passed a caravan of camels (can you tell I have a thing for collective nouns?) as our jeep headed around a steep bend to reveal our camp in the distance, white tents stark against the peach landscape. I half expected to find real sand when I got out of the car, even though I knew this was a stone desert. No matter; the small dusty stones were no less beautiful that the Sahara.
Despite being located in the middle of the desert and essentially about to spend the night camping, this was one of the most luxurious experiences I have ever had while travelling. There was no pressure to do anything at all, just to sit back, relax and be waited on - something that I admittedly struggled with. After several hours of sipping mint tea, nibbling on Moroccan sweets, writing in my notebook and gazing at the horizon, my legs were itchy to explore.
First, we visited the camels as I had never before seen them up close and personal. We forfeited the opportunity to go for a ride, partially due to the price but also because we weren't sure they were being treated well. They seemed happy enough, nuzzling up to each other, but the handlers were training one of the smaller camels and it made me feel uneasy to watch them whip the poor animal. I'm completely against mistreating animals in the name of entertainment, and always check if an experience is ethical before partaking in it. Something didn't feel quite right here, but from the reviews I've read online, I'm still not sure.
The sun was down beginning to set; something we'd been looking forward to all day. Despite wearing completely impractical trainers, we scrambled up a steep dune to soak in the views of the camp during sunset. The desert spread before us, an endless sea of tiny stones with the small camp appearing even more minuscule from our vantage point. As the sun gradually dropped and slid behind the horizon, the landscape changed colour with soft pinks and purples dominating the vistas. We could have stayed up there for hours, but darkness was falling and the way down was steep so we slowly shuffled back to the camp.
After changing our clothes (the desert temperatures are as extreme as you'd expect - baking in the day and freezing at night. Bring layers!) we settled around one of the fire pits with a glass of wine, watching the sky darken and the stars slowly begin to appear. It was soon time for a candlelit dinner in the dining tents (delicious soup but disappointingly there didn't seem to be a vegetarian option, rather I was left to eat the vegetable tagine that accompanied the main beef dish and my companion barely got a look in with the veggies) before retreating back out to snuggle up on a sun lounger for the evening.
This was by far my favourite part of the experience. We spent hours wrapped up in blankets, gazing up at the sky. Everything was incredibly still and peaceful, the hum of conversation dying down as people retreated to bed, leaving us with a tranquil backdrop to watch the night sky. We spotted countless shooting stars, and several falling stars slowly trickling down to earth - but the highlight was when the kind gentleman who was offering astronomy talks offered us a short while of his time completely free! He showed us many constellations and told us how to spot them ourselves before allowing us to look at the moon through his telescope. As someone who is fascinated with the night sky and quite happily spends her summer laid on the grass watching for shooting stars, this was a dream come true!
Soon, our eyes grew heavy and it was time to return to our tent. This was no pop-up festival tent though, this was the most beautiful tent I've ever laid eyes on. Inside it was large and spacious with a comfy double bed, leather pouffes, sofa, colonial-style writing desk and plenty of Moroccan decorations. There were only two small electric lights, and the sleeping quarters and attached bathroom were lit by large candles inside glass lanterns that burned all night. There was a wood burner that had been lit for us earlier in the night, so the tent was kept warm and cosy. Needless to say, I had a great night's sleep.
We returned to the city the next morning feeling rested and ready to take on two days of hustling in the souks. Marrakech definitely has two sides, and Scarabeo Camp fits into the peaceful ambiance tat you have to dig a little deeper to find.