Camel Riding 101

“Take every chance you get in life because some things only happen once.” Karen Gibbs

‘They spit, and they smell’ I was told when I mentioned that I was going to ride a camel. I didn’t care. Heck, I even bought what I called my camel riding outfit.

The trip from Fes to Merzouga took 11 hours. The landscape was beautiful and unique. The trip was enjoyable, and we made frequent stops for refreshments and other necessities.

We arrived at the dunes of the Sahara desert. Our desert auberge (simple hotel) Auberge Yasmina, was located at the edge of these dunes. My very generous room included a separate sitting room and upstairs was a private viewing deck. We settled in and had a lovely dinner with entertainment.

The next day a few of us decided to go on a 4 x 4 excursion. I imagined we would travel directly to our points of interest but no. The driver and the rest of the group decided we should try 4 x 4 ing up and over the dunes. The first couple of times I KNEW I was going to be injured or killed. I was terrified. After a few more dunes I finally realized that no, that wasn’t going to happen and started enjoying it. I was whooping along with everyone else.

We finally got to our first destination which was a nomad camp. There was only one nomad family camped here. The man had three wives. At least that is what he admitted. Apparently, three is the legal number of wives men are allowed to have legally. There have been recent laws governing that topic. One law states that the husband must ask permission of the first wife if he wants to take a second wife. I think that with the nomadic lifestyle the laws are a bit looser or he may have had the three wives before the laws changed. One of the wives had just given birth to twins a week previous. I was surprised that she wanted me to take a picture, but I think it was the promise of money that made her so agreeable. A goat was being skinned for the upcoming celebration of the births.


Hard to see the new baby under the blanket



The Kitchen

The Oven

We were invited to have tea, and this gave us the opportunity to ask our local guide a few questions. One person asked how they were able to send out the invitations for the celebration. Now, you should understand that we were in the middle of nowhere: no telephone lines, nothing. We were all thinking the same way. We were caught up in the moment. Our guide responded, “by cellphone.” We burst out laughing.

The next stop was to watch local entertainers. They were all dressed in white and played instruments that resembled large castanets. The cutest little boy was trying to play one of them. We danced a bit, had more tea – tea is the main beverage in Morocco.

Not sure what the heck I was doing but it was fun!

We headed back to the hotel to get ready for our camel ride where it was an hour long swaying ride from the hotel to the desert campsite. The hotel has a pretty efficient system for groups. You pack an overnight bag and leave the remainder of your luggage in a secure room. The next day, you can have a shower and retrieve your belongings before you head out on the road again.

I put on my camel riding outfit, packed an overnight bag and I was ready! My camel did not spit nor did he/she smell that I could tell. My sense of smell is not great.  It was not difficult getting on the camel. The hardest part was when the camel started to stand. The guides tell you to lean back, but I was still not prepared for the sudden propelling forward as the camels started to stand with their hind legs. I, however, did not fall off. That was a good beginning.

Getting ready

We headed out just before sunset. I have no words to describe the intense beauty of the dunes. The views take your breath away.  I wanted the ride to go on forever. Riding a camel is a lot easier than riding a horse, and the hour-long trip was over sooner than I wanted.

My camel.

We arrived at our campsite just as the sun was going down. We settled into our tents, and then some of the group decided to climb up one of the dunes to watch the sun go down. We had a tasty dinner and sat around talking for a bit. Another group arrived just as we were starting to settle in for the night. They were a little more rambunctious than our group talking and laughing most of the night away. We just wanted to get some sleep. It was an early morning rise as we were leaving our campsite at 6 am.  The ride back was just as impressive, and we were able to watch the sunrise. Once we were back at the hotel, we showered and gathered our belongings for the next destination. This adventure is one that I will not soon forget.

Our campsite

Camels resting for the night.

Tables ready for dinner.


Not the greatest picture but part of the group climbed a dune to watch the moon



Hammam in Fes, Morocco

Travel is a lesson in life and of yourself. It teaches you where your comfort zone lies and then to push past that comfort zone. To be brave, to be stupid, to be reckless and to be sensible.” Honest Explorer

We were given options on our downtime in Fes. One of them was going to a Hammam.  I knew nothing about a Hammam except that it was a bathhouse. I thought what the heck, when in Rome…. I decided to go to the hammam at the hotel spa. Two other women in our group decided to take the second option and go to a traditional hammam.

The first thing for me was a massage. It was wonderful. Great start to the experience I thought. Then the masseuse handed me a terrycloth bathrobe that barely covered the essentials. That would be okay if I didn’t have to walk thru the lobby to get to the spa. Now, remember, this is Morocco where proper attire for women is very important. I am sure that I gave the locals quite a view.

Once in the spa, I was greeted by two women who wore identical attire, black capris and a half tank top. They removed the bathrobe then handed me the tiniest paper thong to wear. Trust me; the thong would not have covered anything. The women directed me to sit on a marble seat in front of a sink. They washed my hair which was a lovely experience. Once finished, they led me to a glass-fronted steam room. Now, remember, I am naked except for the thong. They stood and watched me the entire time which I think was about ten long minutes. Perhaps they were keeping an eye on me for safety reasons. I did not know where to look. Occasionally I would look at them and smile. Awkward.

Once I was finished with the steam room, they asked me to lay on a marble slab where they proceeded to wash me with an abrasive mitt everywhere, and I mean everywhere. I was then rinsed off and led to a whirlpool tub containing cool water. The cool water on my now scrubbed body was as refreshing as a dip in the snow after a sauna. I have never felt so clean, and my skin felt amazing.

The other two young women who had opted for the traditional Hammam had a slightly different experience. First, the two women who washed them were naked themselves.  I was the only person at the spa. There were local women at the traditional Hammam, and the women did not get a massage.  Would I do it again? Yes, but only at a spa. The traditional Hammam is a little out of my comfort zone.

Medina at Fes Morocco

We travel because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something inside our minds has changed, and that changes everything.” Jonah Lehrer

Fes, The Medina

Fes is the second largest city in Morocco and after settling in our hotel, Hotel Mounia, we set out to explore the Medina. Medina is the Moroccan word for market and what a market it is. Our main tour guide was not allowed to take us on this tour, so a local guide was hired. It is advisable to get a local guide to show you at least some of the highlights and more importantly, how to get out of the Medina. There are over 9,000 winding streets within 365 hectares. It would take several days to see everything. Getting lost in the medina is almost expected.


Inside of the medina is the largest mosque in Fes. It holds 3,000 people.



Men washing their feet before going in for prayers

One of the highlights was seeing the tannery. The tannery dates back to the 11th century and is the oldest in Africa. You enter into a store from which you can go up to a balcony. From the balcony, you can see the different “pots” where men are either treating or dying the leathers. You will be handed a sprig of mint to sniff before you get to the balcony. It is because some vats are filled with a mixture of cow urine and quicklime to remove any remaining bits of hair before soaking the leather in a softening wash of acidic pigeon excrement. After the treatments, the leather is put into pots containing dyes made from spices such as saffron for yellow, pomegranate for red and turmeric for brown.  Inside the store, there is a vast array of leather goods. All production is done by hand. I bought a hassock. I managed to get them down to half of what they were originally asking. I was very proud of my bartering skills. Pretty good deal I thought until I was able to get another one in the market for half of the bartered price for the first one.


Another of the many stops we made was to a weaving shop that makes the most exquisite agave silk scarves, blankets etc. The silk comes from the agave plant. They extract the filaments from the agave, twisting them into very strong thread. Then they dye them and weave them into their beautiful creations.

In the few hours, we had to explore the Medina; it was overwhelming. There was a variety of goods from leather goods, spices, copper, woven articles and many more things.

stuffed figs

If you go to Fes, allow at least a day to explore the Medina if not more.

Casablanca and Rabat, Morocco

Casablanca and Rabat, Morocco

“Travel while you are young and able. Don’t worry about money. Just make it work. Experience is far more valuable than money will ever be”  Anonymous

After 15 days on tour, I am still not sure how I feel about Morocco. Yes, areas are breathtakingly beautiful even if the terrain could be considered barren and stark. That in itself is beautiful. It could be that this country is so out of the “norm” for me as far as what countries I have visited so far.

I arrived in Casablanca a day earlier than the tour was to start. The Moroccan House Hotel was definitely Moroccan. The decor was Moroccan with none of the western world stylings. The staff were kind and very attentive. I had left my reading glasses on the plane and frankly can’t do a lot without them. One older man (not sure if he was staff) at the hotel took me to a friend who had a shop. The shop was so tiny that to reach his stock the shopkeeper had to climb a ladder and step over to the particular ledge. It was quite impressive. He did not have any glasses but thought that perhaps a magnifying glass might do the trick. As a fall-back,  I purchased it. Later that day, I was returning from sightseeing when the receptionist called me over. He had generously taken it upon himself to get a pair of reading glasses for me. They worked……..I gratefully bought them from him.

Dining Room

Our two chefs

The city of Casablanca itself is not spectacular. Another woman and I hired a guide to show us a few highlights. I found this city to be somewhat unimpressive and just a bit dirty.

The following day we hired him again to take us to Rabat, the capital of Morocco and home to the King. It was spotless and filled with flags which you would expect from a capital. Mind you we did not tour the Medina or old part of the city. We decided to go to the palace. That was a funny story because the previous day I was told that I would need my passport to visit the palace. And, yes, I forgot it. So my friend received permission to enter the palace, but I had to go inside the gatehouse. The only id I had was my credit card. After a bit of discussion, I was permitted to go to the palace. I guess I didn’t look like a threat. So off we go. Eventually, we find out that we could not go into the palace as we thought but were allowed to take pictures from a distance across the street.

Note the different uniforms. They are all different segments of military.

Where the black balls are on the sidewalk is as far as where we were allowed to go

We also went to the Mausoleum of the three kings, well actually it was two kings and one prince). Very impressive. There were four doors. Each door had a guard. Once inside, there was a guard in each corner. The tombs, which were on the lower floor could be seen from above.  On the outside of the building, there was a wall surrounding the building in which there were two entrances. At each entrance, there were two guards on horses. They were stationed there, not moving for 8 hours at a time, then relieved by the next shift of guards and horses.

A guard in each corner

One of our other stops was to the Chellah which was designated a World Heritage Site in 2012. Past the massive main gate, you will see both Roman ruins and a medieval Muslim cemetery. The site was built by the Romans around 40 AD as one of the main Roman naval ports. Around 250 AD the Romans lost control, and it was used as a cemetery. The site is also home to a colony of storks that build their nests on the top of the ruins. Quite an impressive sight.


A lot of cats around Morocco. These ones were seeking shade.

Note the storks nest on the top of the tower