A few weeks ago I was contacted by officials from the Moroccan Tourism Board.
The conversation went something like this:
Them: Hello Rosie, we just wanted to tell you how much we enjoy your blog, especially your naughty brownie recipes!
Me: Thankyou, that's very kind of you. (Feeling a little bemused at this point.)
Them: We were sort of hoping to invite you to come and do a review.
Me: Sorry, a review of what?
Them: Morocco. Would you like to come and review Morocco?
Me: Oh wow. Is that a trick question?
After some toing & froing, it was decided that I would pop out for a weekend and they would show me a less touristy side of Morocco.
More than markets & palm trees, the real Morocco.
After a quick hop, skip and a jump, (Heathrow to Casablanca and then on again) I found myself snuggling down to bed in the Berber town of Ouarzazate, surrounded by the Atlas Mountains. Pronounced "Wazazartey" which means 'without noise or confusion', it's a peaceful town made entirely from the most beautiful ocre stone, mud & reeds. After a poolside breakfast of dates, watermelon & mint tea, we made our way to the Kasbah. A 300 room fortress originally inhabited by the Glaoui family, it now stands empty. The ornate ceilings & tiles are all that is left as a reminder of its former glory days. Barren rooms sit sadly & wonder if they'll ever feel laughter or life again. Beautifully preserved, it's considered a national heritage site & is treated with the utmost respect.
After our rocking the kasbah, we made our way around the rest of the 'silent city'.
A labyrinth of tunnels, streets, caves & stairs led us past chattering locals & children playing in the squares.
Ever the soppy westerner, I curled up with this little guy and fed him scraps I'd snuck away from the breakfast table.
Later, we drove to A誰t Benhaddou. It's listed as a world heritage site and every desert epic you can imagine has been filmed here; The Jewel of the Nile, The Mummy, Gladiator, Alexander, Kingdom of Heaven, Prince of Persia... you get the idea.
Sadly, the youth of Morocco consider living in traditional 'mud villages' unfashionable and most have moved on. There are only 11 families remaining. This may sound an insignificant amount, but each of the families contains around 45 members. One of the guide's great grandmothers invited us in for tea. She's 96 years old with a fabulous penchant for tie-dye!
And her tea room...
Despite never having seen a movie, Gladiator has something of a cult status in the village. Most of her grandchildren worked on the film. I wonder how she'd feel if she saw it?
Having toured the rest of the village in the blistering heat, I had worked up a fairly healthy appetite by lunch time. Which was lucky, as our table was piled high with bread, couscous, meats & fruit.
After lunch we joined a convoy of black SUVs as we drove across the desert.
The moon was already begining to show & our radio blasted The Beach Boys across the vast plains.
We drove through town after town. Wisened locals glared at us through our tinted windows & small children waved & ran behind the cars.
It was another 4 hours before we finally reached the edge of the desert. Drivers in white shirts & sunglasses shouted to each other to switch on four wheel drive, gave each other the nod and we set off into the sands.
Just when it seemed like we'd reached the end of the world, we found our oasis.
The cars unloaded and we each met our convoy counterparts. Around 10 journalists from all over Europe gathered around the fire & chose their tent for the night.
I threw my bag onto my bed, kicked off my shoes and climbed to the top of the highest dune I could see.
I can't even explain how magical it felt up there. I allowed myself to sink into the sand & watch the sunset in complete silence.
Just as the sun dipped bellow the horizon, I was joined by a Spanish photographer called Angel. We talked about everything from families and histories to photography and foreign lands. By the time we finished discussing the possible implications of the Greek financial crisis, the spell of desert had finally broken & my Spanish was about exhausted, so it was time to slip down the dunes for supper. I ran with my arms spread out like wings & he shouted after me telling me not to fall, crazy blue eyed girl.
We ate a supper of olives, breads and soups, before being presented with what I can only imagine was an entire roast lamb, in two tagine pots. The meat fell from the bones & was mopped up with couscous, apricots & dates. Just as I was dreaming of Siriacha hot sauce, they brought me a bowl filled with a mixture of chilli & harrissa paste. I sat back with my glass of wine and knew I'd found it... Heaven.
Later we danced by the campfire & drank the rest of the wine.
When most of the others had gone to their beds, Angel & I lay under the stars and he pointed out the constellations to me.
Finally the moon dipped bellow the dunes & I went to my own.
I took my lantern and as I pulled back the door, I saw that every possible surface was covered in delicate sequins. They hung from the canopy & reflected like fireflies around the room, even the bed spread was covered in them, doubling the effect.
I lay back on my desert bed & watched as the lights danced around the room until my eyes couldn't stay open any longer.
I blew out my lantern & fell into the deepest sleep I can remember.