An Excursion to Aït Benhaddou
For our second day in Morocco, my travel mate and I decided to do one of the excursions that our hostel offered, so we teamed up with another study abroad travel duo and chose the excursion that would take us to the edge of the Sahara Desert. The day plan was very vague, so I just trusted the driver would take us somewhere interesting and loaded onto the bus in the morning to see where we would end up. Turns out, our destination was over the Atlas Mountains, which meant we had to take the most windy, scary road ever to get to our final location. I was not anticipating this, so I ended up being fairly car sick the whole day, but thankfully our driver let us stop multiple times so we could get out of the car, get some fresh air, and see the beautiful scenery of the mountains.
Our first stop was a little cafe on the way up the mountain. It had a gorgeous view of canyons below, as well as served the amazing mint tea I fell in love with. There was also a cute, little puppy to greet us when we entered. It was crazy to me after getting this far, to really understand that our world is so large. There are places people probably still haven't set foot, and that's a weird thought to me.
Around lunchtime, we finally pulled into what I assumed was our main stop for the day, and I still really didn't know what to expect. It turns out, I was very pleasantly surprised. Our sightseeing was an ancient village called "Ait Benhaddou," and parts of it date back to the 11th century. The location has been used for countless films and television shows, such as "Gladiator," "Prince of Persia," and "Game of Thrones." It was a wonderfully preserved old city, which I was amazed we were allowed to walk through.
Ait Benhaddou stands at the edge of the Sahara Desert, and houses both an old and new city. Most of the residents live in the new city, but there are less than 10 than still dwell within the walls. Our very nice tour guide took us from our drop off spot to an amazing view of the city. We had to cross a river to get to it, which meant kids coming up to us to try and help us across, which I tried to deny, mostly because I knew they'd want money, but this one wouldn't let go of my arm so I let him guide me and then paid him with the only coin I had left.
The hike to the top takes about an hour if you stop to look at all the small shops along the way. It was fairly obvious that our tour guide was in cahoots with the locals, since he took us into their shops to try and see if we'd buy anything. But once we got to the top, it was an amazing 360 degree view of the valleys below, and definitely worth the steep walk up. Of course, on the way down, there was a bridge to cross rather than a river with stepping stones, so we were obviously led the other way the first time so those kids could get some money, but oh well.
Our guide led us to a place for lunch, and I had some more tasty Moroccan food and prepared myself for the long journey back to Marrakech through the horrifying roads. The sad thing is that the drive is beautiful, but stressful when your life is in the hands of someone driving a large van through the mountains, where one wrong turn means you plummet to your death. But the sunset was definitely cool to see from so high up.