The Sahara. The beaches. The wine. All things I hadn’t enjoyed overseas since the pandemic struck—so the first trip back was a wild one. The same crew as Iceland [plus one] set out to see Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. We had about two weeks, and used every minute of it!
The trip was filmed here and there, but Dubbs was the only one to follow through on a video. I think it encompasses the amount of walking, if nothing else. The pub crawls…less filmed.
First and last days of the trip
After traveling from 6am EDT to 8am GTM+2, my lifeless body waited for my friends at our first hostel, The Hat. We mainly walked around, trying to recover from the travel time. After a harsh recovery, we drank on the roof of The Hat with an Italian named Julio and perused the streets. The next day was much of the same; hikes in a park as massive as Central Park in NYC, dining at incredibly old establishments, and hopping around the nightclubs and bars of Madrid.
As we left for the airport the next morning, I made every traveler’s worst mistake…
I’d left my passport back in my hostel locker. Grabbed damn near every other piece of equipment, but left that sitting right in a locker I ended up not using. As fast as the cab driver swung me back and forth to still try to make my flight, it was no use. So, rather than spending Day 1 of the Morocco stretch in Marrakech, I spent it walking every square inch of the Madrid airport until my [now] 9pm flight would take me out of there.
We also ended the trip in Madrid—albeit, much more exhausted. The last full day, I couldn’t even join the day trip to Toledo; I slept until noon, then cafe hopped and wrote into the evening. Our last event was catching a flamenco show, until we wandered back home all day tomorrow.
Marrakech, Tinghir, Toudgha El Oulia
After the flight debacle, I made it into the city by the time the sun was already down. “Hectic” doesn’t even come close to it, when you’re used to driving in the Midwest. I took a cab and met the guys at the Medina, not realizing how difficult that would be. After eventually finding each other in the chaos, we walked to Riad Dia, and took it easy on the roof.
We had to meet our guy at 7:30am in order to join the Sahara tour, and we managed to be the first to arrive (very uncommon for me). We slowly met the people who would be our good friends as the day went on — a few Austrians, a couple Germans, Moroccans, Italians, Canadians, and the four loud Americans in the back.
The trip started with a long ass haul into the Atlas Mountains. We had a quick stop at a café Ighrem N’Ougdal; by mid-afternoon, we were wandering around an incredible old village called Ait Zineb. We really learned was desert heat was after a couple hours in the sun and “shade”. Our group started to get to know each other, and we had the first of so, so many chicken tagines. The tour then swung past a famous movie set studio in Ouarzazate (I think Atlas Studios), and finally arrived at a beautiful hotel in Tinghir. Everyone in the three slightly-related tour groups all had a fantastic dinner, with the exception of Roy…who spent the night rotating on the very small bathroom toilet.
The Sahara and back again
Roy couldn’t recover by morning, so after a stressful breakfast…we opted to leave him there.
Sort of kidding. We did leave him there for 24 hours, since he couldn’t sit up or handle any movement. We were able to work out a way that he could stay in the same room, and we’d alter our route back and grab him on the way to Marrakech. The rest of the group(s) took off like a bat out of hell to Melaab to stock up on things needed for desert travel, and then Erg Chebbi to mount up on our camels!
Camels are nowhere near as intuitive to ride as horses, in my opinion. There’s multiple stagest to the mount/dismount, their cadence is always a bit random, and there aren’t stirrups for your feet. Work out certain muscles accordingly.
The weather was completely clear when we started. Red sand dunes (that sort of appeared all of the sudden, rather than gradually) were visible as far as your eye could see…for a bit. About halfway to the campsite, a sandstorm blew in, and I learned why you cover your face in the desert. The wind never relented, and eventually the clouds got dark enough to turn into a thunderstorm! Riding a camel to a campsite in the Sahara—while a rare thunderstorm plows through—may be one of the most surreal moments I’ve experienced to this point. I may have had a bit of a Lieutenant Dan moment.
The storm eventually blew over, the sand was eventually hosed out of my hair and ears, and we spent most of the night under a full moon and around a fire. Drums, dancing, transported beers, and more; what a night. It still felt like night at that 5:30am wake up, as well.
We made it back on to the camels and to the top of a dune in the desert by the sunrise. It was a long way back to Roy and Marrakech, but unfortunately, that was what the agenda was.
Lisbon & Sintra
After flying out of Marrakech with only one near-arrest at the airport, we got to the capital of Portugal in late afternoon. House Lisbon truly may have broken through as my favorite hostel.
We joined the hostel pub crawl the first night, and did that ever get out of hand.