Morocco,  Recent

Road Tripping To The Sahara: Midelt, Darmshan Falls And Merzouga

On this journey, we drive from the region of Meknes to the town of Midelt, situated at the foot of the Atlas mountains. From here, the road leads through the Atlas into the sands of the Sahara Desert and the town of Merzouga. Along the way, we discover an unlikely waterfall named Darmshan Falls.

We did have grand plans for exploring the Moroccan desert which we ended up cutting back on for a few reasons which I’ll come on to.

Our route from Midelt to Merzouga:

Contents

Midelt

25th – 28th November

Midelt is a town famous for its apples. When you arrive, there’s no missing it! Each roundabout has an apple sculpture in the centre. On the markets you can buy apples in 100 different varieties. Apart from that, it’s not a hugely fascinating place. Most people come to Midelt when they want visit the mines. Located about an hour from the town, lots of unusual minerals are found there. We were assured that you can get a very good price for them, much cheaper than in Europe.

Unfortunately, we came down with the flu whilst in Midelt so we didn’t feel up to very much. The town itself is one of the highest altitude large towns in Morocco so going outside was not a good option as temperatures were low. Our guesthouse (Atlas Room – would recommend) however, was very cosy and even had an indoor fire which were happy to remain in front of the entire time.

Something we established during our three months in the country is that Morocco is a series of side quests. People are very curious and inquisitive, frequently striking up conversations. Often, it’s because they want to sell you something however some people just love a good chat or want to help you.

One guy whose side quest we accepted was Ali from Hannover. He is a German/Moroccan who spent 40 years working in Germany and was excited to practice his German. He saw us walking past, stuck up a conversation and even brought out his German passport to show us.

At 74 years old, he is retired but like many old men, just doesn’t want to stop working. He is still busy running a mechanics workshop in town. Showing us his passport was absolutely unnecessary evidence of his German citizenship. You can tell as soon as you walked into the workshop: everything was so meticulously organised and clean.

Ali told us that he moved back to Morocco with his family because the life here is more chilled. He gave us some apples and then we headed off.

Once we recovered from the flu, we headed off southwards again. Our next destination was Merzouga, in the Sahara. On the way, however, we managed to find a waterfall (yes, in the desert!).

Darmshan Falls

28th November

On the road south from Midelt into the desert, there is an unlikely waterfall. I say unlikely because the area is so dry and arid, Steffen thought I was having a laugh. That being said, you drive past a reservoir on the way, so it’s not totally unbelievable.

Getting to Darmshan Falls

Darmshan Falls lies roughly halfway between Midelt and Merzouga therefore making a perfect stop off. It’s marked on Google Maps.

After leaving the main road, there’s a dirt track which takes you to something resembling a car park. We took the road with our normal car without any issues; you don’t need a 4×4. There was no one there when we arrived. However, there appear to be some kind of structures and it’s possible in high season there are people selling water and charging a parking fee.

The path to Darmshan is pretty easy to follow and there are some blue markers. There is even 4G; Steffen even managed to have a work video call! The path isn’t very long, probably 3km and took us around an hour. However, even in December, it was very hot and dry. I can’t imagine what it’s like in summer. You would need to start early!

After a couple of kilometers, you slowly start seeing more vegetation and signs of potential water. Suddenly, a spring appears. If you keep following it, you emerge at a real waterfall! It’s not huge by any means but it’s really there!

The water is deep enough for swim; I tried it out – surprisingly cold! It’s a good spot for a rest; there’s shade and places to sit. We also spotted some ground squirrels and frogs.

Merzouga is a town deep in the Sahara, famous for being the entrance to Erg Chebbi, the giant sand dunes. It’s become a hugely popular tourist destination which is reflected in the amount of accommodation options. Tour operators offer trips from larger cities in Morocco, providing a bus service then camel ride to campsites out on the sand.

It’s a popular destination for a reason. The desert is incredibly beautiful with stunning sunrises and sunset. The stars at nighttime are unparalleled. In the summer, you can take blankets and sleep on the sand under the stars.

We stayed in a riad in a town called Hassilabied, slightly north of Merzouga for four nights. The riad turned out to be a fantastic choice. Run by a couple of young brothers, Hassan and Youssef and their family, by the end we didn’t want to leave.

Hassan is a musician and loves to get together with his friends, putting on performances. Youssef is the quieter of the two. He was interested in learning how to make a website for the riad, so Steffen set him up with the tools he needs to learn.

The family are amazing hosts and also proudly Amazigh. The desert relies on tourism for income now but what you get is a real enthusiasm for the traditions of the desert people. Music is a key part of this rich culture along with the Amazigh language, traditional clothing and ways of living. In the desert, people remember that North Africa was all one people; they have family across the border in Algeria, even if they can no longer cross the land border to see them.

The Amazigh people, also known as Berbers, are the original inhabitants of North Africa, before the Arab invasion in 7th Century. Their unique culture has survived centuries of Arabization. The website Amazigh World News is a great source of news, history and cultural articles relevant to the Amazigh people.

Desert tours from Merzouga

We took a 4×4 tour in the desert. For 100 Euro, we got a private tour for four hours. It’s quite an experience speeding across sand dunes in a jeep – it’s definitely not easy to drive!

In the desert, you can see the harsh reality of what life is like for the nomad tribes. Families traditionally lived in the desert in winter and then moved up to the mountains in summer when it’s too hot. Formerly, they just used tents. There are now some solid structures and they no longer migrate in the summer; apparently due to the income from tourism.

In the desert, it seems like there’s absolutely no water to be found but if you dig a few meters into the sand dunes, you can find water. Wells are found in various places but in recent years they’ve had issues with them drying up. The family have some goats and there’s also a clay oven for baking bread. The children don’t go to school; there isn’t one nearby.

We had some tea in the nomad camp and left some money for them. They don’t have an easy life. Later, we passed an area with evenly-spaced rocks laid out in the sand. Our guide told us this was the graveyard; simple, uncarved rocks marking the graves of the deceased.

Abandoning our further desert plans

After Merzouga we had had a rather mad and adventurous trip through many desert cities planned. However, somehow our enthusiasm dried up in the sands of the Sahara and we decided that we needed to curtail those plans. We have a lot of goals we’re trying to achieve work-wise on top of studying to reach those goals. Heavy travelling on top of that just isn’t working out. For that reason we settled on staying in a town called Taroudant for a week before our friends arrived to visit us in Agadir.


Planning a Trip to Morocco?

Check out my other posts on our journey through Morocco from Tangier to Tetouan and Chefchaouen; south to Fes and Meknes; through the desert and finally along the Atlantic coast.


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