Sea, Sand and Jewels: Morocco
Part 3: Into The Sahara
I feel like I have a yearning for the desert. I don't know why, but for some reason I feel quite at home there - unusual for someone who loves modern life and everything that comes with it. However, ever since my first real trip a few years ago to Wadi Rum in Jordan, it's certainly left its mark. Earlier this year, the Atacama of Chile became a new favourite place, and now I'm heading out into the Sahara.
We travel down from Marrakech early as promised, the relative freedoms of wandering the streets taken away from us as we're now destined for the open roads for a considerable number of hours.
Our main key stop is to Ait Ben Haddou - some of you may know it without realising it - a kasbah that has played home to films such as The Mummy, Gladiator, Prince of Persia and the series Game of Thrones. The 40 degree heat plays its part here for us, but a bottle of ice straight from the freezer might have been the best spend of 20 dirhams ever. It's hot, even the wind is hot. But the views and sense of history is incredible.
Continuing to Ouarzazate, we pass the film studios which are responsible for creating a number of recent Hollywood hits. You can see why Morocco is a treasured destination for film production with the space, climate and ease of allowing you to jump straight back into the past almost effortlessly.
It is in Ouarzazate that we find our first jewellery opportunity: a small seller, very welcoming, as we sit and browse a hoard of intricate Berber and Touareg inspired pieces from the carpeted floor of his shop. Remember this moment people, the place where Encompass Jewellery begins :)
Only slightly told off for holding up our car, and we're back on the road again, a bag of jewels in our possession as we head for the Dades Gorge for an overnight stay. It's here that I get to test out the macro attachment lens for the iPhone. A little unpredictable, but it produces some lovely shots - sometimes with these big close-ups, a little inaccuracy with the light capture and focus can be a welcome personalisation.
And so to the sound of swarming dragonflies, we turn in for the night.
A well-earned breakfast and we get on the road again, the Sahara our ultimate destination.
A pretty long and unforgiving drive is nicely buffered by stops and visits along the way- starting with a little Berber town and farm where we see all the fruits and vegetables being grown in the region, irrigated by water from the gorge. It's here that I got wet. The bridges over the water had been washed away and so we all waded over, a valiant effort but I probably shouldn't have kept the socks on!
Walking a short way further, we enter a Berber home. Whilst this is certainly geared for tourists, it gives us some time to relax, partake in some customs and have another mint tea. We're also learning about colours from the region - amazing how we can almost lazily look at colours simply as though they should just exist. Their wool is dyed an amazing array of colours and tones that are all sourced naturally and locally, from lavender, thyme, alfalfa, saffron and many more. The burnt orange and blue tones appeal to me the most, and I may have to borrow them for a branding upgrade! Once again, the ease of attaching the iPhone lenses prove a really great and easy way for me to capture what I'm after here.
We end this part of the trip with a visit to the Todra Gorge, where the water from the region comes from. The short journey show us the gems of the landscape, now lush green in patches, with villages growing upwards out of the hills. So much of the housing is old and basic, the terracotta and clay colouring providing consistency.
We finally arrive at the Sahara around 6pm, in a place called Merzouga. It's been a long day but opening the door to our final outpost before the dunes, reinvigorates us all.
It's a while before our camels are finally ready, but they're seemingly less keen than we are on the trip ahead! For those of you who haven't ridden camels, they're a mixed bag. Some are full of character, others are docile and submissive, others look moderately deranged, but then if you spent all day in the heat, maybe you would as well!
Armed with copious bottles of water and supplies, complete with head scarves for sun protection, we head out in two long lines. If you're wondering why I'm in a bright orange headscarf, that's because Gemma was better prepared, and organised, yet again:)
Camels aren't a traditionally smooth ride, and these are no exception - especially up and down hill. The Lytro is plain not coping, but then I'm asking it to do things it's not designed for. The iPhone (minus lenses) is doing a sterling job however, and when coupled with the VSCO app, it gives you just that little bit of control to help you tame some of the conditions. The instant benefit is the ability to select separate focus and exposure points - crucial when shooting into the sun as I like to do.
Our day is completed with a meal - the choice of tagine is not a surprise in itself, the fact that it was one of the best ones we've had out here so far certainly is! It's been prepared and cooked by the locals on site, who, while observing Ramadan, first take a deserved rest after hauling us through the desert, and finally being able to feed and water themselves too.
A few hours of dune walking, Berber music and bug spotting (dung beetles are much cooler than you'd think!) and we're asleep under the bright moon.
The northern city of Chefchaouen is our next destination in PART 4
Tip: Forgive yourself for taking too many shots when you're in tricky environments. For the digital photographer, we're blessed with the ability to refine easily afterwards - and processing is half of the job! Also, in lower light conditions, keep the flash off and try slower shutters, wide apertures and higher ISO settings than normal. Flash can be a mood killer when you don't have control of the situation!