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Adventures in the Desert

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From Zagora it was a long drive to the desert. M'hamid is often called 'the gateway to the desert', where people go to experience sand dunes and stars. The road was surprisingly good for most of the way, with only part of the way being a single-track road.
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Once again, the views were incredible. The desert crept up on you with small sand dunes appearing sparsely at the start of the journey, eventually turning into large dunes and finally sand for as far as you could see.

We had hoped to go quad biking on the dunes near M'Hamid, so headed out to a small hostel which had great reviews for quad tours. When we got there we stopped at a small shop for directions (and some local clothing). The shop owner Mohammed helped us find the hostel but when we got there, there was nobody around apart from the groundsman of the hotel. He told us the hostel owners were already out on a tour and so suggested an alternative quad tour. The helper from the shop however seemed to feel like he had to stay with us and despite us asking him not to, followed us to the quad-biking place...
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Pete trying to blend in

It took us nearly half an hour to negotiate a price for the quad-biking, as we were told in Zagora to pay no more than $25-30 each... we ended up paying $35 after getting them down from $50. The negotiating experience was quite stressful, especially since it takes so long. The locals want to drink tea and do it slowly, enjoy it. We just wanted to go quad-biking and not waste time worrying about money!
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Quadbiking was AMAZING though, we absolutely loved it, especially Pete! The sand dunes were much bigger than we had expected, we felt in the middle of nowhere at times as there were some points where all we could see 360 degrees around us was desert!

When we returned to the quad organisers, they caught wind on us wanting to camp in the desert and we ended up negotiating with them again for roughly an hour on the price of a night on the large dunes Erg Chegaga. The price they wanted we felt was unreasonable and more than what we were offered in Zagora! After another long and stressful negotiation the decision was that we would drive ourselves to a smaller, more local dune and stay at a campsite there. By doing this we would save the cost of the 4x4 to take us. The guys assured us that the road was good and that our car would make it. The deal was that our 'helper' from the shop would also continue with us a our 'guide'... despite again us asking him to leave. This kind of situation made us very uncomfortable. It wasn't the first time a local had put a lot of time and effort into 'helping' us - this guy had his own shop to run, and instead wanted to be a guide for us overnight?! We were never sure what the reason for the help was. We wanted to believe that the 'help' was genuine, but we couldn't help but feel that often there was an ulterior motive... I'm certain that we were paying for this help in higher prices. But we were conscious about not being prejudice, after all the Moroccan culture is different, we wanted to accept and embrace that, but we just couldn't shake the feeling that we were being exploited at times....

We decided to take a leap of faith and drove with our guide out towards the campsite. The road started well, fully tarmacked, but then our guide asked us to turn off road... We were not sure of this, but were promised by our guide that it was just this first bit and the road would return. We drove off-road for about 40 minutes. We didn't go particularly far, it was just slow going and difficult terrain. Eventually we got stuck. It seemed inevitable, despite the positivity of our guide. Mohammed promised us the road would get better, but with the sun beginning to set we decided it was just too dangerous and turned around after we freed the car.

At this point our guide told us there was a different "better" road, which was fully tarmacked the whole way but by this point our trust was lost, we couldn't understand why he didn't take us that way first!! They asked us to pay for the tent and food, since they had already set it up for us. We refused and after a strong and stressful negotiation, we were finally free of our guide and back on the road by ourselves feeling both guilty (for wasting Mohammed's time) and disappointed (at not camping under the stars).
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Turning off road
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Getting stuck!

The stressful situation left us exhausted, so I decided to treat us to a special hotel for a night and so we stayed in one of the African bungalows at Chez La Pacha. The hotel was stunning, we loved our room and the gardens and the pool were peaceful. We had a few drinks to unwind.
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Chez la Pacha

The following day we decided to chill some more. I wanted to go for a camel ride, however, Pete's not a big fan of Camels, so we settled on me riding a camel and Pete to walk next to me! The ride/walk was very relaxing and tranquil and once again we were amazed by the dunes. The camel gave me a great vantage point to look out over the landscape, and the slow pace of the camel compared to the quads made the desert feel completely different.
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We loved the activities you could do in the desert, the quadbiking was so fun! We wished we had gotten to stay in the desert as one thing we had hoped to do was stargazing - Apparently it's so dark you can see stars on the horizon as there's no light pollution. But, we did the best that we could in the time that we had. Everything adds to the experience and adventure :D

Posted by Libbytes 04:00 Archived in Morocco Tagged camel m'hamid quad_biking Comments (0)

The Journey Home (Fly-Eye)

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We decided to begin the journey back to Marakech on the Friday so we could relax more on the Saturday and not have to worry about getting to the airport. The drive wasn't that far, but the roads on the way had been unpredictable so we were playing it safe. We decided to leave straight after the morning camel ride and stop half way for lunch, before staying overnight at our favourite; Ait Ben Haddou. That was so on Saturday we'd only have a 2 hour drive back to Marakech. The plan was perfect....

We started the journey and at around 1pm we stopped at a village just outside Agdz for some lunch. At the table we were both mesmerised by a strange fly. It looked different. It had large eyes that watched you and an open mouth that made it seem to be smiling. Pete 'played' with it for a while, moving his pointed finger in front of it and watching it hover in sync with the movements. It was very strange. Pete even filmed it(!)

Our food came so our attention turned to the table. But at that moment the fly swooped down to Pete's eye level and hovered in front of his face before 'spitting' something into his left eye...

Pete was shocked and not sure of what had just happened. He went to the toilet to look in the mirror. Both of us had a look in his eye and couldn't see a thing. We thought we must be exaggerating what had happened. We waited for a few minutes to see if the sensation in his eye would go, but it only got worse until Pete described the feeling as "wriggling". That got me worried and so I googled 'fly squirts something in eye morocco'... I did not like what I saw and got quite panicky.

Quickly, the strange sensation turned to pain and Pete was soon in agony with the pain of wriggling in his eye.

We checked the maps for hospitals, the closest one was back in Zagora or onward to Ouarzazate, so we decided to continue on with me now driving. Hoping to stop at a pharmacy in Agdz on the way.

We stopped at the first pharmacy we saw and told the people and the resident doctor what had happened. They told us to calm down and that everything was fine. The pharmacist gave Pete some eye drops for conjunctivitis and said it would be fine in a few minutes to an hour. We relaxed slightly, maybe it wasn't so bad. Pete used the drops immediately but felt no relief so about 5 mins down the road on the way out of Agdz we stopped at a second pharmacy. This place was worse and even laughed at us saying that we were being mad. The wriggling feeling Pete could feel lead us to believe that perhaps fly larvae had been deposited into his eye, but the pharmacist said this was not the case and that the drops we had already been given would do the trick.

Reluctantly we drove onward, convinced it was something more serious, and also driven by the pain that Pete was in, we decided to continue on to Ouarzazate hospital...

2 painful and stressful hours later we arrived in Ouarzazate and went to a pharmacy to ask for directions to A&E. The lady at this pharmacy understood us more clearly and told us the situation was very serious and that Pete did in fact have fly larvae in his eye.... She gave us directions to the polyclinic which had an ophthalmologist specialist for emergencies. We went straight there. It took us a while to find, but eventually we were with the doctor and more calm.

The doctors but some special drops and cream into Pete's eye and had a look with a camera. The camera was attached to a tv screen on the wall which I could see but Pete couldn't... I'm glad he couldn't...

When the doctor focused on Pete's eye, you could clearly see about 15 white wiggly larvae with black heads. Pete told me to video the screen, but I honestly was nearly throwing up, it was disgusting. I managed to get one photo of a single worm:
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The nurse told us that this was a common problem in Morocco, it is this fly, known as Oestrus Ovis or more commonly a bot fly:
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Oestrus Ovis or bot fly

The bot fly is trying to deposit it's larvae into sheep or camel nostrils where they develop fully in the mucus, however during Autumn months they can often mistake human eyes as hosts. It's not serious and usually only leads to conjunctivitis, but there are reports of people losing their eyes, so we are glad we were able to get this dealt with as soon as we were able.

The doctor got as many of the fly larvae out of Pete's eye as he could, but the procedure was painful. He basically just used cotton buds to scrape them out... Pete was left with 3 or 4 in his eye and given steroid drops and cream which he was to apply for the next 2 weeks. The doctor said the drops would paralyse the larvae within 2 days and they would fall out of his eye.

All-in-all it was a pretty horrific experience even for me, so I can only imagine what Pete was feeling. He dealt with it very well and we tried to enjoy the rest of our holiday as best we could. We stayed that night in Ait Ben Haddou again, using the experience of our first visit, we decided to stay at Chez Brahim, one of the houses with a view of the old kasbah and we were not disappointed, it was my favourite place we stayed, simply because of the view.
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The next morning we drove back over the atlas mountains, stopping briefly for lunch half way at Café Assanfou, before continuing to the airport in time for our flight home. This time we drove along the N9 Tizi N'Tichka in the sun and as we predicted, it was our new favourite road in Southern Morocco! It's just a shame we couldn't enjoy it more. Pete was in a lot of pain, so we didn't stop often and just tried to get home as soon as we could.
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We really enjoyed our Moroccan adventure (apart from the fly lavae bit). The landscapes and scenery of Morocco are inspiring, I had no idea it would be so beautiful. We had a few stresses with the culture differences, the haggling and hassle we received was at times overwhelming, but we tried to be open minded and gave people chances when we could. If we were to come back, I think we would have headed directly to the desert, camped out there and done activities and stargazing. In hindsight, we tried to pack too much into the short week and ended up spending most days driving.

Posted by Libbytes 04:00 Archived in Morocco Tagged ait_ben_haddou atlas_mountains tizi_n_tichka bot_fly oestrus_ovis fly_in_eye Comments (0)

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