I’ve officially joined the dirty thirty club! And what a welcome I received! I started celebrating on Wednesday with my work colleagues and the party didn’t stop until the following Tuesday when we flew back to London! Friday evening I was welcomed with a surprise visit from the Phelps and Ives at our flat with a cake, sparklers and bubbly. I’m so lucky to have such great (and thoughtful!) friends in London! I was so surprised! It as the PERFECT way to kick off my 30th birthday celebration!
The party kicked back off around 4am on Saturday morning when we had to meet the Ives on a bus to the airport for a super early morning flight 🙂 We flew into Marrakesh, Morocco for a weekend of birthday shenanigans and exploring. After quickly checking into our riad* (which was ADORABLE!), we headed off to check out the city of Marrakesh and get lost in the souks! *A riad is a traditional Moroccan house that is situated around a courtyard, that typically contains a pool or fountain. Many have now been converted into boutique hotels.
We spent the entire day wandering through the market stalls and bartering for Moroccan goods. I loved all of the foreign sights, sounds and smells that the area had to offer. It’s so fun for me to experience a culture that is so far from what my day-to-day is. I love to fully submerse myself into it.
That evening we had a lovely dinner at a restaurant the Riad recommended. After feasting on various Moroccan tajines (a stew that is cooked for long hours in a clay pot, typically with meat, vegetables and sometimes dried fruits such as dates or apricots). Dan let the staff know it was my birthday…and the party started! A group of about 10 staff brought out a beautiful dessert, firecracker candles and a beautiful serenade of a Moroccan rendition of Happy Birthday!
The next morning we were met by our driver, Aziz, who would transport us for the next 3 days through the mountains, countryside and desert. Our first day on the road was primarily spent winding through the Atlas Mountains. We made various pit stops along the way to soak in the views. It was quite surreal seeing snow tipped mountains just above the yellow/orange sand desert. Our favourite pit stop along the way was a craft market where we spent hours searching for the perfect Moroccan rug to bring back as a souvenir. I fell in love with the bartering and feel very proud with the deal I managed to negotiate for our stunning area rug!
After a total of 6 hours of driving, we arrived at the Dades Gorges where we stayed the night. The area is jaw-dropping as there are small villages and winding roads carved in and around a large gorge that is formed from the Dades River. Our hotel was no exception, as it was literally carved out of the earth with the Dades River flowing in front. We loved the hotel, especially the staff. We quickly became friends with the staff and spent the early evening hanging out sharing stories about our lives and learning about their traditional Berber lifestyle. That evening we had a fantastic meal followed by another birthday party. The Moroccan’s love a birthday party – and this one again did not disappoint! Our driver, Aziz, (and the rug guys from earlier in the day!) ended up getting me a birthday cake and surprised me! The rest of the evening was spent enjoying Berber music and dancing with our new friends.
Sunday morning we met Aziz early for another long day of driving. We drove another 6 odd hours with many stops for beautiful photos of the dramatic scenery along the way. We even managed to find a roadside stand selling traditional Berber clothing where we couldn’t resist the photo op of playing dress up!
After what seemed like forever, we finally made it to what I was looking forward to the whole time…the Merzouga Sahara Dunes. Some of the largest, most dramatic dunes in the Sahara! From every direction your eye could see were the most gorgeous orange velvety smooth dunes. It was almost as if they were large orange sand waves frozen in place. We hopped on our camels to make a 1.5 hour trek out further into the Sahara where we would camp for the night. The trek was incredible – slightly uncomfortable, but hard to think about your discomfort when the scenery is once-in-a-lifetime beautiful!
That evening we had another traditional tajine dinner in the communal berber tent after watching the sunset over the dunes. We enjoyed some entertainment before hitting our beds early as we had an early start the next day…
…at 4:30 am!!! We woke and hopped on our camels again for the 1.5 hour trek back. It’s hard to describe how beautiful the trek in the dark was. I’ve never seen the sky so on fire with stars. You could see the creamy milky way weaving through millions and millions of bright stars. It was unbelievable. And after about an hour of trekking in the dark, the sun started to peek up from the horizon and we witnessed the most beautiful sunrise as we arrived back to our vehicle. The rest of the trip was spent in the vehicle making our way back to Marrakesh to make our flight home back to London. It was such a lovely way to celebrate entering into a new decade of life!