Each week, we spotlight a dream vacation recommended by some of the industry's top travel writers. This week's pick is Morocco.
A monthlong horseback ride across the North African desert is not a vacation — it is an odyssey, said Saskia Burgess at the Financial Times. Drawn by the limitless freedom of the open Sahara, I recently joined eight other travelers on a 594-mile guided ride across Morocco. It was beautiful but exhausting, and our obstacles ranged from an intense sandstorm to an encounter with some "curmudgeonly" camels. The expedition was led by Renate Erroudani, who has organized rides in Morocco for 30 years and has no need of GPS: "The desert is in her head." At 55 years old, "she rides like a heroine on a gray Arab mare and wears a turquoise turban that flies behind her as she sets off at a fast canter."
"From the first minute, this ride feels epic because of the desert's scale." We set off from Erg Chebbi, a sea of mountainous dunes — some of them 500 feet tall — near the eastern Algerian border. I soon realize that to fall into the rhythms of the long haul, "you have to lose all sense of clock time." We ride for eight hours each day, sometimes accompanied by a truck, frequently swapping horses and picnicking in the scarce shade. "After lunch, we hunt for fossils, pick roses of Jericho, and sleep — often passing out on stony ground." Nights are cold. We spend four in hotels, but otherwise we camp out under a sky "clotted with stars."
When a fellow rider asks if I can describe the Sahara, words fail me because it keeps changing. "The desert resists attempts to reduce it to a sentence or two." Sand, to begin with, is not one color; "sand is rose, violet, sepia, gray." Some desert landscapes strike a harmony between "serrated rock and voluptuous sand — a conversation in curves." The salt along the shoreline of a lake near the town of Tata "crunches like snow"; elsewhere, there are "unearthly green hills out of Tolkien." Closer to the coast, the desert sprouts palms, prickly pear cacti, and succulents that resemble bouquets of pickles. "Nothing can prepare you for the first glimpse of the sea." I feel tears in my eyes as we reach the foamy Atlantic: It is unbelievable to see the ocean after so much sand. It looks choppy, "but we gallop ecstatically through the water and into glittering skeins of birds that rise as we advance."