Spain and Morrocco 2010-11, Part IV

So continuing from the last account...

We got a new guide the next day in Marrakech who was incredible.  He was one of the better guides I've ever had and naturally way better than the one we'd fired the day before.  Marrakech is indeed pretty neat, though I'd still say Fes is better.

The next day we met a driver to take us on the winding freaky road south from Marrakech to the desert at M'Hamid, near the border with Algeria.  The road was, up until the next day, the scariest road I've ever been on.  A conspicuous lack of guard rails on a road with one lane in each direction and sheer multi-hundred-foot drops.  True testicle-retracting, futile door-grabbing stuff.  We stopped off at Atlas Studios about midway, a massive movie studio where they've shot movies such as "Gladiator," "Jewel of the Nile," "The Mummy Returns," and oddly "Kundun" (which is set in Tibet, not desert-like at all).  It was pretty cool -- way better than Universal Studios since you can climb around on the dilapidated sets that have just been left there.

We finally made it to the desert around 5:30 and took a 2-hour camel ride into camp, had dinner, and slept.  We stayed in a little tent on comfortable cot-like beds.  It was a super cold night (it's the desert, anyway) but there were enough blankets to take care of it.  Then, in the morning we rode the camels around for about 15mins just to get some daylight dune pictures and then headed back to Marrakech.

On the way back to Marrakech, we decided to stop at the other big studios we had driven by, CLA Studios.  We were told they were owned by the same guy as Atlas Studios, but that doesn't seem entirely right.  In any case, we saw some props from "Black Hawk Down," "The Mummy Returns," the road where they shot a scene from "Body of Lies" and the massive Jerusalem set from "Kingdom of Heaven."  (Note the heavy number of Ridley Scott movies.  Our guide said he's back next week to shoot his next movie there.)  They had also just wrapped shooting "Game of Thrones," the upcoming HBO miniseries there.  I got to climb up on the roof of the Jerusalem set with the guide.  Unlike many of the sets at Atlas Studios, it's entirely convincing in person, but it's only scaffolding, plaster and styrofoam.  It was really neat, and way cooler than Atlas Studios.

Farther along the road, we stopped to take some pictures of Aït Ben Haddou, an old village and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which looked neat.  The driver said he'd take the "new road" back and we agreed, figuring "new" sounded better and it couldn't be scarier than the road we had taken on the way, right?  Wrong.  The road will be "new" when it is eventually completed.  It isn't yet.  So we spent 4 hours winding through mountains on one pseudo-paved lane (for BOTH directions to use) and the same familiar multi-hundred-foot sheer cliff drops.  It was, however, very scenic, and we passed by many historic kasbah towns.  We stopped at one called Telouet at sunset; got a tour in French, of which I got the gist, and then made it back to Marrakech around 9.

Long story short, we got up at 4AM to fly Marrakech-->Casablanca-->Paris-->DC.  Air France left the bags in Paris, and it doesn't seem to bother them much.  

 The minaret of Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech.

The minaret of Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech.

 Storks outside the Saadian Tombs in Marrakech.

Storks outside the Saadian Tombs in Marrakech.

 On the road from Marrakech to M'Hamid.  Note the lack of guardrail and sheer 200 foot drop.  

On the road from Marrakech to M'Hamid.  Note the lack of guardrail and sheer 200 foot drop.  

 Another shot on the road from Marrakech to M'Hamid.  Again, note the lack of terra firma on the left side of the car.

Another shot on the road from Marrakech to M'Hamid.  Again, note the lack of terra firma on the left side of the car.

 Didn't expect this in Morocco?  A set from Scorcese's "Kundun" at Atlas Studios in Ouarzazate.

Didn't expect this in Morocco?  A set from Scorcese's "Kundun" at Atlas Studios in Ouarzazate.

 A set from Gladiator at Atlas Studios in Ouarzazate.

A set from Gladiator at Atlas Studios in Ouarzazate.

 A set from "The Mummy Returns" at Atlas Studios in Ouarzazate.

A set from "The Mummy Returns" at Atlas Studios in Ouarzazate.

 Possibly the house from "Babel" along the road.  (Not at Atlas Studios, just along the road.)

Possibly the house from "Babel" along the road.  (Not at Atlas Studios, just along the road.)

 Dining tent in the desert at Erg Lihoudi near M'Hamid.

Dining tent in the desert at Erg Lihoudi near M'Hamid.

 Berber guy playing a drum in the dining tent.

Berber guy playing a drum in the dining tent.

 Desert bedroom tent.

Desert bedroom tent.

 Riding camels in the morning.

Riding camels in the morning.

 Sign in Zagora, 52 days by camel from Timbuktu.

Sign in Zagora, 52 days by camel from Timbuktu.

 The other big studios in Ouarzazate, CLA Studios.

The other big studios in Ouarzazate, CLA Studios.

 Car from Black Hawk Down.

Car from Black Hawk Down.

 Massive Jerusalem set from "Kingdom of Heaven."  All plaster, scaffolding, and styrofoam.  Amazing.

Massive Jerusalem set from "Kingdom of Heaven."  All plaster, scaffolding, and styrofoam.  Amazing.

 Aït Ben Haddou, a Unesco World Heritage Site near Ouarzazate.

Aït Ben Haddou, a Unesco World Heritage Site near Ouarzazate.

 A map of Marrakech to M'Hamid.  

A map of Marrakech to M'Hamid.  

 Sunset over the ruins of Telouet kasbah on the way back to Marrakech.

Sunset over the ruins of Telouet kasbah on the way back to Marrakech.

 Finally leaving.

Finally leaving.