Sands of time

“Night poured over the desert. It came suddenly, in purple. In the clear air, the stars drilled down out of the sky, reminding any thoughtful watcher that it is in the deserts and high places that religions are generated. When men see nothing but bottomless infinity over their heads they have always had a driving and desperate urge to find someone to put in the way.”
Terry Pratchett, Jingo

It was clear from the start when we started planning our latest trip to Morocco, that one of the things we can not miss because of the lack of time would be the trip  to the desert. We stayed in Morocco only for a week, which is way too short a time for that country, since it is full of places and things to see, but once we had already bought the airplane tickets, that was the reality we had to face with. We even started to plan skiping Chefchaouen, if the time ran out, but desert trip was a must-do. Luckily, in the end, we got to see them both. Even a longer trip to desert would have been more ideal, but that has to wait until next time.

The Road to Merzouga

So, we headed to the Saharan dunes of Erg Chebbi near Merzouga on our third day of travel. Our trip started 7am from the imperial city of Fez, which was the basecamp on our trip. With all the short pitstops on the way the drive took us 9-10 hours! The route (Fez – Ifrane – Midelt – Ziz Gorges – Erfoud – Rissani – Merzouga) took us through the mostly unfertile but beatiful landscapes of the Middle Atlas. The weather in December wasn’t the most welcoming one, especially the breakfast break in Ifrane was quite a chilly experience.

Aside the Erg Chebbi dunes in Merzouga, there is one other dune area in Morocco, Erg Chigaga near M’hamid. Yet these dune areas are nothing compared to the vaste oceans of sand in Algheria or Libya, they were an amazing experience for a lakeside/ seaside dweller like me. Erg Chebbi dune area is about 5-10 km long east-west and 40 kms long north-south.

’Where the Religions are Generated’

Unfortunately we run a little late from the original schedule to see the sunset from the back of a camel. We left our backbags to the auberge/hotel in Merzouga and then hit the road to the desert and our berber camp in a pure starlight. The starry sky was amazing though. For me the dark two-hour-ride on a camelback after a 10-hour car drive was a little unconfortable, since I suffer from a slight travel sickness. Nevertheless the beauty of the sky and spotting the familiar star constellations offered some confort on the bumpy ride to the camp.

There were five tourists in our camp, me, Lauri, our travel companion from India and two other guys from Milan, who joined us on our ride on the dunes.

At the camp we were offered some mint tea, a nice dinner (chicken tajine with vegetables and berber soup) and some drum music by the arcane wood fire in the middle of the camp. Most of the time we layed on the carpets staring at the Milkyway curving above us. It was a pure spiritual experience.

The night in the camp was really cold, around zero degrees celcius I guess, but in the nomad tent we had warm wool blankets and only my nose was feeling cold that night after all. It was amazing to think that this was how the four tribes of Sahara had lived like for centuries and centuries. And how pride they were of their culture and even in the modernizating world many of them still chose to live the way their ancestors did. Our guide Mhammed told that the camp life was the only way he wanted to live. He could not imagine living in a city like Casablanca, but on the desert, under the stars, staring at the fire.

Sunrise From the Dunes

In the morning we woke up early in the morning before the sunrise happy and relaxed despite the odd sleeping conditions in order to go catch the first rays of light on the dunes. The highest dunes rise as high as 150 meters. We were told that the dunes don’t really move, only the tops of the dunes might move a little along the wind. These sands of time have been there for milleniums. The scenery from the dunes was amazingly serene and magical: The dunes were changing colours from light pink to different shades of yellow and orange along with the lighting changing from the first dawn to the full day light.

After returning back to camp from the dunes we headed back to Merzouga, camel riding again. This time, the ride wasn’t nearly as unconfortable as it was on the way there. Was it because of the day light or because the 10-hour car ride was only ahead of us this time… I don’t know. Nevertheless, it was all worth it.

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