Nov 28 and 29th were days 2 and 3 of our Moroccan trek. After an interesting night in our Kasbah, we drove for about 7 hours to get to the incredible Riad Nezha in Merzouga at the Erg Chebbi. Erg Chebbi is the large sand-sea which effectively marks the start of the real Sahara and some of the dunes in this area rise to over 245 meters. The colors of the rising and setting sun over these dunes make for a truly magical experience.
At about 430pm we mounted our trusty, if not a little stinky, camel-hair covered steeds that were to carry us out into the Sahara. The camel-man told us the camel’s names were Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley but we think they were yanking our chains. But we played along. We stopped on a sand dune to watch the sunset which was magnificent and then proceeded eastwards towards the oasis.
Although the sun had set, it was still very bright but we could not see the much anticipated full moon. We had no sooner commented on the missing moon when we came up over a dune and there it was. Very low on the Algerian horizon but absolutely magical. It was huge.
We carried on towards the moon for about an hour and then we came upon a series of 6 Berber camps set in an oasis at the base of a 200 meter high sand dune. We settled into camp with our 3 nomad guides getting us sorted. We picked a tent and they got us our blankets etc. We made the bed and then over to the communal dining tent. Communal because we were accompanied by a lovely couple form Bern Switzerland and a lovely young woman from San Francisco. Our mint tea arrived and we chatted until our dinner arrived. 3 beautiful chicken and vegetable tagines with fantastic bread. We have noticed that the bread looks the same but varies greatly from region to region. Luckily for all guests, Grant and Wendy packed red wine into the desert. I know you are all surprised. The other guest were very surprised but VERY happy. We thoroughly enjoyed out dinner and conversation and then when finished, retired to the center of the tent camp where our guides had built us a fire. We had more mint tea and our guides entertained us with traditional Berber music and song.
The sky was perfectly clear and the moon was full and huge. There were a million, million stars as you can imagine. The silence was indescribable. That was the part we were most looking forward to and were not disappointed. It was pure magic. Soon enough it was time for bed as we needed to get up to watch the sun rise over the dunes towards Algeria. We were only 25 kms from the border. By the way, it was now about 4 degrees celsius. We went to bed knowing it was going to be a cold one.
We tried to sleep but it was so freakin cold it was difficult. The guides woke us at 6am and we climbed the dune behind us to watch the sun rise over the desert. Absolutely indescribable. We took pictures but just as was with the moon the night before, pictures do not even come close to the real feeling.
After a short while we remounted the old camels and started home. We had heard that the camel riding was painful but were amazed at how uneventful it was. Actually the trip out felt quite comfortable. But wait….try getting on the dam thing the next day. Oh my God, Allah and Buddha. The ride back was the most painful and uncomfortable horse ride in my life. The camel man calls it the “Camel Massage”. Ya right. I hope to find my boys before Christmas.
After a shower and breakfast at the Riad we got back in the van and headed into the Middle Atlas mountains on our way to Fes. This was to be a 7 hour drive through some of the most amazing landscapes imaginable.
We stopped in a village for some roadside bbq. Man it was awesome. We chose our lamb, which just so happened to walk in under its own power earlier that morning but now was dressed and hanging in front of the shop, and the bbq man cheffed it up for us. We could not resist helping out. It was so good. Probably the best food of the trip.
Then on to the mountain pass. We couldn’t believe it. -2 and snowing.This morning we were in the desert on camels and now delicately trying to get through a snowy mountain pass in the middle of nowhere. They closed the road right behind us but we made it ok. FInally we made it to our Dar (another style of home) in Fes for the night. Dar Roumana is a beautiful 18th century Dar (house without center garden) run by a charming couple. Vanessa is Australian and her husband Vincent is French and the most amazing chef. We are finally home (for a day anyways). Safe and sound and well fed. Just the way we like it. Goodnight, we’re bushed.