“BUUUUURRRB”. There’s a rumble from the deepest parts of my desert ship. Until now the ride was without problems, but with sounds like these I fear the worst. As expected the sounds are accompanied by the aroma of semi-digested grass. This is however just a minor inconvenience. The beauty of this sand desert is overwhelming.
Sand has never been this impressiveIn Merzouga we mount our dromedary and leave for our camp between the sandy hills of the Erg Chebbi desert. This is one of two large seas of dunes formed by wind-blown sand in Morocco. For as far as the eye reaches, the landscape is dominated by massive hills of yellow sand rising up to 150 meters. The endless stretches of sand are interrupted only by a few grass pollen. If you look very closely you can see the small tracks of desert foxes, gerbil and desert mice between the many tracks of the dromedary and four wheel drives. It’s not likely you will see one of these small animals, but they’re there, that’s for sure.
After wobbling on the backs of our dromedary for about an hour we are surprised by a most unusual scene. Just next to one of those massive sandhills, in the middle of the desert, is a table with two chairs. Out here there is nothing but sand, and some more sand…. and then this table with two chairs…. It is so out of place, it’s hilarious.
We wobble on for a bit when the dromedary are put on their knees so we can get off. In a landscape made of just sand and sky there is nothing to tie your vehicle to. So, how to prevent your desert bike will wander off on it’s own. Easy: The camel lock. From one of the front legs, the bottom part of the leg is tied to the upper part. Having locked your camel doesn’t mean it will stay put however. As soon as we’re one hill away, my dromedary gets up and gets on his way to find a better spot. And who can blame him. The view from the top of the hill is many times better offcourse. I wonder how many dromedary we will have left tomorrow morning.
Just next to one of those massive sandhills, in the middle of the desert, is a table with two chairs.
The camp itself consists of about ten tents made from large rugs. Some for sleeping, some for cooking and eating. In the middle of the camp an open area, the desert floor covered as well by big rugs. It all looks even better than I imagined. The sleeping tents even have real beds. Each bed is covered with three thick woolen blankets. I guess they expect it to be a cold night.
It will take some while for the sun to set. So what do you do when you have some time to spare in the desert? You get a sandboard and have a great time getting down these hills. First berber style sitting on the board, when comfortable trying the same standing up. It’s not difficult and great fun to do. One little bit of advice for those who like to try: Don’t use your feet to steer when sitting down. Yes, this is from first hand experience and I can tell you, the sand finds its way everywhere. 😛
Night is the desert at its bestSlowly the sun drops towards the horizon. The sand turns from yellow to orange. From orange to red. The view from the top of our hill is amazing. Hill after hill, bathing in warm yellow sunlight. Who would have thought a landscape this plain could be this beautiful! Sitting on top of this hill I notice something else. The noise, it’s just not there. It’s totally quiet! No noise of cars, no twitter of birds, not even the rustling of leaves. It’s as quiet as quiet can get. We enjoy the beauty in silence until the sun drops behind the horizon and makes place for the moon and stars.
With the sun put to bed it’s time for moroccan tea and dinner. As customary Hassan, our host, pours the tea from great height into our cups with little splatter but loads of bubbles. Just as it should be done. Tasting the hot beverage I notice something different. This is not the mint tea I expected. Shouldn’t there be mint in the tea?
“That’s tea four tourist” Hassan explains. In summer when temperatures can easily get up to 40 degrees the tea is indeed drunk with mint. In winter, when it’s much colder, a different mixture of herbs is used. Mint or no mint, the tea is great.
Being in the middle of the desert I would have expected a simple meal, but not in Morocco. Like everywhere we’ve eaten so far, dinner is no quick bite. We get tajine with chicken, couscous and zucchini. Steamy and delicious, perhaps the best so far. And for desert: tangerine. Not the sour, orange tennis balls we get at home, but sweet and juicy.
Shouldn’t there be mint in the tea?
And then… finally… it’s time for the thing I’ve been looking forward to from the moment we decided to go here: the desert night sky. Filled with more stars than you can imagine it’s such an amazing sight. It’s these places, far away from the city, where the night sky is at its best. Despite the moon and some clouds you get a glimpse at how many stars are out there. It’s breathtaking and makes me feel tiny. Because of the moon there’s just enough light for taking some long exposure pictures. After a few good shots I join the others at our camp which now is filled with laughter, drums and singing.
As the night started with a beautiful sunset, it ends with a spectacular sunrise. To get the most of it, I get out of bed quite early and find myself a nice spot on one of the hills surrounding the camp. A soft breeze has erased most of the tracks from the other day. With a nice sharp edge on the top of the hill. Just like no one has ever been there. The sky slowely changes from white spotted indigo to kobalt with an orange red band on the horizon. As soon as the sun shows her face, the warm yellow sunlight spills over the hills bathing them in an orange glow.
As the sun climbs higher into the sky and the dromedary are all found we ride back to Merzouga. Leaving this beautiful landscape and the wonderful silence. It’s another great hour of wobbling and enjoying the desert… and the smell of a regurgitating dromedary.