Where We Be
|The Erg Chebbi is just a tiny part of the vast
Sahara stretching across all of North Africa
|Tour Day 2. Sahara Desert & Camel Trek
It's a long way to the Erg Chebbi Desert near the
border with Algeria, but it's all worth it once you
get here. The Erg Chebbi is a large sea of dunes
formed by wind-blown sand. Some dunes reach
a height of 500 feet, and their orange color at
sunset is nothing short of astonishing. Other-
worldly is the word that comes to mind: you'll
never forget this place once you've seen it.
From the town of Merzouga on the edge of the
Erg Chebbi we took a one-hour camel ride to a
Berber camp hidden in the dunes. We headed
out close to sunset, so we got to see the dunes
at their most spectacular. Once in camp we
threw off our shoes and walked barefoot to the
top of a tall dune to enjoy the last of the sunset.
Then we returned for mint tea and a traditional
couscous dinner. Afterwards we sat beneath a
breathtaking panoply of stars as our hosts
played drums and sang Berber songs around a
campfire. We even heard desert foxes barking
as we retired to our Berber tent for the night.
|But every once in awhile you come across a lovely
oasis town like this one: Tinghir (or Tinerhir)
|Lush palm trees cover an area of about 30 miles around Tinghir
|Our first camel crossing sign! It's a long, dry
drive from the Dades Valley to Merzouga.
|Todra (or Todgha) Gorge near Tinghir makes for a pleasant stop
along the way. The walking couldn't be easier since it's paved.
|The canyon with its sheer rock walls 500 feet
high (150 m) is popular with rock climbers
|The narrow red canyon walls reminded us of places
closer to home in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona
|But we've never seen swirling rock formations quite like this before
|The Berber flag we're holding shows blue for the Mediterranean, green for the mountains, and yellow
for the Sahara. The yaz symbol in the middle means "free man" and is what the Berbers call themselves.
|When playtime was over, we drank
mint tea with our terrific guide, Idir
|A young girl happily chatted with her
grandmother in front of a colorful display
|The fossils embedded in this table top are quite astonishing -- remnants of
sea life from 350 million years ago when the Moroccan desert was a sea
|This photo isn't from a store but from an actual rock face in nature near Erfoud.
Our guide sprinkled water on the rock face to better show off the fossils.
|These ammonites once flourished in a warm
shallow sea covering what is now the Sahara Desert
|I believe these are fossil stromatolites --
some of the earliest life forms on earth
|Our next stop was at a fossil shop in Erfoud where table tops,
necklaces, and works of art incorporate fossils embedded in the rocks
|Eventually we arrived at Merzouga on the edge of the Erg Chebbi Desert
|As we drove towards Merzouga, we came across this flat black
expanse with the orange dunes of the Erg Chebbi in the distance
|At Hotel Mohayut we had time to shower and change
before our night of roughing it in a Berber tent
|Then it was time to head out. It was around 6 pm and a
train of camels was already setting out ahead of us.
|We joined the party and began our one-hour ride. Still within
sight of the Hotel Mohayut, the scenery was already lovely.
|We formed one long train for the first fifteen minutes or so before breaking
into smaller groups, each heading toward separate Berber encampments
|Our Berber guide led the way. It was a clear, calm evening with the gentlest of breezes,
and so quiet we could hear our camels' hooves displacing sand with each step.
|These high dunes have been shaped by the winds and are
constantly changing -- which is why they look so pristine
|Civilization fell away behind us and it was just us and the desert
|Shadows began to form behind each dune crest
|The dunes formed sinuous lines of light and shadow
|At the halfway point our Berber guide helped us dismount. (It's not
so easy staying in the saddle when the camel sits down, forelegs first!)
|We had time to relish this surreal landscape, sitting with
our bare feet in the sand in the world's biggest sandbox!
|The shadows lengthened and there was no sound
other than the whisper of gently blowing sand
|We remounted and headed towards camp. The small group
ahead of us gave us a sense of just how big the dunes were.
|Our own shadows kept pace with us, growing longer by the minute
|We reached camp, set against this spectacular dune.
See the two tiny people climbing towards the top?
|A young boy in our group wanted to pet the camels,
so the Berber guide gave him a hand. How sweet!
|What a great setting for a night in the Sahara!
|We climbed a tall dune in our bare feet and watched
the last rays of light turn the sand a fiery orange
|Dusk fell, the wind picked up, and the sand turned colder,
but we kept watching as this Berber rewrapped his red turban
|It was a warm evening so we relaxed outside on blankets then ate a filling
couscous dinner al fresco. There were just seven of us altogether.
|The stars were spectacular that night. Eventually we gathered around a fire and listened to our Berber
nomads play the drums. One of them played so fast it seemed like he had four hands instead of two!
Afterwards we sat quietly and enjoyed the embers and the enormous peace and quiet of the desert.
|Time to play dress-up in Morocco! This came as an
unexpected surprise during a rest stop along the way.