Friday, January 11, 2013

Morocco Trip Diary: Sahara Desert & Erg Chebbi Dunes

It's now December 29th and on this third day in the south, we will be headed farther east and finally venturing into the Sahara desert. But before we left the Dades Canyon, we spent the morning exploring the gorge and canyon with one of the guys from our hotel. He also took us on a walk through the community gardens...

...and we hiked up to get a view of the town with him. I love this picture of him with Ben scoping it out.
He then meandered down and through the tiny streets and led us to a women's cooperative where they make rugs.
We had heard that rugs in the south were the best quality and price and were hoping to buy a rug while we were there. Every other person in Morocco will assure you they have a friend with the best rugs and "good price for you", so we were at first cautious. Only five or six women work in this co-op and when we got to the small house and sat down, there were two women there. The courting process started right away...with tea of course! The head of the co-op started unrolling rugs for us to look at and then one by one we told him whether they were a "no" or a "maybe". By the time, we finally narrowed down to a handful of rugs, the full bargaining game had commenced. Bargaining is not just a part of the culture in Morocco, like most places in the world, but it is also really a test of respect in Berber culture. In spite of this, I sat against the wall because I can't handle the pressure. Ben took full control of the situation. It went on for the better part of an hour, and finally, with a handshake and relief, Ben had secured us two rugs and deep respect from our rug guy. He told Ben he "was a true Berber". (I'll post a picture of our new rugs at some point soon!).

With our two rugs in tow, we hit the road with Yahia and bid farewell to the Dades Canyon. The landscapes quickly changed to desert. The colors were striking, with mountains on one side and flat, flat dryness on the other.

And we spotted our first camels roaming peacefully beside the road!

This was a gorgeous day of driving and Yahia was also increasingly excited for us to arrive in Merzouga and see the Erg Chebbi dunes. Yahia is from Ouarzazate and has an interminable allegiance and loyalty to the south.

We finally arrived to our camp spot in the late afternoon which was situated right at the foot of the dunes. Driving up to the dunes, they rise out of the desert unexpectedly and during the day as the sun moves, the shadows and light on the dunes move and play with the colors. They are just simply astounding.

We were staying in Berber tents for the two nights in Erg Chebbi. Our tents were, well let's just say they were a little rough. There was about a foot of space between the bed and side of the tent, so once we got our bags in the tent, there really wasn't any room to even stand. One of the more entertaining moments of the trip was watching Ben furiously brush sand off of the bottom sheet in his boxers in the freezing cold night. It is quite difficult to brush sand out of the desert! We threw our bags in the tent and then hiked into the dunes for our first of two sunsets.

Our two nights in the desert were, simply put, freezing cold. When they say the desert gets cold at night, they aren't kidding. Seriously. We ended up putting boiling water in our water bottles and sleeping with them, an old trick I had mentioned to Ben in passing earlier in the trip and he seized onto! I also have never been cuddled so hard by my boyfriend.

Yes, we did survive the cold. And I am going to stop trying to describe the cold nights because it is a fruitless effort. But, we would both agree, the bitter cold, sandy beds, and sleeping on sheets that weren't the cleanest we have been witness to, was all worth it when we got up for sunrise and walked into the dunes as the morning light crept up.

We marveled at how big the moon looked, the colors in the sky, the lines of sand, and the way shadows were moving over the sand.

After sunset, we ate breakfast and we ended up playing some impromptu soccer.

Yahia wanted to show us Merzouga, so we hopped in the car and headed off. We made a couple stops along the way but the highlight was Berber pizza for lunch! Yahia's best friend lives in Merzouga and you have to call about an hour and a half ahead to order a pizza. By the time we arrived, it was ready. We sat in this little outdoor garden, terrace area and ate our Berber pizza while Yahia went off and had quality time with his best friend!

By the time we got back to the site in the late afternoon, it was time for another sunset. This time, via camels. We rode camels up farther into the dunes and sat watching the sun go down. Also, who knew camels were so patient and docile? They are really sweet, calm animals.

We finished the night off with dinner and rounds and rounds of cards with Yahia. It was one of our favorite nights, just sitting by the fire inside, playing cards and mentally preparing for another cold night in the Berber tents!

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