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Desert Night- Erg Chebbi

We spent most of  New Year’s Day of 2015 in a car, heading to the small Moroccan desert, Erg Chebbi, that borders Algeria.

What’s the bet that I won’t get through this blog post without accidentally writing ‘dessert’ instead of desert eh?

So anyway, on  New Year’s Day, after absolutely no partying for new year’s eve, we woke up unbelievably early in the morning, picked up Guillermo, and met with our driver. Then it was hours of driving, a brief stop for cedar trees and monkeys just south of Azrou and more driving.

We headed almost exactly due south, maybe a little east…and in addition to the small forests, we crossed ‘moon landscapes’, and at some point rose high enough in the mountains to see snow (or its remnants) on the ground.

I’m totally incapable of taking photos while in a moving vehicle (vomiting ensues if I focus too long), so you’re just going to have to take my word for it ok?

But look- Snow!

We were supposed to stop for lunch in Middelt, but we made pretty good time (maybe we just didn’t spend long enough looking at the monkeys?), so we hurtled through, and instead ended up at some sort of road-side stop in the early afternoon.

We got up from the car, walked three or four steps, and immediately sat down again to await some lunch.

 

Was this the camels we were promised?

The lunch itself was ‘Berber Tangine’- heavily focused on potatoes, with beef or lamb hidden underneath. It was definitely one of the best tangine versions- it tasted pretty great mostly because it didn’t have any of those second- rate rubbish vegetables ruining the simple deliciousness of the thing (‘just fill it up with carrots’ is not a clever culinary choice people!’).

 

 

 

After stuffing ourselves, we stretched our legs and got back in the car. There were a couple of other stops before we reached Rissani- including a look over the Ziv Gorge, which contains 10s to 100s of thousands of date palms.

 

Which, ok, doesn’t make for the greatest ever photos, but you imagine how awesome this streak of green is in what is already at this stage pretty heavily desert.
Green Mars Baby.

 

 

We arrived in Rissani, and were immediately herded from our car into a 4WD, and headed, for another hour or so, to Merzouga. Not really a town, reached on not-really roads.
But it is clearly on the edge of the dunes.

 

 

 

There was more sitting, wondering what was happening, and drinking of mint tea. Guillermo was forced/conned into buying a scarf that we would ‘need’ when riding the camels. Turned out- not so much.

More people rocked up, and we boarded our camels, setting out into the desert just as the sun was setting.

 

 

 

It was quite beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were on the camels for over an hour. Occasionally, we would pass lights, or hear people calling out to eachother in the darkness. We kept thinking we had reached the camp, but instead traveled deeper into the dunes.

Our final camping place was here. Right on the edge of Morocco, just 20 or so kilometers from Algeria (although we were assured- we did not want to go there).

When we arrived, there was a lot of sitting and waiting. (Parenthetically, writing this blog, I’ve reallised that this was a ridiculously low activity day on our part).

The men bonded over their sore underparts- apparently camel riding is not great for dudes with dude bits. We introduced ourselves to our co-riders. We wondered about dinner. We stroked some of the camp kittens. About an hour later, some more people showed up- this time Moroccans, and I suspect from rich enough families. Their ‘leader’ quickly asserted himself as alpha and told many stories of how he is a pro at being in the desert. We drank mint tea. We chatted with the Berber guys ‘running the camp’ (or just there for authenticity?). We were hungry, and eventually, many large tangines arrived. We wolfed them down with Moroccan bread.

(As you can see from Andy’s outfit, the desert is COLD at night. We brought all the layers we had, but as we hadn’t really planned for cold in Morocco, they weren’t quite enough.)

After dinner, we sat around the fire and played with some drums. Alpha male demonstrated that he was also alpha at drumming, but then the Berbers took hold of the drums and totally owned him. Andy and I hung around only briefly, and then went to our tent to sleep restlessly in the freezing desert.

At some points in the night, I swear I woke up to the sound of purring.

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