After the joys of Fes, we decided that 35 degrees heat everyday was a little bit tame for us and so thought, why not go into the Sahara and experience some face melting temperatures? So we did. The bus to Merzouga was at 8pm from Fes and it was our first of many Supratour coaches, the only way to get around southern Morocco. The beginning of the journey was fine. A bit of lightning storm watching and absentmindedly staring out of the window, but then the unpleasantness began. It was just like something you’d read about in some horrifying experiment by the Russians decades ago. Hey, let’s see how long humans can survive without sleep. I’m sure the participants of those experiments had it a little worse with all the chemicals and stuff, but bear with my barely tangible link. I’d be just about to drift off to some much-needed shut eye then… Hello bright LED lights my old friend, come to blind me into the land of the living again. Sometimes they came on to let someone off, sometimes they came on, I’m sure just to keep me in a constant state of annoyance and sleep deprived delirium. There was some respite though. Our half way stop, around 5 hours in, was a nondescript collection of buildings with what can only be described as a sea of apples. Just a seemingly ridiculous number of apples. Now don’t get me wrong you can’t go wrong with a good apple. Be you a strange masochist who digs your teeth into the sour flesh of the Granny Smith at the expense of your taste buds or, a normal person who enjoys the crisp sweet crunch of the Jazz variety, apples are a beautiful thing. People seemed to know it too, they were stocking up on apples like it was the applecolypse…
Changing bus at Rissini was a fun surprise at 5:30am but we quickly got on the new bus and headed for Merzouga. We knew our accommodation was 5.5km outside of Merzouga and just assumed it was further onwards than the bus went. In fact, while we were sleeping we passed through the town containing our B&B. So, in the early hours of the morning, we got off the bus and began our walk back along the road from where we had come. Merzouga was peaceful in the cool morning air and the giant sand dunes skirting one side of the town looked like mountains. A few kilometres into our walk, on which my unusually chipper morning attitude was starting to grate Ollie’s less enthusiastic morning demeanour, a nice man picked us up. The free ride meant we made it to Auberge La Source for a beautiful sunrise above the dunes and the palm grove. That day was spent chilling in the B&B which we had to ourselves. We hopped in and out of the very clean and refreshing pool all day to keep cool in the 46 degree heat and waited around for dinner which was much needed because we hadn’t eaten anything since the whole chicken feast in Fes the previous night.
Dinner was at the hostel because there isn’t much in the way of choice in our tiny desert village and to make a change it was tagine (at this point Ollie didn’t have his crippling phobia of tagines so I was safe from his wrath for now). For starter, we had a salad of various green healthy things, the main was tagine done in a local way according to the owner. It was chunks of beef as opposed to kefta, it was beautifully tender and the tomato sauce had chunks of other soft vegetables and two eggs on top. The flavours were all subtle and perfectly balanced. We ate looking at the sand dunes that the B&B practically backs onto. A lovely fruit salad later and we were finished and very happy with life. After dinner at around 6:30pm we went for a walk to the dunes overlooking the town. These were the edge of Erg Chebbi, a large “sand sea” rising from the searing rocky desert as far as the eye can see. We ended up just wandering the nearby dunes and watching the sunset over the mountains which defined the horizon behind the town.
I haven’t ridden an animal before. Forget a horse. Get yourself a camel. Yes, horses have been bred for centuries for the purpose of riding but, well, ok I have nothing in support of riding camels instead of your average horse, but you can’t deny camels look cool. We were met by Omar (our guide), and our two camels Bruce and Shanniqua in the early evening. Ollie got Bruce, the muzzled brute was initially scared of the camel. Oh, that was meant to be the other way around, either way Ollie was initially wary of Bruce due to his towering height and wire muzzle but they became life long friends within no time. I got on with Shanni but I’ve got to say that she wasn’t the most graceful lady. Also, the hump, no matter how many blankets are on there, it’s only going in one place and let’s just say that is just about the only place in the desert that the sun doesn’t shine.
Our trek into Erg Chebbi took about an hour and a half and was punctuated by stunning vistas over the endless dunes which changed colour beautifully, between all shades of yellow, orange and red. As well as the soft colours, there were the sweeping lines of the dune crests which led the eye into the distance. It was incredible and like nothing I’ve seen before. On many occasions, we tried to chat with Omar which was difficult, seeing as his only languages were Berber and Arabic but he did have some very broken Spanish which meant I could occasionally speak to him. We arrived at our camp around 40 minutes before sunset. It was a horseshoe of tents, we were shown to ours and then immediately went up some of the dunes around the camp. Ollie decided he wanted to answer the age-old question of whether camels can play cards (as it turns out they’re not particularly interested in Blackjack but by you can’t drag them away from a game of Baccarat).
We spotted a large dune and decided to power up it for sunset, this is doubly difficult when the dune acts more like a fluid and with every footfall you sink deep into the incredibly soft sand causing a mini avalanche. The view at the top was breath-taking and it turned out to be one of the tallest dunes in sight with views spanning kilometers. A perfect place to sit and look at the expanse of sand as the sun set.
Back in camp we sat in the middle of the tents on some mattresses eating some of the snacks that Omar had brought out for us. Dinner was incredible once again. A tagine obviously, but really tasty and fairly filling. Pudding was melon and despite my general distaste towards melon this one was actually pretty nice. We sat there for hours on end, eating and chatting, wishing we could chat more with Omar and learn about his life. However, his Spanish wasn’t good enough for me to ask him questions and my Arabic is a little rusty to say the least. When he realised we enjoyed being outside he said we can sleep outside if we want, so we just stayed on the mattresses under big blankets and settled in for the night. Just before I fell asleep at midnight, I was admiring the amount of stars but then I woke up at 3am and was in awe. The sky at that time of night in the desert must be one of the most, if not the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, the milky way was draped across the sky and there were more stars than I’ve seen in my life. No light pollution and no clouds allowed me to see everything, I sat there for another hour or so feeling very humbled and lost for words until I fell asleep.
The next day I dragged Ollie out of bed which isn’t an easy task because he is a ‘stubborn mule’ – An accurate quote and insight into a standard day with Ollie from our art teacher back in school. We headed up to our tall dune to watch the sunrise on the other side of the Erg and then got our stuff together for the trip back to civilisation. Once we were back we chilled all day by the pool and booked our ticket onwards on Supratours bus no.2. This was only available the next day at around 5am due to all the locals booking the only reasonably timed bus well in advance for the festival, which was to happen in a few days.
Sand got in every orifice. Let’s just get that out the way.
In my opinion, you have to come here if you come to Morocco. The temperatures are a little bit uncomfortable during the day but that’s what the pool is for and we spent most of the day relaxing and snacking which did get a little tedious. But the mild tedium of having nothing to do apart from stay in the shade, within the real-life version of a frying pan, is all worth it for views that are out of this world, within some incredible sand dunes.