Departing from the group we ran around the bus station trying to figure out what bus to take at what time, the end result of which was 6 of us crammed into a grand taxi (they can take you between towns) on our way to Ourzazate to catch a bus at 6am in the morning. After driving for 4 hrs our cab driver stopped us for the the night in a very small town just outside of Ourzazate. I should take a moment to define our driving situation. 6 Americans stuffed into a taxi w/ ipod speakers all singing along while our driver speeds around the corners of a narrow, winding, mountain road.We also went through a phase of saying, in unison, “snoo ahgi” every time we were about to go around a blind corner, which was a frequent occurrence.
Anywho, we survived just fine. At the hotel we manage to convince them to give us a triple room for the 6 of us. After getting our bags inside, we decided that rather than drawing straws for the floor shoving the 2 single and the double bed together to make a single giant bed for 6. This accomplished we walked off down the town’s single dirt road and found a small hanoot (small grocers) just as they were closing. Back in our room we feasted on Pringle’s (so expensive here), random packaged pastries, chocolate and a can of tuna for me. (No it was not cat food, it was actually pretty good, but yes eating it out of the can kinda overly reminded me of cat food.) 4:30am finds us groggy but getting a move on (after a mattress turning and waking up out driver who stayed down the hall), bundled up against the cold we all piled back in the taxi to Ourzazate.
Once we got to the Ourzazate bus station we found out that the bus had left at 5am. Not to be deterred and w/ our valiant taxi driver at the wheel, and for another 1000DH (we had already paid 600DH), we were back on the road. The sun was up yet and it was absolutely beautiful rising from behind the palms and old buildings letting its rays hit the snow covered peaks of the mountains behind us, lighting up the rocky desert as we drove through.
Once in Rissani, we called our guide and he gave our driver directions to where he was (aka in the desert) in Merzouga. Hot and dusty, we stayed at this family’s house for lunch before leaving for the hotel our camel trek would take us from into the desert.
I hope I’m not killing any dreams here, but camels are one of the most uncomfortable modes of transportation. Ever. I do not recommend them. Additionally, dunes make it worse. Downhill = pain.
We’ll now return to our regular “there-are-no-downsides-to-traveling-in-Africa” program.
So despite some discomfort, the entire experience was extremely scenic and pretty much exactly what you’d expect from people making their living acting out their cultural traditions for tourists. Our guide, barefoot and decked out in turban and blue robes, lead our string of camels up and down the smaller dunes for about an hour before we stopped by our quaint Amazigh (read pc form of Berber) camp. Our group immediately bounded up (for the first few meters at least) the nearest large and steep dune so we could watched sunset. I don’t think I can adequately describe how beautiful it was to watch the sunset. The dunes are impressive and orange/red, Erg Chebbi (a huge wind formed dune) was to our left and slightly behind us, another large dune was to our left and in between, far into the horizon, stretched a golden sea of still cresting waves.
Sitting on top of the dune I felt so small watching the shadows shift, grow long and the sand turn red as the stars slowly crept into the dark edges of the sky, the sun sliding down into oblivion.
After the sun had set completely, we retreated to our camp, jumping and sliding down the dune side to pick out constellations and have a mediocre but Moroccan meal. We then sat next to the fire with a few others from another campsite and our guides, who did their part to entertain us tourists with songs.
Before long however, in the deep blue framed by the black silhouettes of two dunes we watched the near full moon rise into the sky and the shadows emerged to mirror those of day. The fire died at last and the outlines of camels and palms settled for the night, so we set out again for the top of the dune to stargaze. Five of us squeezed together under a blanket and did our best to stay awake until the cold drove us down into our tents.
“I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream.” -Van Gogh (written by Ari dahling on the pages of my journal that now contains my entry on my night in the Sahara)
Dawn came all too soon, as us lazy late waking Americans finally emerged from our tents to clamber back onto our camels as the first rays of the sun licked the peaks of the highest dunes. Another hour and we were watching the sun bathe Erg Chebbi in its light, still half frozen from our night gladly letting the sun warm our bones as well. Once we returned to the hotel, we were thrilled to find breakfast and the promise of showers. Only for the dream to be crushed as our bus had arrived all too soon to take us back to Rissani. Our “bus” turned out to be a windowed van with a few extra rows of bench seats, unbolted, with a few goats in the foot of space in the back. Packed in this contraption we bounded through the desert back to the road and Rissani.