Camel Toes & Baby Foxes in The Sahara

06/03/2013

(no time for reading?  Here are our favorite photos from the Sahara)

TL;DR for our Sahara Post:

  • Our Photos from Merzouga & the Sahara
  • Favorite Moments: staring at the dunes with mouths agape, getting off the damn camels for the last time, seeing baby foxes.
  • Walked:
    in the Sahara: 32,821 steps / ~16 miles
    in Total: 119,016 steps / ~60 miles

The whole point of Merzouga (and Hassilabied, the village we were staying in just a few km north of it) is access to the Sahara desert. We’d done a desert trip before (the Thar Desert in India– photos here), but the Sahara makes it look like a sandbox.

We arrived early on an overnight bus, took a nap, and then poked around the town a bit. It was a ghost town (Moroccans in this region sensibly hang out inside during the hottest hours).

Our host looked surprised when we asked him if there were any interesting walks nearby, but suggested the Palmery at the edge of the dunes. It wasn’t all that impressive, but there was lots of shade as well as some neatly tended gardens under the palms.  The Merzouga area has the largest underground body of water in Morocco and these gardens had small concrete-lined irrigation ditches that took advantage of that water. We also saw occasional wells on our trek later on for watering camels and goats.

June is the start of the offseason in this region, but the weather wasn’t too painful (highs in the 80s)… Still, we saw exactly zero tourists in town. There wasn’t much to do but eat and plan for our next leg until our 6pm departure the next day for our overnight camel trek into the desert.

2658966009_896fc38836_z_thumbWe walked with our guide to our launching point and on the way saw a little critter running under a big chunk of wood– It turned out to be a desert fox! The local kids make pets out of them when they are young– we saw two being walked on leashes when we returned the next day.

The trek was stunning– a 2-3 hour camel ride into the desert led by Ibrihim, our teenaged guide. Riding camels starts off novel (“I’m on top of a freakin’ camel!”) but the novelty fades quickly. Thankfully we had the glorious dunes to distract us from the colon-jarring steps of the camels. Downhill parts added an extra layer of discomfort to the experience– we always felt like we had to fight to not slide off the front of the saddle (resulting in some epic wedgies — not a few camel toe jokes were tossed around).

DSC00359We arrived at our Berber camp just before sunset to find 3 other couples there– our first tourist sighting in this part of Morocco! Our party consisted of two women from the UK, a couple from Atlanta, and a german couple (though she was originally from Turkey). It was a fabulous/fun bunch with lots of travel knowledge.

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Most of our time in camp was spent oohing and ahhing over the dunes. It’s hard to overstate how impressive they are. I remember my impression of the Thar desert being a bit sad– there was trash everywhere. But the sahara is nearly pristine and it rolls on forever, with dunes reaching over 1,000 feet high in places. Sunset and sunrise were beautiful– the dunes’ colors seemed to range from yellow-white to deep orange depending on the light.

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Our camp time was fun, too. The guides spoke pretty poor english (we never blame anyone for that– we’re embarrassingly monolingual), but we had plenty of companionship with our fellow-tourists. There was some drum playing by our guides, who did their best to teach us, but it didn’t last long… The sand started to kick up.

The fine sand that was so delightful to walk in was pretty awful when mixed with a liberal helping of wind. No matter what you put over your face (from a scarf to the ceiling of our tent) the sand found its way into eyes, ears, and mouth.

Despite all that, we had an outstanding time in the Sahara– it was definitely one of many “Holy crap, we’re in Africa” moments that we’ve experienced in Morocco!