One of the benefits of waking up early is that you get up and the chaos of the world is not around you. Nowhere is this more evident than in the middle of the Sahara. There was no wind. No birds. No animals. The odd bug, but they are silent.
At that time of the morning, the stars were still shining bright and the sky was starting to lighten on the horizon and we were poised to have a nice sunrise over the Sahara skyline that so many people travel from all over the world just to watch. In fact, we were the minority of people doing a multiday trek into the desert. Most people come to Merzuga, jump on a camel, and come in for the sunset, sleep overnight, get up for sunrise, and then head back to town for a ride back to where ever.
The sunrise was spectacular to say the least.
Deb crawled up the dune and joined me before the others did. The two of us had an opportunity to slow the brainwaves down and meditate before the glorious sunrise began. Deb even did a bit of yoga. I am an embarrassment to yoga, so I didn’t even try.
After the other campers left, our two new guides (Ali and Barok) served the four of us an amazing breakfast at a table on top of one of the dunes at the camp. It was surreal and seemed like something would be cut right out of a movie.
Washed up and ready for more adventures, we jumped on the camels again without any bike chamois, and then and Christmas songs on scary and slippery parts Going down hills made of sand that gives way underneath your feet with ease.
One thing with the camels is that we are all tied together and if we let the camels loose from each other we would end up in different parts of the desert pretty rapidly. As such deb was riding on her camel behind me and it was pretty close to my feet. I guess there was a bit of a turf war between my camel and her camel and Deb and her camel wanted to show me and my camel who was the boss. So Deb’s camel deal with all camels do, she bit me on the foot! Didn’t hurt that much but it scared the living crap out of me!
The dunes today were much bigger and the angle of their ascent and descent were significantly greater than the rollers that we were on the first leg of the trip. Some of the sand was hard packed, enough so that your footprint was barely visible on it, to very soft where every step forward up a hill would see you sliding down half a step. There was no rhyme or reason where these areas were going to be either.
Having the soft sand gave us the opportunity to jump down the dunes like you would in the snow. It was a lot of fun and one of the guides joined us in on the fun. These guides were a lot younger than the guide that we had on our first day, and the kids really enjoyed having them around as they acted like kids right along with Wilson and Lulu.
Eventually, we made it up and down and overall the dunes, half on the camel and half on foot, we reached the middle of the desert. Off in the distance you could see land that wasn’t covered in the tangerine coloured sand, and our guide let us know that that was Algeria. Jokingly, I asked him if there were border patrollers in the area and where we could get our passports stamped. He promptly said, “Welcome to Algeria!” and gave me a high five as my passport stamp. Hahaha.
As we got deeper into the desert, it was quite easy to see that the amount of tourists and camel traffic was significantly less in this part of the desert as the vegetation started to pop up in the valleys between the dunes where the rain water collected. The bushes weren’t by any stretch big voluminous bushes that bore fruit or anything. But their leaves were very thick as you would suspect for a desert plant since the leaves had to act as part of the plants water reservoir.
Ali let us know that the water table was not very deep under the desert floor at this part of the desert, and we came across a small shack with a well that had an irrigation system coming from it to water a hedge that surrounded the property. Now that is an oasis! The well was full of water and the water level was only about 1m under the level of the sand. I didn’t taste it, but our guide said that the water in the Sahara was very sweet and was clean since the sand acted like a big filter after the rains. Interesting. But I knew there was a lot of camel poo on the sand too, so I wasn’t going to take any chances…
We arrived at a bush camp at the base of these towering dunes, much taller than were around us on the first day. It was getting crazy hot, and especially in the valley where there was no wind. We sought shelter in a stick hut that had some beds in it, and then found the flies too bad, so we went outside to sit at a table that was in the limited shade of a small tree.
Before they brought us lunch, we asked where the water closet was, and they pointed with their finger around the whole camp meaning that it was whereever you wanted it to be. We all headed over to a clump of bushes that seemed fitting, and I bet Wilson a chocolate bar, who is notorious for needing to be in a place of comfort for going to the bathroom, to go in the bushes. Well, I bought him one when we got back… he sure showed me!
A bunch of people form South Korea showed up, who were actually international students studying in Germany and Spain, which we couldn’t believe that they came down just for the weekend. That was crazy.
Oh well, their trip. Not ours. So, fly from Europe to Marrakech, a 13h bus ride to the desert, a 4 hour ride into the desert, sleep, then 4 hours back for another 13h bus ride and then home. I don’t understand that. It is like speed dating for travellers.
Wilson and Lulu taught the international travellers how to play our famous Canadian card game, Golf. It was a lot of fun trying to teach them the rules. Thank goodness one of them spoke English and Korean as we were not successful at charades with them.
Wilson and our guide decided it was going to be a good idea to climb up the dune as the afternoon passed on. I mean straight up, rather than switchbacking it the whole way. I think our guide dared him to do it, and again, he proved him wrong.
We spent the latter part of the afternoon and until the sun set standing on top of one of the highest dunes in the desert, sandsurfing, jumping, rolling, and burying ourselves in the sand while the sun set in the west. It was pretty magical. Then we hopped on our camels and had a star filled night ride west towards the camp for the night while a lightning storm rumbled south of us.
Once we were at the new camp, which was pretty posh, Wilson and I climbed up to the top of another big dune to look at the stars and the lightning again before supper and heading to bed before our early morning ride out of the desert.
The tent that we had was equivalent to a good sized hotel room, including a full bath and shower (yay!), king bed, and two single beds, all decked out in Moroccan carpets and furnishings. It was going to be a good sleep!
The morning came too quickly, but I had the chance to climb up on top of the dune that Wilson and I climbed the night before to watch the sunrise one last time. I got to the top while the stars were still out and I was the only one up top there, so had some time to reflect by myself. It was glorious.
People slowly filtered in and then Wilson crested the edge of the dune and ran over to watch the sun rise with me. One of those great dad and son moments for sure.
We hastily made our way down to the camp as our departure time was to be right after the sun rose, so we hopped on the camels for one last ride to the kahsbah before we did a long drive out towards Marrakech.
It was our anniversary day, so it was a great way to spend the day, other than the long car ride to our new hotel in Ouzazate, which was like a little paradise with a pool and a terrace. On the way back, it was great to watch a massive rain storm taking place in the distance, and there was an antique (as well as some new) car rally headed in the opposite direction.
In the middle of the day, Moroccans take a siesta for an hour around 2pm, which is very strange when you drive through towns at that time. They are literally empty. Ghost towns. A very strange feeling when you would normally see a bustling town in front of you…
The only problem was that it was raining and both kids were having abdominal cramps and then the gastro hit them. I wasn’t feeling great either, but Deb was feeling fine…thank God. We arranged for us to have our dinner down on our terrace so we could be close to the kids as they didn’t want to eat. It was a great anniversary supper, just the two of us listening to an 80s love song playlist on Spotify…classy!
We went to bed and then the gastro hit me too, so the kids and I were up all night, but Deb slept well in a separate room off of the terrace. At least one of us had to sleep well…. The kids were bagged, so it was a quiet ride back to our next stop.
The next morning we packed up our gear for two days of traveling to Marrakech and then Casablanca, which were not very special compared to the beauty of the desert that we had just come from. Next time we come to visit we will go further south to Zamora and then to Mhamid. There, there are few tourists, rather there are real adventurers as from Mhamid you have to go in 60km either by 4×4 or camel to Shagagal where there are 80km of desert and dunes as far as the eye can see. It is literally at the end of the road.
The kids and I spent the next couple of days recovering from our gastro, just praying that it was better before we got on the plane and went to Tanzania and to hook up with our great friend Karen Craig who was going to be joining us for that leg of our adventure.
No post of mine is complete without some sort of local cuisine. And this leg of the trip was no exception. The food was simply delicious, and it looked pretty straightforward to make, other than the complex spice blends that spice masters put together. 44 spices in fact. I forgot to write down that we visited a local Sunday market in a small town and our driver took us to one of his favourite spice stalls and spice masters. Needless to say, I have some spices headed back toward home.
The other thing that I fell in love with in Morocco were the dates. Our driver came from a town that is well known for its dates. I didn’t realize that dates came from palmtrees. They are the little yellow looking seeds/fruits that grow in clumps if you are looking the next time you are down south. They harvest them in October, and he gave me some from last years harvest, and they were simply incredible. It was like eating a date square without brown sugar, butter, spices or oats…
Here are the recipes…
Kefta Omlette: small beef meatballs, diced tomatoes, onions, salt, pepper, cumin, garlic, parsley, slight curry. Then put scrambled egg on top like omelette on top of the fillings. Fry up everything other than the eggs which creates a burnt base in the pan. Flatten the fried veggies and meatballs and compact it down a bit. Add eggs so you can’t see veggies. Cover and cook on stovetop
Tajine recipe: olive oil on the base of stoneware or cast iron pot. Then onion slices. Put the meat (usually bone in chicken but could be lamb or pot roast, and then add carrots and other veggies. Drizzle olive oil over this and sprinkle salt, pepper and 1t tajine spices to each quadrant then arrange potato slices, then eggplant slices. Build like campfire around the meat. Add a little bit of water (add small amount of water every 15-20min). Then cover and cook over low heat in oven or on small flame on gas stovetop for 1-1.5h.
Berber Salad: small eggplants cubed, small zucchini cubed, diced tomatoes, salt and pepper, cumin, and cook in tajine.
Here are some other notable photos from the Sahara…