We started exploring the Sahara Desert by a 4x4 vehicle, driven by a fabulous local guide named Tata. He took us for a fun drive into the deep sand to reach our nomadic camp set at the base of the dunes. The sky darkened and a fresh rain lightly fell on us as a refreshing welcome to this magical spot.
We dined in the large bedouin tent on delicious tagines and local dishes and then we were serenaded by a great musical group playing drums, dancing and singing. Later we fell into our spacious air conditioned tent (can you believe it!) and slept deeply dreaming of caravans and spice traders.
Inside our tent @ Sahara
We awoke before dawn to set out by camel into the Sahara Desert so we could watch the sunrise unfold across this vast landscape. As we left our tents we brushed the sleep from our eyes and looked to the stars above. There’s nothing quiet like the stars viewed from a desert landscape. They shine so brilliantly that they actually light the ground beneath one’s feet. We crossed the camp to our awaiting camels and met our nomadic guide, Hassan. Hassan showed us the ropes and soon we were heading across the sand dunes in the early morning light.
The landscape before us was fascinating. Undulating sand dunes rose from the valley floor towards the High Atlas Mountains in the distance. The shapes, the snaking ridge line, the solitude, the silence, the light, all combined to create a mesmerizing atmosphere. The rhythmic back and forth atop the camels’ hump, lulled us into a trance. It was like we were starring in our own version of Lawrence of Arabia. We looked the part as well with our turbans and scarves wrapped around our heads in the local style of the Berbers.
When we reached the base of Erg Chebbi, one of the largest sand dunes in the region, we disembarked from our “ships of the desert” and kicked off our shoes as we began the trek towards the summit in the early morning silence. At first, the footing was solid and we made good progress on the compacted sand as we followed the ridge line skywards. Soon the sand became powdery and more difficult to negotiate but we made steady progress as the sky illuminated with pre dawn light. The sand felt wonderful under our bare feet like a powdered dust one sprinkles over french toast.
Jordan shot ahead and was soon at the summit urging us onwards to greet the rising sun. When the sun finally rose above the horizon, the entire range of sand dunes took on a pink hue followed by a deep golden tone. The valley below us came alive as the sun’s rays hit the green palm leaves in the river bed miles beneath us.
A wandering dog suddenly appeared amongst the dunes and soon joined us as we mounted our camels for the return journey to camp. We marveled at the small plants that were able to take root in the desert sand despite the lack of water. Here and there we found green plants and straw colored grass which the camels feed on as they cross the desert.
When we reached camp, a sumptuous breakfast awaited us including fresh preserves, crepes, wood fired bread, local olives, fresh eggs and strong coffee. It is amazing how much you can accomplish before 7 a.m.!
After breakfast, we bid farewell to our hospitable camp staff and jumped into a 4x4. We sped across the desert keeping our momentum to power through the deep sand. Soon we arrived at a nomadic encampment where we were quickly surrounded by excited children. The kids knew that our guide, Abdelkader aka Tata, had a bag full of goodies and a good natured tug of war soon ensued with the kids vying for the position to shoot their small hands into his bag of goodies. After the chaos, we were welcomed by a family who had established their temporary shelter high on a ridge overlooking a dry riverbed. Life here is tough, water must be drawn from a well over a mile away and carried back to the camp. The headman of this encampment had two wives and eight children to support and their only source of revenue were the goats they were raising in this barren landscape.
Our Sahara guide Tata took us to visit a family
Next, we travelled to a nearby village, Khamlia to meet a group of local musicians. Their history is fascinating as they are former slaves from Ghana, who gained their freedom and established a settlement in this remote corner of Morocco. Their music is called Gwana and they are famous for their music festival which takes place each year in July. We were welcomed into their music chamber and they were soon playing an assortment of local drums, castanets, guitar, etc,… They wore traditional dress and danced as they played their rhythmic tunes. Once the music got started they invited us to join them in their dance and we had good fun learning the local steps. You can listen to their music on our website.
Our next stop was at a local woman’s house in Merzouga where we were treated to a cooking class. Our hostess was named Naima. She was well educated and spoke fluent English which was a bit of a surprise considering how remote her village of Merzouga was. She had a dual degree in English and Sociology but her real talent was in the kitchen. She showed us how to make a delicious local dish called Madlfuna also known as Berber pizza. This dish consists of sautéed turkey breast, roasted almonds, onions and spices which are then laid into dough which is placed in a wood fired oven in the courtyard. The bread rises like a balloon as the dried palm leaves fueled the fire. Soon we were feasting on this tasty dish at her table as sipping on the ubiquitous mint tea. She also showed us how to make carrot salad and roasted eggplant appetizer. Dessert consisted of fresh dates from the local palms and sweet melon.