The Road to Merzouga
We had another long day ahead of us. But it was exciting because we were heading to Erg Chebbi Dunes and our camel ride into the desert! The drive was uneventful save for our visit to the Ksar and Brahim’s house, which I discussed in an earlier post. Along the way we noticed that the Berber women were wearing black cape-type wraps with bright yarn embroidery. Then we must have been in a different tribal area because they were all black with no color. And finally, they were sort of stripy.
We also saw kids playing soccer in the middle of nowhere. The only place they could have come from was down quite a ravine – but kids will find a way to play soccer anywhere.
A big thank you Riad Nezha for the good signage!
We made it just before sunset and were taken immediately to the rooftop terrace for mint tea. What a view! A gorgeous palmerie and the dunes in the background.
Later that evening we ate in their dining room – the only guests, we were ahead of the tourist season – and it was delicious. So far, the best food of the trip had been at Boumalne Dades and Merzouga. Lots of vegetables and great seasoning. We remembered wonderful seasoning from when we lived in Morocco, but had been a little disappointed this time around. The dining room is beautiful.
The riad is fairly new and still in progress but building a top-of-the-line resort is certainly one man’s dream. In this case, that would be Brahim, the owner, but he was ill, so we were taken care of by Mohammed, who has a degree in English literature. He said he knew that was a rather impractical degree, but there you are. He’s developed a particular interest in American fiction.
Riad Nezha was a wonderful place to stay and is going to be a luxury retreat – everything is so well thought out and so tastefully designed. We were very happy with this accommodation. We asked to have a guide provided the following morning. No, wait – Mohammed strongly suggested we take a 4×4 tour with a guide – in fact, almost insisted, and we’re glad we did. So we went to bed awaiting our “quatre quatre.”
Quatre-Quatre (4×4) into the dunes
Breakfast was in the dining room and two men ambled in who were returning from the camel outing. They had had a cold day – we were going to have a pleasant one thank goodness. Although there was haze which distressed me because it was my only chance to take photos of Erg Chebbi Dunes – precursor to the Sahara! Little did I know haze was the least of my problems in getting good shots. I’ve taken successful photos from a vaporetto in Venice that was rising and rocking with the current; I’ve taken mostly successful photos from horseback in Haleakala Crater in Maui, but those are nothing compared to camelback. More about that later.
Mohammed, called Ahmed, came to pick us up for our “quatre quatre.”
He spoke Berber and a little bit of French; no English. We spoke English and French and a little bit of Arabic but no Berber. Hmmm. Somehow it all worked out. Most of the time. He did manage to communicate to us that Bush was a “crazy guy.” So many people we met seemed eager to comment about Bush and Obama and their remarks always gave high marks to the latter while disparaging Bush. I’m not disparaging Bush myself with those remarks – it’s just interesting to see how the rest of the world sees us.
How Morocco Works
This is a good time to digress about how money and Morocco come together. It’s an unwritten code that people will be tipped. For example, once Brahim started showing us through the Ksar, we knew we would pay him something. He said no problem about leaving our car unattended, so we knew someone would be watching it and we’d pay him. It was great to have lunch at his house, but we knew we’d offer some money after for the food. So we knew that wherever Ahmed took us on our excursion, we’d give some money to those involved. And the system works. It’s not so much money to give 10 dh to the person watching your car (a little over $1) or 40 dh to someone who gives you lunch (a little over $4). Whenever someone offered to show us the way somewhere, we knew that it was understood that he was doing us a favor and we were going to pay him. Plus, you tip the gas station attendant – no one pumps his own gas. It’s a way to keep employment up I suppose, and it works .
Back to the 4×4
As we drove out we saw a little demonstration taking place, but it was clear that Ahmed wouldn’t want to discuss it so we didn’t. We began driving through the dunes and I worked it out so if I said “photo,” he’d stop. Soon I realized we’d never go anywhere if I kept saying “photo.”
See what I mean? You would look at the dunes and they’d be one color; then you walk 20 yards in one or the other direction, and there would be a whole other view and color. I could have spent days just slowly walking amongst those dunes.
We were driving over the sand when we didn’t really need to so I wondered if it was for show, but soon we were out – where? We had no idea. We were heading to a nomad tent for tea.
As we approached, there seemed to be a couple of tents and an abandoned structure that was being used. One tent was the barn with goats and sheep in front.
A little fenec (wild fox) was sleeping by some debris, and a cat was resting on top of a wall.
The structure had a solar panel. A little girl was in the yard (which was actually the entire desert) and when she saw my camera, she took off. Most Berbers and especially girls and women don’t want to be photographed.
Ahmed said nomad children do not go to school. He grew up a nomad in that desert and knows every inch. He spent many years of his youth shepherding the family livestock.
So we bent down and made it into the tent, which was not easy. It wasn’t what I’d call comfortable. The woman brought the tea and Ahmed poured.
The husband drove up on his motorbike and sat outside the tent looking through binoculars. I was trying to process this: we were in a primitive tent with a solar panel, the children were dirty and didn’t go to school, and Dad rides up on his motorbike and starts looking into the desert with his binocs. Doing what? Keeping an eye on his herd of camels so no one steals them. Phew. That alone made the stop worthwhile – all the incongruities.
Next up: a stop for a performance by the Gnaoua musicians.
The Gnaoas come from Africa, black Africa as Ahmed pointed out. Their music is well-known and every year there is a huge music festival in Merzouga. This year will be the 13th and Ahmed says the desert is full of people camping, musicians of all sorts – I’d love to be there for that. We watched, clapped, and gave some money and we were off.
We drove and drove and drove and drove. Where were we going? Mining, Ahmed said. So we figured we were going to some fossil mines since southern Morocco is a treasure house of fossils. Geologists get excited about Morocco. We had no idea. We’d pass an oasis here and there thinking, well this has to be the mining. When we finally stopped it was in the middle of nowhere.
Ahmed took some water out of the 4×4 and I thought we were having a snack. But he poured the water on some rocks and abundant fossils were revealed. That was the “mining” we were going to. Wherever there is a rocky outcropping in the sand, there are fossils. We walked around and found our own. Pretty cool.
It was lunch time. We were taken to a riad, again in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, but then Merzouga itself is in the middle of nowhere. We had a good lunch behind the blue door, paid for it, and got back to the Riad Nezha. Time to rest up for the camels.