The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Friday, June 10, 2011

I see your “arg” and raise you an “Erg”[Chebbi]

The following takes place between Days 176-178, May 22-24, 2011

IMG_6936The Sahara Desert is by far the largest desert in the entire world, covering almost the entire northern portion of Africa. In Morocco, one can easily make their way to one of several dunes, or ergs, for a camping excursion in the sand. For Jaime, Kelly, and I, we decided to organize a tour through the hostel for a three day, two night tour to the largest erg in Morocco, Erg Chebbi.

To get to Erg Chebbi, we had to drive nearly nine hours from Fez to the tiny village of Merzouga which lies right on the edge of the large sand dune. Being such a long drive, we had to leave very early in the morning. We had a quick breakfast and said our goodbyes to Nadja at the front desk. Our driver and transporter for the three days was the same guy that picked me up from the bus station a few days earlier.

IMG_6953It was a long drive, passing through many tiny towns and up through the Atlas Mountain chain. We stopped briefly within the mountains at a spot frequented by monkeys. These were by far the largest primates I’ve seen outside of a zoo so it was amazing to have them walking within a foot or two of me among the trees.

Beyond that little stop, and a stop for a lunch of tangine, we drove non-stop towards Merzouga. To call the place a village is a bit of an overstatement. I may have only seen a small portion, but the place seemed to have nothing but souvenir shops and mini-hotels. I didn’t really see any houses for local inhabitants.

IMG_7002That first night was pretty low key as we were all pretty tired from the drive. After a short rest, one of the workers agreed to escort us up to the top of one of the sand dunes in the erg to watch the sunset. Surprisingly, even after being exposed to the hot Sahara sun all day, the sand was cool to the touch and easy to walk on. Climbing up some of the steeper portions of the sand “cliffs” were noticeably harder, but we all made it to the top.

The next day, we got a mini guided tour of the small community vegetable garden and a model berber tent site, similar to the one that we would be sleeping in that evening. It was actually extremely fascinating seeing how they manage to irrigate the gardens using water channels found deep underground. The tour ended much like most other tours so far in Morocco – in a shop with the owner showing you all the things he has for sale and doing everything he can to get you to buy it. “I don’t have money on me” –> “That’s ok, you give money to your hostel, we can come pick it up later.”  “I’m backpacking, I can’t carry this with me for that long” –> “That’s ok. We have great shipping available.” and so on. We eventually managed to get back to the hostel with time to pack an overnight bag and to have a quick nap.

IMG_7041It didn’t seem like too long before we were woken up and began the walk to the edge of the erg to mount our camels for the hour and a half hour ride to the Berber camp. I’m not exactly sure how, but I managed to get stuck with the tallest camel even though I was by far the shortest of the three(Jaime, the tallest, also got the shortest camel). The ride was fun once I got used to how the camel moved, though I was still terrified whenever it went down a hill(mind you, I get terrified whenever anything I’m riding goes downhill. By-product of a bicycle accident when I was a kid). It was really cool to watch the shadows of our camels across the shifting sands. Very Lawrence of Arabia feeling.

IMG_7066We arrived at the camp and almost immediately the three of us began the hike up the tallest dune to try and catch the sunset. I have no idea how Kelly has so much energy but she bounded past us two boys and was up there in what seemed like no time flat. I took a lot longer. Definitely out of shape again. I hate uphill. I rested halfway and didn’t attempt to rejoin the two for at least half an hour. It was worth it though. Going downhill, well, that was a challenge in itself as we didn’t start descending until after dark and I didn’t have my light with me. That could’ve been bad.

IMG_7081After a quick supper, we were outside once again, loving the awesome silence that surrounded us, as well as the endless array of stars that unfolded above us. The night would’ve been perfect had we not noticed a huge white spider attacking and spinning an equally large black beetle into a web for a late night supper. The entire time laying at the top of the small dune beside the tents watching the stars, all I could imagine was that spider crawling all over me. Still gives me shivers.

We had an exceptionally early start the next morning as we would be taking the camels back to Merzouga and leaving almost immediately in the car for another 9-10 hour drive to Marrakech. The camel ride was once again relaxing, but having two in as many days certainly gave my ass a bit of a bruising. I have no idea how they do it here. Nor do I know how cowboys ride horses. They can keep wearing their wranglers though. Yum.

IMG_7126The ride back through the Atlas mountains was pretty uneventful until we got into the portion that actually took us down the mountains. I got pretty car sick doing the zig-zag pattern for nearly three hours. Our driver certainly seemed confident enough to weave in and out of traffic, going much faster down the mountain roads than I would’ve dared to if I had been driving. We made it safely down though and after that it was smooth sailing.

The only negative thing that came from all this was the hustle that the driver ended up pulling over us. We had been told that the trip will cost us 2000 dirhams. The driver insisted that it was 200 euros and that that would convert to 2200 dirham. We knew we were being swindled but IMG_7145in the end we just didn’t care and paid the extra amount. And even with a list of possible hostels to go to, when we asked for directions to one, the man we asked directed us to one that we didn’t want. Then asked for a tip for helping.

But like I said. That’s the only negative. Well, that and having sand in random areas for days to come.

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