The Sahara is as you know the world's largest desert. Less known is perhaps that some parts are fed by underground rivers that sometimes forms oases. People have lived on the edge of the desert thousands of years ago since the last ice age.
We stayed 2 days in the little village of Merzouga in the Riad Mamouche. Merzouga is located in the eastern part of Marocco, close to the border with Algeria. And although I call this blog "Sahara", I have to be honest and admit that it is quite technically not the Sahara. Ooops....
The Sahara is actually located a bit more to the south from the village of Merzouga. However, Merzouga is located at the "Erg Chebbi". The word "Erg" means sand sea or dune sea, a desert covered with wind-swept sand. And these wind-swept sand dunes at this "Erg" were quite impressive, up to 150 metres in height. The Erg Chebbi spans an area of 28 kilometers from north to south and up to 5–7 kilometers from east to west lining the Algerian border. And we have been exploring a tiny bit of this area by camel, and even a little bit on foot.
In the photos above you can see 2 of our main companions on this day, my friend the camel on the right, and to the left our local guide (and even cook).
For our full day in Merzouga, we arranged to spend it on the back of a camel, so we could explore a tiny bit of the desert. We made an early start to the day, and booked a long tour, so we could see the sunset in the desert as well. So lets go and explore a bit of the Erg Chebbi!
We moved slowly, very slowly. The camel is working its way through the soft sand; and me sitting on top is just bumping up and down. It took quite a while before I got used to the rhythm of the camels movement. But I slowly did, and started adjusting my own rhythm to it, becoming steadier on its back. And more importantly, bumping up and down less! Much to the relief of my already soar feeling behind.
Hmmmm, but as I didn't realize on forehand, but I really do know now.... it is hard to take photos from a camels back! Bumping up and down, holding tight, trying not to fall, AND taking photos at the same time is not the easiest task. But my attempts made me giggle and was without a doubt cause for some laughter. Below you can see a short series of photos taken during our camel ride. Do I need to say more? It isn't that easy taking photos while riding a camel ;-)
We ride through the amazing desert landscape, sand dunes surrounding us, until we arrive at our camp for the day. The camels could take a deserved rest, and I had the opportunity to strech my legs and discover more of the desert landscape for a few hours with help of my own two feet.
Footsteps in the sand
We had some free time to explore the area before lunch would be ready. And of course I quickly set my eyes on the highest sand dune surrounding us. "Let's climb to the top of that one!" I suggested enthousiastically to my husband. But he looked at me full of wonder, and shook his head wisely with a big smile. He clearly wasn't going to join me on my adventure. But no problems, I can conquer that little sand dune all by myself :-)
So of I went, climbing up and up the hill. Step after step, I moved upwards with my feet digging deep into the warm sand, and the sand grains creeping in between my toes. Although I put in all my possible effort, I didn't seem to make that much progress. Sigh! With every step I took, my feet slipped down half of the step up. But I eagerly continue with a big happy smile on my face, while puffing and puffing with every step I take. Phew, I stop again and take in the grand landscape surrounding me.
I am totally convinced that I climbed up at least three-quarters of the sand dune by now. But no way, I was not even close! Optics can be so deceiving: when looking up, these sand dunes look much smaller than they are in reality. But from up here, and looking down, you realize how high they actually are. The photo above to the left says it all: My footprints deep into the sand, and far below in the background you can see our camp and lunch spot. One can hardly say I've been lazy today ;-)
I look up again and realize the effort it is going to take to reach the top. Then I look down, and at the same time I hear my stomach making growling noices.... aaaah, lunch time! A delimma: should I continue to go up, or head back down instead? It only takes me a split second to make the obvious decision, and I start to make my way down. And yes, down does so much faster :-)
And what a good choice it is, lunch is being served and it is delish. A simple sallad accompanied by an outstanding tagine. Quite amazing how our guide managed to whip up such a tasty dish in the middle of the desert.
Not that far from our camp we came across a Berber family. The Berbers are an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa, and they mainly live in Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Berbers call themselves some variant of the word i-Mazigh-en (singular: a-Mazigh), possibly meaning "free people" or "noble men".
Traces in the sand.....
At first sight the desert looks so baren and empty, and it is hard to imagine that anything can live here in this harsh, inhospitable and scorched habitat. But there is more life here than you can imagine. While exploring the fascinating patterns in the sand, you'll most likely see more than just the play of the wind on the sand. In between all the wind-swept patterns, you'll without a doubt discover tiny tracks as well: the tiny footsteps left behind by a desert inhabitant.
It might be this little beetle on the right, but it could just as well be the steps of a Berber skink, a Montpellier snake or maybe even a fringe-toed lizard. Who's traces I saw this day in these sand dunes of Erg Chebbi I can only guess; the owners unfortunately didn't show their faces to me. I only regonized the hand of the last photo, that is a 'Sim1travels' leaving her mark in the "SAND".
After a relaxing time we take our camels and start riding in the direction of home. As we ride along, we see our shadows on the surrounding sand dunes just keep getting longer and longer. In the play of the shadows the camels seem to get legs that just go on forever.
And by now it is also high time to prepare for the highlight of our visit: seeing the sunset over the Sahara!
We pick out one of the higher sand dunes and climb to the top to have the very best view over the surrounding landscape and of course of the sunset. Arriving at the top we select a comfortable spot and enjoy the amazing spectacle of a desert sunset happening in front our eyes.
Okay, I know, the photo above is maybe not the most flattering photo of me ;-) But it does capture a moment of my travels and a fond memories. I remember this day on top of that sand dune so vividly, taking photos of the amazing light, feeling so relaxed, seeing the golden glow of the light brushing over the landscape.
Seeing the actual sun setting behind the sand dunes is wonderful. But for me the more magical part was the effect on the light on the surrounding landscape. The dunes change from their golden colour to almost orange, and the play of the shadows on and between the dunes is simply magical.
The photo to the left is the result of the series of photos I took while lying there in the sand.
The camels are waiting patiently at bottom of the sand dunes. Soon it is time for us to pack up and return to Merzouga. The light is slowly fading and there is a chill coming into the evening air now the sun has set.
The day ended certainly at its best, the sunset over the desert is engraved in my memories for ever.