26 Nov 2014

The Great Sahara

 I've read, and dream about visiting the magnificent Sahara desert ever since I was a kid. And here we were, zoning out of the car window, watching the earth went flatter and flatter, sandier and sandier; and slowly, the dunes appeared in the horizon.

It was a long drive from the Rose Valley to Merzouga. I dosed off plenty of time. Luckily, there were a few stops on the way: Dades Valley and Todgha Gorge. I don't know which one came first. It's been too long my memory started to blur. I should really try to note things down earlier, rather than waiting for months and one blue moon decided to stay up late to write it up.

Dades valley was my first experience of a true big oasis: miles of matte green stretched out, bordered with nothing but red rocks, dotted with earthy red Lego-like villages with their back against the hills. Everything looked so still, but we knew there were life down there, living off the generosity and magic of the Earth. It felt magical.

 I have a few photos of the Gorge but they're not so good, plus, to be honest, I didn't really like the place. It reminded me of amazing places in Vietnam that are being destroyed by bad tourism. You can't help but notice the rush job altering nature to make the place more "tourist friendly", which I really hate. Oh well.

Soon after, we reached the desert welcome gate. Here, the largest desert on earth starts.

We stopped quickly at Hassan's brother tent on the side of the road, visited the amazing well system that the Berbers built hundreds of years ago to channel water from the Atlas range to the desert. I know, nuts, right? We thought why didn't they just move to the mountain. This question, Hassan answered much later when we were at the very end of our trip.

 As we carried on, the soil became finer and finer. It was deserted (no pun intended). There was nothing but endless flat land and hot dry wind. Then, suddenly, the dunes appeared.

I can not tell you how magnificent and humble it was driving closer and closer to the dunes, realised how majestic and massive they were, and how small you suddenly became. You-Have-To-See-It-For-Yourself. Period.

Our hotel was the only hotel in the whole village, ran by a friendly family. We dropped our bags, had a quick shower, then went on our excursion. We had no intention to sleep in the hotel that night. We were spending the night in a nomad tent, in the desert, under the stars. And we wanted to get to the tent at sunset.

Boy! Riding camel was a pain in the arse. Literally! But we couldn't care less. The weather was perfect. Temperate was perfect. The dunes were mysterious and welcoming. There was no way paining bums would stop us.

 You see that sun? I'd never seen the sun that big. We made it to the tent just as the sun was half way down the horizon.

We did not waste any time. There was a sand-board at the tent, so naturally, we took the board up the dunes.

 Mr. Mackey knows how to sand-board. He took a few rounds, then he decided that I should try.

Now, I'm not the one for extreme sport. I'm just naturally not that sporty. But in such setting, I didn't see a single reason to not try. After all, how often can you be that isolated from the world and for once, are completely carefree?

I did not fall on my arse on the first try. Repeat. I did not fall on my arse on the first try. As it turned out, I was a natural. Who knew! I guess all that yoga practice paid off. 10 points for Nutfield Health!

Of course, I did fall a couple of times after that first try. But after half an hour, I was confident enough to decide I want to ride the biggest dune around(!) The dune was so high it was a mission to climb up. Hassan and Mohammed (our desert guide - a really cool dude) tried to convince me to not do it, or at least sit down on the board. But I was high on the spirit, and how painful can falling on sand be, then I even remembered I do have life insurance, so off I went.

Here's a quick video :). You'll see the amazing tent we stayed in too. It's beautiful, so make sure you watch it.

Yup, I did it! The only reason I rolled off the board at the end was because I thought I was gonna ride straight in the toilet. Maaan did it feel good (not the ride in the toilet part). The silence, the focus, the stretch of a few seconds that felt like a good few minutes. I would most definitely do that again, and again, and again.

We then had the biggest meal ever. Mohammed probably thought we were hungry after all that activities, so he asked the cook to make a three course meal, probably for 5 people rather than 2.

Mohammed was attentive, and hilarious. He sang the craziest song ever, accompanied by offbeat drumming. We suspected he was just gibberising. But he clearly didn't care. He was laughing, singing, having a great time. You could read the free spirit on his long face, his badly sun-burnt hair, his twinkle eyes, and especially when he answered us when we asked what time it was: "There's no time in the desert!". No, definitely not.

The stars were out, it was cool and calm, and the heat from the sand was still warm enough to keep us comfortable. We arranged the cushions, lied side by side, breathed in the warm air and watched thousands of stars litting up the cloudless sky. Mr. Mackey smelled dry and earthy. I hugged him, put my nose against his neck, and passed out.

Until the wolves woke us up. I'm not kidding. We heard them howling, and the camels were getting uneasy. So we decided to move inside the tent just to be safe.

It was really REALLY windy the next morning. We did try to do a few more rounds of sand-boarding, but the wind literally blew us off the board. So we packed up and headed back to the hotel.

We spent the day by the pool, and on the roof top watching the idle village and the dunes in the backdrop.

Everything. Was. Perfect.

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