I 10/10 recommend Moroccan desert tours over Emirati desert safaris. This weekend yielded a lot of happy camels, a lot of sand in strange places, and the most gorgeous landscapes.
I’d been planning to go this particular weekend since the beginning of the semester, partially for a friend’s birthday and partially because I had looked at the moon’s schedule and figured that it would be new moon. The birthday part fell through, but the moon was absolute perfection, the tiniest crescent of silver with the rest in silhouette, leaving the rest of the sky a maze of stars. The weekend also worked out perfectly because a Moroccan friend from the area organised the trip, which was so much easier than it would have been had I followed through with my self-guided plan.
We set out from the university early Saturday morning to Merzouga, the town in the South of Morocco that lies on the edge of the Sahara, almost so east that it’s Algeria. (I asked, and though the border is unmarked, no one is crazy enough to attempt crossing through the desert. However, apparently they do send donkeys and mules laden with drugs to cross the border, so if you ever run across a donkey in the desert…) Briefly on the way we stopped by the Ziz Valley which was a really cool stretch of green in the middle of all the dry and dusty land with homes nearby. In Erfoud, a few of us purchased scarves and we learned how to type them in the style of the desert people.
In Merzouga, our minivan dropped us off at a remote hotel, where we ate medfouna for lunch, a local dish named for the word meaning “buried.” It’s basically bread filled with a lot of meat, some eggs, and some nuts, cooked under the heat between stones. We also had legitimate fresh salad which was incredible–something I never thought I’d say about salad. For a few hours, we lay in the sun and swum in the coldest pool I’d ever experienced and drunk mint tea.
Then, 4 by 4/four wheel drives/SUVs/whatever you want to call them came and picked us up to drive us across the gritty terrain to the beginning of the picturesque dunes. I strapped my seatbelt tightly on, prepared to face death; however, it was pretty tame and they took it pretty slow. Dune bashing is the one thing the Dubai desert safari had over this. They dropped us off at another hotel where we drunk more tea until the camels were ready.
I asked the guide what my camel’s name was, and found out that I was riding Azgwa, who was at the front of my chain of camels. Though there were two camels that seemed a little small for the big guys we put on them, these camels seemed so happy and well behaved. The camel behind me kept coming and nuzzling my leg when we slowed, and seemed to like me scratching his head and feeling his velvety nose. While a few of them showed off their saliva, none of them bit and none of them were muzzled.
The sunset was mostly obscured by a low hanging cloud, to my disappointment, but it was still lovely seeing the colours of the sky change, and I had one of those high on life moments while looking out over the sand dunes, at the rusty red dark golden sand that didn’t quite seem real.
After settling into our rather luxurious tents–a mattress while camping? I’ll take it!–a few friends and I decided that we were going to climb to the top of the tallest sand dune. Definitely one of the worst ideas of my life. It can’t have been more than 300 feet up or so, but it was the most physically exerting thing I had done possibly in my life. Not even the day last summer when I hiked the Narrows, biked to the Watchman and hiked that, and came back and decided to hike Angel’s Landing as well did I feel so physically drained. About a quarter of the way up I decided to Gollum it and climb on my hands and feet, and I realised that because of the sinking sand I was moving about 20cm with every step. The top yielded a view of some far off lights, some of which we theorised were probably were we had started, and little else except my constant fear that I was going to fall down the other edge and have to climb all the way up again. Sliding down, however, made it all worth it. Though I had to push quite a bit with my arms, I slid most of the way on my butt, singing Brandon Flowers to myself and giggling like a child.
Back at camp, we devoured tagine and fresh fruit. While others went out to walk, I decided that I wasn’t moving very far, and our guides brought our some drums. I got to play quite a bit, and when the others came back, we tried to sing songs we all knew the lyrics to. “Wagon Wheel” was the most popular with the Moroccan guides, who were still attempting to sing it the next morning.
We watched the sunrise before getting on the camels the next morning, and, slightly more subdued than the previous day, headed back towards Merzouga. We stopped at the souq in Erfoud which is renowned for its dates, and I had the second-best dates of my life. (Nothing’s going to beat those Emirati dates–I regret buying boxes to give as gifts instead of for myself!) Additionally, we went to a factory that quarries old stones and finds fossils within them and had a tour of the process they go through to retrieve them, which was quite magical. They had so many cool fossil souvenirs, and I would have purchased them all had I been able to justify it!
The view of the Hassan Eddakhel dam was absolutely gorgeous on the way back, reminding me of Sand Hollow State Park in Utah. I was glad to see it since, due to an exam happening on a weekend, I’m not going to be able to spend a weekend in Errachidia as planned. My laptop was a superstar and must have given me about six hours of desperately needed time to work running on battery. The terrain in Morocco as ever was intriguing to watch as we travelled back from the rolling sand dunes of the Merzouga area back to the forest woodlands–and snow on the ground in places–of Ifrane.