27 September 2015: After an overnight in Dades Gorge we drove all day again, though it was a slightly shorter day, to Merzouga on the edge of the Erg Chebbi dunes of the Sahara Desert. Along the way we visited the Toudgha Gorge which has enormously high sheer cliffs on either side. Rick, a travelling companion, told us that one cliff face is sandstone while the other is limestone.
I relive last year’s fantastic holiday by bringing posts over from the trip blog. This doesn’t aim to be identical to the trip blog, but an improvement, with text edits and more / better photos. Find all these posts under the tag: Spain2015.
The landscape changed as we drove, as you’d expect. On this, Day Two, things seemed slightly less alien, a little more familiar. There was a bit more green, though not much.
On Day One we’d seen many vehicles containing a sheep. We passed markets in small towns that catered to the surrounding areas and which often had small pens of 3 or 4 sheep. The reason was the big religious Festival of the Sheep. Families kill a sheep on that day and share the meat. It’s one of the biggest religious festivals on the calendar and a time of great celebration. Our driver, Ibrahim, had dressed in his best white robe for the occasion.
So where people had gathered on the previous day to trade and to get their sheep, on this day everything was closed. All the towns and villages were shut up. I did notice along the way though at least a dozen sheep slaughterings in progress. Ibrahim told us there are spiritual reasons behind killing the sheep in front of the door of the house.
As we drove through one village we had to stop as the road was filled with men, clad in white or off-white robes, chanting and singing as they walked along. Eventually they parted and waved a greeting at us as we carefully drove through. In another village the men were all gathered in the local square and the imam stood on steps and was speaking to them.
People were all over the place as we drove along. Men, women and children were walking along the roads, gathered in small or larger groups talking. Children were playing. There was an air of great celebration and festivity. Everyone was dressed in their best clothes. This was clearly a special event.
Eventually we reached Merzouga and were delivered to the Hotel Nomade Palace where we were given a cup of mint tea and had a chance to relax for a bit. A few other tour groups also arrived with mainly younger folks.
At around 5.30 pm we were called outside to climb onto our camels. Our luggage was tied to the ‘handlebar’ and we were told to hold tight and lean back as the camel stood up.
There’s a soft saddle made of blankets and a kind of cushion stuffed with straw, but no stirrups. The camels are all roped together and only a couple of them complained and only for a few minutes.
Unlike a couple of the younger tourists who were probably in their 20s… They spent perhaps the first 30 minutes of the ride variously shrieking about the discomfort of the camel and discussing, at considerable length and volume and in excruciating detail, the selfie stick they did or did not have.
After that, someone, who may have been me, asked them to please quieten down (once a teacher, always a teacher) and they did. We enjoyed the rest of our 2 hour ride in relative quiet.
After the initial surprise at being on a camel, and a few minutes getting used to the sitting position and the gait, it was actually a very easy ride. Taking photos was tricky though — holding the camera in one hand, lining up a shot and then pressing the shutter even as the camel took another step.
Camel hooves are huge and splayed to handle the soft sand. We walked at a steady pace though, and apart from someone else’s loose camel turning up to visit, our 2 hour journey was beautiful but uneventful.
As we arrived at the Berber Camp we were to stay at for the night the sun was setting, the wind suddenly came up. There was lightning in the air and some thunder. Our guides hurried us into our sleeping quarters — it turned out we were bunking in with our travelling companions — and we rested until dinner.
It had been another very long day.
Afterthought: If you’ve arrived at this post because you’re thinking of doing the overnight at a Berber camp tour then here are some tips: toilet paper and hand sanitiser, and maybe a small torch. The bathroom facilities are basic and limited. The toilet paper ran out and the water ran out by morning, and I’m not sure there was any soap to start with, let alone after some 40 or more people had used the facilities overnight.